I have been reviewing books about pedophiles off and on since I began this blog six years ago. Today I am going to look at them all together, in search of patterns.
First, all of these pedophiles are three-dimensional characters with some redeeming or intriguing qualities. There are various forms of fiction in which pedophiles are presented as nothing but monsters, but those would not be very interesting to me. Second, I do not claim to have made any sort of systematic survey of such stories. Perhaps readers will point me to others I should know about.
A few of these stories are quite simple. One is my evaluation of the real-life J.D. Salinger. His peak attraction is to 10-year-old girls, but his only known sexual advances were to girls of legal age.
The pedophile Kit in "More Lives Than One" is squeaky clean. Most of the book is about the false accusation against him by a teenage girl who has a crush on him. His true attraction is to boys, something he reveals to his wife near the end of the book (in just a few pages) because he can't stand to keep it a secret any longer. He hates his attraction, he never allows himself to fantasize about it, he's never seen child pornography, and he never thinks about it when he is making love with his wife. If a non-pedophile is trying to think about accepting some pedophiles, Kit is the ideal candidate. He is also the only one in this set whose attraction is to boys -- for the rest it is all girls.
Holden Caulfield is the protagonist of "The Catcher in the Rye". I diagnose him as a pedophile based primarily on his near-worship of his 10-year-old sister Phoebe, against a background of his sharp criticism of everyone else, and his lack of response to a mature female prostitute sitting in his lap. But there is no evidence in that story of him molesting anyone.
In "Pedal", the pedophile is Smirks. His only actual relationships with young girls are described in his brief reports of long-past events. In one of them he did act sexually with a girl and felt she would have felt fine about it if not for societal attitudes convincing her otherwise -- she conveniently died suddenly of unrelated causes a few months later. In the present, he feels tormented about his feelings for small girls, but he seems to be in no danger of abusing anyone.
In all of the other stories, we know quite a bit about what actually happened between the man and his main girl -- any other victims are secondary and not described in detail.
"Tiger, Tiger" is the only non-fiction story in this group, concerning author Margaux Fragoso's long relationship with Peter, starting when she is 7 and he is 51. Peter is a pedophile and sexual interest and activity is a large component of their relationship. She doesn't like it and he knows that. There is also, however, a strong emotional component to his attraction.
I have not reviewed Lolita, the most famous pedophile story, but readers are likely familiar with it. The protagonist Humbert Humbert is more calculating and sex-oriented than any of those in my set -- he is less sympathetic than any of the others -- and even less sympathetic if you believe he is an unreliable narrator and is sugar-coating some of what happened to portray himself in a better light.
"Lamb" and "Helpless" deserve to be discussed together, because both involve a man kidnapping a girl but never actually doing anything sexual with her. In "Lamb", the girl Tommie comes from an emotionally barren home and welcomes the intense positive attention that Gary gives to her -- she more or less consents to the kidnapping. Gary lets the girl Tommie know he is sexually attracted to her but he never does anything of that kind. In "Helpless" Ron imagines that his girl Rachel is being abused and needs to be rescued, though this is mere delusion on his part. It fits the "man rescues girl" scenario from his point of view. He has no chance to form a friendship with her gradually, so it requires an actual abduction of an unwilling girl. His fantasy is that she will quickly come to appreciate being rescued and love him, but he soon realizes this isn't going to happen. A willingness to kidnap might make you suspect he would get violent -- when he does finally start engaging in some frottage with her, he senses her fear and instantly stops. He's out of touch with reality with his kidnapping plan, but he can tell when a girl is uncomfortable and his feelings towards her remain tender and protective.
In "Una" the girl (Una) is 13, with sexual and romantic awareness, and she is fully in favor of the relationship as it develops. What the world sees as kidnapping actually develops as an elopement. Ray's primary attraction is to adults, so he is not a pedophile. He is an opportunistic offender against the sexually developed Una. Ray has no real plan, and in his ambivalence abandons Una in a particularly insensitive (and self-destructive) manner. He is caught and ends up serving jail time. If he had just told her they couldn't elope and taken her home, all might have ended with far less drama.
