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2012 Archives > Jun 2012: Phèdre's First Assignation - Spoilers

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message 1: by jillz (new)

jillz (jillzz) First off, I'm only about 160 pages into the book. If you can, please try not to spoil later bits in this thread :)

This scene/chapter left a bad taste in my mouth. I am having a hard time reconciling the harshness of the scene and how Phèdre is used as an object and a whore with the society Phèdre tells us she was raised in, where the servants of Naamah are treated with respect and dignity. Carey makes sure to tell us that even in Valerian house, pain does not come without pleasure and vice versa. Yes, Phèdre feels pleasure but it is not at the hand of her patron, it is mostly because she is an anguisette. In all honesty, this scene squicked me out as much as the one in The Iron Duke, even though there was full consent in this one.

And if the only reason Phèdre is an anguisette is because Carey wants to use her as a sexual object/prop in this book, I will be sorely disappointed.

Right now, I just don't understand why Carey would go to all the trouble to depict legal prostitution as an art and religion and then have Phèdre used as a (please excuse my paraphrasing) dirty fucking whore.

I completely understand the political motivations behind the assignation as well as the other political subtexts running through the book so far. I just don't understand what the author was trying to say with such a stark contrast in the sexual society she has so carefully set up.

message 2: by Courtney (new)

Courtney | 26 comments This is my first time reading the book so I have no idea how the grand scheme of being an anguisette effects Phedre throughout the story. I also see it see as a stark contrast to the rest of the world that has been set up, but perhaps a bit differently than you do. Obviously there are other other patrons who also derive pleasure from pain (either inflicting or receiving) and are either Dominant or submissive in their sexual nature. There are two houses (Valarien and Mandrake) set up to accommodate these specific tastes. I'm actually a bit curious how Kushiel's mark makes her special at all, a part from others being able to see EXACTLY what she prefers just by looking into her eyes.

The world Carey has created seems so perfect and beautiful on the outside. I feel that the BDSM elements and the political intrigue are being used, in part, to show that everything that seems so pristine has a darker underbelly. I'm about a third of the way through the book and it seems like everyone has a fake smile. They're just awaiting their opportunity to stab someone in the back to gain in prestige.

I don't know if its just my own experiences but I don't really see anything wrong with being a "dirty fucking whore" (very apt paraphrase, btw :D) as long as it is what the person wants and enjoys. Phedre has her contract saying what is, and is not, allowed and she has her safe word. If things go too far she has the control to put a stop to it at anytime and if her demand goes unheeded there would be hell to pay, I'm sure. The whole religion/society is very dependent on keeping your word when you agree to a contract.

Even though Phedre enjoys being Dominated, humiliated, and caused physical pain I think, in this society, it elevates her even higher. She earns MORE respect because she submits so completely and obviously receives great pleasure from it. She is valued and sought after in the community because, apparently, she is such a rare gem.

I'm actually really glad that Carey created such a rich, sexual, community and didn't leave out the "darker" side of things. It shows pretty well, in my opinion, that lust and desire isn't just soft caresses and tender kisses. Sometimes you just need to string someone up and whip 'em. :D

message 3: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (jackpurdy) | 120 comments I'll echo that this is my first time reading the book, so I'm interested in seeing how Phedre's nature furthers the plot.

I also have mixed feelings about her first assignation, but I think more based out of having some difficulty relating to it personally. While I think some domination or roughness in sex can be fun, I just really get behind being smacked around or being disrespected/humiliated some of the ways she was. BUT, I think some people can totally get behind it, so I try to just be open to that fact.

I think that the contrast between the society's views/treatments of prostitution and Phedre's experiences is supposed to highlight that she's different, even more so than those of Valarien House. Even when she went there to learn more from them she got the feeling that she was somehow different. The Second at Valarien described the feeling of love that was supposed to come from the pain transcending the divine, but he even admitted that it wasn't that way for him, even though he got his pleasure from it. But in Phedre's first climax she says she sees the face of Naamah...

To me, what's making the whole scene okay IS the consent, and that she's clearly enjoying it. But I'm also interested in getting into more of the plot and seeing where things go from here.

message 4: by Ada (new)

Ada Graves (aideendewinter) | 8 comments The service of Naamah is sacred to it's practitioners. And is respected in the society. But that doesn't mean everyone views it's adepts as holy. I also think being an anguisette goes deeper than just the service she provides her patrons. The members of Valerian house are trained to endure pain, and the giving of pain with pleasure is part of that training, but it's not part of the service they provide patrons. After being trained, they are at the whims of their patrons, save for their safeword. Phèdre never needed to train to associate pain with pleasure. As an anguisette she is born with those sensations already intimately intwined. It's why the Second of Valerian house envied her. He was trained to the life, and could endure the pain. She yearns for it.

message 5: by Andy (new)

Andy Dainty (kosmopolite) As a person who /has/ had some experience in bdsm, I can appreciate how it was set up - limits and rules were laid out before hand that would have consequences had they been breached. The use of word, and the author having introduced it so stringently - is something I amsolutely respect.

