A knot of bodies
The tattoo as navel in Louisa May Alcott’s ‘V.V.: Or, plots and counterplots’
in Tattoos in crime and detective narratives
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Louisa May Alcott’s 'V.V.; or, Plots and Counterplots' (1865) is a remarkable piece of detective fiction. Like all the Alcott thrillers, the tale features an unconventional woman, a danseuse/actress named Virginie Varens who mercilessly thwarts the conventional markings of femininity in her maniacal drive for wealth, recognition and revenge. Alcott exhibits her shrewd understanding of Edgar Allan Poe through a deliberate subversion of the detective process, an anti-climax that is figured by a mark written upon Viginie’s body: the infamous tattoo of 'V.V.' underscored by a lover’s knot. This chapter analyses the ways in which Varens’ tattoo serves as the navel of the story, in the sense spoken of by Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, and Shoshana Felman – that is, a tangled knot of signification that remains impenetrable to interpretation. The navel marks that point where signification traumatically touches the body, yet in this tangle the body likewise speaks in its disruption of narrative, marking the limits of the detective’s knowledge and the limits of the emergent detective genre.

Editors: Kate Watson and Katharine Cox

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