Mother Goose’s abrupt account of the annihilation of Humpty Dumpty I, a large Anthropomorphic Egg, offers us little on his identity or life prior. However, it is not hard for us to extrapolate from the hysteria of the Royal Court’s reconstructive efforts Humpty's societal worth... In Mz. Reba Maybury’s Dining with Humpty Dumpty, another swollen, spoilt egg saunters onto the scene... (Humpty II, as I privately refer to him, because opportunities to establish a lineage of bungling allegorical eggs are few & far between)... the set of feudalism has been discarded, it is late capitalist London, but the indulgence and set of protections reflected in this oozing, oedipal egg's existence feels familiar. Mistress Rebecca, a dominatrix, is contacted via a fetish website by one Humphrey, username "humpty-dumpty", a politically conservative, nauseatingly sychophantic 34-year old "corporate creative" who harbors a desire to be dictated into obesity --to the point of immobility--- by a beautiful, punishing woman. The novella spans the trajectory of their brief relationship, most chapters delimiting their meetings at restaurants across London. Ms. Maybury, herself a London dominatrix, enlivens Humpty’s auric ineffectuality & cossetedness with droll observations of Humpty’s physicality, expanding on his "intrinsically English … Palatable [mousiness]", frequently noting his pinkness. Humpty tells Mistress Rebecca that his sexual ambitionm- chronologically traceable to a nanny laboring over freeing him from a high chair, for him: the visceral thrill of being "too large to escape" - couldn’t be actualized without her glamorous instruction. And so it goes, he unwittingly establishes himself as a metonym for the standard heterosexual masculine interest in the feminine: the inextricability of parisitic demands made on Woman I: ornamentally-autonomous Sex Goddess & Woman II: Mamma, Schoolmarm, Nursemaid, etc... An inherently parasitic, perpetually gestating egg.
Humpty is thrilled to be ordered excessive amounts of food and scolded by such a Queen with an audience of interchangeable waitresses; the Queen finds occasional respite from Humpty’s unbearability through that same brief contact with strange women...
Repulsed by the hypocrisy of Humpty’s socio-politics and a bizarre, flimsy proclamation of his “female supremacy“, Mistress intentionalizes her relationship with Humpty, assigning essays (for "a woman you admire", he crafts a preposterous report on the triumphs of fictional Clarice Starling). I am once almost endeared to the 2-dimensionality of Humpty II’s infantile incessancy & focus: he sneaks a video clip into his aspirational food blog (monitored by Mistress) of naughty little Violet Beauregarde swoll’d up into an enormous blueberry, necessitating her being rolled away (for repair!?), the latter action like a divine dollop of Katsup on the Utopia of a peeled, room-temperature boiled egg.
Reba poses to me: “It’s a difficult subject with fetish, because everyone deserves to have fantasies. Fantasy is wonderful, but what happens when your fantasy actually harms other people?“ At one meal-time, Humpty, in a moment of indignation, admits that “it is hard to be a white man“ at this moment in time. I ask the author how she thinks Humpty reconciles this with his Female Supremacy: "He doesn't realize it, and I think that's the thing... A lot of people have fetishes that they wouldn’t be out & proud about, because their fetishes are too conflicting with their lives. Humpty said to Mistress Rebecca in all honesty that he thought he was a female supremacist, but he was having that conversation with her, a dominatrix. I don’t think he would’ve had that conversation with someone working in his creative corporate office. Because unfortunately a lot of men really do feel [that it is hard to be a white man] right now, you see it with Brexit, with Trump. These men may look fairly liberal from the external, but on the inside they’re seething... They feel that their power is being taken away from them because of diversity. And Mistress Rebecca, as a dominatrix, she's being paid to perform, but is she doing a bad job getting upset by his views? If he says he’s a female supremacist and obviously he’s not, and she gets upset, is it her job to adhere to that or not?" We are reminded of the layers of invisible feminized labor, including the emotional specificity of sex work... There is the drain of any performance, beneath it the performance that must be personalized to flatter or titillate at the expense of the performer’s visibility, who possibly also plays psychologist, and weary beneath her, our matron layer of labor: the considerable chance that the performer must intuitively craft and resume a highly personalised performance to deliver to a deeply despicable theater of One.
The beauty of Ms. Maybury's book is in her gradual patchworking of voyeurism, exhibitionism, vulnerability, autonomy, privacy, and intimacy, as they can be selectively sampled, aspected, and luxuriated in via masculine solopsism, and as they look for women: sometimes partook with exuberance and a sense of agency in pleasure, many times experienced as spontaneous - yet ancient - violent violations. Mistress Rebecca, with increasing psychic fatigue, dreads an imminent meeting with Humpty: the narrative weaves in & out of recollections of a few sexual-romantic relationships of recent years. Potently animalic or simply Rare-seeming men, who are clever, who wear makeup, who generate fantastic, abrasive music, who open up to her about their always-transmuting, abiding depressions, who inexplicably fade from intimacy after the glamorous, clever, intense dominatrix displays her vulnerability, who keep shrines to deceased cats that require daily renewal by nature of their setting, Bedspread... The painful disappointments of these intimacies are revelatory in their disparateness and understated similarities to the singular experience of dining with Humpty Dumpty. The Authoress pinpoints: "the aesthetics of subversion can occasionally fool even the most astute of us" and importantly asserts "vulnerability is underrated in its genderless beauty". In chatting with me, she speaks of "a failure of 2nd wave feminism, this construct that opposes femininity and vulnerability. We always have to be strong, and we always have to be ruthless, and we can’t ever be humiliated. But humiliation is a feminine reality."
I can hear Humpty’s expired yolk sloshing histrionically as he wades through a small day adventure with Mistress Rebecca, the tone of terror set when he shoplifts four egg cress sandwiches, chocolate, nuts, fruit from Prêt A Manger at Mistress’ behest, undertaken most frantically and failing to retrieve one large bottled water. Hardly recovered and still jabbering about breaking the law, Humpty now must suffer the non-erotic humiliation of giving a homeless woman the food, recently purchased clothing that he THOUGHT was for his Mistress, tampons & other toiletries; he grumbles about irresponsibility, indulgence. Interestingly, as they continue walking Humpty is asked if he thinks the homeless woman has sex, his answer is immediate and appalled: absolutely not, because "it is illegal to have sex in public”. Any imagination I had projected onto Humpty because of a vision board agenda item: to be rolled about with urgency just like Violet, the big blueberry girl (who we should note was terrorised, likely facing imminent rupture)--- vanished. Culminating in a surreally frenetic, communal feminine experience of agency, publicity, and catharsis, Dining with Humpty Dumpty ends on a mostly joyful, slightly bittersweet note. Miss Reba Maybury assuages me: "for any moment of authenticity in vulnerability and joy, there will always be someone who will try to commodify it, will try to absorb it, will derive sexual satisfaction from it... That’s realistic.“ She reminds me that to deprive yourself of pursuit of enjoyment, to confine yourself to a fruitless inertia of ceaseless rumination and re-conceptualisation of the horrible realities of womanhood, these are the things that make you go mad... Note: Ms. Maybury received an anonymous death threat immediately following the release of the novella.
Dining with Humpty Dumpty can be purchased through Wet Satin Press and is available at Donlon Books, Claire de Rouen, the ICA and Shoot the Lobster.