Hands as Phallus in Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith (2002)

The motif of hands recurs again and again in Sarah Waters’ third novel Fingersmith (2002) and comes to stand as a figure of power/sexuality more than or equal to the phallus. The key expression of this power/sexuality is, of course, female, although the hands of men, especially Maud’s uncle, Mr Lilly, are strangely powerful too. Maud’s own hands are gloved, as if naked, then later once she has betrayed Susan, the glove itself comes to represent the dangerous, soft hand it lacks, and is beaten and bitten, and then ultimately, cherished. It is Susan’s hands, or rather the fingers of the ‘fingersmith’, that act as the most potent phallic symbol in the novel though, finally and explicitly evoked in the salacious text Maud reads to her at the end:

Quickly my daring hand seized her most secret treasure, regardless of her soft complaints, which my burning kisses reduced to mere murmurs, while my fingers penetrated into the covered way of love –

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About ejpollard

I was awarded my PhD from Manchester Metropolitan University, UK in December 2013. My thesis explored the notions of origin and ellipsis in the writing of contemporary British novelist Hilary Mantel. I want this blog to express the ideas I have in and around my academic writing. View all posts by ejpollard

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