Pyschology and the Body as Currency in To Bed with Grand Music (Spoilers!)–Meghan

I found To Bed with Grand Music to be a delightfully disturbing read. Deborah’s character frustrated the heck out of me, but I could not stop turning the pages. I kept thinking to myself “what shitty thing is she going to do next?” At the end of the novel, I literally cringed because I felt so bad for the young woman that Deborah sunk her slutty claws into  to turn her into another man-hunter. I love books that evoke this kind of emotion in the reader!

There are many rich ideas to discuss about To Bed with Grand Music. For this blog post, I would like to touch on psychology and the idea of body as currency.

When I first started reading To Bed with Grand Music, postpartum depression crossed my mind, since Deborah didn’t show much interest in or was always frustrated with Timmy and she felt like she was not cut-out for motherhood. Then I realized this probably wouldn’t be the case since Timmy was about two years old when the novel started and, as far as I know, postpartum depression doesn’t last that long and is usually right after birth (though I could be wrong, I am not very familiar with the topic). So, then, I pondered other things that could be wrong with Deborah psychologically. In the beginning of the novel, Deborah spends time justifying her sexual relationships in her head and coming up with moral reasons why it is acceptable for her to sleep with men other than her husband. She appears to know her actions are wrong, but she justifies them with the need to be happy and avoid being “nervy.” So, the next psychological disorder that popped into my mind was borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by a multitude of episodes of mood swings, anxiety, changing self-image, etc. Deborah certainly has a varying self-image of herself and she goes from being extremely upset with herself to extremely happy with her exciting life. However, I am no psychologist and I will stop trying to diagnose Deborah. I just thought this could offer some interesting fodder for conversation.

Anyway, what I would really like to focus on is Deborah’s transactions with men. It appears that Deborah’s body becomes a currency to pay for her lifestyle. Let me tell you how…

At first, Deborah’s exchanges with men seemed to be fulfilling a physical need and a “husband replacement,” for lack of a better term. However, as the novel progresses, it is quite clear that Deborah becomes addicted to her lifestyle and manipulating men. The more and more she gets involved as a mistress, the less and less she is worried about justifying her actions. She also thinks less and less of Graham and Timmy because they are boring and “second best” to her life in London. Thus, her “mistressness” becomes her job in order to afford her expensive lifestyle. Deborah completely reduces her body to currency in exchange for fancy accouterments, drinks, and meals.

My initial inclination was to discuss the commodification of Deborah’s body. For example, she seems to be no more than a body–or object–to the men, a mere distraction. On the surface it may appear that Deborah’s body is the commodity that the men desire; or, it may appear that Deborah makes herself a commodity through her appearance and desirability. However, upon closer examination, it is really Deborah who is objectifying herself (and even men–but I am not going to discuss that in this post) and creating a currency out of her body. Deborah could have easily stayed in her country home and remained a faithful, domestic housewife, but she decided to move to London and make herself available to men. This was her choice in which she had full agency. Not only does she simply make herself available to men, but she creates a business of it and uses her body to pay the men for extravagant things. The transaction is simple: men buy her fancy food/things and give her attention and she gives them her body in return. In other words, Deborah’s body is simply the means in which she uses to get what she wants. The reason I think her body is the currency instead of the items she receives is because she puts more value on the fancy things than she does on herself/her body. Her body becomes easily exchangeable for her appearance and social status. In addition, her body is the only thing she has to exchange for the lifestyle that she desires.

I think this can easily be seen at the end of the novel when Deborah is walking home with Graham’s friend, Ken Matthews, and she points out the crocodile purse that she absolutely must have. After they sleep together, Ken sends her the crocodile purse with a note that says, “I hope I interpreted yours hints correctly. I have no experience of proper payment for this sort of thing” (176). To the men in the novel, their currency is the items that they give to Deborah, and their desired commodity is her body. However, from Deborah’s perspective, her body is the currency for the items the men give her, which are her desired commodities. Both sides of the spectrum (the men and Deborah) are more then willing to give up a seemingly small price for their desires.

Laski, Marghanita. To Bed with Grand Music. Persephone Books Ltd., 2012.