The Writer Who Cried Rape

 

Let us dispense with euphemisms and call a spade a spade.

I won’t call it forced seduction. Or deflowering. Or taking advantage. Or inappropriate behaviour. Or worse, having sex. Or…any other term people invent so as to avoid to use the r word at any cost. It doesn’t sound pleasant, does it? Well, it’s RAPE with capital, bold letters. And it sounds exactly the way it’s supposed to: criminal, sick, freakish, monstrous.

The mere sound of it should produce a visceral reaction. And if it doesn’t, we should be greatly alarmed.

I won’t pass into the legal territory of all the details of what constitutes rape. We know what it is: a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out without the person’s valid consent due to various reasons (either because one is blackmailed or coerced or afraid or incapacitated or physically threatened or drunk or unconscious or underage etc).

Society knows what it is. The rapists know what it is. The raped ones know what it is. Everybody knows what it is, even though it is ridiculously convenient to pretend confusion and ignorance and call on laughable justifications and all the loopholes of the law in order to not carry the blame and assume responsibility.

After all, it’s always easier to turn a blind eye or choose the coward’s way.

Rape manifests through different ways, affecting men and women alike, children and adults alike. The purpose of this post is not to talk generally about it, but about the way it is portrayed in some modern romance novels. I’ll talk specifically about rape scenes that occur between the hero and heroine.

While it is true that the rape trope frequented the older romances of the last decades of the 20th century, no doubt it still has its place in the romances written in this century as well. Granted, it’s not the norm, but that doesn’t mean that this issue doesn’t need to be addressed.

As a writer and therefore as someone who constantly reads and reflects on things, I adamantly believe that all writers have responsibilities both towards their craft and the books they write and towards their readers as well.

Fiction functions on many levels. It’s a form of art, of entertainment, of exploration of the aspects of the human condition, one of the means of education. But above all, it’s a means through which we disseminate mentalities and ideologies, a means through which we can promote a political, moral, social and cultural agenda.

And the burning question is this: do romance novels where the hero rapes the heroine and then they have their happily ever after promote rape culture? Do such kind of books trivialize or even glamourize rape?

The answer is straightforward: yes, that is exactly what they do. Admittedly it’s a hell of an uncomfortable issue. Therefore all the more reason to talk openly about it and not keep our mouths shut.

Rape is a serious criminal act and the victim of this crime has to deal with the consequences of this trauma perhaps till the day she dies. Consequences both physical and psychological. The victim often carries the social stigma and the blame for something that is not her fault. She is often accused of having somehow provoked the rapist (by wearing revealing clothes, by drinking, by walking alone at night etc), and therefore she was asking for it. She might suffer from sexually transmitted diseases or an unwanted pregnancy.

She develops posttraumastic stress disorder with symptoms including  disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams related to the events, mental or physical distress to trauma-related cues, attempts to avoid trauma-related cues, alterations in how she thinks and feels, and an increase in the fight or flight response.

And it’s even worse if her body happens to respond during the sexual assault. After all, that means that she subconsciously wanted to get raped, doesn’t it? That a human being cannot always control their physical reactions is never taken into account of course.

And when society refuses to listen, when society silences or shames or isolates the woman, she is raped once more because she has no control over her life, her emotional, mental and physical health. Once more, she gets dominated and stripped of her own voice, her own free will.

Not a pretty image, huh? No, it’s not. It’s heartbreaking and ugly.

But of course the rapist apologists, both readers and writers alike, will reply: ”Relax, lass. It’s just fiction. It doesn’t mean that in real life rape should be acceptable.” It shouldn’t be acceptable in fiction either. There’s nothing romantic about being treated as a piece of meat, as a slave without voice and will, as an object whose sole purpose is to satiate the twisted needs of a male. Romanticizing and glamourizing sexual violence sends the explicit message that rape is just something fun, inconsequential, trivial and the raped woman should not make such a fuss about it because in the end that’s a sign of the hero’s devotion and love. The hero loves the heroine so much that he can’t control himself. Poor guy! Perhaps we should shed black tears for the terrible suffering he’s going through. Why can’t we sympathize with his unjust plight?

