“Many people…believe their deepest impulses to be evil.”

“It may seem odd to some that a self-confessed sadist should also be a pacifist. But it should be remembered that [T.H.] White was revolted by his own sadism; and war, for such a person, must seem doubly horrible, because it allows the acting out or at least witnessing of forbidden fantasies. It is also terrifying because of the possibility that one may be the victim rather than the perpetrator of deliberate cruelty. Like many people who believe their deepest impulses to be evil, White extended this belief to others, with the result that, as Sylvia Townsend Warner writes, ‘ he was basically afraid of the human race.’” –Don’t Tell the Grown-ups: Subversive Children’s Literature (Alison Lurie), page 162 (italics mine)

The “deepest impulses” described above can more accurately be called compulsions. The trouble with suffocating exploration of compulsion – in thought, not in action – is that it limits the possibility of any relief from the obsessive desires (in White’s case, sadism). Most compulsions are expressions of something deeper, truer, and more unconscious.

I’m not advocating for the acting out of sadistic fantasies, just for self-examination, which can so often lead to realization and relief.

T.H. White is an ambiguous but sympathetic character. Deeply lonely, fearful of himself and others, probably self-hating. Those very qualities – moral complexity, understanding of internal struggle and dark or violent urges – are the things that make his books and characters interesting.

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2 Comments

Filed under children's literature

2 responses to ““Many people…believe their deepest impulses to be evil.”

  1. A

    Hooray for realisation and relief.

    A very thought-provoking post.

  2. Julie

    I think everyone has levels of sadism and masochism inside them. I think that they’re especially pronounced in people who’ve experience abuse or a certain kind of abuse.

    I know I have both inside of me, and that they’re linked to the feelings of acute powerlessness I felt as a child. In fact, I’ve recently discovered that I secrectly believe that all children are or have the capacity for evil, because I remember the rage and subsequent malice that eminated from me at that age. (This is something I need to overcome before I have my own children because I fear I will react inapporiatly – taking their normal testing of bouandries as a confirmation of my secret belief in the evilness of all children). I never did anything unforgivable, but I do remember taking great pleasure at visciously asserting myself via teasing or name calling and then being horrified moments later. Even at the age of 8 or 9, I recognized the imbalance. That’s part of the reason I always knew that therapy was a good thing for me to explore.

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