Monday, October 12, 2020

Russell's MY DARK VANESSA: A Boarding School Student and English Teacher Sexual Affair

Here's part of Amazon's plot summary for My Dark Vanessa: "My Dark Vanessa is an exploration of the repercussions of a March/December relationship between a teacher [42-year-old Jacob Strane] and his [boarding school] student [15-year-old Vanessa] [...] but in her mind the story is about her first love and their all-consuming passion."

There has been a lot of discussion around Kate Elizabeth Russell's My Dark Vanessa. For exampleI've listened to a number of book club discussions on the novel like Kaia Gerber's Instagram Book Club and The Readheads Book Club, but I was left frustrated, because it was consistently expressed that Vanessa had to reluctantly convinced that she was a victim in the sexual affair with her Harvard educated English teacher. But that's misleading, because that implies that Vanessa was convinced that she was a victim. 

For instance, Charlotte Lawrence, a guest on Gerber's book club, stated, "Also, it's like she herself doesn't even, you know, realize that she's a "victim"." But very interestingly, Charlotte subconsciously made air quotes upon saying "victim".

Let's list some evidence from the book that shows that Vanessa did not consider herself a victim and was not convinced otherwise. And let's start with the book jacket:

"But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life?"

"Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises questions about [...] victimhood."

Russell even included an implausible disclaimer: "[...] this is a work of fiction, and the characters and settings are entirely imaginary." That is, at a minimum, hyperbolic or a lie, because that's entirely impossible. No one can write a novel that's "entirely imaginary"."

The novel's dedication is: "For the real-life Dolores Hazes and Vanessa Wyes whose stories have not yet been heard, believed, or understood." And at the end of the first chapter she included" "[#]BELIEVE WOMEN". But this a sort of double entendre, because Vanessa wanted to be believed and understood that she was not a victim. 

On page 51, Vanessa questioned the validity of age-of-consent laws: "Like the laws that flatten all the sex I had with Strane before I turned eighteen into legal rape - are we supposed to believe the birthday is magic? It's as arbitrary a marker as any. Doesn't it make sense that some girls are ready sooner?"

While Strane was attracted to Vanessa, Vanessa shared that she was attracted to : "I sought him out during faculty service hour [...] So, I'm impatient, maybe even desperate. I want something to happen [...] I don't really care what the something else might be--another touch, a compliment. It doesn't matter so long as it tells me what he wants [...]"

The book clubbers opined that Strane used Lolita to seduce Vanessa, but here's Vanessa's reaction to the most famous age-gap novel: "It isn't only the plot, its story of a seemingly ordinary girl who is really a deadly demon in disguise and the man who loves her."

What Vanessa learned from Lolita was that she had power - not that she was powerless (i.e., a victim): "I have power. Power to make it happen. Power over him. I was an idiot for not realizing this sooner."

Charlotte went on to say, "It was a world wind of emotions because, like, it's so sad. Like, this poor girl is so young and she just doesn't understand it yet [...]"

But the sexual affair began when Vanessa was a Browick boarding school sophomore and ended when she was in her thirties. 

And On page 58, Vanessa expressed disappointment that no one noticed their age gap when she was an adult: "Now when we touch each other, the world doesn't even notice. I know there should be freedom in that, but to me it only feels like loss."

Russel wrote over 370 pages with example after of example of how Vanessa did not view herself as a victim - even until adulthood. But Russel wrote in the very last paragraph of the novel: "And finally, thank you to the self-proclaimed nymphets, the Los I've met over the years who carry within them similar histories of abuse that looked like love, who see themselves in Dolores Haze. This book was written for no one but you."

I call absolute bullsh*t. Russell used the allure of nymphets to sell a lot of copies of My Dark Vanessa. For example, in the very first chapter, Vanessa, as an adult, masturbated, as she and Strane reminisced about their affair:

Vanessa requested Strane, "[....] give me a memory, something I can slip into." After Vanessa turned onto her stomach and shoved a pillow between her legs to masturbate, Strane reminisced about when he performed oral sex on Vanessa: "[...] in the office behind his classroom". Vanessa was: "[...] fifteen and naked from the waist down, sprawled on the couch [...]" Strane added, "[...] I remember once you bit down on your bottom lip so hard, you started to bleed, but you wouldn't let me stop."

Lastly, Stephen King opined that My Dark Vanessa is a: “[...] well-constructed package of dynamite.”

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