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Explore the Relationship of Sue and Maud in Fingersmith

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In Water’s ‘Fingersmith’ (2002) the reader is initially introduced to the main protagonists Sue and Maud through Sue’s prospective. Throughout the novel they become amoursly intertwined and their connection is strengthened by their physical lust for one another, bringing them together as one. The attraction between Sue and Maud is the central driving the plot of ‘Fingersmith’ serving one of the main sources of conflict as their ‘organs of fancy’ become inflamed. Water’s uses different perspectives within the novel, which succeeds in compelling the reader to become emotionally invested in the romantic relationship; this is striking given the problematic nature of sue and Maud’s relationship. The first part of the novel revolves around Sue’s attempt to get Maud to agree to marry Gentleman in secret so he could confine her in an insane asylum and take her fortune. The second part is narrated from Maud’s perspective, which reveals that Maud is in league with Gentleman and focuses on her ultimate plan to incarcerate sue to the insane asylum under her identity. The very existence of their relationship is due to the fact that Sue wishes to inflict grievous harm to Maud in order to benefit herself and contrariwise.

Both characters clearly acknowledge their ulterior motives when narrating; this becomes increasingly prominent during Maud’s narration as she is aware of Sue’s ulterior motives as well as her own. Water’s deliberately does this to enforce that Maud is not the innocent party and is well aware of her manipulative actions. It is depictions of poignant events from both sue and Maud’s perspective that leads the reader to sympathise with their romantic feelings for each other despite the fact, both are actively working towards the other’s downfall. The significant quandary limiting the reader’s capacity to sympathise with the two female protagonist’ tender feelings for each other is the fact they are intentionally attempting to obliterate each other’s lives and plan to benefit from their efforts. Water’s approaches this problem in stages, firstly establishing sues’s perspective of life in the first part of the novel. Sue exhibits a distinct lack of true delight when she assumes that Maud is falling into their trap, chuckling and rubbing her hands when she thinks of how her plan is going to succeed. Sue deliberates ‘in a discontented sort of way; and the chuckle [is] rather forced’; implying to the reader that she doesn’t enjoy deceiving Maud in this manner.

The use of the verb ‘forced’ enforces that sue is being made to do something out of willingness, showing the reader that there is a pressure upon her to carry out the act that was initially planned. However, sue states that she doesn’t know why she feels this way and consequently attributes to the ‘gloom’ of the house. Nevertheless, she states that the ‘gloom’ and the fact ‘the house [seems] darker and stiller than ever’ is because Maud is ‘gone’. The adjective ‘darker’ could be a metaphor for the external forces which repeatedly attempt to drive them apart and also forebodes the deceit that will take place. Water’s use of subtle hints at Sue’s attraction to Maud makes the subsequent development of their relationship more believable to the reader. Later in the novel the reader can see from Maud’s reaction to Sue’s kiss that she reciprocates Sue’s affections and is indeed sexually attracted to her. Maud automatically shifts her body ‘like she [can’t] help it’. Water’s uses the word ‘help’ to…

At the end of chapter five, the reader becomes to sympathise with their romantic feelings, however, the reader’s conception of their relationship is destroyed at the end of the first part of the novel when water’s reveals that Maud is working alongside Gentleman to condemn sue to the insane asylum in her place ‘it’s not me you want! What are you doing?’You ‘bitch’. This revelation of Maud being a villainous character forces the reader to re-examine their view of Maud. Effectively Water’s deals with the repercussions of this revelation by switching from Sue’s perspective to Maud’s in the second part of the novel. When Maud condemns sue to the mad house, sue describes Maud’s gaze as ‘hard…as marble, hard as brass’ creating the impression of Maud as being heartless, thus amplifying the sense of betrayal and hurt.

The use of ‘marble emphasize Maud’s austere persona showing the reader her villainous side. ‘marble’ and ‘brass’ are also inanimate objects linking to the way in which men view Maud as a commodity, a muse. The reader sympathises with Sue’s suffering and consequently readjusts their perception of Maud from a ‘simple’ Victorian woman to a cunning ‘manipulative’ ‘bitch’. This deters from the stereotypical woman of the time as they were perceived to be innocent, ‘simple’ creatures, who had no concept of how to be frivolous. In contrast, in the second part of the novel, Maud describes herself as ‘[singing] out mechanically’, together with fragmented sentences focuses on the details of Sue’s ‘brown eyes…with that darker fleck’ and ‘tumbling hair’ creating the impression that she is still attracted to sue and that she is deliberately numbing herself, closing off her own emotions in order to betray sue. By shifting the perspective of the novel to Maud, water’s establishes the fact that Maud is completely aware of Sue’s plight ‘to ruin, to cheat and [do] her harm’. Despite this, she still feels ‘desire’ and ‘longing’ for sue.

