Author: Shane Lambert
Necrophilia is a mental disorder characterized by sexual attraction that is felt toward the dead. It has a little bit of a tradition in literature, perhaps most famously represented in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” a poem where acts of necrophilia are implied. As far as clear representation goes, it was a major part of Barbara Gowdy’s short fiction, a Canadian author who often wrote about characters that were unusual to say the least.
Gowdy’s characters in her fiction included a mutant who had an extra pair of legs coming out of her torso. She also told a story of a set of Siamese twins, only one of which was born with control of ‘their’ limbs. He eventually attempts to use this advantage to kill the other.
If that strikes you as a bit odd, then note that bizarre characters were the flavor of the day with Gowdy — and why not? It doesn’t make her any less of a writer to use the bizarre to capture people’s attention. Her work might be called disturbing for some but then whose to blame for that? If the market is attracted to tales of twisted and strange people, then authors will have to bend that. It’s not surprising that her best known work of fiction focuses on a necrophiliac — a necro that had a bit of twist if we look into the history of necrophilia.
Necrophiliacs are usually, if not always, males, which kind of makes sense when you think about the nature of sex. An aroused male could penetrate a dead corpse but it’s hard to picture a woman giving a dead man an erection.
Returning to “Annabel Lee,” Poe’s poem, the necrophiliac was a male. The poem tells of a man and woman who are in love before the woman dies. Her high-class kinsmen then entomb her in a “sepulchre,” an old word meaning a small room where a dead body is laid to rest. That the male in the poem is a necrophiliac is suggested in the final stanza.
“For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee: —
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea —
In her tomb by the sounding sea.”
He says he lies “down by the side” of Annabel Lee which isn’t exactly mounting her. However, “(feeling) the bright eyes” does suggest a mounting position, I think. In general, this poem has been taken to describe necrophilia.
Does that make Poe a weirdo? One “Princess George” of Greece actually argued that Poe himself was a necrophiliac after performing a psychoanalysis of his work. That’s according to a short article I found in the August 6th, 1933 edition of The Birmingham News (page 24; no author of the article listed).
I’m not sure I would put much faith in psychoanalysis to be honest, especially when the analysis involves reading fiction which often needs characters that add shock value in order to be of interest to the public. However, if you want to digress for a moment, you can read the article below for whatever you think its worth. Personally, I think it’s good for nothing but a laugh.
Real-life and known necrophiliacs are less poetic. It will come as no surprise to those familiar with the deeds of Ted Bundy that he was a necrophiliac. Other American serial killers also committed the act, including Edmund Kemper, Earle Nelson, and Gary Ridgway — all male necrophiliacs, of course, for the obvious reason already stated.
In “We So Seldom Look on Love,” Gowdy’s best known work, the protagonist necrophiliac is a woman. Perhaps that could only happen in a work of fiction.
In doing research for this blog post, I did find one possible female necrophiliac in history. Alleged murderer Louise Vermilya is listed among the necrophiliacs at Wikipedia.
However, her description there says she liked washing dead bodies which might be sexual but that’s not quite the same as the weirdo in “We So Seldom Look on Love,” a woman who devises a way to give dead men erections and then mounts them. In the newspaper articles I read of Vermilya, I found no reference to her being a necrophiliac. If anything, she may have been a murderer but the last article I read on her states that she was let go, perhaps for lack of evidence.
In “We So Seldom Look on Love,” the fictional female-necrophiliac works in a funeral home, one where she has concocted a way to give dead men erections using a fluid in a syringe. Whether that’s creative writing or whether it would actually work isn’t a matter I know of. However, a character that is weird enough to be a necrophiliac is going to grab some attention, even if the character is a male. That the protagonist in “We So Seldom Look on Love” is unique among necrophiliacs due to her female sex makes the story doubly-intriguing.
How she commits her acts, I’ve spoiled. But why she does it, when she’s so pretty and could score easily, is a different matter. I won’t spoil this but, for me, the short story was a memorable one. I would say that “We So Seldom Look on Love” is not to be missed.