And the rapist apologists will keep going. ”But such romances take place in historical periods where women were abused and seen as inferior beings. We cannot look at such romances through modern eyes. The story needs to be true to its era.”

What a load of drivel! Do these people even hear what they’re blurting out? If they cannot see the hypocrisy between the two most usual excuses they use, then they are truly blind. We cannot both use the realistic and credible card and at the same time play with the fiction card. Either we strive for realism and therefore should depict the stress and the agony of the raped heroine as well as the life-long suffering she has to go through and her inability to love her rapist (because in real life situations the rapist and the raped do not fall in love) or we delve completely into a fantasy scenario  and eliminate the rape from the plot and have the hero and heroine win their happy end.

Yes, I’ve heard all these hollow, illogical arguments over and over again. But we cannot have it both ways. We cannot come up with excuses when it’s convenient and try the realistic angle when we don’t find others any more. It’s either or.

Such books strike a blow against all the women who have been raped. It’s painfully insulting and insensitive from the part of the writer to promote and encourage rape culture. And some writers will insist, ”It’s just fiction. Entertainment. Purely harmless. A man won’t rape a woman because of what we write in our books.”

I will only reply this. This attitude is ignorant and vile. If the writers think that what they do is innocent and harmless, then they are lazy, bad and irresponsible in their profession. A good writer researches, reads and educates himself/herself. A good writer is conscious of the fact that whether a story unfolds in a realistic or a fantastical setting, it needs to make sense and be ground in realism-in the greater sense of the word-so that the reader can willingly suspend his/her disbelief. If a story is stretched too far, like a heroine falling in love with her rapist and living happily ever after with him, the book is bad and unworthy of being read because it does not respect the reader.

But above all, a good writer is intensely aware of the fact that fiction is an enormous terrain brimming with messages and ideologies, a vehicle through which certain mentalities and postures are condemned and encouraged, trivialized and vilified, romanticized and excused.

Do men rape women because of the existence of such books? My mind is not that simplistic to believe such books are accountable for this crime. The issue is an extremely complex one. Ban these books and men will keep on raping women.

But I’m not that naive either not to acknowledge the fact that fictional books are a form of ideological apparatus. And any writer who brushes this aside, needs to stop and think twice about his/her writing identity and the role he/she builds within the society through his/her books.

Everything we do and say, from the smallest thing to the most significant, has an impact both on ourselves and on the people who surround us. Nothing is inconsequential and nothing is innocent. From the dullest fictional book to the most brilliant, credos, beliefs and attitudes float around that help stabilize or eat away the status quo.

Credos, beliefs, ideologies and attitudes shape up our society. With everything a writer writes in his/her books, he/she takes a stance. Consciously or unconsciously.

It’s of paramount importance that every writer assumes his/her responsibilities for every book he/she pens. Because in the hands of someone lacking consciousness, a book can turn into a terrible weapon even more dangerous than in the hands of someone who possesses one.

In the end, we have to ask ourselves: what kind of writers do we wish to be? And most importantly, what kind of a person do we wish to be?

 

 

 

Book Review: Clarimonde or The Dead Leman

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Clarimonde is the tale of love between a young priest, Romuald, and a beautiful vampiress, Clarimonde. Gautier’s short story offers plently of food for symbolism and analysis as it functions on multiple levels. As it happens with most gothic fiction of that kind, Clarimonde blurs the boundaries between life and death. As a vampiress, she comes and goes, travelling between the two worlds while not fully belonging to either. However, the same applies to Romuald. Dead during his duties as a priest, alive while being Clarimonde’s lover.

Clarimonde shares a common trait with Edgar Alan Poe’s Ligeia as it plays heavily with the idea that love can break the confines of death. In a scene of incomparable beauty and profound romanticism, Romuald brings Clarimonde back from the dead with a single kiss. Both have to fight against obstacles. Romuald against God and the Chrurch and Clarimonde against Satan and the carnal pleasures. Nonetheless, their love is able to transcend both the physical and the metaphysical.

