Back in 2015 Brandon O’Neill wrote a blog for The Spectator chronicling the case of pianist James Rhodes and his victory in court overturning a legal injunction which was preventing him from publishing his child abuse memoir. It is a particularly harrowing account of sexual abuse which leaves little to the imagination.
Not only does O’Neill negate Rhodes’ ‘pornographic detail of abuse’ as he so eloquently puts it but he further goes on to question why we need ‘misery memoirs’ in the first place. The purpose of his article is to beg the question ‘Why can’t the past stay private?’ Writing for the Telegraph back in 2008, Sam Leith again highlighted why we have a need for this kind of memoir with the attention grabbing headline ‘Misery memoirs make pornography of personal pain.
In 2006, 11 of the top 100 best selling English paperbacks were ‘mis lit’ as its so often referred to, selling over two million copies between them. It was once the worlds biggest genre boom and even now in 2016 these books still line the shelves with a 90% female readership. So why are they so popular and why do the authors feel the need to publicly bear their souls?
Leaving aside the fact that there has been a few cases of abuse memoirs being nothing but works of fiction, the abuse survivor has every right to tell their story. Libel in such cases in very rarely upheld because the book is the authors truth. It is their story as they experienced it and remember it. It is not libel to tell your true story. What it is however, is cathartic. It’s therapy in every page that is written. Baring your soul to the world is not attention seeking as some articles suggest, in fact I think you’ll find that the last thing most abuse survivors want is media attention. No, what it is, is brave. It is not easy to revisit the past, to revisit the times when you’ve hurt the most either physically or mentally. In fact, it is one of the hardest things to do but getting it down on paper is a little like talking to a therapist who never interrupts and a darn sight cheaper too.
I’m also a firm believer in looking for the positives in every situation. Why not be paid well for telling your story? It’s not a crime to profit from your misery and furthermore, if a story of triumph over adversity helps just one other person then the author will have achieved something that few of us ever will and that’s making a difference to someone else’s life. Everyone should applaud that.
Both O’Neill and Leith use the word pornographic in their articles. I struggle to see why. The dictionary description of pornographic reads as follows: ‘Pornography definition, sexually explicit videos, photographs, writings, or the like, whose purpose is to elicit sexual arousal.‘ I seriously doubt that invoking sexual arousal in the reader was ever the intention of the victim and i have to question the morality or anyone who would see it that way.
I applaud anyone who writes about their abusive past. It’s therapeutic and it gives someone somewhere something to relate to. Above all else, just the act of facing those demons again, regardless of the reasons why, is an incredibly heroic thing to do.
I had a father I was terrified of. I was a rape victim at sixteen, a battered wife at eighteen and I later married a man who was adept at mental cruelty and controlled me for ten years. I will continue to write about my experiences for the very same reasons as other abuse victims because it is our truth and our truth to tell as we see fit. As for the abusers, we make no apology for the truth hurting.
© Julie Mariner 2016.