But here, it's a joke. It's even considered a good way to sell butter.
What has often struck me, in reading the fiction of the quite recent past, is the extent to which domestic violence is normalised or trivialised. 'Your tantrums may do very well at home,' says the Earl of Worth to Judith Taverner in Georgette Heyer's 'Regency Buck,' 'but they arouse in me nothing more than a desire to beat you soundly. And that, Miss Taverner, if ever I do marry you, is precisely what I shall do.' And how can we believe that he won't? Since he starts his acquaintance with the heroine by forcing a kiss on her, it's quite clear that he hasn't much sense of her boundaries.
Of course, domestic violence wasn't frowned on in the Regency period, but Heyer wrote the novel in 1935, when one would like to think it was regarded with more loathing. But maybe not. And it's odd how the examples I'm thinking of all come in 'feel-good' novels, that one would read for amusement, possibly while eating chocolates.
Take 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day,' Winifred Watson's charming mille-feuille of a novel. Here Miss La Fosse's Michael appears on the scene and begins by shaking his adored soundly. Oh, yes, Miss Pettigrew persuades herself that Michael 'would never really hurt Miss La Fosse,' and that 'Miss La Fosse had done to the young man something meriting anger, for which she had no excuse..The punishment then was only just.' Miss Pettigrew then goes on to justify the assault by comparing it to smacking children. Clearly in those days attitudes to smacking children were very different, but: an adult woman is not a child. 'Do I look like a wife-beater?' Michael later demands of Miss Pettigrew, who, already infatuated, gasps: 'Certainly not.' And of course, she's right. Wife-beaters don't have it tattooed round their foreheads. It'd make it easier for the rest of us if they did.
|Martin van Maele: Histoire comique de Francion|
Just to drive the point home, Michael later says of his love: 'obviously she needs a little physical correction, but I'm the only right man to do it.' It makes me think of Max Frisch's fire-raisers, stacking up paraffin and kindling round the house while the householder refuses to believe there's anything dangerous going on.
Then there's the attitude to rape. 'A nice rape,' is what Albert Campion once suggests would be therapeutic for a woman. At least his wife protests, but almost casually; one wonders if it's really rape he's talking about, but I do think of Freud's belief that 'penis normalis' was the cure for all ills.
In 'The Pursuit of Love,' when Fanny bids Linda farewell on her journey to the South of France, Linda says: 'I do feel so terrified - think of sleeping in the train, all alone.'
'Perhaps you won't be alone,' I said. 'Foreigners are greatly given, I believe, to rape.'
To which Linda replies: 'Yes, that would be nice.'
And thus rape, like Worth's desire to beat Judith, is presented to us as something exotic, something a woman really wants, and really enjoys.
This is not to say that all authors of the past trivialise abuse.In 'The Making of a Marchioness', Frances Hodgson Burnett has one of her characters say of Mrs Osborne: 'That little woman.. lives every day through twenty-four hours of hell. One can see it in her eyes even when she professes to smile at the brute for decency's sake. The awfulness of a woman's forced smile at the devil she is tied to, loathing him..'
And then, of course, there's Morel's beating of his wife in 'Sons and Lovers,' where Lawrence eloquently describes the mother's psychological processes. Or are they hers? In the end, the story is about the effect on Paul of his father's violence. Paul is later described as incapable of violence towards his own women, and yet he himself does a nice job of emotional abuse on his first love, Miriam. And oddly, Lawrence seems to feel that Morel and his wife had a vital, nourishing relationship in spite of the violence, and blames Mrs Morel for it. As the abuser always does.
It's estimated that one in four women will experience violence in a relationship in her life. That's not the same as saying that one in four men is violent, but it's a terrifying statistic. The police receive about two calls a minute about domestic violence. Most of these will never lead to prosecution, still less successful prosecution, because the crime is committed far away from witnesses, and even if there's injury, it's only one person's word against another's.
It's now thought that abusers are not men who themselves have been abused, but who have seen their mothers abused in childhood, have had it role-modelled for them, in fact (though some people will decide that abuse ends with them). But there is a direct line between the people who in 1903 thought two black eyes was a good way to sell butter, and the man who assaults his wife 114 years later. Like the anti-Semitism which also lurks in 'Miss Pettigrew', we need to be aware of these things, though. They are past a joke.