Georgy Porgy by Roald Dahl, 1960

views updated

by Roald Dahl, 1960

The title of Roald Dahl's story "Georgy Porgy," collected in Kiss, Kiss (1960), comes from the old English nursery rhyme:

Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry;
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.

According to Peter and Iona Opie in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, "Numerous guesses have been hazarded that an historical character is portrayed … no evidence is vouchsafed." The rhyme is surely about sexual furtiveness and timidity, the theme of Dahl's story. The tale belongs to the genre dating from the nineteenth century in which the narrator is a madman whose craziness is gradually revealed, with a startling climax at the end. Toward the end of the nineteenth century the Gothic tradition drew on the idea of divided self to yield stories of the unconscious. Freudianism, with its emphasis on the concealed, was a gift to the genre, and Dahl seized on it to write a horror story that takes place beneath a smooth social surface intermittently disrupted. In his ability to give the reader a frisson, Dahl is the heir of Poe.

The rationale is clear to the reader, though not entirely so to the protagonist. It is immediately apparent that there is a gap between the narrator's perceptions and our own when George says that he is "moderately matured and rounded" and when he makes the odd claim that he "speaks Greek and Latin." While many educated gentlemen can claim literacy in these languages, to write of speaking them immediately alerts us to possible eccentricity. The mention of speaking in "the pulpit" at the end of the first paragraph informs us that the narrator is a clergyman. He confesses to a horror of women, which is manifested in a phobia about touching them. His interpretation of this anxiety is eccentric. In the schoolboy, says the narrator, "It is simply Dame Nature's way of putting on the brakes and holding the lad back until he is old enough to behave himself like a gentleman. I approve of that." A strange view of nature is established here. George's manifestly ugly physique is described with equally imperceptive smugness. The narrator is clearly out of touch with his own feelings, and the reader's unease, although tinged with amusement, is aroused. George admits to longing for the "full-blown violent embrace" on the dance floor. As a country vicar he is, of course, surrounded by women and is therefore "as jumpy as a squirrel."

George remembers his "wonderful" mother, who to us is a flashy eccentric. She smoked incessantly and had "progressive" notions about children tasting alcohol and being informed about the facts of life. There should be, she thought, no secrets from children. She embarrasses her husband by starting to tell the son the facts of life but forbids either of them to feel ashamed.

Soon afterward George is awoken in the middle of a cold night and dragged outside to watch the pet rabbit giving birth, accompanied by running commentary on nature's wisdom from his mother, who identifies the rabbit mother with herself. She gushes that the rabbit mother is "fondling and kissing it all over," but George sees that the mother rabbit, unable to avoid the humans' intrusive curiosity, is actually eating the baby. Identifying the mothers one with the other, George sees her mouth as a "big round gaping hole with a black centre" (implicitly a hell mouth with traditional sexual overtones). When she touches him, he runs away across a main road, and she is killed. George concludes, "She gave me a nasty fright with those rabbits, but it wasn't her fault and anyway queer things like that were always happening between her and me. I had come to regard them as a kind of toughening process."

The spinsters of the parish decide that the shy vicar needs "loosening up," but when one presumes to squeeze his hand, he feels "as though a cobra was coiling itself around my wrist." Similar advances reduce him to a "nervous wreck." We read that, as a guilt-ridden voyeur, George was "mad about women."

Having acquired pet rats, he sets up a social experiment, segregating the males and females and identifying the latter with his intrusive parishioners. It is the females who electrocute themselves by trying to cross the barrier, while the males remain passive. George's interpretation is characteristic: "In one stroke I had laid open the incredibly lascivious … nature of the female. My own sex was vindicated; my own conscience was cleared." He toys with the idea of electrifying his own garden fence.

On a social occasion the ladies slyly give George an alcoholic fruit drink. He is captivated by a large, "uncommonly fine" woman who is, we learn with a shock, no "more than forty-eight or nine." When he innocently gets drunk, she attempts to seduce him, or at least get him to kiss her. He suddenly panics at the sight of her open mouth and starts hallucinating; he is convinced that she has swallowed him alive, "just like that baby rabbit."

As he passes out, he overhears women's voices commiserating and talking about "a sex maniac" and a damaged mouth. The narrative blandly continues. George is convinced that he is living in "the duodenal loop, just before it begins to run vertically downward in front of the right kidney." He is, of course, in a padded cell.

It is left to the reader to recognize that George hated and feared his mother, that he has transferred this complex of emotions to women in general, that he is perversely attracted by large, mature women, who pleasurably threaten him, and that he is indeed a "sex maniac," but of the guilt-ridden and passive kind, in no way active until dangerously and irresponsibly provoked. And like all victims of delusory systems, he regards his own reactions as normal. The effectiveness of the story comes from the tension between what is described and the way we, the readers, feel about it. Fear and repulsion toward female sexuality can characterize male adolescence and may survive in the adult. Thus the story, although occasionally almost too explicit, earns response.

—Valerie Grosvenor Myer