Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane
Mine-Haha, or, On the Bodily Education of Young Girls
By Frank Wedekind
Translated by Philip Ward
Hesperus Press Ltd, February 2010
Frank Wedekind is probably best known as the author of the ‘Lulu’ plays, which provided, in Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s 1928 film Pandora’s Box, an ideal role for the sublime beauty that was Louise Brooks.
This equally svelte and attractive volume collects together a novella, ‘Mine-Haha, or, On the Bodily Education of Young Girls’, and two of Wedekind’s stories.
Let us come to the novella first, then: ‘Mine-Haha, or, On the Bodily Education of Young Girls’ (1903) takes the form of a manuscript given to the author (Wedekind himself, not a fictional narrator) by a woman who soon afterward kills herself; it is a device that we are surely all familiar with, from reading Poe and others. The manuscript describes the woman’s experience of a strange school, its routine, its etiquette-training and its curious initiation ceremonies. All of the above being apparently a preparation for puberty; and, in a diabolical twist, the older girls mentor the younger ones.
As an erotic fantasy-cum-satire on socialisation it is all a bit (well, to be frank, a lot) weird. Clearly, ‘Mine-Haha’ is open to various interpretations. Personally, it brought to my mind current concerns over the sexualisation of young girls. The advertising media and certain department stores which place an emphasis on provocative attire have been the villains here, you may recall. Another point of reference was the beauty pageants, popular or so I’m led to believe in a number of American states, where the participants are very young girls. On the blurb, the wondrous Marianne Faithfull describes ‘Mine-Haha’ as ‘a psycho-sexual Expressionist fable’ – so there’s another view, which has the advantage of including the term ‘Expressionist’.
Now to the two stories, ‘The Burning of Egliswyl’ and ‘The Sacrificial Lamb’, both originally published in 1897. That the theme of both stories is love, or a poisonous facsimile of it, and the intense anguish occasioned by thwarted sexual passion will hardly surprise those familiar with Pandora’s Box. Wedekind well knows that extreme emotion represents a danger to its possessor as well as to those around him or her. It can easily be converted into (self) destructive rage. His characters in these two stories are respectively a convict and a prostitute, hence he’s not averse either to embracing the downtrodden and the wretched.
‘The Sacrificial Lamb’ is the piece I enjoyed most in this volume, but they’re all well worth a read. One would like, also, to see more of Frank Wedekind’s work translated into English.
About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org