The Lessons We Learn
Off Our Backs, 08-01-1996, pp 23.
Julie Glamuzina and Alison Laurie. Parker & Hulme: A Lesbian View. Introduction by B. Ruby Rich. Firebrand Books: Ithaca, New York. 1995. US $12.95. 214 pages
The introduction of Julie Glamuzina and Alison Laurie's book Parker & Hulme: A Lesbian View starts with references to the media that depict lesbian killers in cinema and real like, for example Aileen Wuornos and the movie Basic Instinct. These current representations portray lesbians who stuck out instead of turning to suicide and despair. But the story of violence and love is not a "Nineties thing"; in the Fifties the script was real for two New Zealand girls.
On June 22nd 1954, Juliet Hulme, aged fifteen, and Pauline Parker, aged sixteen, killed Honora Parker, Pauline's mother. They all went on an outing to Victoria Park in Christchurch and the girls beat Honora Parker to death with a stocking covered brick. Taken into custody soon after running down to a kiosk to ask for help, the girls were the center of the well covered trial that followed.
The book tries to find out, "What ... did New Zealanders want to learn about Juliet and Pauline's crime and punishment. What was at stake with that lesson, who was administering it, and why." In this very readable work, Glamuzina and Laurie answer these questions with extensive and well cited original sources that include: newspaper articles from the period, trial transcripts, interviews, and diary entries from Parker and Hulme. Parker particularly wrote a tremendous amount in general, and even planned part of the killing in her diary. Other depictions of the case are also include, such as true crime novels and anthologies.
Luckily, for those of us who did not know the complete story very well, the book starts with a chronology of events. This chronology and analysis is much more detailed and accurate than the movie Heavenly Creatures (1991). First, the movie seems to concentrate on the girls' active imaginations. It makes for a visually stimulating experience but does not reflect the impact of this case on New Zealand. In addition, while the movie centers on the time leading up to the murder, the book includes the aftermath of the murder as well as an examination of the people, place and time of the incident.
Christchurch in 1954 was a very conservative, rather English town, predominantly white and not afraid to moralize. Heterosexuality in general, let alone homosexuality, was not to be talked about. New Zealand had strict censorship laws and the Hulme/Parker case was some of the few references to sexuality that occurred for general consumption, negative references of course.
There is extensive analysis on almost every aspect or angle conceivable, including female prisons at the time. So much is presented that every part cannot be covered, but I have picked some of the most interesting or relevant ideas.
Most intriguingly, Glamuzina and Laurie include a Maori, the indigenous population of New Zealand, interpretation of the events. Some of the Maori's from the Urupa and Wahi tribes interviewed thought that the girls may have stumbled upon a sacred site in Port Levy, where the girls vacationed once. They were vulnerable due to their youth and Parker's menstruation. Simply, although the books says it more thoroughly, some of the spirits may have been angered and drove Parker and Hulme to kill a blood relative in order to appease the spirits. The murder was a sacrifice to atone for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In addition to trying to find out a non-white perspective, the conventional approach to the case is presented. The press, and the country, viewed the incident rather simplistically -- what Laurie and Glamuzina refer to as the 'bad' or 'mad' interpretation of the case. In order to kill a parent, a mother no less, one has to be evil or insane. Circumstances or context did not matter. Therefore these girls were either insane or evil or maybe both.
This ideology had an effect on the people who read about the case. The tale was used to make women afraid of homosocial contact, let alone homoerotic feelings. When examining the defense's case, no one was safe it seemed. The lawyer was rather limited in choice of defense as the defendants' signed confessions soon after the murder, so the lawyer claimed the girls were sane when apart but together were dangerous, formally called a folie a deux defense. It seemed that mothers would warn their daughters that although things may look innocent now, you never can tell when lesbian tendencies will creep up and make important long term childhood relationships into unnatural, unholy, and deadly unions.
This fear particularly affected isolated people. Some of the lesbians interviewed felt isolated due to their homosexual feelings and thus felt empathy towards the duo. Parker and Hulme themselves were isolated, with few friends. Some of this isolation was due to illness; both girls were hospitalized extensively during parts of their childhood. Parker had an osteomyelitis in one leg and Hulme had tuberculosis. Some of this isolation involved the families. During the trial Hulme' s father left the country with her brother. None of the family ever visited her in prison. Parker's father visited her a few times but didn't like it. They had very little contact after the five years served in prison.
A review of such an unusual case gives a new perspective to a lesbian experience but also to parricide. Most parricides, the killing of a blood relative -- most commonly used to mean a parent killed by a child even though a child killed by a parent is included in the term technically and a far more common occurrence -- are acted out by males upon their fathers. The second most common occurrence is a Mother/Son matricide. Mother/daughter matricide is highly unusual and therefore rarely written about. Still, many common elements of modern understandings of parricide are present.
Motive is an issue. Modern literature considers abuse the most common reason for parricide. The child cannot take the abuse any more and kills in self defense. I found Glamuzina and Laurie's evaluation of what may have been abusive activity within the homes of the girls to be a more modern understanding of parricide. Both families are examined, showing that the deceased was not a saint and that secrets, such as adultery, were common in both families.
Also, the idea of a flashpoint is common in literature about parricide. Often, just before the murder, some thing new happens in the household, for example, the killer finds out their siblings are being raped. It appears the flashpoint for this murder was the threat of separation. Hulme's parents wished to send her to England and the two could not deal with the idea of being separated after being so close. They would have done anything to stay together.
Other modern ideas are presented. Not surprising, considering how thorough the book is, a review of the definition of lesbian is included, running from the broad to the specific. However, the girls did not consider themselves lesbians, despite probable references to genital sex within the diaries and long intimate baths together. Still, the press, the public, and the lawyers on both sides considered them lesbians.
That is one weakness of the work. It seems ironic that in a case that affected so much of the New Zealand lesbian population, those involved do not consider themselves homosexual. This angle was never really developed in the work but then, no one is perfect.
In the end, the writing that indicted Hulme must have paid off. Juliet Hulme became the well loved Scottish mystery novelist Anne Perry. Pauline Parker also was exiled and most likely lives a quiet life under an assumed name. As far as is known, they have not been in contact with each other, nor do they wish to be.--julie gerrard harris.
Copyright 1996 Off Our Backs, Inc.