Comments on a drawing by Martin van Maële

Of the scene of a rape, first published in the third issue of La Grande Danse macabre des vifs, Charles Carrington, Paris, c. 1908.

from Martin van Maële’s La Grande Danse macabre des vifs, published by Charles Carrington, Paris, c. 1908
from Martin van Maële’s La Grande Danse macabre des vifs, published by Charles Carrington, Paris, c. 1908

At the far right of the drawing, a bend of road, telegraph poles and wires, a low hedge, a small bush; near the centre, a tree, and behind the tree, partially obscured and in the distance, a haystack; beneath the tree and beside the small bush, a girl is lying on the ground, face up, clothes torn open, legs apart; on the left, a bearded man, probably in his fifties, stands above the girl; at the bottom of the drawing, a book; and in the bottom left corner, the words “a F. Duroze”.  It is late afternoon.  The sky is darkening.  The tree is in leaf but does not provide much cover.  It may be late winter or early spring.  The young girl has been brutally raped and may be dead.  She has light-brown or honey-blonde hair.  Her head lolls toward her left shoulder.  Her left arm is extended — the hand at the end of it clenched to form a fist in the shadow of the small bush.  Layers of dress and petticoat rest on her belly, where they have been pushed to get them out of the way.  One of her undergarments has been torn downwards; one end of it caught around her left ankle and the other end lying over the right knee.  Leg stockings with a fine, horizontal stripe are fastened above both knees by a plain band, though only the left knee is visible.  A bonnet that was on her head has fallen off at the last moment of the struggle and stands up on its rim like a halo around her hair.  Leg stockings, dress and bonnet appear to be made of matching materials.  Blood drips from a wound in the left side of the girl’s lower abdomen, down the inside of her left thigh; and perhaps, also, from her vagina — beneath which, between left thigh and undergarments, a puddle of dark blood has formed.  The white garments pushed up onto her belly also have blood smeared on them.  The man is standing not-quite-upright, his body, from the side and turned away from the frame through which we look, forming a slim ‘S’, like a standing snake with its head in the air; or, he is simply arthritic and crooked.  All his clothing is dark: a black, wide-brimmed hat; heavy, rough waistcoat and ill-fitting trousers; black, narrow shoes.  His shoulder-length, dark, greying hair is mostly hidden under the hat and behind a satchel that has been flung over his right shoulder.  The pit of his right arm holds a thin walking stick, about three feet long, sharp at the end that is behind him.  His right hand disappears in the front of his trousers, which are a little baggy at the rear — and perhaps he has just pulled them up.  He has a bony, hooked nose.  His eyes look out through the right edge of the drawing, startled, worried.  The book in the foreground of the drawing is closed, like the scene.  Some small objects, pens and pencils, have been secured in the concavity of the opening edge of the book with a strap.  A small, rectangular object shaded with the same stripes that can be seen on all the girl’s outer clothing, lies beside the book; but this small object was, probably, hidden inside the book.  Everything hidden has been revealed.  A rape has occurred.  A pretty, young girl, twelve or thirteen, was walking home from school and was raped and killed.  Just at the moment distilled in the drawing, a man looks down the road and, apprehensive that he will be suspected, standing crookedly at a scene of rape, rehearses a simple explanation: “I am poor and have no home. I had been sleeping near a haystack by the road, heard sounds which woke me, decided it was time to seek shelter for the night nearer the town because, as you can see, it will rain tonight. I found the girl’s body.”

Originally published in Skew Whiff, Number 1, 1994.
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