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.
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.
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.