As for the violence of the scene - that was what she had been yearning for, and what he had paid for. The pain /was/ the pleasure for both of them.

I think the importance of her birthright isn't the sexual part. What it says to me is that she is a woman who is indomitable, even while being dominated. She can't be punished, hurt or attacked without taking something positive from it. Although it's communicated through arousal, I think the character is stronger for it.

message 6: by Tegan (new)

Tegan (joggiwagga) | 276 comments Possibly NSFW comic on the subject, but it really is all about the context in which actions and words are used in (BDSM vs mundane life):

Someone who likes being called a filthy little whore during a scene usually would not at all be pleased to be called that in regular life - sometimes in fact the enjoyment of degradation is it is so far removed for regular life or is a purging of issues they do have in day-to-day life. Many powerful men and women enjoy being tied up and beaten because they enjoy it, because they find it cathartic, because they might actually find it relaxing. We're all wired a little different, some people don't like anything rough and that's just the way they are.

I think one of the reasons Phedre is so desired is not just to fulfill sadistic tendencies, but because being a sadist doesn't mean you don't want your partner to have a good time - and she does exactly that. She is in many ways the ultimate masochist (though not necessarily ultimate submissive, I'd say there are times where she just as easily tops from the bottom). Her enjoyment of degradation/humiliation I'm more likely to believe if a personal fetish rather than from Kushiel.

message 7: by AnnaBanana (new)

AnnaBanana Pascone (snapdragnful) | 89 comments This is a bunch of big spoilers, but I am not sure how to hide it the way some do, so keep that in mind and don't read further if you don't want to get any clues to what happens.

Melisande is characterized as the only person who truly understands what Phedre is. At some point, Melisande says that it is not Phedre's submission that is so appealing, but her rebellion. I can't remember the exact phrasing. It is made pretty clear that while Phedre gets pleasure from pain, it is not always something she wants, and often refers to it as her body's "betrayal" and she does rebel against that.

"That which yields is not always weak."
In the end, it is shown that she can withstand what might be unbearable to anyone else because she is what she is, and that is what the book hinges on.

Blessed Elua bade them "Love as thou wilt" and Phedre believes in that very strongly. She says in more than one place that in a way she loves all of her patrons. If we abide by the tenants of their culture, we have no right to judge her willingness to be treated like a dirty whore. It is in exact keeping with the religion and society that Carey created.

message 8: by Christopher (new)

Christopher | 14 comments In regards specifically to her first assignation, I think it's important to look to the second assignation with D'Essoms she depicts in detail. It might be that scene will squick you out even more, but the crucial point about that scene is how he reacts after the pain is over. (minor spoilers coming if you you're still only in the first 1/3) By that point D'Essoms'intense awareness of the dynamic that exists between himself as a patron and Phedre as a servant of Naamah has complicated his understanding of his relationship to her personally. When he thinks he has gone too far, he shows real concern, not only for his own hide (though that's part of it) but honest concern for Phedre. He care for her, even though he never loses sight of the fact that she is a member of a house politically at odds with his alliegences.

message 9: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 89 comments Riffing a little off what Tegan said - transgression is sexy. Who knows why it is, but forbidden fruit is always the sweetest, and humans have a tendency to get turned on by breaking the rules. So saying transgressive things, like calling someone a 'dirty whore', can be quite erotic in the right context.

A lot of BDSM is also based on the implicit understanding that the whole thing is a game - that's why people in the scene call it 'play'. D'Essoms doesn't really think that Phedre is a dirty whore. If he met her outside the bedroom and outside an assignation, he'd be perfectly courteous to her. And Phedre knows that. That sort of knowledge - that your partner is an actual human being and that this is all just a game - is what allows BDSM to happen in the first place. A top who firmly believed his play partners were really and truly dirty whores (not perfectly lovely, human women playing a role) would be a dangerous top, the sort that bottoms would warn each other about. And not just male tops - any player who was incapable of treating their play partners with respect and dignity outside of a carefully contrived scene would be viewed as dangerous and a bad person to scene with.

message 10: by Christopher (new)

Christopher | 14 comments That's very nicely put, Rachel. I think people who don't really know much about the kink community need to realize exactly what you are explaining before they emotionally interact with the portrayal of a BDSM scene.

