Is Maud’s Hair Holding Her Back?

I wish to discuss the significance Byatt seems to place on Maud’s hair (ppp. 295 – 296, First Vintage International Edition). She actively describes to Roland the different stages her hairstyle has gone through, depending on what is happening in her life. Currently as we know her, she has long blonde hair that she keeps covered up all the time. I feel like this is her way of protecting herself, for in refusing to present all of her, she is able to keep a sense of authority and avoid the risk of having every single piece of it taken away.

She tells Roland that she covers her hair because of Fergus, and because it is “the wrong colour”.   In having been previously accused of dying her hair blonde to please men, Maud had been reduced, at least somewhat, to an object to be looked upon by the male gaze. I say who cares what colour her hair is? But, to touch on the idea that feminism in the novel is often attacked to some degree, it appears that Byatt’s focus on Maud’s hair is in order to say that as a woman in the time period of the novel, she is threatening and so must be controlled.

She explains that she had it also been shaved short, and that Fergus called this “a cop out”, “a concession”, and that it made her “look like a skull”. I wonder what exactly Fergus could mean by her short hair being a cop out. Is her short hair an attempt to avoid being reduced to an object of the male gaze? In my own experience, the men I know prefer women with longer hair, so are Fergus’s complaints part of this psyche? Is he trying to insert his authority over hers in the decision-making process? She explains that upon him telling her to “just have it” as in have it long, she indeed grows it out, but now it remains hidden under a coverup. It seems to me that the short hair and the long hair under cover go hand-in-hand in a quest to demand attention on an intellectual standpoint, rather than on a physical one.

Once she has uncovered her hair at his urging, Roland is “moved – not exactly with desire, but with an obscure emotion that was partly pity” (ppp. 295). His pity is for the hair, not for Maud, and he feels it is a “captive creature” (ppp. 206). Roland has already had desirous thoughts about Maud in her flowing dragon kimono, but it seems to me that her hair has even more of an effect on him. Is he subconciously attracted to Maud and her hair in this moment because he can see it, as I suggested previously for Fergus. In him “not making a pass”, and Maud “knowing he is not” suggests that Roland is attracted to the idea of her hair being free, but more so for her sake than for his. I would argue that Roland wishes for Maud to be free of the confines put on her authority , and this may begin with her acceptance of a physical feature that has become her handicap in an attempt to be taken seriously in a patriarchal society.

In the end, Roland feels “something has been loosened in him” (ppp. 206). Is this the desire for Maud to feel this acceptance and freedom? I think so.

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