Murder Fantasies in 20th-Century Male Fiction

I didn’t intend to read book after book in which men fantasize about murdering or torturing women but this is exactly the kind of ride I’ve been on just by undertaking reading some random twentieth century fiction.  This month I read four novels that seemed to be connected to each other through the trope of fantastical misogyny:  Nabokov’s Lolita, Thompson’s The Nothing Man, Ellis’s American Psycho, and Hamsun’s Hunger(ok, this novel isn’t quite 20th century –1890 — but is considered an important landmark novel that inspired 20th century fiction).  In each of the these texts the hero’s actions are propelled forward through his obsessively imagining the physical abuse of the women around him.  The thought of brutally murdering these women — anyone from strangers and ex-wives, to wives and mothers — seems, at times, to be the only force  pushing him onward through his unique journey.

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The Color of Sickness

I waited a long time to get my hands on Nawal El Saadawi’s novel The Innocence of the Devil (Egyptian, 1994),  I was interested in reading a novel by a contemporary Arab feminist/doctor/writer, and I also thought that this novel would be a nice addition to my exploration of the devil in literature.  This review is the sixth installment of my “The Devil is a Woman” series.

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God’ Plot and Schizophrenia

Thomas Shepard’s autobiography in God’s Plot (American, 16th century, transcribed by Michael McGiffert) reveals his personal struggle with cognition in a world in which positive/negative, good/evil can not peaceably coexist. As an authority figure for Puritan doctrine Shepard purposefully constructs his autobiography to reflect the enlightened path of the ecclesiastically elite; it speaks to divine transformation and serves as a testament of conversion from heathen to visible saint. Similar to most stories of religious conversion, there are many examples of blind faith and testimonies of covert presence and miraculous intervention. However, while Shepard’s texts undeniably reveal his piety, his zealous religious fanaticism suggests an unstable state of mind that I couldn’t easily dismiss. I found tracing the markers of schizophrenic behavior throughout Shepard’s works fascinating.

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The Best Wound in Lady Anna

When I was an undergraduate with an interest in studying Victorian literature, a professor once asked me how much Trollope I had read.  I scratched my head: Trollope?  Never heard of him.

The professor explained that Anthony Trollope used to be the backbone of nineteenth-century literature courses, so I, of course, made Trollope the focus of my summer reading, the summer of 1999.

I began with the Barchester Towers series and eventually came around to one of my all time favorite Trollope novels, the very ambitious He Knew He Was Right.  I could see why readers have long found his works so captivating and even why they have been — and remain — a reference point in Victorian studies.

My thirst for Trollope carried me to some of his lesser-known works, such as Lady Anna, which some critics have boasted rivals He Knew He Was Right in its display of insanity.  Well, that would be a pretty huge undertaking and I couldn’t wait to read it.

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The Nameless Dread

If Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (American, 1991) doesn’t actually sadistically kill numerous women,  children, and maybe a few men, then this novel is possibly the saddest story ever told.

Many years ago I watched Christian Bale play Bateman in the film American Pscyho but for some reason while I do remember the INXS and the murder scenes, I do not remember the abundant fascination with AIDS, Bateman’s barely concealed homoerotic desires, nor the very important role of the homeless (and dominating theme of homelessness).  These three aspects of the novel — AIDS (and disease), homosexuality, and homelessness — seemed to be what the novel is ABOUT: much more so than it is about a rich, bored, and crazed trust-fund kid who goes on a murder spree.

The most repeated phrase in the book is “a nameless dread,” which Bateman uses over and again to describe his feelings.  Other than this phrase, the second most repeated word was “sad.”  Then, maybe “red.”

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