Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Unbelievers

I've been editing and adding to and generally kicking around my Masters' essay to present at the 15th Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf this weekend. Here's the three-sentence gist: 1) Woolf's mama ignored her, and then died. 2) Woolf's older half-brother molested her and her sister, for SEVEN YEARS, and nobody did a damned thing to stop him. 3) Woolf eventually figured out that her mama's vision of family life, where sisters nurture brothers and mama nurtures papa and all this nurturing means never losing control or starting a fight or saying "no," is a fucking blueprint for exploitation, which has its ultimate expression in incest and a slew of lesser expressions in bullying, controlling and manipulating women and girls.

Maybe my youth and cynicism is showing here, but I don't see why all of Woolf's biographers (DeSalvo being a notable exception) feel the need to tap-dance around the whole incest issue. Of COURSE it happened. Woolf and her sister spent their entire adult lives maintaining that it happened. Vanessa even told Virginia's doctor that it was happening, WHILE it was happening, in an attempt to explain why her little sister was having a complete nervous breakdown. They told their husbands. They told their friends. They told the people who had known them as young girls and suspected that there was something weird going on in the household. They wrote about it in letters. Virginia wote three memoirs that mention it. Vanessa had three children and told them each about it. They all but screamed it in the streets. But nonetheless, as soon as they left this earth, the whole horrific mess started to be glossed over.

It would be really nice if someday our society comes to grips with the prevalence of incest. We might start by simply believing, without qualification or equivocation, those survivor narratives in which all the parties involved are safely dead.

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