Describe How Frayn Presents Women In Spies Essay
Those women who feature in Michael Frayn’s ‘Spies’ are predominately presented to us through the eyes of the adolescent protagonist; Stephen, whose conflicting feelings relating to them are representative of his evolving maturity.
His confusion is intensified by the fact that the women he encounters throughout the novel do not wholly conform to the social expectations one might assume of a 1940s wartime setting. We might also suppose that some degree of his ignorance toward the opposite sex is due to the lack of presence or least; acknowledgement, of his own mother whom he describes as ‘so hopelessly ordinary’.Stefan ponders whether Stephen’s dismissal of his own mother explains or even excuses his burgeoning adoration of Mrs Hayward, ‘would he have perceived the grace and sincerity of Keith’s mother quite so clearly if his own hadn’t spent most of the day in a faded apron, sighing and anxious…
?’ Whilst it is clear from his initial references to the Hayward’s that he considers them to be the quintessential family type, it is Mrs Hayward to whom he pays particular attention, his respectful appreciation soon developing into a lustful fixation. He dwells upon such details as her ‘perfectly plucked eyebrows’ and an impression is created of her as the alluring yet unattainable older female.This comes in stark contrast to the notion frequently presented of Stephen’s dislike of women, more specifically the young Barbara Berrill, whom he describes as being ‘beneath our notice’ and ‘as sly and treacherous as most girls are’. His abhorrence at ‘the outrage she’s committing’ in her entrance to the den, renders him speechless as Frayn highlights the strong sense of divide between boys and girls, a line which should not be crossed in the youthful mind of Stephen and Keith. And yet once Barbara Berrill has empowered herself to enter into the boys’ secret world, we witness a transformation in Stephen’s emotions and understanding of womankind.Stephen’s forthcoming images of Barbara Berrill are largely contradictory, whilst he outwardly attempts to portray his disgust and annoyance of her, his close attention to detail, similar to when exploring features of Mrs Hayward, completely undermine his protests: ‘Everything about her is soft and girlish.
.’ ‘There’s something girlishly self-satisfied about the bobbliness of the leather and the shininess of the purse that offends me almost as much as her intrusion.’ ‘Below the hem of the dress the fine golden hairs on the brown skin of her legs catch a little of the evening light’. It is also interesting to note his references to her big brown eyes which prefigure those of Keith’s mother which he finds so compelling later.
And for all such features to be absorbed and admired within what should have been a ‘privet’ male dominated area; that is the secret den belonging to Stephen and Keith, proves to be somewhat ironic.The theme of power which Frayn explores through his presentation of women interestingly entwines with that of opposites as we discover their ability to exhibit authority and weakness almost hand in hand. We witness Barbara Berrill demonstrating her superiority in terms of knowledge ‘You mean you don’t know what privet is?’ sexuality; ‘Didn’t you know about people having boyfriends and girlfriends?’ and even physical power as she pushes Stephen over. Similarly Mrs Hayward reveals her persuasiveness ‘now you’re alone…
I want to ask you to do something for me.’, an authority, which is implicit yet patent to Stephen, ‘I don’t want to have to sop him seeing you,’ and of course her sexual prowess as discussed earlier.And yet we are equally drawn to their weaknesses which are so openly portrayed to the reader, Barbara Berill being threatened by her mother if she is ‘not home in one minute precisely … !’ and Mrs Hayward repeatedly being brutalised by her husband.
This representation of conflictions parallels with many others littered throughout the novel such as courage and cowardliness, adulthood and childhood and so on.As the novel progresses we see the main theme of espionage and intrigue become interlaced with the world of women and sex, both unfamiliarly ‘threatening’ and ‘dangerous’ to the young Stephen. And it is this link that transforms the leitmotif of X’s Stephen and Keith discover on the otherwise blank pages of Mrs Hayward’s diary, from possible secret rendezvous with strangers, into kisses and symbols of female sexuality: ‘Keith’s mother’s x’s elide in their turn with the x’s that my mother puts on her birthday cards to me….
I see that it’s not my own mother but Keith’s, and that the x she’s offering is minus x: the Judas kiss, the kiss of betrayal… she becomes the black cat on the cigarette packet, and the blackness of the black cat…
.’And it is interesting that whilst such a symbol embodies a world of an unknown quantity to Stephen, for Mrs Hayward these Xs and exclamation marks in fact only relate to her sexual function as Mr Hayward’s wife and her domestic function as wife and mother. Frayn is reminding the reader that this was reflective of social attitudes toward women throughout this era thus drawing us away from the boys’ fantasy world and back to reality.A most significant and fascinating association Stephen makes with women is ‘Lamorna’, which serves to provide great intrigue for both reader and protagonist alike. First mentioned after an encounter with Barbara Berrill in the den, Stephen introduces us to it by reaffirming the earlier notion that ‘.
.everything has changed once again…each evening is full of birdsong..
.summer perfumes..strange glimpses and intimations..
. longings and sandnesses and undefined hopes.’ ‘It has a name, this sweet disturbance. Its name is Lamorna’.We feel almost that ‘Lamorna’ holds the key to Stephen’s sexual awakening, his transition from childhood to adulthood. Whilst ‘Lamorna’ is the name of Barbara Berrill’s house, the connotations it holds for Stephen would seem to be endless, it is ‘the softness of Barbara Berrill’s dress.
..the contrast between the bobbly texture of her purse and the smooth shininess of its button…
the indoor-firework smell of the match..’ ‘But Lamorna is also the name of the softness in Keith’s mother’s voice..’ Interestingly he exclaims: ‘There’s just a little terror of the Lanes in it, too.
.’ His apparent fixation with this word and its ability to summarise everything he does and does not understand about women and sex is both humorous and sentimental. It serves as an extremely successful technique employed by Frayn to aid the reader in identifying with the mysterious and enticing world of women as seen through the eyes of a small boy, Stephen.