Did you see the images of Nigella Lawson appearing to be strangled by her partner? They were pretty disturbing. Columnists were quick to be shocked, quick to demand why nobody intervened. Was it the bystander effect that dictates that if more people are around, it’s less likely you’ll be helped? Was everyone thinking – someone will say something in a moment? Perhaps if only one other person had been in that restaurant, they would have spoken?
But it is just as likely that violence between partners is seen as a private affair. Nigella’s husband stated that it was nothing serious, he just held his hand to her throat. But clearly this is still violence. The sort of insidious violence that shows itself in physical posturing and verbal manipulation, leaving the other forever wondering if they are imagining or exaggerating what is there.
The question of violence between lovers is a public one, for all of us to consider, but it is also a question that touches on my work, because I write and read gothic fiction. Like the Lawrence poem I just posted, gothic fiction often holds an air of threat between lovers, or may openly indulge in violence.
So this is what I believe. I think we all have violence in our hearts to a certain extent because I believe we are all animals and our evolution has not yet caught up with our highest modes of philosophy. Perhaps if I were religious I might say that we spend our lives grappling with the devil with varying degrees of success. But I also believe our darkness is our own and we may seek help in managing it, but we don’t have the right to impose it on another person.
I like to think I would have said something if I’d seen that ‘tiff’, but who’s to say I wouldn’t have been as frozen as the next person, stunned by the exposure of a darkness that is expected to stay behind closed doors? I like to think that, as thoughtful adults, it’s our duty to both recognise our own devils and call people out when they bring their devils into other people’s lives. But how many of us have the courage?