The term ‘desire’ suggests that Maud still lusts for Sue and behind her hard exterior her actions have caused her great suffering. Water’s takes care to portray not only Maud’s lust but also her romantic feelings. Water’s portrays Maud as possessing the ‘desire’ to abort the plan completely as she silently implores Sue to tell her ‘a way to [her]’. This line shows that for Maud being in a romantic relationship with sue was more important than anything else. Water’s reveals from Maud’s eyes that Maud comes to believe as a result of the sexual encounter that she cannot possibly betray sue now, even going as far as to ‘calculate and plan’ different strategies for both of them to ‘escape’ from Briar and go to London together. By describing how Maud’s ‘heart leaps within’ her when Sue comes to her, water’s encourages the reader to identify within Maud’s rising expectations. Water’s stark contrasts of the description of Maud’s love for sue and her aggressive and manipulative nature reinforces that although Maud is capable of loving and thinking of others before herself. From Maud’s perspective, the Sue that the reader sees ‘does not flinch’ as she ‘says she knows it’.

From Maud’s eyes, sue does not seem to feel any guilt at all and is focused solely on the plot to ruin her. Water’s also creates discrepancies between the two characters accounts of events when gentleman kisses Maud’s palm. Sue’s view on the happening reveals that she is not ‘glad to see him do it’ and is afraid that Maud ‘might break’ or that Gentleman ‘might swallow her up’, indicating, that she loves Maud and by Gentleman touching her is unconsciously bringing out her jealous side. The use of ‘swallow’ suggests that even though Maud is in on the plan she is still vulnerable as she is still being controlled by Gentleman and he is able to ruin her if she steers away from the plan. In contrast, Maud’s response to the intimate gesture is to ‘shudder, with weakness, with fear and distaste- with dismay, to know sue stands and watches, in satisfaction, thinking me his’. The words ‘weakness’ and ‘fear’, also emphasize Maud’s vulnerability as she has no power over Gentleman and has to abide by his rules however, in ‘dismay’ as she believes that sue is delighted at the thought of her being ruined.

Although at the same time she is portrayed to the reader as being unwavering in her belief that sue is content to see her be deceived into what Sue thinks is their plot to steal her fortune. Another technique the author uses to create differing interpretations of events is through omission of certain key events, parts of dialogue and actions. This is shown, when Maud announces to sue that Gentleman has proposed to her, in Sue’s perspective, she addresses the news with ‘you might-say no’. This line signifies that sue is actively trying to save Maud. The inclusion of this line leads to greater understanding and sympathy from the reader towards Sue’s and her feelings for Maud. This line is completely omitted in Maud’s perspective, creating the impression that Maud’s feelings are more intense than Sue’s, thus highlighting the emotional suffering Maud undergoes, consequently leading the reader to sympathise with her and her eventual decision to continue with her plan to hurt sue.

To the reader sue and Maud’s relationship is still problematic, as the affection that Sue feels towards Maud is engendered during a period where Maud is pretending to be an ‘innocent’ and ‘kind’ girl. An argument can be made that the revelation of Maud’s true personality renders Sue’s attraction to her invalid, as throughout the first perspective, sue hints that she has feelings for Maud because of her innocence and kindness. Sue’s remark that Maud is ‘sweet…kind…gentle and handsome and good’ supports this interpretation as the words ‘sweet’ and gentle’ reinforce that she did have a good side but chose to deceive sue. After their first sexual encounter, sue focuses on the ‘crimson bruise’ on Maud’s breast and the fact that it has been caused by a ‘single kiss’ suggesting that she perceives Maud to be fragile and so pure that the slightest sexual contact is able to taint her. Throughout the novel, she repeatedly compares Maud to a ‘pearl’ which symbolises innocence and purity.

This discovery destabilises the reader’s belief in the sincerity of her attraction towards Maud because the Maud the reader imagines does not possess the characteristics of purity, innocence and kindness that attracts sue, as implied in the beginning of the novel. The third part of the novel focuses on the intense emotional and mental trauma sue undergoes in the novel; Maud is the direct cause of Sue’s profound suffering and thus any amorous connection between them seems to be fraught with problems. At this point water’s switches back to Sue’s perspective again, showing the reader that Sue’s obsession with Maud is ambivalent showing the juxtaposition of both love and hate. This is shown when sue, treats Maud’s white glove as a treasured possession; once, she puts ‘the tip of one of its fingers to [her] mouth, imagining Maud’s soft hand inside it’ and she repeatedly bites it. Maud’s hand is described as ‘soft’ implying that she still finds Maud attractive and the biting seems to be an expression of both intense hatred and sexual frustration.

Her feelings of love and longing for Maud dominate the ending of the novel, and Maud is portrayed as reciprocating those feelings, which lead the reader to sympathise with their relationship. Overall Sue and Maud are linked by a single event. It’s as if they are one person in two bodies intertwined complexly. There story is told through the shifts in perspectives allowing the reader to understand the complex relationship between sue and Maud. Sue’s attraction to Maud is established during her narration of events, while the reinterpretation of events in Maud’s perspective convinces the reader of the sincerity of Maud’s feelings for sue and show the reader that even her decision to continue with her plan to incarcerate sue is motivated by love for her. At the same time, parallels between the two characters’ narration reveal an emotional bond between the two. The last shift back to Sue’s perspective is essential to show that sue still loves Maud despite all the suffering that she has caused her. Combined, the different perspectives cause the reader to sympathise with and support sue and Maud’s relationship.

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