“It was a joke now, infidelity. In the press on a daily basis, as gossip and minor scandal: it was so common you could almost believe it didn’t hurt, the bottomless anguish behind each story totally invisible.” Honor Sinclair, in Honor’s Shadow
Two separate cases of revenge in the news recently, both currently being judged in the law courts, have echoes of a theme in Honor’s Shadow: how to come to terms with feelings of vengeance that are so powerful, they can overwhelm reason?
One man and one woman, both with unfaithful partners, have taken very different paths in their desire for revenge.
Sally Challon is on trial for the murder of her husband of 31 years. After five years of his repeated infidelities, including visits to a brothel, all of which he constantly denied, she snapped. At lunch at home, she questioned him about calls from a woman, and he told her to stop asking questions. She picked up a hammer and bludgeoned him to death, then drove to Beachy Head, 70 miles away, intending to kill herself. She was stopped and confessed her crime. She denies murder, claiming diminished responsibility.
Ian Puddick, a plumber, found out that his wife Leena was having an affair with her boss, Timothy Haynes, a City millionaire, (echoes of David and Goliath) when he found text messages from Haynes, and a picture of him performing a sex act. Leena presents herself as the victim of a powerful boss who would not take no for an answer, and remains with her husband. Puddick called Haynes to tell him to leave his wife alone, but Haynes refused to speak to him. Puddick then went on to tell Haynes wife, colleagues, clients and neighbours about the affair, and exposed his abuse of his employers expenses system to fund his trysts with Leena. He used social networking sites to publicise the affair. Over a two-year period he sent Haynes numerous text messages; and was charged with harassment. He has been found not guilty, the judge declaring that he hasn’t broken the law, he has simply told an inconvenient truth. Haynes attempts to shut him up have generated more, not less publicity. (Echoes of Ryan Giggs).
Betrayal is common, and deeply wounding to the betrayed. Fortunately, most people are able to control the quite natural feelings of vengeance that it can arouse. The overwhelming pain and distress are balanced by the forces of reason, understanding of consequences, the desire for self-preservation, the protection of children, and hopes for a restoration of self-respect. Usually. What triggers some people into the expression of vengeance against all reason? What happens in the moment when emotions overwhelm all senses, all other considerations and anything is worth that one moment of profound satisfaction and triumph?
In Honor’s Shadow both Honor, a psychiatrist, and Tisi, her client, are struggling to contain their vengeful feelings, with varied success. Sally Challon’s story has striking parallels with Tisi, who fantasizes about murdering her faithless husband:
“I noticed, next to my foot, a large hammer, in the builder’s tool bag. I picked it up; it was heavy in my hand. I was overwhelmed by the desire to walk into the bedroom and smash Don’s head in. I could imagine it, vividly, the hammer hitting him, hard, several times, and the blood, everywhere, all over the pillow, ruby red. And the satisfaction of seeing his face change.”
and what stopped you doing that? asks Honor. Tisi replies:
“If only I could say it was compassion, or humanity; but what stopped me was thinking how it was impossible to do that and not get caught. I could imagine myself being arrested. I wouldn’t have minded that, it would have been worth it, but then the children, what would have happened to the children?”
“So it was your sanity that stopped you. That was your sanity, your understanding of consequences.” Honor said.”
Madalena, Honor’s old rival in love, is in turmoil when someone, in a more subtle revenge, sends her an anonymous letter, revealing knowledge of a secret. Madalena is bent on finding the letter writer so she can shut them up and try to stop her secret coming out.
There are several striking parallels between the vengeful scenes in Honor’s Shadow and these two news stories.
Ian Puddick has taken his revenge, not on his wife, but on his wife’s lover, who has shown little remorse, saying (a touch righteously) that, although he has been deceitful, Puddick should have taken the matter up with him and him alone. Haynes is demanding a standard of honourable behaviour from Puddick that he himself has not shown, certainly not to his own wife. He is relying on others not to respond like with like, an eye for an eye, but to show maturity and goodwill, however much pain they are suffering.
Sally Challon has taken her revenge on her oppressive, faithless and unremorseful husband. Her ill will to his many lovers is not her focus, she knows who is the wrong doer: the man who promised love and loyalty. Her murderous rage has overwhelmed her, all control lost. The deranging effect of being betrayed and repeatedly lied to has led her to doubt her own reality; her desire to hold on to the belief that she really is loved, against all the evidence, has driven her to madness.
In Honor’s Shadow, Tisi is named Tisiphone Megaera Alecto after the three Greek goddesses of revenge. Here’s the myth:
“Tisiphone, Megaera and Alecto, the Furies of Greek mythology, were the daughters of darkness: the three goddesses of revenge, their heads wreathed with serpents and their eyes dripping with blood.
Tisiphone was the cruel and furious guardian of the gates of Tartarus, the hellish component of the underworld, a dungeon of torment and suffering. All three sisters resided there and unleashed their punishments: Tisiphone punished crimes of murder, Alecto was known for her unceasing anger, and Megaera for her jealous torture of the unfaithful.
The Furies descended like a storm, driving their victims insane through persistent haunting, until death and beyond, their torture continuing until a verdict was pronounced by the right person, and their victims showed true remorse. Then the Furies calmed and transformed into the Kindly Ones, the guardians of a heavenly garden, where they received sacrifices and libations.”
Ian Puddick, in choosing his wife’s ex-lover, has passed verdict on the wrong person. It is his wife who has betrayed him, who has promised loyalty and fidelity, not her lover. And the wrong person has shown no remorse.
Sally Challon passed verdict on her husband, but he showed no remorse; her unceasing rage overwhelmed her and she killed him.
According to the myth, neither of the people in these tragic stories had any hope of a resolution, no hope for the wronged parties to be appeased and become kindly keepers of a beautiful garden (a symbol of self-esteem….)
At the end of Honor’s Shadow we see the consequences of two women’s efforts to resolve their vengeful rage. I hope you will read the book, published soon, to find out if they succeed….!