This piece first appeared in Quillette, where I am an associate editor. You can read the original here. Two sisters, with whom I am closely connected, both received a generous inheritance from their estranged father after he died. In life, their father had been a violent alcoholic, who had beaten his wife and terrorised his daughters. One of the sisters rejected the legacy, on the grounds that she wanted nothing to do with her late father; the other accepted it and used it to improve the material circumstances of her life. I respect both choices but, like the second sister, I would take the money.
Great stuff Iona. One point of interest: Vladimir & Vera Nabokov spent the rest of the their lives fending off people who’d say things like, “How devilish of you to make us empathise with a monster.” Their standard line was the that the book is called Lolita & this, along with other details, was meant to elevate the victim — which is certainly not the way most read it, but apparently Nabokov was another example of an author disclaiming their antihero.
Excellent piece, but you unfairly malign Gauguin. He wasn’t having sex with 11 year old girls in France, where they were considered children and would rightly be seen as victims of a pedophile. He did it in Tahiti, where sex before marriage was encouraged and viewed as normal as soon as girls began to menstruate. His first young partner, Tehemana, was offered to him by her parents to be his native “wife,” and she was a willing participant. She married a native boy when she was 13. Tahiti was known for its open attitude toward sexuality, something missionaries tried to change but that Gauguin embraced and saw as healthier than the West’s belief that sex is sinful outside of marriage and the goal of childbearing. This context makes all the difference in how Gauguin’s behavior should be perceived.
I really enjoyed this. FYI the audio is a bit choppy, which makes it tough to listen to at times, although I'm glad you didn't edit out the interruption from the little dog!