The night advanced, and feeling the moment of eternal separation approach, I could not deny myself the last sad sweet pleasure of imprinting a kiss upon the dead lips of her who had been my only love. . . . Oh, miracle! A faint breath mingled itself with my breath, and the mouth of Clarimonde responded to the passionate pressure of mine. Her eyes unclosed, and lighted up with something of their former brilliancy; she uttered a long sigh, and uncrossing her arms, passed them around my neck with a look of ineffable delight. ‘Ah, it is thou, Romuald!’ she murmured in a voice languishingly sweet as the last vibrations of a harp. ‘What ailed thee, dearest? I waited so long for thee that I am dead; but we are now betrothed: I can see thee and visit thee. Adieu, Romuald, adieu! I love thee. That is all I wished to tell thee, and I give thee back the life which thy kiss for a moment recalled. We shall soon meet again.’

Her head fell back, but her arms yet encircled me, as though to retain me still. A furious whirlwind suddenly burst in the window, and entered the chamber. The last remaining leaf of the white rose for a moment palpitated at the extremity of the stalk like a butterfly’s wing, then it detached itself and flew forth through the open casement, bearing with it the soul of Clarimonde. The lamp was extinguished, and I fell insensible upon the bosom of the beautiful dead.

Clarimonde employs one of the oldest tropes, that of the femme fatale. Brimming with eroticism and sensuality, it reads as a tale of repressed passions and frustrated sexual desires. Romuald, through his dreams, enters into a realm where reality melts into fantasy and the boundaries that separate each are extremely foggy. Clarimonde becomes ”the other”, the Devil incarnate that sets out to seduce the young priest and make him stray from God’s path. Romuald answers her call, gaining the life his vocation deprives him of.

And that’s where Clarimonde’s originality stems from. The vampiress is not presented as a lifeless, soulless corpse but rather a red-blooded (no pun intended) creature full of life and vitality which she passes on to her bloodless (again no pun intended) lover along with pleasure and hedonism.

The story ends once again with one of the most common tropes in gothic literature: those involved with the supernatural are unable to go on with their life the way they did before the incident. What they lived haunts them forever. Romuald once again represses his desires and stifles his sexual wishes with the death of Clarimonde. However, the vampiress holds a place in Romuald’s mind for all eternity as her final words to him turn out prophetic.

But once only, the following night, I saw Clarimonde. She said to me, as she had said the first time at the portals of the church: ‘Unhappy man! Unhappy man! What hast thou done? Wherefore have hearkened to that imbecile priest? Wert thou not happy? And what harm had I ever done thee that thou shouldst violate my poor tomb, and lay bare the miseries of my nothingness? All communication between our souls and our bodies is henceforth for ever broken. Adieu! Thou wilt yet regret me!’ She vanished in air as smoke, and I never saw her more.

Alas! she spoke truly indeed. I have regretted her more than once, and I regret her still. My soul’s peace has been very dearly bought. The love of God was not too much to replace such a love as hers. And this, brother, is the story of my youth.

5 Qualities to Look for in a Good Beta Reader

A Writer's Path

by S. T. Sanchez

  1. Trustworthy

This is definitely something you want to look at.  Can you trust this person to read and critique your work without sharing it and putting it out on social media without your consent.  (This has happened to well known authors.  Just look up midnight sun by Stephenie Meyers)

Some writers even go so far as to have their beta readers sign a confidentiality agreement.  I have chosen not to go this route, but I am very particular about who I let see my work pre-publication.

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Book Review: V for Vendetta

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“Remember, remember the fifth of November…”

That’s one of the most memorable quotes from the pages of the masterpiece Alan Moore penned. Guy Fawkes and The Gunpowder Plot became the source of inspiration for the graphic novel V for Vendetta.

Alan Moore sure knows how to deliver a compelling, riveting story that engages the reader till the very last page. V for Vendetta is a profoundly social and political work of art that reminds us all that allowing someone else to call the shots for us, instead of us, is not only a fallacy in judgement but, also, an error with terrifying consequences for humanity. This is something that resonates deeply, especially now with the cultural, economic, political and social crisis all over Europe, even though three decades have flown by since the novel’s initial publication.

The true protagonist is not a character but an idea, namely anarchy. V, the man behind the mask, is not a creature of flesh and blood but the very personification of anarchy in its extreme form. And that’s why V never falters neither in his decisions nor in his actions. He knows exactly what he has to do and he does it without any hesitation.