However, I think some of the charge that Phedre gets with D'Essoms comes from the idea that she doesn't know *for certain* that he's not at least partially that kind of dangerous top (and though his reaction in the later scene reveals he is a considerate patron, I think to some extent he is a little bit dangerous in this way). This is obviously bad practice in real BDSM play, which is built on trust of your partner (or the scene you play in) but it is an important part of the world of intrigue, sex, and espionage Phedre lives (and thrives) in.

message 11: by AnnaBanana (new)

AnnaBanana Pascone (snapdragnful) | 89 comments Christopher wrote: "However, I think some of the charge that Phedre gets with D'Essoms comes from the idea that she doesn't know *for certain* that he's not at least partially that kind of dangerous top"

I agree with everything you guys have said, except this. Phedre repeatedly says that she never misjudges a patron. I took that to mean that she had an innate understanding of what they wanted/needed and how to give it to them. Otherwise, she wouldn't be able to manipulate them so well OUTside the bedchamber.

message 12: by Christopher (last edited Jun 04, 2012 08:38PM) (new)

Christopher | 14 comments I think you're right about her knowing what it is her patrons want (except maybe Melisande, but that's a relationship that goes well beyond this immediate question). I don't think that means she necessarily always knows what they are going to do. She also tells us that she didn't expect D'Essoms to actually use the poker. In that case I would argue that she knew that in order to get D'Essoms to reveal his secrets, she had to endure his ministrations beyond his own comfort level, and how to encourage him to reach that point of no return, but that she may not have known precisely where that boundary was for him.

Alternatively, I could just argue that I was wrong. She *does* know for certain that he *is* that dangerous kind of top, and that's what thrills her (I'll have to think about this, I'm not sure I do believe this 100%)

message 13: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Marsh | 22 comments Christopher wrote: "Alternatively, I could just argue that I was wrong. She *does* know for certain that he *is* that dangerous kind of top, and that's what thrills her (I'll have to think about this, I'm not sure I do believe this 100%) "

I think this may be more true. Phedre isn't someone in our world involved in BDSM. She is a being that has been touched by a god; her need transcends many others' needs. The fact that someone may be dangerous and hurt her, that someone may force her to give in and give her signale, is part of what thrills her so much. She is not submissive who takes pleasure in pain, she is someone who rebels and feels ecstasy when she must give in. Even when the pain goes too far, she worships as red fills her vision.

This is what makes her unique and fantastical--she is not, and perhaps should not even be compared to, a part of our BDSM culture as I think that could give a misunderstanding. She is even above and beyond the Valerian House's ideals.

message 14: by Samantha (new)

Samantha | 76 comments I found it entirely authentic. There are people who adore pain like most people adore pleasure. Humiliation is also a huge part of the sub mindset. I have seen people irl lap this stuff up, beg for it and thank you afterward.

The reason for the safeword is twofold, so that the dom does not go to far ... and also so that they go far enough. The fact that I have yet to see her use her safeword means that she has yet to meet her match.

I'm very impressed with the writing in this regard.

message 15: by Vicky (new)

Vicky (librovert) | 493 comments Mod
The one thing that irked me about her first assignation was that it started so abruptly. I thought for sure d'Essoms was trying to murder her for her relation with Delauny. I shortly realized it was part of his play and I do understand the mindsets of the parts d'Essoms and Phedre play within the BDSM world.

I also know that Phedre had met d'Essoms previously (although did they actually meet or was she just overhearing him?) and that her contract and signale were stated prior to the assignation so I suppose there was no need for an "introduction" between them - but the scene wasn't really what I expected.

For a religion that holds sexuality in such high regard and uses it as a way of worship it seemed abrasive. For the first meeting with a patron, I expected there to be more of a getting to know you moment before the "fun" started.

message 16: by Tara (new)

Tara (taracain) @Teagan Thanks for the comic suggestion, Quinn is awesome!

message 17: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Mabe (beckegirl) | 16 comments I agree with you Vicky; I was expecting there to be some kind of verbal contract between the two before the BDSM began. I know that the author tells us she has a safe word in her contract and that all patrons read it; but without witnessing a verbal confirmation of this we and Phedre are not sure of what to expect. Then the reality is a little jarring; specifically if you have read the part about Phedre witnessing her first showing in the same reading session. The contrast is pretty stark and alarming. However, when I understood that Phedre was enjoying the act I relaxed a little.

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