Reading Note:
Rape Exchange
1 April 2019

He sat up, gazed at her intently for a second, and said, 

“How many times have you let yourself be raped in return for a little affection?”

She stared at him: his face was in shadow and he could not see his expression. He repeated: “How many times?” and she realized that she had whispered: “I don’t know.”

I’m tempted to say no more than that the novel from which this brief (if climactic) passage is extracted was published in 1965, when the shock wouldn’t have been the mention of rape but rather the admission that an educated woman could allow it to occur even though she very plainly didn’t want it. As I savored the interrogation for a few hours, I reconsidered the old story about how Victorian women were taught that they wouldn’t enjoy sex and so had just better lie back and think of England. If that story didn’t exactly curdle in the heat of what I had just read, it certainly underwent some sort of state change, and wasn’t, anymore, a joke about nineteenth-century benightedness. 

The novel is so apposite to the eye of our #MeToo climate that I’m going to have to identify the title and author — in a day or so. For now, I’ll let you try to guess.

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