However, at the same time we are really left to wonder how sane V is and whether the way he applies his ideology really works. And this is exactly where Moore makes a critique on anarchy applied in such a destructive and violent manner.

V remarks, ”Anarchy wears two faces, both creator and destroyer. Thus destroyers topple empires; make a canvas of clean rubble where creators then can build another world. Rubble, once achieved, makes further ruins’ means irrelevant.”

If V represents the destroyer, then Evey represents the creator. And Evey (it is implied) will espouse anarchy in its true and pure form that abominates force, coercion and violence. As she puts it, ”killers have no place in our better world.”

The narration is rich with all sides exposed to the reader. That is sufficient to offer an insight into all parties involved, adding another layer of complexity to the work. It’s no accident that V isn’t idolized, even though he takes the limelight. Moore’s clever enough to avoid the simplistic portrayal of a black and white morality on the canvas. It’s no accident that, by choosing to present V wearing the Guy Fawkes’s mask–a man who tried to kill the Protestant King James I only to restore another absolutist monarch, albeit Catholic, to the throne–Moore provides a biting critique against the same ideology he seemingly praises.

The central question that challenges the expectations of the readers is this: if we choose to fight tyranny and oppression by turning ourselves equally tyrannical and bloodthirsty, then can we truly build a better future? The end does not justify the means. Violence breeds violence. We can label ourselves however we want to. But the bitter truth is that if we adopt the tactics and strategies of the other side against which we’re fighting, then we’re as vile and wretched as our so-called foes.

Nowadays that things in the political and social arena are disturbingly turbulent and sordid, the central message of V for Vendetta proves more prophetic than ever.

The ending is far from a close one but that is just as well. We’re left with a sliver of hope that Evey will truly show the way to the people without following in V’s steps. Nothing is over; the lid has been taken off and the effervescence is about to take place, but it is hinted that the creation of a better world is not that impossible after all.

All in all, I would definitely recomment V for Vendetta to anyone who enjoys complex political works of literature with an edge of theatricality and wit.

For those who have read the novel, feel free to share your impressions!

 

Book Review: Let the Right One In

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Vampires have haunted the collective unconscious from the dawn of time. And yet, the question remains. Do these nightwalkers have something more to say? Lindqvist proves that, yes, indeed they have.

1981. In Blackeberg, Stockholm, a strange child , Eli, moves with an older man to an apartment close to a 12-year-old boy, Ocar, who lives with his mother. Oscar dreams of his absent father and gets mercilessly bullied at school. As a form of escapism, he resorts to morbid interests including crime and forensics and keeping a scrapbook with newspaper articles about murders.

Oscar befriends Eli who turns out to be a 200-year-old vampire stuck forever in a body of a castrated boy, mascarading as a girl. Time passes, they get closer to each other and reveal aspects of their life. As a result, Oscar becomes more confident and fights back against his bullies with Eli’s encouragement.

Meanwhile, Hakan, the middle-aged man who’s in love with Eli and  becomes her faithful servant, traps and kills people in order to procure her blood. Into the novel’s tapestry the stories of other people get woven. Tommy who’s a rebellious teenager and friend of Oscar. A group of middle-aged friends, from whom one, Virginia, gets attacked by Eli and chooses to kill herself to avoid the curse of vampirism. Jonny and Jimmy who torture Oscar but endure their own abuse at home.

Let the Right One In isn’t a story for the faint of heart. It’s steeped in sadness, heartache, misery and bleakness. Frightened creatures who live in loneliness and violence, without hope and light, terrified of life itself, prowling between the dark forest and the gloomy town. The most abominable aspects of the human condition parade in the book’s pages: pain, fear, abuse, alcoholism, pedophilia, torture, abandonment, humiliation, revenge. But, also, love in its different manifestations and the willingness to reach out to others.

In a society that barely survives by feasting on its own flesh, Lindqvist very cleverly leaves the reader with the burning question: Who is the real monster? Eli implores Oskar, ”Be me a little.” And Oskar himself wonders: ”Which monster do you choose?”

Let the Right One In puts a new, refreshing spin on the vampire myth, giving us the portrait of a cursed creature who is as tragic and pitiful as creepy and terrifying. A tragedy that unfolds against a modern, realistic setting and one of the finest novels in horror fiction. Don’t miss it!