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Synopsis About this title A biography of Marion "Joe" Carstairs, the fastest female speedboat racer of the 'twenties, describes her life as a wealthy and eccentric lesbian and unofficial ruler on a Caribbean island "synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title. Buy New View Book.

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The editor of the Sunday Express publicly excoriated homosexuality as a pestilence threatening to destroy social life. In the new repressive moral climate, Carstairs, like other unconventional women, came increasingly under suspicion. Escape came dramatically. In Carstairs spotted an advertisement for Whale Cay, a tiny island in the British West Indies thirty miles north-west of Nassau and ninety miles east of Miami. Now I am building roads and a residence, but my only means of transport will be two ten-foot dinghies.

The island is about a thousand acres in extent and is nine miles long.

The Queen Of Whale Cay : The Extraordinary Story Of 'joe' Carstairs, The Fastest Woman On Water

I cannot say if I will ever return. She did not. With the help of cheap labour from nearby islands — unemployment was endemic in the pre-tourist West Indies of the Thirties — she cleared the land of its dense vegetation, laid out a lavish plantation the Great House for herself and her lovers and built cottages for her workers and their families. The local population grew to several hundred.

The Extraordinary Story of ‘Joe’ Carstairs, the Fastest Woman on Water

She built a dock, a school, a church, a fish cannery and a general store. In the late Thirties she bought several neighbouring islands too — primarily to serve as markets for the goods produced by Whale Cay farmers and craftsmen. Like a female Kurtz, Carstairs dominated her black subjects by sheer force of personality.

Many were believers in obeah , a form of voodoo brought by African slaves to the Caribbean in the 18th and 19th centuries. Soon after her arrival on the island, while clearing a road with some of her men, Carstairs killed a snake by hurling her knife at it. He was accompanied by the Duchess, in whom the renegade Carstairs seems to have found a kindred spirit:. Joe showed them her boats in the dock, and while the Duke was on the deck of one of the yachts she took the Duchess into the cabin. The Duchess saw Wadley.

Up at the Great House where the adultery and alcohol ban was decidedly not in effect , Carstairs continued to entertain friends and paramours and carry on much as she had done in London. Dietrich visited several times around ; though they parted acrimoniously, Carstairs left her a Whale Cay beach in her will. No such scruples inhibited Father Julian Henshaw, the Firbankian priest Carstairs brought in from Capri to preside over the spiritual life of the island: on his merry way to drinking and fox-trotting himself to death, he delighted in pederastic idylls with his Whale Cay choirboys.

As the years wore on, Carstairs began to retreat more and more into reclusive eccentricity. In the Fifties, as her health broke down, she became increasingly unable to sustain the illusions of intransigent manliness. Yet even these fancies failed to stop the clock. With the rise of Bahamian nationalism Carstairs became disenchanted with her Whale Cay subjects, who were turning restive and disobedient.

While taking a walk one day she was horrified to see two of them copulating openly under a palm tree. There and on Long Island she lived out the rest of her life, watching wild animal shows and boxing on television she idolised George Foreman , writing cheques for obscure philanthropic causes, and tending to Wadley and his friends and associates — a vast army of dolls and stuffed animals given to her over the years by various girlfriends.

When she died in she and Wadley were cremated together and their ashes placed in a single grave. Why commemorate the life of such a hallucinatory being? In Nightwood , the narrator reflects on the significance of the doll given to her by her girlfriend, Robin. As Wadley was an image of her soul, Whale Cay was its map.

Terry Castle reviews ‘The Queen of Whale Cay’ by Kate Summerscale · LRB 5 March

I made just what I wanted. In she was shunned again by that world [she had offered to help with the war effort and had been refused] and once again she retreated to her Neverland.


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Whale Cay was a region of her self, and so it had no chronology. Here she could be a boy who never had to grow up. She is not concerned with rehabilitating Carstairs for potential groupies, feminist or lesbian or both. Summerscale estimates that she had some hundred and twenty lovers, many of whose photographs are reproduced in The Queen of Whale Cay.

Everybody else thought so, so I thought so too. I would have liked me.

Review: The Queen Of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale

Needless to say, heterosexual women get scant public appreciation for their erotic talents: the most gifted Venus or grande horizontale receives ambiguous praise at best. Lesbians fare even worse: no woman in Western culture, including the great Sappho herself, has ever won popular acclaim for her skill at bringing other women to sexual ecstasy. With Carstairs, however, we are in the presence of world-class charm: Bedroom Eyes for the Ages. Carstairs would undoubtedly figure nobly in such a history — that is, if the history itself were considered noble.

Her true artistry, one suspects, lay in her amorousness, which she approached as a vocation, with something akin to genius. Yet perhaps Summerscale is right in the end not to turn her subject into allegory. Log In Register for Online Access.