" He spanked me for about ten minutes, I think. I read the letter only about five times, partly because it rapidly became too wet to be legible. When he stopped he said, "Now straighten up and go type it again."

Secretary- first a short story, written in 2000 by Mary Gaitskill, then a film, made in 2002 and directed by Steven Shainberg. It starred James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Tag line from DVD box-Assume the position

It is an odd story of love and office politics. An introvert comes to work for a demanding attorney. She is a poor secretary, but the lawyer becomes attracted to her despite his frustration with her work. BDSM plays a large role in the story, but it also has a love story with a bit of a twist, similar to Oleanna, the David Mamet play.

update-December '02: Gyllenhaal was nominated for a Golden Globe award- musical or comedy actress, for this performance.

bad behavior-book of short stories-Mary Gaitskill

"Good letter"

Title: Secretary
Director: Steven Shainberg
Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay) / Mary Gaitskill (short story)
Release Date: 20th September 2002 (USA) / 16th May 2003 (UK)
Runtime: 104

Maggie Gyllenhaal - Lee Holloway
James Spader - E Edward Grey
Jeremy Davies - Peter
Lesley Ann Warren - Joan Holloway
Stephen McHattie - Burt Holloway

Here be spoilers
The movie opens with Lee being released from an institution - the nature of the place and the reason for her being put there are never explicitly stated but it becomes clear very early on that she has had a fairly lengthy history of self harm. At first she finds it hard to come back to everyday life and cope with her alcoholic father, who leaves the family - but she eventually decides to go on a typing course and get a job.

Lee goes for an interview at E Edward Grey's Law firm - he seems to be the sole employee and the interview is very strange (the first question he asks is if Lee is pregnant), but she gets the job and their work relationship begins. Lee is berated by her boss occasionally for making typing errors and when she receives a phone call from her father at work, the emotional stress causes her to break out her old sewing kit and cut herself - unbeknownst to her, her employer is watching (he has also noticed marks on the back of her legs before). The day after noticing Lee out on a date with Peter, Mr Grey asks her to come into his office and has a bizarre conversation with her which involves asking her if she got fucked the previous night, telling her that she will never cut herself again and taking a surprise polaroid picture of her.

It's at this point that their relationship starts to become very strange - Lee makes a typing mistake and Mr Grey asks her to come into his office. He tells her to bend over his desk and read the letter out and proceeds to spank her as she does so. She is obviously surprised at first, but grows to like it. Their S&M play becomes more frequent and Lee throws away her sewing kit. While all this is going on, Lee is proposed to by Peter and agrees to marry him.

Mr Grey becomes more and more engrossed in his work and spends less time proof-reading letters and the spankings dry up. Lee starts to make deliberate mistakes but all go unnoticed. Eventually, after Lee makes it completely obvious what she wants and Mr Grey jacks off on her back, Lee is fired from her job. As preparations for the wedding continue, Lee runs to her old office (in her wedding dress) and refuses to leave until Mr Grey takes her back. She sits at his desk with no food for a couple of days and eventually he relents and they live happily ever after. Or something.

The commercial reviews for Secretary have been almost universally great, and it's easy to see why, but I am not so sure I fully agree. There are some brilliant moments (personally, I thought the 'Secretary wanted' sign with little light bulbs around it was complete genius, but I'm a little odd like that), but some parts just seemed completely unnecessary - there are three masturbation scenes, the aforementioned one and two where Lee fingers herself while thinking about Mr Grey. While I suppose they all added something to the story, they did feel like they were simply there to cause some controversy. The same can be said for the gratuitious nudity at the end, which was disappointing given the tasteful way the difficult story had been handled for most of the movie. The moments showing Lee's self harm were also handled pretty well (it is difficult to know how these issues can be handled sensitively, but Secretary does at least not try to wring any comedy moments out of it).

Having noted the flaws with the screenplay, it is fair to say that the acting is superb. Maggie Gyllenhaal, in her first major role (she had some screentime in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Adaptation and Donnie Darko, but these were all bit parts), is brilliant and is certainly not afraid to do things on camera that other actresses would not even think about. James Spader also excels himself and we have no difficulty believing that he is getting pleasure from spanking his secretary. The other characters are all peripheral at best, so it seems unfair to say anything about them.

Overall, this movie is definitely worth seeing as long as you have a reasonably open mind (a friend of mine came out and said 'that was pure filth' which while a little off the mark, does say something) - go for the performances if for nothing else.

the sadomasochistic imdb.com

Sec"re*ta*ry (?), n.; pl. Secretaries (#). [F. secr'etaire (cf. Pr. secretari, Sp. & Pg. secretario, It. secretario, segretario) LL. secretarius, originally, a confidant, one intrusted with secrets, from L. secretum a secret. See Secret, a. & n.]


One who keeps, or is intrusted with, secrets.



A person employed to write orders, letters, dispatches, public or private papers, records, and the like; an official scribe, amanuensis, or writer; one who attends to correspondence, and transacts other business, for an association, a public body, or an individual.

That which is most of all profitable is acquaintance with the secretaries, and employed men of ambassadors. Bacon.


An officer of state whose business is to superintend and manage the affairs of a particular department of government, and who is usually a member of the cabinet or advisory council of the chief executive; as, the secretary of state, who conducts the correspondence and attends to the relations of a government with foreign courts; the secretary of the treasury, who manages the department of finance; the secretary of war, etc.


A piece of furniture, with conveniences for writing and for the arrangement of papers; an escritoire.

5. Zool.

The secretary bird.

Secretary Bird. [So called in allusion to the tufts of feathers at the back of its head, which were fancifully thought to resemble pens stuck behind the ear.] Zool. A large long-legged raptorial bird (Gypogeranus serpentarius), native of South Africa, but now naturalized in the West Indies and some other tropical countries. It has a powerful hooked beak, a crest of long feathers, and a long tail. It feeds upon reptiles of various kinds, and is much prized on account of its habit of killing and devouring snakes of all kinds. Called also serpent eater.

Syn. -- See the Note under Clerk, n., 4.


© Webster 1913.

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