McAra, Catriona (2013) “The Punish”: Sadeian Games in the Fairy Tales of Kate Bernheimer. In: Devils and Dolls: Dichotomous Depictions of 'The Child', 27 - 28 March 2013, University of Bristol. (Unpublished)

This paper concerns the role of the Sadeian child and sadistic game play in the literature of the American fairy tale writer and editor Kate Bernheimer. It focuses on the three sisters in her trilogy of fairy tale novels The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold (2001), Merry Gold (2006) and Lucy Gold (2011), and the two sisters in her short story, ‘A Star Wars Tale’ (2010). Integral to the characters within each narrative is a polymorphous perversity. Bernheimer offers us a “darker side” of childhood which is rife with “flushed secrets” (2006) and erotic awakenings. Her stories provoke discussion on the slippage between child and adult in the form of the femme-enfant or child-woman – a Surrealist concept that Bernheimer pays homage to, particularly via the visual art of Dorothea Tanning and Kiki Smith. Building on familiar Freudian readings (1905), a Sadeian edge emerges though the recurrence of erotic play in games such as “The Punish.”
Utilising my recent, unpublished interview material with Bernheimer, I support my argument with Bernheimer’s own critical writings on fairy tales, and two further theoretical models: one of ludology (or game theory) developed by the Surrealist associated sociologist, Roger Caillois, and one of Sadeian pornography by the writer Angela Carter. The game must always have rules but in the fairy tales of Kate Bernheimer the boundaries are toyed with as these children experiment with sexuality and the darker themes traditionally associated with adulthood.

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