My research is in the relationship between law and photography in Victorian fiction. The research has taken me into many strange places. One of the strangest places of all is the literary construction of a jilted woman’s revenge.
At first, my bias as a man prevented me from appreciating the full political significance of the method of the jilted woman’s revenge. I will give an example of this bias. A few days ago, as I was reading “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, which mentions the inventor of the photographic mugshot, I thought to myself how unrealistic the jilted women were. How could they go from extreme love to extreme hate and violent revenge in one instance after learning that their men were involved with another woman? However, I thought past my bias. I wandered into my memories. It was my experience as an ethnic minority man in this country of ours which really led me to an understanding of my affinity with the jilted woman. Yet it was also the voice of a woman that helped me along this path. In “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, written by a man, a jilted woman’s voice is mistranslated and muted. One cannot understand what and how she suffers. But today, in the newspaper, I heard this voice loud and clear. It was the attack of the woman’s letter that allowed me to fully understand.
The piece of journalism that guided me was “A letter to … My narcissistic husband, who had an affair and blamed me” (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/feb/25/a-letter-to-my-narcissistic-husband-who-had-an-affair-and-blamed-me ). The letter involves the experience of a twenty year old marriage. The marriage is between a foreign born woman and a British born man. The marriage is also between a woman from the working class and a man from a wealthy background.
It is evident from the letter that even when the marriage was stable, it had its ups and downs. However, when the foreign born woman from a lower economic class loved the man, her identity merged with his. She modelled her personality on the dominant group in our society: British born men of the dominant economic class. She writes, “I became irritable with good friends and, frighteningly, occasionally took on the demanding personality traits I’d learned from you”.
In this phase of her life, the politically weaker woman cannot pick a fault with her husband. She keeps on apologising for forcing her perspective on him and judging him. She does not believe in her own voice. She blames herself for not understanding her husband better. She believes that she is intellectually inferior and that he is somehow in a privileged position of truth. She forces herself to submit to her husband’s demands and she doubts herself. As she writes: “Recently, I found a letter to myself written soon after moving in with you, telling myself to be more understanding, to respect your need for space, not to get angry with you if I felt you weren’t taking enough care of me. At times, your snappy demands for perfection left me reeling with self-doubt”.
It is when the woman, and the politically weaker party, is jilted that she is able to liberate herself from her position of inferiority and her merging with the dominant party. It is only then that she can move into a position of agency and strength, as well as knowledge and understanding. It is here that she moves into the position of attack and resistance. She writes, “It took a while for it to sink in. It wasn’t me who was messed up. It was you. All these years, I had been bending to your will, to keep you happy, to keep you from being depressed. I moulded myself around you to protect you because you had seemed such a sensitive soul. Looking back, I can’t believe how blind I was”. The woman moves out of blindness and ignorance. She realises that the politically stronger party made her fit around him and destroyed her own identity in the process.
It was anger that allowed the woman to see this. It was anger that initiated her into knowledge and agency. That beautiful and liberating anger. It is also anger that allows her to attack. She attacks the dominant party through knowledge. She says that he has “narcissistic personality disorder”. Her anger allows her to see that the dominant party is self-interested and selfish. Her anger allows her to see that he only cares about himself and his own self-regard. He lives in “splendid isolation” like a certain country (from which he is from). He is unable to connect with other people and to return love. He only loves himself. Anger brings analysis, characterisation, new inscription into language, new forms, new perspectives, new understanding.
The attack of the woman’s letter is very much the attack at the centre of my thesis. The fact is, that the attack of the woman’s letter is based in love. Women and ethnic minorities, those in the position of less power, give love to the dominant in society. However, that love is never returned. The love that is never returned forces self-doubt and self hatred. It is hard to understand why love is not returned. The coldness kills. It kills identity. It kills happiness. Yet it is only when it is completely evident that the love is not returned that the moment of liberation comes. It is only in being jilted, rejected, spat out, that one realises the cold and hard truth. Being jilted is the truth that sets us free. And it is this truth of the jilt that will transform this society in which we live in. A society that is run by and for white men of the dominant class. They say in a Hindi song, that “ishq bagawat kar baithe to duniya ka rukh mod de”. If love itself revolts then it will change the course of the world. In the jilted woman and the ethnic minority man, love has revolted. It is our love that will transform and liberate others because in being jilted, love does not end. The jilted woman writes, close to the end of her letter, to her husband, “I don’t know what I can wish for you, but I hope you find peace and compassion within you, without which life is empty”. The extreme hate of the jilted, the transformation of self and of knowledge, is still based in love. The method of the jilted woman and her revenge is a method of fatal love.