In "My Dark Vanessa", we have a high school teacher (Strane) who comes on to his 15-year-old student Vanessa. She is sexually mature. He is actually a pedophile but is attracted enough to her to be strongly sexually interested in her. Although there is some talk of poetry and literature, his interest in her is primarily sexual. He is quite manipulative, and at the center of this story is the need to keep the relationship secret to avoid dire consequences for him. She goes through excruciating contortions to do that for him.
In "Dream Children" we have the most authentic and close relationship. It begins when Bobs is four and continues until she is ten. This is true pedophilia. Oliver is a boarder where she lives, and they have adjacent rooms in the attic. For the most part, he is relating to her on an appropriate level, in a playful and creative manner. She is thrilled. He takes inherent joy in the friendship and being able to do things for her. He does, however, start introducing sexual activity into the relationship. The author takes us inside of Bobs's head, where we learn she didn't mind this part at all. She is heartbroken when he breaks things off abruptly (moving to the US) when she is ten years old -- that she minded a great deal. He did it in large part due to fear of discovery, but also anguish at how the relationship will inevitably change -- deteriorate -- in the years ahead.
What patterns can we see? In "Pedal", "More Lives Than One", the real J.D. Salinger, and the fictional Holden Caulfield, nothing happens in the real world. This is also true of the two pedophiles I detected in the background in "Helpless". Naturally the interesting issues start arising when things happen.
One theme is the role of the fear of discovery. It is central to "My Dark Vanessa", plays a large role in "Dream Children", and has some role in "Tiger, Tiger". Discovery is understood to be inevitable in Lamb, Una and Helpless. Pro-legalization pedophiles will argue that this fear makes things worse for the girls involved (and the men too, of course). Once the relationship has started, this is likely true. However, that fear of consequences deters men from beginning a sexual relationship in the first place -- which I believe is the more important consideration. It was wrong for all of these men to let a sexual relationship develop.
In none of these stories is a struggling child being forced to do something sexual. However, sexual activity is coerced in "Tiger, Tiger". While Rachel is kidnapped in "Helpless", no sexual activity takes place. Consent is sometimes iffy in "My Dark Vanessa", but she still wants sex. Bobs in "Dream Children" seems content with everything that happened sexually, and Una is downright enthusiastic. A pattern seems to be that girls who have reached puberty are enthusiastic about sex (at least some of the time) and pre-pubertal girls are not. Bobs does seem to be OK with it in "Dream Children" -- I assume this is because Oliver is in fact very carefully attuned to her and just about never does anything Bobs doesn't want. But when the author takes us into Bobs's mind, we never hear of sex as something she ever especially wanted or looked forward to. She did it for him, relatively happily.
One thing that unites all of the men in these stories is a lack of clarity about what they are doing and why, and a degree of impulsiveness. Given society's laws and attitudes, those are almost a prerequisite for any man who strives to have a positive sexual relationship with a young girl. Losing track in the initial stages of the consequences of discovery and the difficulties of remaining undiscovered seems common. Yet none of the men ever has bad intentions -- none wants to hurt his girl.
Rachel is kidnapped. All of the other prepubescent girls enter into their friendships with the men voluntarily, and all fit the pattern of someone with a barren home life who craves some positive attention. The postpubescents (Vanessa and Una) enter from romantic or sexual desire, with no need for a bad home situation to impel them.
The portrayals of all the pedophiles in these stories seems reasonably realistic. The poster child pedophile Kit strains credulity a bit when he says he has never fantasized sexually about boys, and never, ever thinks of them when having sex with his wife. At the other extreme, Ron making a room in his house for a girl and then kidnapping her seems like an extraordinarily rare story.
Based on my experience with pedophiles online, all of these authors have done a decent job of portraying a believable pedophile.
(I ignored two posts in this category that aren't really about pedophiles, "The sexuality of Mr. Rogers" and "Regret of Early Sex in Diary of a Teenage Girl", though the latter does suggest that early sex for a girl can be harmful even if it is consensual and legal if not tied to love).