Most Precious Blood: Bathing in Sexuality and Religion

Emma Donoghue delivers a complex and layered tale of love and loss in Hood. Moreover, in this tale, Donoghue conflates blood, sex, and religion in various ways. The Christian Bible has a number of verses speaking to the importance of the cleansing power of blood. Revelation 1:5 states “unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood”, the idea of being washed in blood is a literal happening with Pen on Friday when she is in the bath. She gets her “first bleeding with Cara not in the world” (pg. 255). While Pen is literally washing and rejuvenating her body, she is literally washed with her own blood, symbolically washing her of Cara’s presence in the living world.

Blood also has a very special relationship to sex in “Hood”. On page 256, Pen recounts the conversations she and her deceased lover had over oral sex during menstruation, something that they much loved. They feared the blood and its potentiality for transmission of disease. Part of this conversation over safe sexual practices is a critique of Cara’s sexual practices “I suggested this because I didn’t want to hear exactly what risks she had taken, or was planning to take, with which people”, a common theme of the problematizing of homonormativity in the guise of monogamy. It is blood again that serves as a metaphor for consumption, consuming and risking. Pen demands to consume her partner. “Gimmie,” she says “I’m thirsty for it”, she demands. Cara lets her know that she is “still bleeding”, but Pen does not care, and wants to envelop Cara “so that no danger can find her, no monster can terrorize her, where there is no lack or draught or hollow, nothing but heat and pressure and the safety of knowing every drop of you is wanted” (pg. 258). This juxtaposition of sex and religion runs as a common theme throughout the novel, as is the idea of consumption on the part of Pen. Throughout the novel, Pen is seen dealing with her body image, and her weight, and how she consumes food.

One scene directly speaks to Pen devouring and consuming Cara in a religious sense. In the reading of “St Patrick’s Breastplate”, Pen replaces the calls of Christ with that of Cara, making Cara into a Christ-figure. She says “Cara within me, Cara behind me, Cara before me” and on and on (pg. 140). Donoghue intersects this with flashback images of sex between Pen and her new Christ-figure. This moment, for me, serves as a tipping point. Up till now, Cara is a vision of perfection, the perfect counterpoint, a Christ-figure within the narrative, which begins to crumble as Pen begins to come to terms with her loss, in a delayed manner for she is victim of the heteronormativity that disallows for her to grieve for her “friend schoolmate, pal” (pg. 134). “Homosexuals mourning their partners often carry a burden exacerbated by invisibility and prejudice” states the internal self-help guide within the novel (pg. 248).

This loss is a funny (queer?) thing. Pen jokes about secular lesbian grief cards just reading “Death = Life”. (pg. 171). This was a chilling reminder that, for many people, simply being queer is death. The aspect of a lack of a potential future is analogous to a death for many people. This calls back to the earlier conversation that Pen and Cara had regarding safe sex practices, but also the lack of knowledge about STD transmissions between female partners (pg. 256). This is also a temporally queer thing, as it comes later for us in the narrative, but is in the past for Pen herself, as time is not always a straight line. In thinking through queer time, we see that reproductive time is thrust upon Pen, perhaps not explicitly throughout her conversation with her mother, but it is implied.

As Pen has not come out to her mother, Pen ruminates while speaking to her mother on the phone if “Mammy going to fall into maternal stereotypes and start nagging me about reproduction, now of all times?” (pg. 158). The use of the word reproduction in the text as opposed to the more casual children, or even grandchildren, that I see so often within my own narrative is telling. This signals a preference for the reproduction of the future, of the genes of the family, and as we have discussed within Edelman’s “No Future” the nation-state. This heteronormative thinking about queerness in a reproductive futurity is reified again with Sinead’s birthday card from her mother “in case you think the passage of time is softening my attitude to your lifestyle, well, it’s not” (pg. 295). Even in the celebration of her daughter’s birth, she rails against the supposed choices her daughter has made.

Juxtaposed with her gap in relation with her mother, with Cara’s father, Pen realizes that he knows of the relationship that Cara and Pen shared, calling Pen My Daughter’s Friend, “practically capitaliz[ing] it. He didn’t mean palsy-walsy friend, schoolfriend, housemate. He meant friend – in the way his generation used it, as a polite euphemism for all the subtle non-marital relationships they didn’t want to pry into” (pg. 282). While Cara’s father doesn’t outwardly condone the relationship, it’s clear that he is aware of their relationship, and further doesn’t want Pen to leave the home as he likes her company; he then becomes Pen’s actual house-mate, a position his daughter publically inhabited prior to her death. Moreover, Cara’s father also conflates religion with sexuality, through the use of double-entendre. When speaking with Pen about his religious tendencies, he states that “…1977, Yes, that was the year I lost it” (pg. 276). While he is clearly speaking to his loss of faith, this can easily be read as a virginity. When speaking about losing something in such a vague way, quite often this loss is regarding the perceived innocence of virginity, in a text as rife as “hood” with sexuality and religion, here is another character, outside of the main narrative, conflating religion and sexuality.

The loss of Pen comes to a head at a queer wake at the feminist collective housing commune on Saturday. Pen finally discovers who Cara’s other lover was, and is more bothered (seemingly) that she wasn’t the last lover that Cara had, rather than the fact that she had other lovers. In fact, Pen is quite taken aback that Cara’s last lover, Jo (who Pen had a budding friendship with), wasn’t as enamored with Cara as Pen had been. Jo states that Cara “was a bit of a dip-stick, actually” and that “the woman was a nutcase” (pg. 300, 301). This culminates that fact that Cara has come to terms that she must move on, that she has fully consumed her melancholia, her Cara, and is willing to live on (Ahmed, 2004). “Silverman and Klass suggest that the purpose of grief is not to let go, but lies in ‘negotiating and renegotiating the meaning of the loss over time’” (Ahmed, 2004, pg. 159). Pen has, consumed the loss and begins to think about a life after Cara, one wherein she may consume the relationships that Cara had in the shape of the feminist collective.


Ahmed, S. (2004). The cultural politics of emotion. New York: Routledge.

Donoghue, E. (2011). Hood: A novel. New York: Harper Perennial.

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