chapter  II
27 Pages

ORDER AND CRUELTY

Here, the example of the flayed woman supports an argument similar to that of A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to B e d : whores can look horrible when their finery is stripped off, conventional celebrations of female beauty gloss over some ugly facts, the Outside looks better than the In and creates inappropriate complacencies. The flayed woman is portrayed in less detail, and seems physically less shocking, than the nymph of the poem, with her artificial hair, eyes and teeth, and her ‘Shankers, Issues, running Sores’.2 But she is, in a sense, more ‘gratui­ tous’. In the poem, however horrible the details, the main proposition is sustained by them in a manner essentially straightforward, formulaic, and indeed conventional.3 The account is a nightmare fantastication, but it is also simply a donnee: the poem asks us to imagine such a woman, and the point is made. The nymph is entirely subordinated to obvious formulaic purposes, even though ‘subordination’, in another sense, ill describes the vitality of the grotesquerie.