Monday, April 02, 2007

The Abode of Love

"She must discover. . . . But how do you discover? Against a universal conspiracy. . . . This whole war was an Agapemone. . . . You went to war when you desired to rape innumerable women. It was what war was for. . . All these men, crowded in this narrow space . . . She was going to watch every face she saw until it gave up the secret of where in that town Christopher had the Wannop girl hidden." (428)

In this passage, Sylvia compares the war to Agapemone. Agapemone was a late 19th century cult lead by former reverend Henry Prince, who suffered from delusions that lead him to believe he was the physical embodiment of the Holy Ghost. Agapemone is Greek for "Abode of Love", and in his Abode, Prince lived with a veritable harem of women, called "Spiritual Wives", who all had sold their worldly possessions and emptied their accounts in order to transfer funds to him. On one instance, Prince raped a young virgin girl in the front of his community's church congregation to the tune of organ and church choir singing hymns. She later became his head wife, and the child she had by him (even though he had claimed their union would not result in pregnancy) was considered a trick of the devil. Other men living in the community worked farms, separate from their wives if they had them, while Prince lived in comfort in the main house of the community with his pick of the women. The community was surrounded by a high wall and guarded by bloodhounds to protect Prince's followers from their family members who attempted frequently to retrieve them.

So what could this comparison mean? Despite his claims that the community was a spiritual one, most outsiders thought Prince to be a madman who used his power in the community to excuse sexual despotism. In other words, the entire community and the faith it was built on existed only for the sexual convenience of one man, who otherwise would never have been able to live such a life of luxury, surrounded by beautiful, mostly willing women.

Sylvia, therefore, is claiming that men who volunteered for the war, like her husband Tietjens, were only doing so for their sexual convenience. War in general, she believes, exists not for land, or for money, or as the result of an absurd collection of alliances or an arms race (as in World War I's case), but as an excuse for men to rape women, to shirk their spiritual and societal duties in the sexual sense and give into their baser desires, all under the cover of a more honourable excuse. Tietjens, acting as Reverend Prince, has gone to France in order to possess what he normally could not: not a harem, of course, but Valentine. Despite what everyone else has told her, Sylvia, operating under her assumptions about war, cannot accept that Valentine would not be present in the town.

Source: "The Abode of Love" at the Utopia Britannica

No comments: