Sadism by L.T Woodward (FULL TEXT)
In the human soul, cruelty crouches like a beast, chained, but eager to spring.
WE DO NOT live in a gentle society. The daily newspapers provide a record of atrocity and violence that will someday appall and terrify the historians of the future, if there is any future. Day by day the grim toll mounts: children maimed at the hands of their angry parents, frightened girls raped in dark alleys, helpless victims hideously mutilated by knife-wielding madmen. The impulse toward acts or cruelty runs like a dark ribbon through the shining surface of our affluent society.
We find cruelty everywhere, at the highest levels of society and at the lowest. The conversation at a fashionable dinner table is edged with razor-keen blades, designed to wound deeply; the nation’s sports fans pay millions of dollars a year to watch men batter each other into insensibility in the boxing ring or on the football gridiron; prisoners are interrogated with frightful ferocity in hundreds of police stations. The television screen is bright with the violent doings of detectives and criminals who rival one another in the ability to do damage. Our popular fiction is repetitiously full of scenes of whipping, torture, beating, and the more refined forms of unpleasantness.
In the sexual sphere, this impulse toward cruelty takes odd and darkly perverse forms. There are men who are unable to perform the act of intercourse at all unless they have first brought their belts or hands down across the bare buttocks of their partners. There are those who avoid intercourse entirely, and obtain sexual orgasm simply from some cruel and violent action, which may be as mild as a spanking or a slapping, or as extreme as a grotesque mutilation and disembowelment of the victim.
When cruelty is linked with sexuality in this way, we call the perversion sadism and the pervert a sadist. The name was coined late in the nineteenth century by Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who was born in Germany and who served as a police doctor in Vienna for many years. Krafft-Ebing carried out a systematic study of sexual perversions at a time when such things were mentioned only in whispers even by medical men, classifying the various strange sex impulses under headings which still are widely accepted.
Krafft-Ebing published his findings in a monumental work called Psychopathia Sexualis, which went through twelve editions between its first appearance in 1886 and the author’s death in 1902. It was a history-making book; for the first time, it offered the reading public analytic case histories of sexual disturbance. To be sure, Krafft-Ebing found it necessary to slip on the cloak of medical Latin whenever he feared that the acts he was describing would shock his readers. Even so, it was a work that ripped aside the veil of prudishness from the sexual anomalies, and made possible the later sex studies of Have-lock, Ellis, Freud, Stekel, and many others.
In Psychopathia Sexualis, Krafft-Ebing devoted a great deal of attention to the problem of the relation between pain and sexual excitement. He gave both aspects of this relationship names drawn from the world of literature. The perversion in which sexual pleasure is derived from receiving pain Krafft-Ebing called masochism, after the novelist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose books obsessively returned to the theme of men being flogged by sexually exciting women.* The perversion in which sexual pleasure is derived from inflicting pain was dubbed sadism, after Donatien Alphonse Francois, Marquis de Sade, the bizarre French novelist and philosopher of the late eighteenth century.
Masochism is more fully discussed in Masochism, by L. T. Woodward, M.D. (Monarch Books, 1964).
The Marquis de Sade, as the prototype of all sadists, deserves some words at this point. Contrary to popular belief, the eccentric marquis was not a particularly monstrous person himself. He indulged in a few sadistic activities in his day, and was scarcely a wholly normal person —but, compared to some of the individuals we will meet in the chapters to come, Sade was a meek and virtuous man.
His infamy derives not so much from any actions of his own as from the incredible torrent of erotic novels that he produced. In book after book—some of them running to many volumes—Sade poured forth a profusion or scenes of violence, torture, and bloodthirstiness that would give pause even to such modern peddlers of sadistic brutality as Mickey Spillane and Ian Fleming. His wild, fevered sexual fantasies spilled onto paper—and were made more artful because Sade dared to provide ingenious philosophical rationalizations for the actions of his characters. With cynical sophistry he “proved” over and over that vice was superior to virtue and that the torment of others was the highest and finest form of self-expression.
This twisted genius was born in 1740 to noble French parents. In his adolescence, he was described as “an adorable boy with a delicate, pale face from which two great black eyes gleamed.” Acquaintances spoke of his “feminine charm” and of the “atmosphere of evil” which even then seemed to envelop him. “He was of such startling beauty,” said one observer, “that even in his early youth all the ladies that saw him stood stock still in rapt admiration.”
After a career as a young military officer, Sade took a wife at the age of twenty-three—but he was forced by his family to marry the unattractive older sister of the girl whom he really loved. This dreary marriage seems to have led Sade into his first sexual excesses. He began to visit houses of prostitution where he paid the girls large sums to allow him to whip and beat their bare breasts and buttocks. One of these orgies evidently got out of hand, for in October, 1763, Sade was committed to prison for “great excesses” committed at a bordello that summer.
It was a short sentence. Sade amused himself in jail by writing a work of fiction in which he released his erotic energies in sadistic fantasy. After leaving prison, Sade went to Paris, where the chief of police found it necessary to warn the prostitutes against him. But he was only one of many men of his time (and of every time) who enjoyed beating naked girls. He was perverse, but not extraordinarily or monstrously perverse.
In 1768, Sade was mixed up in a notorious affair involving a woman named Rose Keller. One reliable contemporary account of the incident reported that Sade hired the Keller woman as a housekeeper, and lured her to his Paris dwelling:
“There he ordered her to undress completely. She threw herself at his feet and begged him to spare her since she was a respectable woman. He threatened her with a pistol that he drew from his pocket and so forced her to obey. Then he bound her hands together and whipped her savagely.
“When she was completely covered with blood, he applied salve to all her wounds and had her lay down. I do not know whether he gave her food and drink. At any rate he first saw her again on the following morning, looked at her wounds and saw that the salve had worked effectively. Then he took a knife and made cuts in her entire body, again placing salve on all her wounds, and left.
“The victim succeeded in tearing her bonds and to free herself by means of a window to the street. It is not known whether she was injured by the fall. A great outcry arose.”
Sade was brought to trial. He offered no explanation for his actions, simply denying that he had been as cruel as Rose Keller claimed. He was imprisoned again for a short while and fined.
Four years later, Sade was behind another prank of cruelty, described as follows in a diary of the time:
“I am told that Comte de Sade, who in 1768 caused great disorder by his crimes with a prostitute on whom he wanted to test a new cure, has just played in Marseilles a spectacle at first amusing but later horrible in its consequences. He gave a ball to which he invited many people and for dessert gave them very pretty chocolate pastilles. They were mixed with powdered ‘Spanish fly.’ Their action is well known. All who ate them were seized by shameless ardor and lust and started the wildest excesses of love. The festival became an ancient Roman orgy. The most modest of women could not restrain themselves.”
“Spanish Fly” is cantharides, a powdered preparation made from insects. It has been used since antiquity as an aphrodisiac, but its effects are grim and dangerous. It causes an irritation of the genital tract that simulates sexual excitement, but often leaves its users in permanent pain from the damage inflicted on the delicate tubes of the genito-urinary system. At Sade’s strange banquet in Marseilles, many of the unwitting victims suffered great agony, and one woman threw herself from a window in her frenzy, receiving severe injuries.
Sade fled to Italy after this exploit—taking with him his wife’s younger sister, whom he had loved all along and now made his mistress. He was condemned to death in absentia by the outraged court of Marseilles, but the sentence, made more harsh than necessary by public opinion, was never carried out.
He drifted in and out of various affairs for the next few years. But he had incurred the enmity of his mother-in-law, who was furious with him for seducing her younger daughter. In 1778, she succeeded in getting Sade sentenced to permanent detention for his “crimes against society.” And so this prankster, this whipper and beater, was interned at Vincennes from 1778 to 1784, then transferred to the Bastille in Paris from 1784 to 1789, and finally to an insane asylum at Charenton until April, 1790, when he was freed during the French Revolution.
His thirteen years in prison altered him grotesquely. A healthy, vigorous man of thirty-eight when he entered, he emerged hideously fat, gross and deformed—and totally warped by his deprivations. It was in these years that Sade, unable to find any other outlet for his teeming sexual energies, wrote the multitude of novels that have kept his name alive and attached it to the most repulsive of all sexual perversions.
Sade’s novels are for the most part unavailable in this country except in expurgated and tampered versions. Even at a time when such flamboyant works as Tropic of Cancer, Fanny Hill, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover are published by reputable firms and offered for sale in respectable bookstores, Sade remains an under-the-counter item. The reason for this, it seems to me, is that his novels are not content merely to be erotic, merely to describe scenes of sexual activities and to use “forbidden” words, but that they have an underlying philosophical basis that is intolerable to the public guardians of our morals. Sade is a true subversive, cunningly and deftly attacking the fundamental assumptions of our society, and his works have a tendency to corrupt the mind as well as to arouse the senses.
Sade’s philosophy does not concern us here. The reader interested in learning more about this man is referred to two paperbound books: The Marquis de Sade, an anthology of his writings including an essay by Simone de Beauvoir (Evergreen Books, 1953) and Philosopher of Evil, a biography of Sade by Walter Drummond (Regency Books, 1962).
What interests us here is the emotional content of the sadistic urge. A brief excerpt from the most famous of Sade’s novels, Justine, will help to give us something of the flavor of literary sadism.
Justine deals with the adventures of two sisters, one of them virtuous and the other corrupt. Typical of Sade’s upside-down morality, the wicked sister, Juliette, works her way upward in the world to success after success. Entering a fashionable brothel, Juliette marries a wealthy customer, poisons him and inherits his wealth, ruins a number of other men, and ultimately becomes the rich, politically powerful mistress of one of France’s most important men.
Meanwhile, the shy, tender Justine, clinging to her ideas about virtue, is mistreated and tormented in every conceivable way. She is raped, tortured, beaten, flogged, betrayed. At the end of the book she is struck dead by lightning—the final reward for her faith in goodness and chastity. The book is one long parable of evil: the virtuous, Sade says at endless length, meet only with disaster, while the wicked triumph—and this is as it should be, he argues!
Here is a characteristic scene from the early part of the book. Justine has not yet lost her virginity. She has escaped from one peril after another, and, fleeing into a forest, is met by a band of robbers. They invite her to join them in a lire of crime, but she piously declines.
Then the bandit chief, Coeur-de-fer, “a man of 36 years, of a bull’s strength and bearing the face of a satyr,” declares, “Since this little girl’s virtue is so precious to her and since… this commodity may be worth something to us, let’s leave it to her. But we have got to be amused. Let’s strip her naked and amuse ourselves with her.”
The brigands are pederasts and sodomists—that is, they prefer to violate women through the anal opening rather than vaginally. This is, naturally, a painful experience for the victim, and so is often associated with sadistic practices. Stripping away Justine’s clothing, they make her “crouch down on all fours so that I resembled a beast,” and violently assault her in this perverse manner.
While carrying out this invasion of her body, they also inflict pain in other ways. As Justine narrates it: “Sometimes he slapped, powerfully but in a very nervous manner, either my cheeks or my breasts…. In an instant, my face turned purple, my chest red…. I was in pain, I begged him to spare me, tears leapt from my eyes; they roused him, he accelerated his activities; he bit my tongue….”
Notice the key phrase here. “Tears leapt from my eyes; they roused him, he accelerated his activities.” As we will see in the chapters to follow, the victim’s emotional response to the pain inflicted is often the vital stimulus that spurs the sadist on. Where there is no reaction of this sort, the sadist frequently is unable to continue with his attack.
Justine also offers this description of a typically bizarre sadistic amusement:
“The fourth bandit attached strings to all my parts to which it was possible to tie them; he held the ends in his hands and sat down seven or eight feet from my body…. I was standing erect. It was by sharp pulls now on this string, now on some other, that the savage irritated his pleasures. I swayed, I lost balance again and again. He flew into an ecstasy each time I tottered. Finally, he pulled all the cords at once, but with such irregularity that I fell to the ground in front of him. Such was his design: and my forehead, my breast, my cheeks received the proofs of a delirium he owed to none but this mania.”
Before long, Justine finds herself tied by her limbs to four trees, which pull apart and nearly rend her limb from limb; she is later bound to a torture rack, subjected to the attentions of a demented surgeon, abused by a group of sadistic idol-worshippers, and otherwise manhandled and mauled through hundreds of incredible and repetitious pages. Nothing in Sade’s own life ever matched the warped ingenuity of the scenes in his books.
It was an apt choice, then, when Krafft-Ebing gave the term sadism to “the experience of sexual pleasurable sensations (including orgasm) produced by acts of cruelty…. It may also consist of an innate desire to humiliate, hurt, wound, or even destroy others in order thereby to create sexual pleasure in one’s self.”
Sadism is an easier phenomenon to comprehend than its companion perversion, masochism. As I pointed out in my book on masochism, that perversion “seems to go against the most basic instincts of a living creature—the instincts of self-preservation, of pain avoidance.” In that earlier book, it was necessary to devote many pages to an attempt to understand the motivations that could drive people to seek pain, when the natural impulse of mankind is to avoid pain.
Sadism presents no such perplexities. It represents, not a reversal of rational behavior, but simply a heightening of desires that lurk within us all. It is vitally necessary for each of us, as human beings, to assert our existence and individuality. This invariably requires us to establish habits of protection and even of aggression. We must earn livings; we must find mates; we must shelter our families. This involves the development of instincts of dominance.
Sadism is this aggressive instinct run wild. It carries the normal need for self-assertion into the twilight world of perversion. The sadist is not content merely to hold his own against hostile forces; he must carry the war to the enemy s camp, destroying all he can. So our challenge here is not to fathom the basic dynamics of a perversion —as in masochism—but simply to attempt to understand what forces can drive a person into the excesses of sadism.
Krafft-Ebing’s pioneering explanation of sadism followed these lines:
“In the intercourse of the sexes, the active or aggressive role belongs to man; woman remains passive, defensive. It affords man great pleasure to win a woman, to conquer her; and in the art of love, the modesty of woman, who keeps herself on the defensive until the moment of surrender, is an element of great psychological significance and importance.
“Under normal conditions man meets obstacles which it is his part to overcome, and for which nature has given him an aggressive character. This aggressive character, however, under pathological conditions may likewise be excessively developed, and express itself in an impulse to subdue absolutely the object of desire, even to destroy or kill it.
“If both these constituent elements occur together— the abnormally intensified impulse to a violent reaction toward the object of the stimulus, and the abnormally intensified desire to conquer the woman—then the most violent outbreaks of sadism occur.”
This nineteenth-century explanation of sadism is still the most satisfactory that has been offered, though it is in many ways an oversimplification of the case. Nearly all subsequent theoretical expositions of sadism, though they couch themselves in more abstruse technical terms, come down eventually to the same point: that sadism is a means whereby a disturbed individual asserts his existence by magnifying normal human reactions to the environment.
Thus Sigmund Freud, in the celebrated paper, The Economic Problem in Masochism, published in 1924, spoke of the struggle between the libido, or life-force, and the death or destruction instinct. Within any organism, said Freud, the libido meets the death instinct in open conflict. “To the libido,” wrote Freud, “falls the task of making this destructive instinct harmless, and it manages to dispose of it by directing it to a great extent and early in life… towards the objects of the outer world. It is then called the instinct of destruction, of mastery, the will to power. A section of this instinct is placed directly in the service of the sexual function, where it has an important part to play: this is true sadism.”
In short, sadism is an outward displacement of an inner destructive urge. The individual, from earliest childhood, learns to defend himself against the forces outside him by externalizing his own destructive instinct. In most of us, such forces are held under stable control. In some, though, the individual’s insecurity is so great that he over-compensates by lashing out in destructive fury, the violence known as sadism. (In others, the impulse turns inward again to become masochism.)
What forces shape the sadist? How and why does the urge toward cruelty assert itself?
Let us examine some of the forms of sadistic behavior, and search for the underlying patterns.
The torments which we may be made to suffer are much greater in their effect on the body and mind than any pleasures which the most learned voluptuary could suggest, or than the liveliest imagination, and the most sound and exquisitely sensible body, could enjoy.
The Sublime arid Beautiful, 1756
SADISM IS everywhere about us.
On television, in the movies, in our books, in casual conversation, in our business dealings, in our sexual relationships—there are incidents of sadism, great and small, in nearly every aspect of our daily life. Most of us do not recognize the sadistic content of our actions, because the pain that they inflict is relatively mild and soon forgotten. Luckily, there are not many sex murderers or torturers among us. We fail to see the universality of sadism.
Our schools, for example, are hotbeds of sadism. Children, unfettered by the more rigid constraints of polite society, are merciless in their verbal and physical treatment of one another. When a gang of fifth-graders teams up to harass some chubby little boy, they are practicing collective sadism on him. “Fatso! Fatso!” they yell, as they chase him around the playground—and when they catch him and knock him to the ground, and gleefully pinch his jiggling, flabby belly, they are reacting as sadistically as the pervert who scourges young girls with whips. They are venting their own aggressive emotions.
This can have an explicitly sexual character, even in the elementary schools. In my book Sex In Our Schools (Monarch, 1962) I cited the case of a “kindergarten voyeur,” Donald, who organized a campaign against a shy, backward girl named Jane, who was the butt of much cruel humor in the class.
“Get Jane!” Donald cried one day in the schoolyard. And—in the words of Donald’s teacher—“The tallest boy in the class was holding her… and another was lifting her skirt, while Donald was energetically pulling her panties off. Poor Jane was screaming in terror, while all the rest of the class, boys and girls alike, had gathered around to watch.
“By the time I reached the scene, Jane’s panties were down around her ankles and her bare buttocks were exposed. Donald was rubbing his hand over her skin. Jane was hysterical. She could not budge, and was simply standing there while Donald exposed her to the class and fondled her buttocks.”
This attack on the girl was nothing other than a symbolic rape. Physically unable to rape the girl—and, of course, unaware of the mechanics of the sex act—five-year-old Donald nevertheless carried out an act of clear sexual aggression against the unfortunate girl. It caused her pain and humiliation, and was overtly sadistic. Such forcible exposures of nakedness are common in children. By compelling others to submit, they satisfy at the same time their sexual curiosity and their need to assert aggressiveness.
So we all grow up in an environment where sadistic acts are commonplace. The beatings, the mockery, the gang activities of childhood tend to disappear as the child enters a world where such things are punished by arrest for assault or by suits for slander. Yet the underlying aggressiveness remains, and finds its outlet in other ways —often dark ones.
Some of these kindergarten sadists, for instance, grow up to become schoolteachers. And that profession tends to attract sadistic individuals. The reason for this is unclear; possibly teachers react against the uninhibited sadism of their pupils by a counterbalancing sadism of their own. Perhaps “schoolmarm sadism” stems from the fact that teachers are held in low esteem among professional people—compare the prestige of a schoolteacher with that of a doctor, a lawyer, or a college professor—and they compensate for this loss of status by developing keen and festering sadistic drives.
In any event, the schools swarm with sadists, and apparently always have. In ancient Rome schoolmasters wielded a variety of whips over their pupils—the birch rod, the scutica or hard leather strap, the fallax or flexible leather whip—and others. As we will see later on, Rome was a uniquely sadistic culture, and obviously the Romans learned their cruelty along with their ABC’s. A wall-painting from the ruins of Pompeii shows a vivid flogging scene: a boy of about fifteen, naked except for a strip of cloth about his hips, lies on the shoulders of a boy standing crouched before him. Another boy holds the victim’s leg. A schoolmaster brandishes the ferula, a bundle of wooden switches, and is about to bring it down on the boy’s bare buttocks, while a group of schoolmates (including, apparently, some girls) looks on with interest.
In passing, it is worth noting the frequency with which sadistic scenes such as these draw a crowd of onlookers. (In the Donald-Jane episode above, observe how the teacher remarked that “all the rest of the class, boys and girls alike, had gathered around to watch” the exposure of Jane’s buttocks.)
There is a definite element of voyeurism—of Peeping Tom-ism—in much sadistic behavior. Many individuals who would not dream of committing an act of violence themselves relish the vicarious pleasures of watching others perform sadistic activities. Hence the great popularity of the Micky Spillane school of crime fiction, which allows the reader a safe, private vicarious outlet for his sadism. Hence, too, the vulture-like way that curious onlookers gather around the victims of an automobile accident; they take pleasure from the sight of the suffering of others. As the celebrated English sexologist Havelock Ellis put it in The Psychology of Sex:
“In a mild degree pain (with the associated emotions of shock, anxiety, disgust, contempt, etc.), whether witnessed in others or experienced in themselves, can for many people, especially if neurotically disposed, evoke a pleasurable psychic state without being intense enough to stimulate actually sexual sensations…. A certain element of pleasure or satisfaction is possible….
“The classic expression of this is the passage in Lucretius (Book II) concerning the feelings of the man safe on shore who witnesses others drowning, and it is interesting to see how Lucretius explained it: ‘It is sweet to contemplate from the shore the peril of the unhappy sailor struggling with death, not that we take pleasure in the misfortunes of others, but that it is consoling to view evils we are not experiencing.’”
The sadism of schoolteachers has perhaps never been more freely expressed than in the England of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Then, and to a very minor extent today, schoolmasters were free to administer corporal punishment to their pupils for the most minor infractions of discipline. Each boy in turn (girls received no education, and so no such punishments) underwent the experience of baring his shoulders or more usually his buttocks in front of a mob of fellow pupils, while the schoolmaster lay on stoutly with whip or cane.
The novels of Charles Dickens vividly dramatize this brand of sadism. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and many others show the floggers at work. Probably the most familiar sadistic schoolmaster of Dickens is Wackford Saucers, of Nicholas Nickleby. Squeers is the master of Dotheboys—pronounced do-the-boys—Hall, and this is how Dickens shows him in action:
“’Come here, Bolder,’ said Squeers.
“An unhealthy-looking boy, with warts all over his hands, stepped from his place to the master’s desk, and raised his eyes imploringly to Squeers’ face….
“’Bolder,’ said Squeers, tucking up his wristbands and moistening the palm of his right hand to get a good grip of the cane, ‘you are an incorrigible young scoundrel, and as the last thrashing did you no good, we must see what another will do towards beating it out of you.’
“With this, and wholly disregarding a piteous cry for mercy, Mr. Squeers fell upon the boy and caned him soundly: not leaving off indeed, until his arm was tired out.”
One perhaps unforeseen result of the wholesale flogging in English schools was that the young men developed a liking for it. The specifically sexual aspects of flogging—namely, the exposure of the genitals, and the stimulation of the buttocks by the cane—came to have such exciting appeal that in later life many graduates of the English schools paid large sums to be flogged by prostitutes. Thus we read with interest of a machine devised by one entrepreneur “which would whip forty persons at a time,” and we learn of Mrs. Colet’s flagellation brothel, allegedly visited by no less a personage than King George IV. And the Profumo scandal of 1963 turned up a latter-day example, with its revelations that Christine Keeler and other call girls had been hired to officiate at “whipping parties” attended by well-to-do Englishmen whose masochistic tendencies had been acquired through canings and floggings in their exclusive boyhood schools.
Flagellation by schoolteachers was fashionable in the United States in the last century, but today it is, officially at least, frowned upon. The coming of co-education has made it an impractical matter to perform bare-buttocks whippings in the classroom, though there have been several scandalous instances of such sadism in recent years. About 1950, a high-school teacher in a southern city was suspended for forcing a fifteen-year-old boy to drop his pants in front of a mixed class and submit to a whipping with a belt. A few years later, a Midwestern city was agitated by a reported case in which a girl of sixteen, who had circulated a scurrilous note about her teacher’s virility, was required to bare her buttocks in class and undergo corporal punishment.
These cases are relatively rare—at least, they are rarely reported. Teachers today find less flagrant outlets for their sadistic drives. For example, the Illinois Association of Teachers of English compiled a study a few years back of student attitudes toward teachers. They asked a group of students to write anonymous appraisals of their teachers. Some of the results looked like this:
One teacher “never has a smile on her face; she always looks as if she is about to kill somebody. She does nothing but stand in front of the room and watch you like a hawk. Her favorite words are ‘Get that smile off your face!’”
Another teacher “maintained discipline by making his students fear him. When he was angry he shouted at the top of his lungs. Although he never touched the girls, he thought nothing of grabbing a boy’s ear and shaking him. One day he caught a boy reading a library book in class, and he grabbed the boy and started shaking him.”
Another man was “strong and violent-tempered. He occasionally threw books at students who were causing disturbances in his class. Once he picked up two boys who were talking and knocked their heads together.”
And in his book The Mentally Disturbed Teacher (Chilton, 1961) Dr. Joseph T. Shipley cites this report of a teacher given to corporal punishment:
“I think she enjoyed giving kids a licking. If she got the urge, she would ask a person to come up to her desk, lie across her lap, and bingo! he got it! She was right-handed, so you had to lie across her lap in a certain way. If you didn’t, she would ask you to turn around.”
Mild stuff, perhaps, compared with the floggers and caners of another day. Yet this sadism in the classroom provides a disturbing background for the psychological development of our young people.
Popular entertainment is another fertile breeding ground for sadistic impulses. There’s money in violence, as many a television or movie promoter has found out. All the popular arts are shot through with the desire to capitalize on the public’s fondness for sadistic behavior.
Thus we have somebody like Mickey Spillane selling untold millions of copies of his thrillers, and depending largely on in appeal to the sadistic impulses. This typical passage from One Lonely Night tells us what commodity Spillane is selling:
“They heard my scream and the awful roar of the gun and the slugs tearing into bone and guts and it was the last they heard. They went down as they tried to run and felt their insides tear out and spray against the walls.
“I saw the general’s head splinter into shiny wet fragments and splatter over the floor. The guy from the subway tried to stop the bullets with his hands and dissolved into a nightmare of blue holes.”
Spillane’s two-fisted sadism is not as popular as it once was. A newer, much more sophisticated writer, the late Ian Fleming, became the leading purveyor of vicarious sadism, a position he maintains posthumously. Fleming’s slick, fast-paced books revolve around the doings of James Bond, a devotee of fine foods, good wines, fast cars, and faster women. His adventures are not purely sexual, but are heavily spiced with sadism. In one book he is tied into a bottomless chair and beaten about the genitals with a cane; in another, he and a girl are nearly dragged naked across a sharp coral reef; in another book, a girl is tied naked in a spread-eagle position and left to be eaten alive by crabs. There are floggings galore, and many other tortures and torments whose ingenuity rivals that of Sade’s. The difference seems to be that Sade was a sick man performing a kind of therapy by putting his fantasies down on paper, while Ian Fleming was a cunning craftsman who grew wealthy by manufacturing the kind of product the public is eager to buy.
Anyone scooping up a handful of magazines at random on a newsstand cannot fail to notice the prevalence of sadistic themes. Sadism is a kind of literary decoration, thrown in to give the reader the vicarious pleasure he craves.
So we read in Private Detective, “Jerry deliberately held the lighted end of his cigarette against soft flesh. Her scream was a piercing shock of agony…. Still Lorraine wasn’t giving up. Jerry picked another soft warm spot for the end of his cigarette.”
And in a supposedly romantic story from the pulp magazine, Love Short Novels, observe the powerful sadistic content that is inseparable from the heroine’s emotions:
“His head swooped. A heartbeat later, he kissed her. He took her lips in a kiss that was brutal, bruising, and insulting. He crushed her to him with arms that offered no tenderness. Sheila could feel through her soft wool sweater every button on his jacket. They jabbed cruelly She was sobbing beneath her breath with physical pain while her yearning arms crept up to his shoulders. They reached to encircle his neck, but never arrived. Ruthlessly, humiliatingly, he thrust her from him and laughed in her stricken face.”
From the best-selling novel, The Woman of Rome, by Alberto Moravia, comes this explicitly sadistic passage:
“When I drew close to him and bent over the bed to stretch myself beside him, I suddenly felt him grip my knees with his arms and then bite me savagely on the left hip. I felt an acute spasm of pain while at the same time I realized absolutely that the bite expressed some indefinable despair he was experiencing. It was as though we were two cursed souls driven by hatred, rage and sadness to bury our teeth in one another’s flesh in the depths of some new hell, rather than two lovers about to make love.”
Quite naturally, this theme of sadism is taken up, with embellishments, by the pornography trade. A vast industry thrives on the public craving for vicarious violence. The trade name for this sort or material is “Bondage.” Bondage collectors, it would seem, are would-be sadists who, too timid to go out and manhandle women as they dream of doing, pay good money to buy stories, photos, and drawings that depict women in various degrees of punishment. This allows them to revel in vicarious perversion without undergoing the risks of the real thing.
And so we see such advertisements as these in the cheaper magazines:
“Bondage story drawings of damsels in distress that are bound to please. List of illustrated serials in stock! ‘Sold in Slavery,’ 20 chapters, all for $11.00…. ‘Yolanda’s Bizarre Experience,’ 15 chapters, all 15 for $8.00….”
“Spanking new. We have what we know you’ll enjoy —’The Battle of the Sexes’ or ‘She Got It On the End.’… 3 different sets of 10 x 4 glossy photos each of how man keeps the upper hand.”
“Exposed! Conditions in women’s prisons. Correspondence from overseas tells an extremely interesting story, well documented with many illustrations. Ancient corrective methods still in use, scenes of Beauty in Penitence. For all seasoned collectors of curiosa….”
“Painful punishment. Sensational scenes of sadism, including a girl tightly tied to a trestle in a spread-eagle position. Girls gagged and lashed together, etc. This exceptionally fine sequence is most unusually interesting and highly prized by seekers of the exotic. This is exceptional value. Eight photos, $6.”
And a decision of the Supreme Court of New York County, handed down by Judge Matthew M. Levy, offered this description of a sadistic work called Night of Horror whose public sale had led to a legal action:
“Night of Horror is no haphazard title,” Judge Levy declared. “Perverted sexual acts and macabre tortures of the human body are repeatedly depicted. The books contain numbers of acts of male torturing female and some vice versa—by most ingenious means.
“These gruesome acts include such horrors as cauterizing a woman’s breast with a hot iron, placing hot coals against a woman’s breasts, tearing breasts off, placing hot irons against a woman’s armpits, pulling off a girl’s fingernails with white-hot pincers, completely singeing away the body hairs, working a female’s skin away from her flesh with a knife, gouging and burning eyes out of their sockets, ringing the nipples of the breast with needles…. Sucking a victim’s blood was pictured; and so was pouring molten lead into a girl’s mouth and ears, and putting honey on a girl’s breasts, vagina and buttocks— and then putting hundreds of great red ants on the honey. Sodomy, rape, Lesbianism, seduction prevail….”
This sort of material—on which hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year in the United States alone —is the most woeful sort of trash. Law-enforcement agencies wage constant war against it, without much success. The chief argument for banning this kind of commercially sadistic material is that it stimulates the customers to go out and commit acts of violence and sadism.
My personal feeling is that this viewpoint is in error. The bondage trash, rather than increasing the occurrence of acts of violence, tends to reduce them, I feel. For the men who consume this material (the audience is almost entirely male) are able to rid themselves of their aggressive instincts through perusal of the booklets they buy. They are satisfied with vicarious experience. If no such material were available, they might turn instead, in desperation, to actual sadistic crimes.
The significance of the bondage pornography, then, is not that it boosts the crime rate, but that it fills such a deep hunger in the American male. Why should sadistic trash sell so widely? Why are our movies and television screens forever full of scenes of violence? Why is violence such socko box-office?
So far we have considered only the tangential forms of sadism—the spanking of schoolchildren, the purchase of pornographic literature. The background level of cruelty and violence is universal in our society. Let us turn now to some of the actual manifestations of the sexual perversion known as sadism.
Krafft-Ebing, the pioneer in the study of this perversion, was the first to point out that sadism assumes “a long series of forms which begins with capital crime and ends with paltry acts affording merely symbolic satisfaction to the perverse desires of the sadistic individual.”
He also differentiated among the nature of sadistic acts, listing these three categories:
- Sadism practiced after the consummation of coitus, and providing a bit of extra satisfaction that the act of intercourse itself did not offer.
- Sadism practiced before and during coitus, for the purpose of bolstering feeble virility.
- Sadism practiced instead of coitus, with an orgasm an ejaculation experienced as a direct result of the sadistic act itself.
The first of these categories shows sadism as a kind of sideline amusement. Sadists of this sort, finding their appetites not completely fulfilled by intercourse, attain satisfaction after the act by performing violence on their sex-partners—violence that may range in scope from mild bites and slaps all the way to murder.
The second form is more indicative of neurosis and inner distress. Here we find the many sadistically-inclined men and women who are impotent or frigid unless they can abuse or mistreat their sex-partners in some way as part of the foreplay of intercourse.
Most serious, from the medical and legal standpoint, is the third form of sadism, which is most definitely perverse. A perverse sexual act is one that serves as a substitute for sexual intercourse between man and woman, which is arbitrarily taken as the norm. Thus masturbation, a universal human practice, becomes perverse when the practitioner prefers it to intercourse and masturbates when intercourse would easily be available. So too with sadism. When the act of beating or of murder produces a sexual orgasm without the need for intercourse, we have entered the realm of true perversion. Under this category we will find many of our lust murderers and other monsters in human form.
“There is much evidence to support the conviction that man surpasses the tiger and hyena in cruelty and pitilessness.”
WHEN WE enter the realm of sadistic crime, we discover at once that an aspect of sadism common to many cases is the fondness for the shedding and seeing of blood. From Krafft-Ebing comes this case history which is the classic of its type:
“Mr. X, aged twenty-five…. While yet a child of ten the patient felt a peculiar lustful desire to see blood flow from his fingers. Thereafter he often cut or pricked himself in the fingers, and took great delight in it. Very early, erections were added to this, and also if he saw the blood of others; for example, when he once saw the servant-girl cut her finger it gave him an intense lustful feeling….
“Without any teaching he began to masturbate, and always during the act there were memory-pictures of bleeding women. It now no longer sufficed him to see his own blood flow; he longed to see the blood of young females, especially those that were attractive to him. He could scarcely overcome the impulse to violate two cousins and a certain servant….
“In his imagination thoughts of blood were ever present, inducing lustful excitement. An inner relation existed between thoughts and feelings. Often there were other cruel fancies. He imagined himself in the role of a tyrant who had the people shot in crowds with grape-shot. He would imagine a scene as it would be, if enemies were to take a city and mutilate, torture, kill and rape the young women.
“When in his normal state this patient, who had a mild disposition and was not morally defective, was ashamed of and horrified by such cruel, lustful fancies…. His sexual excitement was satisfied by masturbation….
“In order to free himself from his vice and his cruel imagination, he began to indulge in sexual intercourse with females. Coitus was possible, but only when the patient called up the idea that the girl’s fingers were bleeding. Without the assistance of this idea no erection was possible. The cruel thought of cutting was limited to the woman’s hand.”
We see here a good case of the second category of sadism. Intercourse was impossible unless accompanied by fantasies of a bleeding woman. The fixation, Krafft-Ebing tells us, went back to early childhood.
What happened to “Mr. X” that gave him this peculiar association between blood and sexual excitement? The case history, as set down, does not tell us. Perhaps the servant girl who cut her finger also was given to fondling the little boy’s genitals—or possibly he spied on her in her room, and saw her nude body. From that moment on, sexual excitement and the bleeding finger of the servant girl may have been welded in his mind, so that he could not have the one without some fantasy of the other.
The blood-lust of the sadist can take other, more violent forms than mere mental fantasy. In 1829, the German town of Bozen was terrorized by a thirty-year-old soldier who wounded a number of girls with his penknife, stabbing them in the abdomen and genitals. When he was apprehended, he explained that at certain times a powerful sexual excitement came over him, which could only be satisfied not by sleeping with women but by stabbing them.
The act of stabbing produced the same satisfaction as coitus did in him when normal. The sight of blood dripping from the knife enhanced his pleasure. He confessed that before becoming a girl-stabber, he “had satisfied his sexual lust in violation of immature girls, by causing them to practice masturbation on him, and by sodomy. Gradually the thought came to him how pleasurable it would be to stab a young and pretty girl in the genitals, and take delight in the sight of the blood running from the knife.”
The psychological explanation of this grisly pastime obvious. The girl-stabber of Bozen was sexually impotent, unable to have intercourse in the normal way. Stabbing became a symbolic act of coitus for him. The knife served as a penis-substitute, penetrating the bodies of his female victims in the genital region. And the blood that gushed from their wounds was the counterpart of the blood that issues from the vagina of a young girl having intercourse for the first time. The bloody knife, in which he took such joy, was the symbol of the erect penis that has successfully deflowered a virgin—the act of which he was incapable.
Medical literature is crowded with such individuals, who attain orgasm and experience ejaculation at the moment of driving a knife into a girl’s flesh. They are not normally murderous individuals; they stab to wound, not to kill. Almost without exception, they are of low potency and find stabbing a satisfactory substitute for normal intercourse.
A case that arose out of my own practice involved a man I’ll call Thomas, who was in his late thirties. Unmarried and unhappy, Thomas was a pale, pasty-faced, overweight man who was troubled by impotence. Time and again, ever since the age of sixteen, he had attempted to have intercourse without success. Although he could achieve an erection by thinking about women or by looking at nude photographs (especially of bare female buttocks) the erection invariably vanished the moment he took a girl in his arms and tried to make love to her.
Thomas told me of his background: a domineering, aggressive mother, a meek, retiring father. His home life had been unhappy. His mother, who appeared to have a definitely sadistic nature herself, delighted in humiliating Thomas and his younger sister, her only children. Although he was an intelligent and persuasive man, able to get into positions of intimacy with many women, he never had a true love-relationship, and, as noted, had never successfully had sexual intercourse.
In the midst of our therapy came an interruption: he had been arrested! On a slum side-street, he had plunged a pocket-knife into the buttocks of a sixteen-year-old girl, who had fled from him and called the police.
I saw him in jail. “It was an irresistible impulse,” he said. “There was this girl standing there, in tight blue jeans. The cheeks of her buttocks were sharply outlined. I came up to her and felt a terrible desire to stab her. I took out my knife and drove it into her buttocks. As I did it I had a powerful sexual orgasm.”
Then he broke down and admitted what he had not told me in any of our previous sessions: that he had been doing this for years. He had stabbed perhaps forty women over the past fifteen years. His target was always the buttocks, and the wounds he inflicted were generally superficial ones. This was his only sexual outlet. He had never been caught before.
Thomas was remanded for psychiatric care. During his continued therapy he revealed this significant anecdote:
“When I was about nine years old and my sister was six, she did something naughty. I don’t remember what it was, but she had to be punished for it. And my mother told me to do the punishing. She ordered me to take Ellen across my knees and spank her bare buttocks. She looked on while I did it.”
The experience was a powerful one. The feeling of sensuality that possessed the boy as his bare hand connected again and again with the plump pink cheeks of his sister’s bare buttocks came to dominate his entire life.
As he grew into manhood, he longed to repeat the pleasurable experience. But a webwork of neurotic fears held him back. With his fixation on buttocks, coupled with deep-rooted incestuous longings, he had no interest in other parts of the female anatomy. Yet normal coitus was impossible for him. One day he discovered the “irresistible impulse” to stab girls in the buttocks, and found that when he performed that act, he was able to attain spontaneous orgasm. He began to roam the streets in search of victims.
Prolonged therapy succeeded, if not in curing Thomas’ fixation, then at least in transforming it into a less dangerous form. After his release, Thomas discovered—and reported joyfully to me—that he was now able to perform sexual intercourse in a normal manner, with one small proviso. “The woman has to let me spank her before we go to bed,” he said. “I turn her across my knee and let her have it—and then I’m potent.”
Thomas had succeeded in moving from the third category of sadism to the second. Stabbing as an intercourse-substitute had given way to spanking as a potency-booster. He was not precisely normal sexually, of course, and probably would never be—but at least he had ceased to be a menace to society, and so long as he could find a steady supply of women willing to be spanked he would no longer have overriding sexual frustrations.
Other stabbers abound in the medical literature. A case reported by the German sexologist Demme deals with Herr Bartle, a wine-merchant of Augsburg: “At the age of nineteen he for the first time cut a girl. During the act he had a seminal emission and experienced intense pleasure. From that time the impulse [to stab] grew constantly more powerful. He chose only young and pretty girls, and, as a rule, asked them before the deed whether they were still single. The ejaculation or sexual satisfaction occurred only when he was sure that he had actually wounded the girls.
“After such an act he always felt tired and bad, and was also troubled with qualms of conscience. Up to his thirty-second year he pursued this process of cutting, but was always careful not to wound the girls dangerously. From that time until his thirty-sixth year he was able to control his impulse. Then he sought to attain his object by simply pressing the girls on the arm or neck, but this gave rise to erections only and not to ejaculation. Then he sought to attain his object by pricking the girls with the knife left in its sheath, but this did not suffice. Finally, he stabbed with the open knife, and had complete success, for he thought that a girl when stabbed bled more and suffered more pain than when merely cut.
“In his thirty-seventh year he was detected and arrested. In his lodgings were found a collection of daggers, sword-canes, and knives. He said that the mere sight of these weapons, and still more the grasping of them, gave him an intense feeling of sexual pleasure, with violent excitement. According to his own confession, he had injured in all fifty girls. His external appearance was rather pleasing. He lived in very good circumstances, but was peculiar and shy.”
The sexual symbolism in this case—knife = penis—is obvious. The sadistically-inclined wine-merchant, who, Demme tells us, disliked coitus and felt “an aversion going so far as disgust for the female sex,” found it necessary to satisfy his powerful sexual desires through the substitute means of perverse sadism. It was with the knife that he established the virility that a normal man establishes with his penis. Use of the sheathed knife indicated an unwillingness to risk physical contact with the victim (fear of venereal disease?) but it proved unsatisfactory. The collection of daggers, sword-canes and knives, of course, was simply a collection of genitals—the impotent man compensating for his failings by surrounding himself with a multiplication of virility-symbols.
A grotesque extension of the link between sadism and bloodshed is vampirism. I do not mean to call up any images of Count Dracula scaling the walls of Transylvanian castles; there are vampires among us at all times, and there is nothing at all supernatural about them. They are sexually twisted individuals who get their pleasure from seeing blood flow, and then from drinking it.
What possible motivation can lead them to such a strange expression of lust?
It is not easy to tell what motives move the clouded minds of such individuals. Certainly blood takes on a sexual meaning for them; in its most specific forms, it leads the vampire to commit an act incredibly revolting to most of us, the drinking of menstrual blood. (This combines vampirism with cunnilingus, or oral-genital contact, an act not customarily regarded as perverse any more.} However, this is not a sadistic action, though it is certainly a strange one. A more customary form of vampirism is found in such cases as this one:
A young man in his middle twenties, J. H. had never had sexual intercourse, but was a habitual masturbator. In his teens, he saw his mother’s maid cut her hand severely on a pane of glass which she had broken while washing windows. The boy rushed to the maid’s help, but “while helping to stop the bleeding he could not keep from sucking up the blood that flowed from the wound, and in this act he experienced extreme erotic excitement, with complete orgasm and ejaculation.”
From then on, he sought in every possible way to see, and, when possible, to taste the fresh blood of attractive young women. He bribed a maid to let him prick her finger with a needle and lick the blood, but when his mother discovered this, she fired the girl. Then he went on to prostitutes. He was able to persuade certain girls to let him make little cuts in them—for a price.
Revulsion at his own practices sent him into a state of nervous collapse. Twice he voluntarily committed himself to mental institutions. “However, when the patient felt himself free again, he would immediately fall into his old passion, and spare no pains or money to satisfy his sexual desire in the abnormal manner described.”
Prostitutes, it ought to be noted, play a key role in the satisfaction of sadistic desires. Few people are willing to let themselves be injured even for the sake of love. (A sadist can always seek out a masochist, of course. But the typical sadist gets no satisfaction out of mistreating masochists, since the masochist enjoys being hurt, and so no pain is really being inflicted.)
Prostitutes are often willing to cooperate with sadists, since they find in them an important source of income. In his study of prostitution, The Call Girl (Ballantine Books, 1958) Dr. Harold Greenwald notes:
“Sadists and masochists form a special section of the clientele of call girls. Sadists, particularly, are so numerous that many of the girls wear dresses with belts because the men want to beat them and the girl prefers that her own cloth belt be used. Frequently the beating is purely symbolic and is not done to the point of pain. However, many of the girls mentioned men who had been carried away and had beaten the girls quite severely. In addition to beatings, some of the clients will demand the right to tie the girl up before administering the beating or before having intercourse.”
The nineteenth-century sex theorist Pascal cites the case of a man who “visited prostitutes, had them purchase a living fowl or rabbit, and made them torture the animal. He particularly revelled in the sight of cutting off the heads and tearing out the eyes and entrails. If he found a girl who would consent, and go about it right cruelly, he was delighted, and paid her and went his way without asking anything more or touching her.”
Krafft-Ebing offers two cases that are more specifically related to the theme of using prostitutes in a sadistic way to produce bloodshed. The first is that of “B., seventeen years of age, a tinsmith,” who in January, 1893, bought a long knife and went to a prostitute. He repeatedly had sexual intercourse with her, and gave her money. Then he made her sit undressed on the edge of the bed.
“He now stabbed her slightly three times in the chest and abdomen, while his member became erect. When the girl began to yell and people came to her assistance, B. fled, but immediately gave himself up to the police. At first he said he had stabbed the girl in a quarrel, but afterward stated he had had no motive for his deed….”
Observe that the young tinsmith had bought a long knife. When one is shopping for a symbolic penis, one does not look for an inadequate organ! It ought to be noted also that this man was not impotent at all; sadism provided a supplement to sex for him, a kind of cruel dessert after the main course. Like many sadists, he had no real idea of what he was doing, or why. He fell victim to a strange inner compulsion that drove him on, against rhyme, reason, and morality.
The other case concerned “M., sixty years of age, worth several millions, happily married, father of two daughters, one eighteen, one sixteen years of age.” This wealthy industrialist was in the habit of going to a house of prostitution, where he would sprawl out on a sofa in a oink silk dressing-gown, lavishly trimmed with lace, to await his victims.
Three nude girls would approach him. “They had to approach in single file, in silence and smiling. They gave him needles, cambric handkerchiefs, and a whip. Kneeling before one of the girls, he would now stick about a hundred needles in her body, and fasten with twenty needles a handkerchief upon her bosom. This he would suddenly tear away, whip the girl, tear the hair from her mons veneris and squeeze her breasts, etc., while the other two girls would wipe the perspiration from his forehead and strike lascivious attitudes.
“Now excited to the highest pitch, he would have coitus with his victim. Later on, for the sake of economy, he was satisfied to perform his brutality with one girl alone. In consequence, this girl fell into a severe illness, and in her distress asked him for help. He reported this ‘extortion’ to the police, who, on their part, made inquiries and brought a charge against him. At first he denied the facts, but, when convicted, expressed his surprise that such a fuss should be made about a mere trifle. M. was described as a man of repulsive appearance, with receding forehead. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, a fine of 200 francs, and 1000 francs’ damages to his victim.”
Sadism with prostitutes can take even stranger aspects. Some men are content to perform symbolic acts that stand for more brutal things. Since the brutality is in itself a symbolic representation of the sexual act, these substitutes for brutality are, in effect, symbols of a symbol. One good example is the neurotic man of thirty-nine who told me that his only form of sexual pleasure was to visit prostitutes and cut their pubic hair with a pair of scissors two or three times a month. He paid the regular fee for intercourse—and regarded himself as getting his money’s worth, since after five or six snips with a scissors he invariably attained a satisfying orgasm! Here is a man not far removed from the brutal buttocks-stabbers and belly-slashers whose grim stories are so common; yet his perversion chose to display itself in a harmless, almost comical form. The only sufferer was the man himself, who through his fixation on scissors and pubic hair deprived himself of normal sexual happiness. But that did not appear to trouble him greatly—at least not on the surface. Like many neurotics, he was happy in his perversion.
A similar case was reported by the Parisian journalist Leo Taxil in his book, La Corruption: “A man in Vienna regularly visited several prostitutes only to lather their faces and then to remove the lather with a razor, as if he were shaving them. He never hurt the girls, but became sexually excited and ejaculated during the procedure.”
It would be a gentler world if all sadists in search of fantasy-fulfillment confined themselves to such mild amusements. Unfortunately, the impulse toward sadism is all too often a powerful, raging blood lust that leaves a terrible trail of havoc.
A classic case from the annals of crime, involving both vampirism and its close counterpart, cannibalism, is that of Vincent Verzeni, born in 1849. When he was arrested in 1872, Verzeni was charged with two murders and three assaults with intent to kill. A grisly tale of sadism unfolded as Verzeni’s crimes were made public.
His first victim was a fourteen-year-old girl, Johanna Motta. On a December morning she set out for a neighboring village, and did not return. Her body was discovered a few hours later not far from her home, lying by a path in the fields.
She was nude. Her body had been terribly mutilated; her intestines and genital organs had been ripped from her body and were found not far away. Her mouth had been stuffed with dirt. There were bite marks on her bare thighs. A chunk of flesh had been bitten or torn from her right calf, and was found under a pile of straw near the corpse, along with fragments of the dead girl’s clothing. The marks on her thighs, and other indications such as the body’s position, showed that there had been an attempt at rape.
The following August, a 28-year-old married woman named Frigeni went out early in the morning to work in the fields. By nightfall, she had not returned, and her husband went to look for her. He found her—naked and mutilated—in the field. There was the mark of a thong around her neck, with which she had been strangled. Her abdomen had been ripped open so that the intestines hung out, and there were many other scratches and bite marks on her body.
A day later, a nineteen-year-old girl named Maria Previtali walked through another field in the same district. She discovered that her cousin, twenty-two-year-old Verzeni, was following her. He had a bad reputation in the village; during the past four years he had attempted to strangle three women, though without success. Seeing him lurking after her, Maria became frightened and tried to get away from him. He caught up with her, threw her roughly to the ground, and seized her by the throat.
Maria was able to fight him off. Fearing that the sounds of the struggle might bring help, Verzeni let go of her, and she persuaded him not to continue the attack. As soon as she was back in safety at the village, she reported him to the police. Verzeni was taken into custody.
Bull-necked and stocky, sullen and tough, Verzeni remained silent before the court. When thrown into prison, he kept to himself, was cynical and bitter, masturbated frequently. At last, though, he confessed his crimes. In Krafft-Ebing’s words:
“The commission of his deeds gave him an indescribably pleasant (lustful) feeling, which was accompanied by erection and ejaculation. As soon as he had grasped his victim by the neck, sexual sensations were experienced. It was entirely the same to him, with reference to these sensations, whether the women were old, young, ugly, or beautiful.
“Usually, simply choking them had satisfied him, and he then had allowed his victims to live; in the two cases mentioned [Johanna Motta and Mrs. Frigeni] the sexual satisfaction was delayed, and he had continued to choke them until they died. The gratification experienced in this garroting was greater than in masturbation.
“The abrasion or the skin on Motta’s thighs were produced by his teeth, whilst sucking her blood in most intense lustful pleasure. He had torn out a piece of flesh from her calf and taken it with him to roast at home; but on the way he hid it under the straw-stack, for fear his mother might suspect him. He also carried pieces of the clothing and intestines some distance, because it gave him great pleasure to smell and touch them. The strength which he possessed in these moments of intense lustful pleasure was enormous.”
Verzeni came of slow-witted stock, but he was no fool himself. He had a certain native shrewdness and an understanding of his own condition. But his vampirism and cannibalism served as his entire emotional life. He had never had a love-relationship with a woman. He had had two “sweethearts” whose company he enjoyed, but he had never been intimate with them, nor had he ever experienced the desire to strangle or injure them. Nor had he had much pleasure from his association with them.
Verzeni s sexual life was similarly disoriented. The medical examination showed that he had a large, “greatly developed” penis; yet, contrary to the indications on the bodies of the dead women, he had not attempted to have sex relations with them. He had not so much as touched their genitals until after they were dead, when he attacked the region of their thighs and loins in an indiscriminate, non-sexual way. As Verzeni himself declared, in the confession that was extracted from him after long questioning:
“I had an unspeakable delight in strangling women, experiencing during the act erections and real sexual pleasure. It was even a pleasure only to smell female clothing. The feeling of pleasure while strangling them was much greater than that which I experienced while masturbating. I took great delight in drinking Motta’s blood. It also gave me the greatest pleasure to pull the hair-pins out of the hair of my victims.
“I took the clothing and intestines, because of the pleasure it gave me to smell and touch them. At last my mother came to suspect me, because she noticed spots of semen on my shirt after each murder or attempt at one. I am not crazy, but in the moment of strangling my victims I saw nothing else. After the commission of the deeds I was satisfied and felt well. It never occurred to me to touch or look at the genitals or such things. It satisfied me to seize the women by the neck and suck their blood. To this very day I am ignorant of how a woman is formed. During the strangling and after it, I pressed myself on the entire body without thinking of one part more than another.”
Verzeni recalled that his perversion had first developed when he was twelve. He had then experienced a peculiar feeling of pleasure while wringing the necks of chickens. After that, he had now and then broken into the family chicken coop, killing great numbers of chickens and blaming the deaths on predatory animals.
He admitted to the court that it was best to keep him in prison, for if he were freed he would probably be unable to resist his impulses. (This is a familiar theme in such cases. Compare, for instance, the case of William Heirens of Chicago, who shocked the nation in 1946 with the brutal murder and butchery of six-year-old Suzanne Degnan. On the living room wall of the home of another of his victims, Heirens had scrawled in lipstick, FOR HEAVENS SAKE CATCH ME BEFORE I KILL MORE. I CANNOT CONTROL MYSELF.)
Verzeni was sentenced to life imprisonment.
We have no way of knowing how many other tormented individuals roam the streets of our cities, dreaming of feasting on the blood or flesh of women or children. Outbreaks of vampirism, cannibalism, and related sadistic manifestations are horrifyingly numerous. One case emerged from Argentina in February, 1960: a “vampire” attacked some fifteen women in their beds, slipping in through open windows to bite their throats and drink from the wounds. When he was captured, after a week of terror, he was found wearing a black hat and cloak, as though acting out a part in some Hollywood terror tale. “I don’t know what made me do it,” said the “vampire,” a twenty-five-year-old stonemason named Florencio Fernandez.
The list could be multiplied almost indefinitely. Another case that comes to mind is that of Fritz Haarman, the “Hanover Vampire” of the early 1920′s. Haarman, a homosexual and a child-molester, committed at least two dozen murders in association with Hans Grans, a young male prostitute. All of the victims were “bitten to death.”
Haarman and Grans would overpower boys and young men and drag them to Haarman’s food shop. Haarman would fall on the victim’s throat, biting the head nearly free of the body, and attaining powerful sexual satisfaction in the process. When this grisly climax had been reached, Haarman and Grans would butcher the bodies of the victims—sometimes turning them into sausages, other times into steaks and chops, which were placed on sale at Haarman’s shop! Haarman himself also relished a diet of human flesh.
The people of Hanover began to get suspicious when, in a year when an unusually large number of boys had vanished in the city, Haarman always seemed to have a supply of fresh meat for sale in his shop—even during times of general meat shortages. An investigation followed and the shocking truth came to light. Haarman, who was about forty-six, was convicted and executed. Grans, his accomplice, drew a life sentence, later commuted after twelve years.
Homosexual—vampire—cannibal—strange are the ways that some men show their love for their fellow humans!
The killer, as pathological specimen, is an alarming offshoot of the degenerate breed which is constantly undermining the social fabric. Emotionally thwarted, he can only make contact with his fellow man by spilling his blood.
The World of Sex
WE ARE a long way now from such innocent pastimes as spanking prostitutes or dreaming of housemaids with cut fingers. We have entered the most terrifying sphere of the sadistic perversion—the sphere in which the sexual impulse can be satisfied only through the taking of human life.
Sigmund Freud was one of the first to point out the seemingly contradictory relationship between murder and love. Since, according to Freud, the expression of the sexual urge via the libido was basically akin to the need for aggressive establishment of the individual’s personality, it was quite possible, in the case of obsessional neurosis, for aggression to reach the level of murder, psychologically entangled with the need for love.
As Freud put it in his General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, “In the obsessional neurosis… regression of the libido to the antecedent stage of the sadistic-anal organization is the most conspicuous factor and determines the form taken by the symptoms. The impulse to love must then mask itself under the sadistic impulse. The obsessive thought, ‘I should like to murder you,’ means… nothing else but ‘I should like to enjoy love of you.’ When you consider in addition that regression to the primary objects has also set in at the same time, so that this impulse concerns only the nearest and most beloved persons, you can gain some idea of the horror roused in the patient by these obsessive ideas and at the same time how unaccountable they appear to his conscious perception.”
Freud was speaking of neurotics who suffer from murder-fantasies. Unhappily, the murder impulse very often rises from fantasy to reality, and hideous headlines result.
We have already seen how for some individuals the sexual impulse can be gratified by the symbolic coitus of a knife. These individuals are not interested in murder per se, though their victims may frequently die as a result of their attentions; what captivates them is the flow of blood, which to them is the evidence of their own virility. Some of these stabbers ejaculate when they have drawn blood; others may require masturbation or coitus to bring them to the climax for which the violent act is only the necessary preliminary.
A stage beyond these are the lust killers, who obtain their sexual pleasure from taking life. Once they have sampled this grimmest of pleasures, they strike again and again, just as a normal person experiences a repeated urge for sexual intercourse. The cycle is the same: from tumescence (sexual desire) to climax to detumescence, and back to tumescence again when a resting period has elapsed. The fatal difference is in the means by which the climax is attained. For most of us, it is through the act of love. For the lust-killer, it is through the act of giving death—and he repeats his act when the cycle is ready to begin anew.
The annals of criminology blaze with the astonishing statements of these men. Andreas Bichel, a mass murderer of the last century who slaughtered many women, told the authorities in connection with one crime, “I opened her breast and with a knife cut through the fleshy parts of the body. Then I arranged the body as a butcher does beef and hacked it with an axe into pieces of a size to fit the hole which I had dug up in the mountain for burying it. I may say that while opening the body I was so greedy that I trembled, and could have cut out a piece and eaten it.”
The criminologist Cesare Lombroso mentioned the case of one Phillipe, whose hobby it was to strangle prostitutes after he had had them. “I am fond of women,” this man declared, “but it is sport for me to strangle them after having enjoyed them.’ Lombroso also cited the case of one Grassi, who was smitten with sudden fierce sexual desire for a relative. When she repulsed his advances, “he stabbed her several times in the abdomen with a knife, and also murdered her father and uncle who attempted to hold him back. Immediately thereafter he hastened to visit a prostitute in order to cool in her embrace his sexual passion. But this was not sufficient, for he then murdered his own father and slaughtered several oxen in the stable.”
Probably the most celebrated case of lust murder on record—one that continues to exert a strange fascination to this present day—is that of Jack the Ripper. This most famous of all sadistic killers practiced his bloodthirsty amusements in the London or the 1880′s. It is hard to say how many victims he had; at least nine crimes were definitely his handiwork, but there may have been as many as twenty in the short span of three years. Several ripper-imitators possibly accounted for some of the unattributed crimes, or perhaps they were all Jack’s work.
The murdered women were all prostitutes. The first was killed on December 1, 1887; five murders followed in 1888; there were three more victims between June I and September 10, 1889. In each case, Jack the Ripper performed an expert job of surgery on the victim, but for one case, that of Martha Tabram, who was slain with thirty-nine stab wounds but not dissected in Jack’s usual manner.
One of his 1888 victims was a whore named Annie Chapman. The Ripper choked her, cut her throat with two slashes of his blade so savage that she was almost decapitated, and disemboweled her. He went on to re move what the delicacy of the day forced the newspapers to term “a certain organ.” The organ in question was the uterus, or womb.
London was terrorized. There was talk of a rich American who had offered a London surgeon $100 apiece for a supply of human wombs, and who had been refused. Was he collecting his own supply? Or was Jack some demented surgeon, seeking revenge against the whole clan of prostitutes because one of them had given him a venereal disease? There were dozens of wild stories. The Puppet was a missionary, some said, ridding the world of sinful women. He was a religious fanatic. He was a butcher run amok. He was a Jew, some said, practicing barbaric Oriental sacrifices—or a foreign naval officer, who had picked up a taste for strange abominations.
Jack the Ripper himself, whoever he was, took a keen interest in the speculation. He wrote letters to the Times of London, breaking into verse to deny some of the tales that were circulating about him:
“I’m not a butcher, I’m not a Yid,
Nor yet a foreign skipper;
But I’m your own true loving friend,
Yours truly—Jack the Ripper.”
Some of his letters, written in the blood of his victims, announced further crimes. “I am down on whores,” he declared, “and I shan’t quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work that last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal…. The next job I do I shall clip the lady’s ears off and send them to the police officers just for jolly. I love my work and want to start again….”
Scotland Yard made inquiry after fruitless inquiry. And still the crimes continued. A tall Swedish prostitute known as “Long Liz” was found with her throat cut from ear to ear; the Ripper apparently had been interrupted at his work, and did not have time for one of his elaborate dissections. But soon after came the murder of Catherine Eddowes, which had taken place between two visits of a policeman to the same street, fifteen minutes apart. In that brief time, the Ripper had strangled the Eddowes woman, cut her throat, opened her abdomen to slash her viscera, removed her womb, cut out her left kidney, mutilated her face and eyelids, and escaped!
A London surgeon said during the inquest on this atrocity: “The person who inflicted the wounds possessed a good deal of knowledge as to the position of the organs in the abdominal cavity and the way of removing them. The kidney is easily overlooked. It is covered with a membrane.”
The murder of Mary Jane Kelly, a few weeks later, showed the Ripper at the peak of his surgical skill. He began by cutting her throat back to the spinal column, and slashing it from ear to ear. He cut off her ears and nose, and placed them neatly on the night table beside his victim. Next, he cut off both the breasts of his 24-year-oldprey, and put them beside the nose and ears.
The Ripper slashed her face beyond recognition; he opened her abdomen from one end to the other; he removed both her kidneys, and cut out her heart, putting those organs beside the severed breasts. He slashed her thighs bone-deep. He removed the liver and placed it on the right thigh. Lastly, he carried out his trademark operation by removing the uterus and the associated internal genital organs. Those parts were nowhere to be found.
All this had apparently been done in some two hours of feverishly skillful work. It took a team of four surgeons twelve hours to replace all the severed parts in order to carry out an identification of the victim.
The Kelly killing was Jack the Ripper’s last recorded crime. The prostitute-slayings in London during the next few years did not display his characteristic grace with the knife. A body of legend has grown up about him; the theories concerning Jack the Ripper’s identity and later whereabouts do not concern us here, except to note that the public’s endless fascination with the bizarre details of the Ripper’s career—and the apparent public quasi-idolatry toward this demented killer—indicate how close to the surface lies the sadistic urge in most people. The Ripper provided vicarious “kicks” for millions who relished the gory details of his deeds in the privacy of their minds while publicly deploring them.
There is no evidence, by the way, that Jack the Ripper ever raped the women he murdered. His removal or the uterus seems to have been a way of striking at the essential femininity of the victims—an embittered man’s way of destroying the entire sex he evidently hated and feared. Krafft-Ebing, whose book on sexual perversions was published during the height of Jack the Ripper’s contemporary fame, observed, “Very likely the murderous act and subsequent mutilation of the corpse were his equivalents for the sexual act.”
Less well known, though even more murderous an individual, was Vacher the Ripper, a French vagabond whose career of crime involved a wide variety of perversely sadistic practices. Born in 1869 to respectable French parents, Vacher was lazy, a drifter who never was able to hold a job. Hot-tempered and vicious, Vacher had amused himself in childhood by torturing animals; in school, he led his companions into mutual masturbation; when he entered a monastery in late adolescence, he seduced his fellow monks into the same practice, and possibly sodomy as well, and was expelled.
He joined the army, but his uncontrollable rages made him a solitary figure; men kept far away from him after hearing some of his threats of murder and mayhem. During his military service he was interned for a while in an asylum for the insane, suffering from persecution mania, but he was shortly discharged as “cured.” Not long after that the army released him, in 1893.
Earlier, Vacher had raped a small girl, but was not imprisoned for it. Now, returning to civilian life, he asked a girl to marry him, and when she refused he beat and wounded her severely. He followed this with an unsuccessful suicide attempt, shooting himself through the right ear. This destroyed his hearing on that side and produced a facial paralysis. As we will see repeatedly, individuals of sadistic bent can easily swing full circle into self-destructive masochism when pressures become too great for them.
On March 20, 1894, Vacher commenced a cross-country career of crime by strangling a girl of twenty-one. He cut her throat, mutilated her body, trampled on her abdomen, and ripped away a piece of flesh from her right breast. Then he had intercourse with the corpse. This act, known as necrophilia, is one of the most grotesque of the practices associated with sadism. The necrophiliac sleeps with corpses because they cannot possibly repel him the way a living person might do. Just as the whole constellation of sadistic manifestations arises out of the sadist’s fundamental insecurity and impotence, so does necrophilia come as the climax for the sadist, who has so little confidence in his own sexual abilities that he dares not have intercourse with anything but a corpse!
Evidently Vacher found his first experiment in sadism an emotionally rewarding experience. Six months later, he murdered and mutilated a girl of thirteen, and in May, 1895, did the same to a girl of seventeen. The following August, Vacher strangled and then had sexual relations with a woman aged 58, and several days after that crime he cut the throat of a sixteen-year-old girl and ripped her abdomen open.
Varying his procedure somewhat, Vacher turned now to boys. On August 31, 1895, he committed his third crime in eight days by strangling a seventeen-year-old shepherd named Portalier, whose naked body was found with a slashed abdomen. The anus was in a condition indicating that the dead boy had been abused by sodomy. Thus Vacher added homosexuality to necrophilia.
On September 20, 1895, Vacher slew another boy, this one fifteen. Once again he committed a homosexual assault on the corpse. Furthermore, he sliced off the dead boy’s penis and testicles. (Perhaps a sign of inner revolt against homosexual practices. By castrating the boy, Vacher was giving him the external appearance of a girl —and it was “all right” to murder and assault women, apparently, to Vacher!)
Six months elapsed before Vacher struck again. In the spring of 1896, he attempted to rape an eleven-year-old girl, but was frightened away by police. In September of the same year, the indefatigable sadist murdered and mutilated a nineteen-year-old bride, Mme. Mounier, carrying out a necrophilous assault on her body. A few weeks afterward, he attacked and killed a fourteen-year-old shepherd girl. As though taking a leaf from Jack the Ripper’s book, Vacher slashed out her genital organs and carried them away with him.
Nor was he finished. In May, 1897, Vacher murdered a boy of fourteen, sodomizing him after cutting his throat. He threw the body down a well. A month later a thirteen-year-old shepherd boy named Laurent was the victim, and once again Vacher had anal intercourse with the corpse. Soon afterward, he attacked a woman named Elantier, but was thwarted before he could harm her.
He had committed eleven crimes of sadistic murder. He had performed acts of sodomy, necrophilia, and mutilation. The crimes of Vacher had been carried out in every part of France. In August, 1897, Vacher was picked up on suspicion of having committed the two-year-old murder of the Portalier boy. After being confronted with the evidence linking him to this crime, Vacher readily confessed—and admitted the other ten atrocities as well.
Medical men who examined him in prison reported that “He is an immoral, passionate man, who once temporarily suffered from a depressing persecution-mania, coupled with an impulse to suicide. Of this he was cured, and thereafter became responsible for his actions. His crimes are those of an antisocial, sadistic, bloodthirsty being, who considers himself privileged to commit these atrocities because he was once upon a time treated in an asylum for insanity, and thereby escaped well-merited punishment. He is a common criminal and there are no ameliorating circumstances to be found in his favor.”
Vacher was sentenced to death. Today he might have met a more merciful fate—for, the medical examiners to the contrary, Vacher was not “a common criminal” at all. The wide range of his crimes indicates how uncommon he was. Technically, Vacher can be termed a polymorphous pervert, one whose sexual energies can be channeled into many unusual directions. The very breadth of his crimes shows the extent of his insanity, for here was a man somehow trapped within his own personality, desperately trying to make contact with his fellow beings in any way possible. He could find no better way than through murder, necrophilia, sodomy, and other bloodcurdling methods. It is not easy to be tolerant of a mass murderer like Vacher, and of course it was necessary to remove him from society through prison or execution— but it appears to be an error to think of him solely as a cold-blooded killer. Vacher had nothing to gain from his crimes. He killed because he had to—because out of the cosmic depths of his loneliness and isolation, he knew no communion with others except through violence. He was a tragic man, but a sick one—and his illness is shared by many who do not manifest it in so spectacularly grisly a fashion.
In more recent times, we have had an ample supply of lust murderers whose incomprehensible sadism can only be interpreted as the uncoiling of terrific inner pressures of misery and torment. William Heirens, Chicago’s catch-me-before-I-kill-more murderer, was just such a spiritual heir of Vacher and Jack the Ripper.
He first plunged Chicago into turmoil on June 3, 1945. That was the day that a girl named Jacqueline Ross came home to find her apartment in chaos and her mother, Mrs. Josephine Alice Ross, a good-looking forty-three-year-old widow, slain. Mrs. Ross’ nude body, with a nylon stocking and her own skirt wrapped around her neck, lay on her bed. She had been stabbed several times, and had bled to death from a stab wound in the jugular vein.
There were strange aspects to this crime. Some of the wounds on her body had been covered with adhesive tape—but the tapes themselves were not bloodstained. It appeared that the murderer had washed the body, had waited for bleeding to stop, and then had applied the adhesive. The bathroom confirmed this: the bathtub was half-full with bloody water, in which two towels and the dead woman’s pajamas floated. The area around the murder scene had been carefully scrubbed to rid it of bloodstains. And though Mrs. Ross had been stripped before her murder, medical examination revealed no sign of a sexual assault.
In December of the same year, a thirty-year-old secretary, Frances Brown, was found dead in her bathroom. She was nude, kneeling on the floor with her head dangling into the tub and her pajamas twisted round her neck. She had been shot and stabbed. Once again, the slayer had washed his victim’s body carefully, and had scrubbed down the bathroom to rid it of bloodstains. However, he had missed a place behind the bathroom door where police found a single smudged fingerprint. The killer had also scrawled his “catch-me-before-I-kill-more” message in lipstick on Miss Brown’s living room wall.
The FBI was called in, but the fingerprint could not be identified. Less than a month after the Brown killing, Chicago was rocked by a new crime, this one reaching national proportions. A six-year-old girl named Suzanne Degnan was kidnapped, and her father received a $20,000 ransom note. He went on radio to beg the kidnapper not to harm the little girl, and an entire nation prayed that Suzanne Degnan would be returned unharmed. That evening, the child’s dismembered limbs were found in several sewers near her home.
An enormous squad of policemen was assigned to the case. A few clues turned up: another fingerprint, a ladder resting against the rear wall of the Degnan house, and the report of a witness who had seen a young man skulking around the residence on the night of her disappearance. But no arrests were made.
Then, in June, a seventeen-year-old boy named William George Heirens was apprehended while trying to burglarize an apartment. The slender Heirens was taken into custody and fingerprinted—and his fingerprints matched those from the Brown and Degnan murders!
Heirens’ apartment contained some $80,000 in goods— the fruits of more than two hundred burglaries. He would admit nothing, but under the influence of a truth serum declared, when questioned about the Degnan murder, “George cut her up. George is a-bad boy. I tried to make George be a good boy.” A few days later he admitted all the murders.
His confession declared that he had been stealing since the age of ten, and that “the mere act of stealing carried with it sex satisfaction.” He said he had never had sexual intercourse, nor was he given to masturbation. Burglary alone provided his sexual outlet, as he explained in these words:
“Accompanying the burglaries was sexual stimulation which, upon the completion of the burglary or in the course of its commission, I would experience an emission…. I received a certain satisfaction from the mere breaking in and entering. In many cases while in the performance of an act of burglary when the erection, previously referred to, subsided, I would leave the premises….”
The three murders had come about because Heirens had unexpectedly come upon his victims as he burglarized them. In his sexually excited state, he slew them without any real understanding of what he was doing, experiencing sexual excitement as he did so. He felt no guilt over the slayings. It was as though they had been done by someone else, the part of his identity that he referred to as “George.”
The urge to burglarize—which is of course an aggressive urge and so a concealed form of sadism—was irresistible for Heirens. When he tried to fight it, severe headaches assailed him. The headaches did not die down until he had achieved a sexual climax—and he could do that only through burglary. He admitted that he had tried masturbation twice as a means of release, without success. His heterosexual experience amounted to a couple of casual incidents in which he had touched girls on the breasts and legs, no more. Normal sexuality, indeed, seemed repugnant and unpleasant to him. He was not interested in female nudity and had turned down several opportunities to have sexual relations.
Heirens was sentenced to life imprisonment. As one newspaper man put it, “I felt sorry for him. I felt he was put together wrong.” Early in life, he had developed a fascination for the underclothes of women, whose texture and color excited him sexually. He began to steal the garments and hide them in his grandmother’s attic; at one point he had accumulated forty pairs of panties. This original urge to steal women’s underclothes eventually transformed itself into a generalized urge to commit burglary, from which he got the same sexual stimulation that the stealing and fondling of panties and stockings had given him at the age of ten. From there the path led naturally enough to the ultimate expression of his thwarted sexual energies—three sadistic murders performed in an almost dream-like trance of ecstasy.
Another celebrated sadist of our time was Neville George Clevely Heath, whose activities would have brought a smile of approval from the crazed Marquis himself. The first evidence of Heath’s perversion came to public attention on June 21, 1946, when the chambermaid of a London hotel entered a darkened room and made a terrifying discovery.
The mutilated corpse of a handsome, dark-haired woman of about thirty lay on the bed. Her ankles were bound together and her right arm was tied behind her body. Her nipples had been bitten off, her genital region was bloody, and her chest, thighs, and buttocks showed signs of a savage lashing. Her face was battered and swollen.
At the autopsy, the medical examiner enumerated seventeen separate wounds. Her chest and buttocks had been lashed with a riding whip or a hard-tipped thong. There were teethmarks on her breasts where the nipples had been bitten away. Most shocking was the wound in the vagina: a seven-inch-long gash had been cut, and the vaginal wall had been injured, as the surgeon reported, “by a tearing instrument being thrust into the vagina and rotated, turned.” There was no evidence that the killer had had sexual relations with the dead woman. The cause of death was suffocation; evidently the killer, wearying of his sadism, had put a pillow over the woman’s face and smothered her while she was still writhing in agony.
Scotland Yard identified the dead woman as Mrs. Margery Gardner, who was separated from her husband and lived by herself, not far from the hotel where she had met her death. While Scotland Yard checked on Mrs. Gardner’s recent escorts, a second and obviously related crime was committed.
The victim now was attractive young Doreen Marshall, who was visiting the seaside resort of Bournemouth. On July 8, 1946, after she had been missing for some days, Doreen Marshall’s body was found in a park at Bournemouth. She was nude except for one shoe. Her clothing was scattered nearby. She had been beaten and mutilated, and her throat had been cut. Her wrists had been bound. Her right nipple had been bitten away and the left one almost severed. The murderer had slashed the front of her body from the loins to the breasts, and once again the vagina had been mutilated internally. The medical examiner expressed the opinion that the beating and throat-cutting had taken place before Miss Marshall’s death, the other mutilations being inflicted on her corpse.
By the time this second body was found, the police already had a suspect in the Margery Gardner slaying. A handsome air force officer, blond-haired, blue-eyed Neville Heath, had become implicated. Heath had spread word around that he had met Mrs. Gardner a few days before her death, “in company of a strange man.” He told someone that Mrs. Gardner and her unnamed friend had asked him for the loan of his hotel room for the night, and Heath had obliged.
The person to whom Heath volunteered all this information notified Scotland Yard. Heath was promptly picked up and taken to the hotel to view the body. He offered the opinion that Mrs. Gardner had been killed by having a poker thrust into her vagina. “It must have been a sex maniac,” he declared.
Heath’s interest in the case made him suspicious. Soon corroborative evidence was coming in, to the effect that a man resembling the good-looking, twenty-nine-year-old Heath had been seen with Mrs. Gardner shortly before her death. Then—soon after the Bournemouth murder of Doreen Marshall—Scotland Yard, still checking up on Heath, discovered in his coat pocket a cloakroom ticket for a suitcase left at Bournemouth Railway Station. The suitcase was promptly recovered, and found to contain a bloodstained scarf and a leather riding whip with a wicked-looking plaited thong. In the dressing table of Heath’s room, police found a tightly knotted bloodstained handkerchief with some hairs adhering to it.
Heath was booked for the Margery Gardner murder— and then for that of Doreen Marshall.
His trial, which began on September 24, 1946, was a public sensation. Here was a seemingly normal man, reserved and sedate, an air-force officer, who was accused of committing two of the ghastliest crimes in modern English history! And as he stood in the dock, Heath seemed bored and remote from all that was going on about him.
The evidence against him was overwhelmingly damning. His own lawyer stated, at the outset of the trial, that he would not try to deny that Heath had committed the murders, but would merely attempt to prove that he had been insane when they were done.
On the stand, Heath heard the pattern of his life laid bare. His career as an army and air-force officer turned out to have been less than awesome; he had been discharged several times for petty crimes, always enlisting in a new service after one had dismissed him. After the R.A.F. had dropped him, Heath had gone to South Africa, where he met a girl and married her. The marriage lasted only two months.
Heath had shown only one sexual abnormality in all this time: he was a handkerchief fetishist. Handkerchiefs gave him unusual sexual pleasure, and he stole and collected them in great excitement. However, this pastime did not take the place of heterosexual activity for Heath, as it often does for some men; the record showed that he had had considerable success as a lover even while he was fitfully stowing away women’s handkerchiefs for late-night fondling.
The handkerchief fetish revealed itself in Heath’s murders. In both cases he used handkerchiefs to bind or gag his victims. Perhaps Mrs. Gardner, at least, allowed him to bind her and even to beat her lightly as a form of preliminary sex amusement. But then sadistic excitement overpowered Heath and he flew into a murderous fury.
He was scientific in his sadism, studying his victims with great interest as he tortured and mutilated them. He confessed that he had paused frequently during the “work” of whipping Mrs. Gardner to watch her reactions. He recommended an interlude of at least sixty seconds between each stroke of the lash so that the whipper could properly comprehend the beauties of the sadistic act. This cheerful inhumanity of Heath’s is one of his closest ties to the Marquis de Sade, for de Sade often wrote glowingly of the beneficial effects of torture upon the soul of the torturer, who thereby gained much valuable knowledge of suffering. (He did not speak of the effects of torture upon the tortured, though.)
The seaside murder of Doreen Marshall had its weird aspects, too. No bloodstains were found on Heath’s clothing, nor was the knife ever found; yet Miss Marshall had been put to death with a sharp knife drawn across her throat, and it must have been a bloody business. The prosecutor postulated that Heath must have stripped himself naked in the secluded, dark park before he made his attack on Miss Marshall. Then, having killed her and mutilated her genitals, Heath may have gone down to the seashore, washed the blood from his body, thrown away the knife, and returned to the murder scene to don his clothing.
Heath remained an incomprehensible and inhuman character throughout his trial. Never did he offer a hint of why he had committed the two crimes, nor did he explain the motives behind the clumsy way he talked about the Gardner crime and drew suspicion on himself. It seemed to be a matter of supreme indifference to him whether or not he was convicted, and he refused to explain himself in any way. It was as though he regarded himself as above all laws, above all morality, and not required to give an account of his actions in slaughtering two women he hardly knew.
Heath was found guilty and executed late in 1946. He took his strange secrets to the grave with him. Twice he had been driven to murderous frenzy, apparently attaining a sexual orgasm during an act of mutilation. At other times he was seemingly normal and capable of sexual intercourse. Such crimes as those of Neville Heath and William Heirens are perhaps the most frightening of all— for they reveal the ravening beast that slumbers not very far beneath the surface of our souls.
The man beating a horse and giving evidence of sensual pleasure in so doing arouses us to greater resentment than the man who, even though in anger and for no other good reason, shoots his horse dead. We think the former is stimulated to his greater cruelty by what we call a perverse and abnormal sexuality. In this we are partly correct. His sexuality is perverse because it is partial; were it complete it would prevent him not only from killing the horse but from beating it at all. The man who killed his horse outright may have appeared to be more humane but logic compels us to regard him as less civilized and more destructive even than the sadistic beater.
—Karl A. Menninger
Man Against Himself
IN THE last chapter, we considered some twisted individuals who, in moments of delirium, frenzy, or ecstasy, turned into sadistic killers. There is a gradation of sadism beyond this one, however: a group of people for whom sadism is or was a way of life, something to practice not in wild bursts of lust but as a day-by-day activity.
Now we come to some of the most extraordinary individuals in the archives of this somber subject. As, for example, Gilles de Rais, the original Bluebeard.
Gilles was born in 1404 to one of France’s noblest families. A baron and a knight, he inherited great wealth, falling heir at the age of eleven to one of the greatest fortunes in France. His wealth was augmented five years later when he married the heiress Catherine de Thouars, whose dowry was one hundred thousand livres of gold.
He was a youth of “rare elegance and startling beauty,” a glittering boy to whom all France looked with respect, admiration, and awe—little foreseeing the career of debauchery, perversion, and sadistic brutality that lay ahead for him.
France was a sundered nation in the early fifteenth century. England controlled great stretches of French territory, and was waging war to bring all of France under her control. The French resistance was scattered and impotent. The young king, Charles VII, had little influence and had not even been formally crowned. Gilles became one of Charles’ lieutenants, and distinguished himself in arms.
He was also a man of scholarly bent. At a time when few knights were so much as literate, Gilles accumulated a considerable library, and loved rich bindings and ornate illuminations. His books included such favorites as Ovid’s Metamorphoses and St. Augustine’s The City of God— but one book that he prized above all others was Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars. The handsome young nobleman paged through Suetonius with keen fascination, reading the accounts of Rome’s emperors and their obscene brutalities. Many years later, Gilles admitted the influence this book had had on him:
“The said book was ornamented by pictures in which were seen the manner of life of the pagan emperors, and I read in the printed history how Caligula and other Caesars sported with children, and took singular pleasure in martyring them, upon which I desired to imitate the said Caesars.”
None of this desire made itself evident in his outward life. He served on the battlefield with distinction, and aided in the stirring revival of French military power that coincided with the appearance of Joan of Arc. When this mystically-inclined shepherd girl made her astonishing vault into fame, bearing her tale of how God had sent her to lead France to triumph, Gilles was named her chief lieutenant by order of King Charles. He had the special task of watching over Joan’s safety in battle, and he never left her side as she inspired the French forces to victory after victory. There was even the suggestion that Gilles de Rais was the lover of Joan of Arc, though a medical examination during her imprisonment indicated that she was a virgin.
The climax of Joan’s career came in 1429, with the coronation of King Charles at Rheims. At that ceremony, Gilles de Rais was awarded the high dignity of Marshal of France. He was just twenty-five.
It was the crowning moment of his life. Gilles was young, wealthy, acclaimed. His beautiful wife had given him a child. He was a favorite of the king. Valorous in battle, he was a man of culture at home, surrounding himself with elegant books and fine sculpture, with musicians and dancers and poets. He was said to be an excellent musician himself, no mere spectator of the arts but an active participant. He wrote and produced plays, painted and sang.
The years 1431 and 1432 worked powerful changes in Gilles’ life. First, Joan of Arc fell into English hands through treachery, was-condemned by an ecclesiastical court, and died at the stake. The news of her martyrdom plunged him into crushing anguish. The atmosphere of spirituality in which the Maid of Orleans had lived had served as a strong influence on Gilles; her death shattered one of the moo ring-posts of his personality.
The following year another important figure in his life died: his grandfather, Jean de Craon, who had been his guardian in his orphaned childhood. Gilles recoiled under this second blow, for he had loved the old man dearly and had striven in all ways to make him proud of his grandson.
The removal of these two people seemed to lift the restraints that had held the darker side of Gilles de Rais’ personality in check. For a sudden transformation came over him, toward the end of the year 1432, and the Gilles de Rais who emerged bore little resemblance to the splendid youth who had shared the spiritual radiance of Joan of Arc.
He separated from his wife, and so far as is known renounced all sexual intercourse with women. Withdrawing to his castle, he surrounded himself with an army of male courtiers, sycophants and freeloaders, many of them homosexuals or perverts. He gave himself up to the most extreme luxury. As Henry Lea describes it in his history of Gilles’ epoch:
“To the outward world he was the magnificent seigneur, intent only on display and frivolity. His immeasurable ambition, diverted from its natural career, found unworthy gratification in making the vulgar stare with his gorgeous splendor. He affected a state almost royal. A military household of over two hundred horsemen accompanied him wherever he went. He founded a chapter of canons, with service and choir fit for a cathedral, and this was his private chapel… costing him immense sums, including portable organs carried on the shoulders of six stout serving-men.
“Not less extravagant was his passion for theatrical displays. The drama of the age, though rude, was costly, and when he exhibited freely to the multitude spectacular performances, there were immense structures to be built and hundreds of actors to be clad in cloths of gold and silver, silks and velvets, and handsome armor, the whole followed by public banquets to the spectators…. His purse and table were open to all and his artistic tastes were gratified without regard to cost. In one visit to Orleans, where his retinue filled every inn in the city, he was said to have squandered eighty thousand gold crowns between March and August, 1435.”
Even the vast fortune of Gilles de Rais soon began to show the effects of this prodigality. His coffers were quickly depleted, and he began to mortgage his forests and villages, and then bit by bit to sell them outright to raise cash for his amusements. His family became alarmed, and persuaded King Charles to order him to stop selling off his inherited domain. Gilles ignored the order.
In all this, the new Gilles de Rais might seem to be just another vain aristocrat, bent on dissipation and pomp. But beneath the superficial glamor or his hectic gaiety there ran a darker current. Gilles had turned to witchcraft and alchemy—and to sexual perversion.
In his attempt to replenish his declining fortunes, Gilles-had hired squadrons of alchemists and magicians who he hoped would come up with the secret of converting base metals into gold. These charlatans were a sinister lot who roamed Europe in search of rich patrons; though a few made genuine searches for the mysterious secrets of alchemy, most used their work as a pretense for abominations and perversity. Before long, some of Gilles’ alchemists were persuading him that only by joining forces with the Devil could he attain the goals he sought.
The young man who had read the gory lives of the Caesars had long been interested, in a theoretical way, in performing certain acts of cruelty. Then, too, his sexual instincts seem to have been drawn toward homosexuality and perversion, with his marriage only a cloak for his true tastes. Now, spurred on by his homosexual confidante Roger de Briqueville and by his hired sorcerer Francesco Prelati, Gilles gave himself up to extraordinary crimes.
Encouraged by Prelati, Gilles lured a young choir boy to his castle, slit his throat, severed his wrists, cut out his heart, and tore his eyes from their sockets. He abused the body sexually while Prelati used the blood and organs in futile alchemical experiments.
No gold came from the lead; but for Gilles, murder and sodomy became a source of potent pleasure. His cohorts brought boys by the dozen to the castle, and Gilles flogged and tormented them, raped them, finally killed and dismembered them. At first the bodies were thrown down dry wells on his premises; when Gilles was threatened with invasion by the army of a neighboring prince, he hastily had the bones of some forty children gathered from the wells and carried off, and thereafter he had the bodies burned in his fireplace and the ashes scattered in his moat.
The more beautiful the child, the more rapturously did Gilles enjoy tormenting him. His love for beauty, which once had manifested itself in a fondness for sculpture and fine books, now took the form of perverse admiration for a boy’s limbs and buttocks. One excess led to another-soon Gilles became bored with mere killing and sodomy and invented torment after fanciful torment to inflict while his comrades aided him in his orgies and goaded him on to newer and more flamboyant excesses.
One of his favorite amusements was to visit a child chained in a cell, release him, and fondle him tenderly, favoring him with kind words and sweet smiles. Having won his prisoner’s confidence and even his love, Gilles would change in a moment from benefactor to tormentor, wrench the clothes from the startled child, and flog him until blood poured from his body. Stirred by the flow of blood, the sadist would fall upon the child and possess him; then, the agony of rape still wringing howls of pain from the child s body, Gilles would set to work with his knife, mutilating genitals and face, and finally, if the mood so took him, providing merciful dispatch with a single fatal stroke—or else standing by to watch his writhing victim bleed to death.
Over a period of eight years, hundreds of children vanished into Gilles’ castle, never to return. His agents roamed the land, searching for fresh prey. In the immediate neighborhood of his castle, the villagers were well aware of Gilles’ practices, but could do nothing, since as lord of the manor he had absolute rights of justice over the district. Yet the word was strangely slow in spreading to the outlying regions, and until the final year or two of Gilles’ career there were many parents who had no objections at all to letting their children go off “to sing in the choir of the Marshal of France.”
He might well have continued in this manner for many more years, but for his vast lands and still enormous wealth, which brought upon him the greed of two other feudal potentates. Duke Jean of Brittany was Gilles’ immediate superior in the feudal system, to whom Gilles owed allegiance. For many years, Duke Jean had tolerated Gilles’ excesses. But in 1440, stirred up by Jean de Malestroit, Bishop of Nantes, Duke Jean turned on the perverted Marshal.
Duke Jean and the Bishop reasoned that Gilles could be brought to trial on ecclesiastical charges. The fact that he had murdered several hundred peasant children might not be considered a valid reason for indictment in 1440; but he could be brought to trial on charges of demon-worship, blasphemy, sacrilege, heresy, and other such offenses. If found guilty, he could be put to death, and his lands would be confiscated and divided between Duke Jean and the Bishop of Nantes.
The order was given for Gilles’ arrest. Since several attempts to arrest him on civil charges had failed, he took this new order lightly enough; but he was seized, placed in chains, and brought to Nantes for trial.
Brought before the Bishop, he refused to recognize the ecclesiastics as his judges. The trial proceeded. Gilles admitted the practice of alchemy, not in itself an illegal activity, but denied the other charges. However, many of Gilles’ accomplices had been put to torture by the experts of the Inquisition, no mean hands at sadism themselves, and the rack and the thumbscrew provided a stream of damning testimony against Gilles.
One of his men, Etienne Corillaut, told in graphic detail of Gilles’ debauchery. He explained how he violated young children, sometimes sodomizing them, sometimes attaining an orgasm against their stomachs or between their thighs. Corillaut went on to describe how Gilles “had considerable pleasure in watching the heads of the children separated from their bodies. Sometimes he made an incision behind the neck to make them die slowly, at which he would become greatly excited, and while they were bleeding to death he would sometimes masturbate on them until they were dead, and sometimes he did this after they had died and while their bodies were still warm….
“In order to stifle the cries of the children when he wished to have relations with them, he would first put a rope around their necks, and hang them up three feet off the floor in a corner of the room, and just before they were dead he would cause them to be taken down, telling them they would not utter a word, and then he would excite his member, holding it in his hand, and afterwards have his emissions on their stomachs. When he had done this, he would have their heads separated from their bodies. Sometimes he would ask, when they were dead, which of these children had the most beautiful head.”
The recital of Gilles’ villainies went on for many weeks. Even the sorcerer Francesco Prelati took his turn before the court to describe the excesses of the Marshal. At last, in the fifth week of the trial, Gilles was brought back to the stand and confronted with the evidence against him. The Inquisitor asked him now to make a confession. Gilles refused. He was told that he would be subjected to torture if he would not affirm the truth of what had been alleged against him.
When the hour came for Gilles to be placed on the rack, he broke down. This torturer of hundreds could not bear the thought of suffering himself. “I beg you, give me some time,” he told the Inquisitors. “Let me think until tomorrow and perhaps I will satisfy you.”
He was given a few hours of respite. When the torturers came to him again, he offered a full confession, “freely and willingly and without coercion of any kind.” He was humble now, and described his crimes in great detail, asking that they be made public and that he be given forgiveness hereafter.
The prosecutor found it hard to believe the motivation for these hundreds of senseless crimes. Gilles maintained it was no more than to satisfy his passions. When pressed for some more reasonable motive, Gilles could only reply, “Truly, there was no other cause, object, or intention than I have said.”
He was sentenced to be hanged and then burned—a merciful verdict, for hanging was a swifter death than the stake could provide. His lands were confiscated and divided among his accusers—the real motive for the prosecution. Only two of Gilles’ accomplices, named Henriet and Poitou, received death sentences with their master. The others, even the gore-tinged Prelati, were given prison sentences of a few months at most. They were not the real targets in this trial; Gilles’ property was the motive behind it all, not the urge to punish a monster.
Gilles turned extremely pious at the end. As though harking back to the days a dozen years before when he had been the companion of the saintly Joan of Arc, he prayed publicly, craved mercy, and earnestly spoke of his forthcoming salvation. Henry Lea’s description of the final moments of this strange man’s career gives vivid insight into the medieval mind:
“As a last prayer, Gilles begged that the bishop and clergy might be requested to walk in procession prior to his execution the next day, to pray God to keep him and his servants in firm belief of salvation. This was granted, and the morning saw the extraordinary spectacle of the clergy, followed by the whole populace of Nantes, who had “been clamoring for his death, marching through the streets and singing and praying for his salvation.
“On the way to execution Gilles devoted himself to comforting the servants whom he had brought to a shameful death, assuring them that as soon as their souls should leave their bodies they would all meet in paradise. The men were as contrite and as sure of salvation as their master, declaring that they welcomed death in their unbounded trust in God. They were all mounted on stands over piles of wood, with halters around their necks attached to the gallows. The stands were pushed aside, and as they swung the faggots were lighted.
“Henriet and Poitou were allowed to burn to ashes, but when Gilles’ halter was burned through and his body fell, the ladies of his kindred rushed forward and plucked it from the flames. It was honored with a magnificent funeral, and it is said that some of the bones were kept by his family as relics of his repentance.”
Long after Gilles’ death, the peasants of Brittany spoke of him as Bluebeard, telling tales of how the Devil had changed his magnificent red beard to one of brilliant blue as a token of their compact. The story of his atrocities became transformed with time, so that instead of hundreds of children being his victims, they were supposedly seven wives.
Gilles de Rais is not unique in history. Yet he stands apart, as a monster among monsters. His victims may have numbered as many as eight hundred children, though the official accusation against him listed only one hundred forty names. “I kept no count,” Gilles declared. The crimes of a Vacher pale almost to insignificance when they are compared with the systematic, year-in-year-out atrocities which Gilles de Rais perpetrated on the screaming forms of children to satisfy his strange lusts.
The most chilling aspect or the career of Gilles de Rais was his transformation from shining hero to black-souled pervert. This was not a transformation that could have occurred overnight. The seeds of his homosexuality and sadism must have been planted in his youth, lying dormant through the years when he was under the influence of his grandfather and of Joan of Arc. His early reading of the lives of the Caesars, his no doubt bloody exploits on the battlefield, his love of the beautiful and youthful —all this gave rise to his later monsterhood after the triggering events of the deaths of Joan and Jean de Craon. There is something very much like a fallen angel about Gilles de Rais, that sadist of sadists.
Several centuries later, and some hundreds of miles to the east, Europe produced another bloodthirsty aristocrat whose misdeeds have lived on. She was Elisabeth Bathory of Hungary, often called The Bloody Countess.
One of the unusual aspects of the tale of the Bloody Countess is that a woman is the principal figure. Thus far in our study, we have dealt only with male sadists, and for a good reason: sadism in its most extreme stages is chiefly a male pastime. As we will see later, the so-called gentler sex is by no means free of sadistic impulses, but female sadism generally displays itself in subtler ways than the male. A female customarily prefers to inflict psychological torment rather than physical pain.
Thus Krafft-Ebing, writing eighty years ago, declared that only two authentic cases of sadism in women had then been scientifically studied. As he explained it, “In the first place, sadism, in which the need of subjugation of the opposite sex forms a constituent element, in accordance with its nature represents a pathological intensification of the masculine sexual character; in the second place, the obstacles which oppose the expression of this monstrous impulse are, of course, much greater for women than for men.”
Krafft-Ebing’s two cases included that of vampirishly-inclined young lady whose husband bore numerous cuts and scars on his arms. It seemed that whenever he wanted to have sexual intercourse with her, he first had to make a cut on his arm. “Then she would suck the wound,” Krafft-Ebing wrote, “and during the act become violently excited sexually.” The other case was that of a frigid woman who enjoyed fantasies of flowing blood during intercourse.
Elisabeth Bathory had been dead more than two hundred fifty years when Krafft-Ebing published his Psychopathia Sexualis, and so her sadism was no longer susceptible to “scientific study.” All we have is the court records of her activities—which demonstrate an instance where a woman developed, to use Krafft-Ebing’s words, “a pathological intensification of the masculine sexual character,” and was not hindered by “the obstacles which oppose the expression of this monstrous impulse” as she amassed her roster of six hundred fifty victims.
She was born in the middle of the sixteenth century. Hungary was a strange, dark land, ruled by tigerish feudal princes beneath whose lash the peasants cringed. What went on in the somber stone castles above the villages was no concern of the villagers; and in one castle, at least, the events were terrible indeed.
At fifteen, Elisabeth Bathory was perhaps the most beautiful woman in Europe: white of flesh, so delicate of complexion that faint traceries of blue veins could be seen beneath her translucent skin; her hair was black and glossy, her lips full and sensuous, her eyes large, dark, sometimes tender, sometimes blazing with rage or erotic passion.
This seductive adolescent witch became the bride of twenty-one-year-old Count Ferenc Nadasdy, a fierce and savage man of war whose exploits even in boyhood had become legendary in Hungary. Count Nadasdy was the master of Castle Csethje, in northwestern Hungary, and his lineage was a proud and noble one in that barbaric land. As was Elisabeth’s; she was the cousin of Gyorgy Thurzo. Hungary’s prime minister, and a relative of the brilliant, unstable Sigismund Bathory, Prince of Transylvania, one of Hungary’s greatest generals. Also in her family Elisabeth numbered an aunt with Lesbian tendencies and an interest in witchcraft that was more than merely scholarly; an uncle devoted to alchemy and sorcery; and a brother whose searing sexual drives carried him into a thousand beds before he was past his adolescence.
Elisabeth’s warrior husband abandoned her to do battle for months on end. Bored and lonely in her gloomy castle, the young Countess surrounded herself with a retinue of bizarre confederates. There was her childhood nurse, Ilona Joo, a practitioner of the black arts of satanism; Johannes Ujvary, an alchemist and expert in torture; Dorottya Szentes, Lesbian and witch; and others, all equally well versed in the techniques of cruelty.
In her husband’s absence, Elisabeth gave herself up to Lesbian practices, sharing her bed with her two beautiful maids, Barsovny and Otvos. On their nude bodies she vented the steaming intensity of her passions. As behooved the mistress-servant relationship, Elisabeth took the active, or masculine role in the Lesbian embraces, the maids the passive, feminine position. Thus Elisabeth Bathory came to acquire the basically masculine personality orientation that governed her later sadism. As she thrust herself between the soft thighs of her gasping servants, Elisabeth envisioned herself as a man indeed, penetrating their bodies with the genitals she did not in fact possess. Out of these sensual embraces came the wild streak of sadistic cruelty of her subsequent years.
She remained childless through ten years of her marriage—a grievous disappointment to the proud Count Nadasdy, who needed a male heir to carry on his line. The best efforts of witches, sorcerers and diabolists failed to yield a conception for many years. Then, when Elisabeth was twenty-six, she at last bore a child, and three more after that.
During the middle years of her life, domestic concerns seem to have kept her too busy for more exotic adventures. When she was in her late thirties, however, her husband died, and the widowed Countess, freed of all restraints, gave herself up to demonic pleasures with a vengeance.
It began when, in a fit of anger, she struck one of her maids in the face for some deed of carelessness during the Countess’ bath. Blood spurted from the girl’s lips and nose, and the scarlet drops landed on the face and bare breasts of Elisabeth Bathory. The Countess observed that where the blood had fallen, her skin seemed whiter, more youthful. Her gnarled confidante, Ilona Joo, whispered to her that if only she washed her skin in blood, she could recover the snowy beauty of her body as it had been on her bridal night, more than twenty years before.
A servant girl was brought before the Countess and her veins were opened. A bowl of blood was drawn from her, and Elisabeth bathed her face in it. It seemed to the Countess that her complexion did indeed improve, that the skin was more white, the texture more silken. She craved now to bathe her entire body in blood.
Barsovny and Otvos, her maids and her Lesbian lovers, were given the assignment of procuring. They were sent out into the countryside to bring victims for Elisabeth. Year after year, for eleven years in all, the somber carriage rode forth, bearing the arms of the Bathorys and the Nadasdys. The Countess was beyond all law. In her district, she was the law. So who was to speak out against her?
Girls were lured to the castle. Some were baited with the promise of jobs, others simply drugged or beaten and shanghaied into Elisabeth Bathory’s clutches. Not only Elisabeth but her companions in the castle made use of the kidnapped girls—for blood baths, for torment, and for Lesbian embraces.
The girls and women were kept in dungeons below the castle, chained to the wall. They were well fed, at least, for Elisabeth was convinced that plump prisoners gave the best blood for her cosmetic baths. So the girls were fattened like sheep. Periodically, whenever Elisabeth felt that her beauty needed renewing, one of the tenderest and juiciest of this herd of “blood-cows” was selected and drained of her blood, so that Elisabeth might immerse herself in it.
Nor did Countess Bathory deign to use towels when she emerged from her bath of blood. Girls selected for their beauty and delicacy of form were thrust forward to cleanse Elisabeth with their tongues. Inch by square inch, they licked the Countess’ nude body free of blood. Those who reacted with disgust or repugnance were marked for early slaughter. On the other hand, if a girl displayed signs of enthusiasm or pleasure at her task, she was swiftly promoted to Elisabeth’s “harem,” and granted the privilege of spending the night in bed with the lustful Countess. Even that, though, was nothing to be coveted, for it was known that Elisabeth sometimes devised particularly cruel tortures for those girls who had been her favorites for a while, and of whom she now was tired.
The records of Elisabeth Bathory’s atrocities were set down at her trial, when—as in the case of Gilles de Rais —her own accomplices testified in vivid detail for the sake of saving their own skins. Thus the crone Ilona Joo declared that hundreds of girls had been kept in the dungeon and milked, by small incisions, of their blood. The Countess not only bathed in this blood but drank it in weird rituals of demon-worship, along with her companions.
Elisabeth’s torments were grotesquely imaginative. She was fond of binding nude girls with ropes, which were twisted, tourniquet-fashion, until they made the veins stand out in bulging prominence. A few snips with sharp knives and fountains of scarlet jetted forth, splashing the walls of the torture chamber and drenching the bodies of the delighted torturers. Another amusement of Elisabeth’s was to flay a girl alive and thrust her bleeding form, with all its raw nerve-endings exposed, into a tub of icy water. Whips, knives, and heated rods of iron played their parts in the activities at the castle of Elisabeth Bathory. And when such mechanical means grew dreary, Elisabeth was not beyond having a victim brought to her bed and killing her with a savage attack of her teeth.
Eventually word of Elisabeth Bathory’s sadistic hobbies spread beyond the immediate countryside and reached the ears of King Matthias of Hungary. The King moved slowly to act on the stories; Elisabeth’s family, and that of her late husband, were powerful in the realm, and he was reluctant to take any action against her. At last, it became impossible for the ruler to ignore the complaints reaching him. He established a commission of inquiry to look into the doings of Elisabeth Bathory, placing on it her cousin, Prime Minister Thurzo, so that he could determine for himself what action should be taken.
The investigators entered Elisabeth’s province and collected testimony from the village priest, the governor of the province, and many villagers. Then they decided on a lightning raid on Castle Csethje itself. On a New Year’s Eve, the commission approached the castle, which, surprisingly, they found unguarded and wide open. They entered—and were greeted with sights that must have been appalling even in that fierce age.
Just within the door there sprawled the bloodless corpse of a young girl, chalk-white and hideous to behold. Near her lay another girl, not quite dead. Her feebly writhing form was all but drained of blood; she was covered with stab wounds. Going farther within the great hall of the castle, the startled investigators came upon a third girl, chained to a pillar. She was dead, her body devoid of blood; the cadaver showed signs of whipping and burning.
Still no one came to halt the intruders. Prime Minister Thurzo, who had visited his cousin’s castle long ago and knew its geography, led the party down into the dungeons. There were dozens of children, girls, and women, many of them covered with the scars of repeated bleedings. Chained to the walls, they were dazed and terrified, though many of them were plump and healthy.
The grim-faced investigators freed the captives and returned to the upper part of the castle. Following the sounds of wild revelry, they came upon Countess Elisabeth and her retinue in the midst of a grisly orgy whose details, it is said, were too terrible to be related. The revellers were overpowered and imprisoned.
The trial of Elisabeth Bathory commenced soon after. Theodosius de Szulo of the Royal Hungarian Supreme Court presided. Because of the gravity of the case and the high rank of the chief defendant, twenty other prominent judges were part of the panel.
The prosecutors marshalled their evidence: corpses, skeletons, torture implements, and other horrible exhibits. The freed prisoners from the dungeons told their stories of captivity and blood-letting. Elisabeth’s own swarm of hangers-on, the witches and warlocks and alchemists, vied with one another to get their confessions on record, hoping to gain a pardon by informing against their mistress.
Countess Bathory herself was not present at the trial. As a concession to her noble status, she was not forced to exhibit herself at such a humiliating procedure, and she remained under heavy guard in an apartment in her castle.
The verdict was guilty, as all expected. Officially, Elisabeth and her cohorts were convicted of eighty murders, because that was the number of bodies actually discovered. How many hundreds of other girls went to unknown deaths during the eleven years of Elisabeth Bathory’s blood baths could not be determined.
Sentence was pronounced by Judge Szulo. Ilona Joo was condemned to have her fingers torn off one by one, then to be burned alive and her ashes strewn. The same punishment was awarded to Dorottya Szentes. Johannes Ujvary, Barsovny, Otvos, and several of Elisabeth’s other intimate companions were condemned to death by beheading.
No mention was made of a sentence for Elisabeth Bathory herself. The trial was adjourned after the last of the underlings was disposed of.
Working behind the scenes, Prime Minister Thurzo had been able to convince King Matthias that Elisabeth was insane—not a very difficult task, one would assume. The King, considering Elisabeth’s family standing and his own personal ties with the Bathorys and Nadasdys, was at last persuaded not to put Elisabeth to death. She was sentenced instead—by royal commandment, not by verdict of the court—to permanent imprisonment within Castle Csethje.
Her apartment was walled up by stonemasons. They left slits in the wall for ventilation, and an opening through which food could be passed to the prisoner. When the walls closed on Elisabeth Bathory, she was alone in her suite, and no one would again see her alive.
She spent four years in the living death of this solitary confinement. Never did she utter a word, never did she try to communicate with the guards stationed beyond the thick stone wall. Late in the summer of 1614, it was noticed that her food plates were going untouched. Masons were summoned and the wall was broken down. Elisabeth Bathory was dead at fifty-four. No record has been left as to whether her great beauty, which had lasted almost unravaged through the first fifty years of her life, had endured the four years of her imprisonment.
The blood baths of the Castle Csethje are some sort of high-water mark for female sadism. As the world would see again hundreds of years later in the person of the Nazi torturess Ilse Koch, women are quite capable of rivalling men in sadistic cruelty when they are granted the absolute power of life and death over other human beings.
What are we to make of Elisabeth Bathory? How can we account for her behavior? The mind recoils from the thought of her plump, blood-spattered victims, just as it draws back in horror from the atrocities Gilles de Rais perpetrated on innocent children.
Yet so far as the psychological dynamics of sadism go, the actions of these two human monsters are different only in intensity and quantity, not in quality, from the casual brutality of a whip-wielding sadist or a wife-beater. One is tempted to suggest that once a person finds it satisfying to establish his identity through the infliction of pain, only the limits placed upon him by society hold him back from the ultimate of atrocity. Where no limits at all were enforced—as in the Bathory and Gilles de Rais cases—the bounds of sadism proved to be infinite. It is a way of life that feeds on itself, leading the sadist on to ever more monstrous accomplishments.
Female sadism, as we have just seen, is almost invariably accompanied by overt Lesbian activity. The sadistic woman of Lesbian bent yearns to play a masculine role— and, since to her masculinity comes to mean overbearing dominance, she exaggerates her behavior pattern into a scheme that may lead to the wild excesses of an Elisabeth Bathory.
The Lesbianism need not be so overt, however. In the third of our classic cases of human monstrosity, there was no direct evidence of sexual inversion accompanying extreme sadism. The Lesbian content was suppressed and hidden; in this case, sadism apparently became a substitute for Lesbianism rather than an accompaniment.
The case is that of Elizabeth Brownrigg, an English midwife of the eighteenth century. Born in 1720, she grew up in an ordinary lower-class background, serving as a housemaid until she met and married James Brownrigg, a house painter. She bore him sixteen children in just about as many years, which would tend to indicate that she had no particular revulsion for the sexual act.
Having become thoroughly familiar with the techniques of childbirth from the mother’s point of view, Elizabeth Brownrigg shifted sides, so to speak, becoming a midwife in her late thirties or early forties. At that time, it was considered improper for a male doctor to attend a woman at birth, and labor was the responsibility of a corps of middle-aged women who handled all the obstetric chores. One might possibly suspect that by choosing this profession—which required her to see and touch the genitals of other women—Elizabeth Brownrigg was manifesting some homosexual yearning. But that, of course, is difficult to prove two centuries after the fact. Mrs. Brownrigg was skillful and successful at her new trade. She brought hundreds of working-class babies into the world, and, by the year 1765, business was so good that she decided to take on an assistant. London abounded in teenage girls without families, who were maintained in workhouses at the public expense. Elizabeth Brownrigg knew that it was possible to obtain such girls as apprentices—and that the workhouse would pay five pounds per girl to cover their expenses.
A fourteen-year-old girl named Mary Mitchell entered the Brownrigg house on a month’s trial. During that time, both girl and employer had the right to sever the relationship. If all were satisfactory, at the end of a month’s time a formal article of indenture would be signed.
For all her fertility, Elizabeth Brownrigg had never had an adolescent girl in her household. Thirteen of her sixteen children had died in infancy; the three survivors were boys. Perhaps the presence of this girl—over whom the law would grant absolute control once the indentures were signed—stirred some strange new emotion in Elizabeth Brownrigg’s breast.
For the first month, all went well. Mary Mitchell ate at the Brownrigg table and was treated virtually as one of the family. When the trial period ended, she gladly signed the articles of indenture, giving Elizabeth Brownrigg full parental control over her.
Now Mary Mitchell’s life changed rapidly. She was stripped of her clothing and ordered to don frayed rags. No longer did she eat with the Brownriggs; now she was thrown scraps and crusts. She became a drudge, working virtually round the clock. Elizabeth Brownrigg would kick and slap the girl, pull her hair, upbraid her; and, after a while, whipping became part of the routine. When Elizabeth Brownrigg had the idea that Mary Mitchell had misbehaved, the girl was ordered to strip and submit her bare buttocks (or, occasionally, her tender, newly-grown breasts) to the strap. Mr. Brownrigg and the three Brownrigg sons watched these entertainments with considerable pleasure, and made no effort to interfere with Elizabeth’s mistreatment of the hapless apprentice girl.
Before long another fourteen-year-old foundling, named Mary Jones, joined the Brownrigg manage. Even more than Mary Mitchell, the newcomer became the target for Elizabeth Brownrigg’s sadistic drives. The first apprentice was now compelled to assist in the torment of her companion—a bit or ingenious psychological sadism on Mrs. Brownrigg’s part.
A frequent punishment for Mary Jones, at first, was to lie down nude across two chairs to which she would be tied. Elizabeth Brownrigg then would flog her on back and buttocks until her arm grew weary, while the rest of the household looked on.
Before long, Mrs. Brownrigg discovered that Mary Jones had a panicky fear of water and of drowning. This became a source or new delight for the sadistic midwife. She would steal up behind Mary Jones while the girl was engaged in scrubbing the floor, seize her by the shoulders, and shove her head into the pail of water. The girl’s terrified shrieks brought great pleasure to her tormentor.
Soon Elizabeth Brownrigg had devised an improvement on this brutality. She obtained a large tub, which Mary Mitchell had to fill with cold water. Before the entire household, Mary Jones was stripped naked and thrust into this tub. Mrs. Brownrigg would hold the floundering girl’s head under water until she seemed nearly at the point of drowning; then she would be allowed to come up and catch her breath, after which the torment would be repeated.
After two months of this kind of treatment, Mary Jones managed to escape. Normally the door to the street of the house was kept locked, but early one morning Mary Jones spied the key still in the door, and freed herself. She staggered back to the foundling home from which she had come. She was nearly blind in one eye as the result of an injury inflicted by her mistress; her shoulders were deeply scarred by the rim of the pail into which she had been forcibly thrust so frequently; her whole body was a mass of wounds and bruises.
The indignant officials of the foundling home made representations to Elizabeth Brownrigg about these evidences of cruelty. They demanded that some reparation be made—whereupon Elizabeth Brownrigg agreed to release Mary Jones from her bond of apprenticeship. And there the matter was dropped. In the London of Hogarth, cruelty to apprentices was not regarded as an exceptionally unusual practice.
Elizabeth Brownrigg lost little time in providing herself with a replacement, a slow-witted girl named Mary Clifford. This third Mary was meted out treatment which made the lives of the two previous Brownrigg apprentices look positively benign. Her stupidity goaded Elizabeth Brownrigg to new heights (or depths) of sadistic violence. Several times a day Mary Clifford underwent a severe beating. She lived in the coal hole, slept on a vermin-crawling mat. Her clothes were rags that barely covered her skinny nakedness, and she was never permitted to change them, removing them only when it was time for one of the regular floggings.
The Brownriggs had become relatively wealthy now, thanks to the success of Mrs. Brownrigg’s midwifery.
They took to spending their weekends at a country resort. The two apprentices, Mary Mitchell and Mary Clifford, were locked in the cellar of the Brownrigg house from Saturday afternoon to Monday, without water or light, nourished only by a few crusts of bread.
The sadist’s characteristic ingenuity of torment came into play. With her absolute control over the lives of these unfortunates, Elizabeth Brownrigg devised a variety of ingenious methods for relieving herself of sadistic urges. Once, opening a cupboard, the clumsy Mary Clifford accidentally broke the door. Elizabeth Brownrigg punished her in an appropriate manner; she fastened a chain about the girl’s neck and attached it to the door. Opening and closing the door rapidly, she was able to create a sensation very much like a noose tightening around the apprentice’s neck. A full day was spent in this amusement.
Another practice was to dangle the girl by her bound arms from a water pipe that ran across the ceiling of the Brownrigg kitchen. As the nude, squirming girl swung in this armpit-wrenching position, Elizabeth Brownrigg would lay on with might and main, taking advantage of the girl’s free-dangling position to belabor every part of her body. Breasts and thighs and buttocks and loins in turn felt the sting of the woman’s lash. (As with the knife in the case of the stabbers, the whip may have been Elizabeth Brownrigg’s symbolic way or attaining sexual intimacy with her victims.)
Eventually, the pipe gave way under the weight of the swaying girl. Mrs. Brownrigg prevailed on her husband to screw a large iron hook into a beam, and the two apprentice girls could be suspended from this, their feet off the floor as Elizabeth Brownrigg flogged them into unconsciousness.
Among the numerous acts of atrocity which Elizabeth Brownrigg committed on the unfortunate Mary Clifford was her act when she overheard the girl complaining about her lot to a visiting neighbor. As soon as the woman was gone, Elizabeth Brownrigg sprang upon Mary Clifford and cut her tongue in two places with a scissors as punishment for talebearing. She threatened to cut the tongue out altogether if the girl ever again dared to protest to an outsider about the cruelty she was receiving.
And so Elizabeth Brownrigg successfully concealed her sadistic activities from the outside world. But not indefinitely. Mary Clifford appears to have had a stepmother, who came to check on her whereabouts. She was refused admittance to the Brownrigg house by Mr. Brownrigg; a neighboring woman, Mrs. Deacon, met her as she was being turned away, and told her of the moans and groans frequently heard coming from the Brownrigg place.
The following day, Elizabeth Brownrigg repaid Mary Clifford for her stepmother’s curiosity. Forcing her to strip, she strung her up to the hook in the beam, and flogged her until the blood flowed. Then she was forced to endure the ducking punishment several times, with more blows following this.
It happened that the Brownriggs had recently purchased a hog, and were keeping it in the back yard prior to slaughter. Up to this time, the yard had been screened by a roof, but to provide ventilation Mr. Brownrigg had removed a section of the roof as a skylight. The naked, raw-fleshed, unconscious form of Mary Clifford was dumped into the back yard—where it was seen through the new skylight by the inquisitive neighbor, Mrs. Deacon.
The authorities were notified. Elizabeth Brownrigg, seeing the police arriving, slipped out of the house. Mr. Brownrigg, left to his own devices, insisted there was no Mary Clifford living with them. He produced Mary Mitchell, herself a battered hulk, and the girl was taken away for treatment. The police continued to prowl the house and finally came upon the unconscious form of Mary Clifford, hidden in a cupboard. She was covered with wounds; her throat was swollen from the strangling treatments; her mouth was so bruised that she could neither speak nor close her lips. She died a few days later, on August 9, 1767, less than a year and a half after she had fallen into the hands of Elizabeth Brownrigg.
A warrant was issued for Mrs. Brownrigg’s arrest, describing her as “a middle-aged, middle-sized woman of a swarthy complexion, remarkably smooth of speech.” She was caught in a lodging house and brought to trial, with a mob of angry, excited Londoners demanding her death.
She, her husband, and her eldest son were brought to trial in September, 1767. The indictment stated that “being moved by the instigation of the Devil they did on different dates… so assault Mary Clifford that she did pine and languish till she died.” An eleven-hour trial, based chiefly on the testimony of Mary Mitchell, resulted in conviction for Elizabeth Brownrigg and acquittal for her husband and son. The execution took place the following day. The sadist was driven to Tyburn, the gallows-place, through a howling, jeering mob that threatened a lynching out of sheer impatience. As the noose was put round her neck, she spoke, freely admitting her guilt and hoping for salvation in the next world. Afterward her body was dissected and her skeleton put on display at a medical college.
What drove this prosperous midwife to such fiendish acts of sadism? Was it her concealed Lesbian longing for the young apprentice girls in her house? Was she, in punishing the three Marys, trying to strike out at the unnatural urges within her own body—or was flogging and torment her surrogate for the Lesbian embrace?
There can never be any way of knowing. Elizabeth Brownrigg has taken her place in the gallery of human monsters, and the motives that impelled her to such incredible and senseless cruelty died with her. The sadistic beating of children, however, is far from extinct. Each day’s newspaper brings us some echo of the Elizabeth Brownrigg case—as, for example, the item printed in a New York newspaper in the spring of 1964, citing the arrest of a 28-year-old unemployed laborer who, living with a divorcee of 32, had beaten the woman’s seven-year-old crippled daughter to death because “it gave him pleasure to beat the child.”
In 1963, there were 2500 reported cases of sadistic cruelty toward children in the New York area alone— and no telling how many thousands of cases went unreported in the city’s teeming slums. The American Humane Association, which conducted a survey of maltreated children, commented that “The forms or types of abuse inflicted on these children is a negative testimony to the ingenuity and inventiveness of man.” The association found that 55.7 per cent of the children were under four years old, and 90 per cent were ten or younger.
Most injuries, it was found, resulted from beatings. The hairbrush was a frequent instrument, but also used were: “bare fists, straps, electric cords, television aerials, ropes, rubber hose, fan belts, sticks, wooden spoons, pool cues, bottles, broom handles, baseball bats, chair legs, and a sculling oar.”
The hands, arms, and feet of children were burned in the open flames of gas burners and cigarette lighters. Other children were wounded by lighted cigarettes, electric irons, hot pokers, the report said. Many were scalded deliberately with hot liquids.
Some children were strangled by their parents or guardians. Others were suffocated with pillows or plastic bags, or drowned in bathtubs. One child was buried alive.
All this in the New York area in a single year! How far is it, one wonders, from the torture of a single child to the wholesale atrocities of a Gilles de Rais or an Elisabeth Bathory? Perhaps not so far at all. Perhaps all that is missing, to turn a family sadist into a mass destroyer, is that degree of absolute power that Gilles and the Bloody Countess enjoyed.
There can be no ideal conception of Life and no true conception of Nature if we seek to shut out Death and Fain. It is the feeble shrinking from Death and the flabby horror of Pain that mark the final stage of decay in any civilization. Our ancestors, too, offered up human sacrifice on their altars, and none can say how much of their virility and how much of the promise of the future they held in their grasp were bound up with the fact.
Impressions and Comments
DESPITE ALL the evidence to the contrary that has so far been offered, one still can state that our western society is a relatively gentle one. A distinctly anti-sadistic tradition runs through our culture, so that we recoil in horror at the acts of perversion practiced by certain warped individuals among us. Note that the three monsters cited in the last chapter all eventually met punishment at the hands of the legal authorities; note too that each prior instance of sadism given here has been a case of one person rebelling against the prevailing mores of his society.
But what are we to make of a society whose prevailing mores openly encourage sadism? Among us, we superficially deplore violence and punish the violent, though our darker urges thrust embarrassingly into view in the form of boxing matches, television thrillers, and sadistic pulp fiction. Yet many times in the history of mankind, whole societies have cheerfully encouraged and welcomed acts of the most bestial brutality. Sadism cannot be considered an individual perversion among them. It is simple conformity to a cultural mode.
Can we call sadism a perversion at all, in such societies? Our entire moral structure is called into question. We are forced to establish a moral code—our own—as an absolute, and to look on deviants from that code as violators, even though within their own moral framework they are doing nothing at all wrong. The only way we can rescue our assumptions about morality is to postulate that entire societies shared a common sickness—an epidemic, so to speak, of sadism.
What, for instance, are we to make of a society whose ruler published this boast of his treatment of conquered enemies:
“Two hundred and sixty of their fighting men I put to the sword, and I cut off their heads and I piled them in heaps…. I built a pillar over against his city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, and some upon the pillar on stakes I impaled, and others I fixed to stakes round about the pillar…. Three thousand captives I burned with fire…. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire.”
That was Assurnasirpal, King of Assyria. No doubt his proclamation met with public howls of approval, for sadism was a way of life among the cruel Assyrians. Their annals, which have been preserved, glowingly recount deeds of horror which rarely were matched before the Hitler era. Assyria was a land of terror, where the sadistic compulsions of its rulers were institutionalized into a national cult. Nor was this a land of savages; Assyrian culture, though it was borrowed from its neighbors, was elaborate and refined.
Even more thoroughly documented is the sadism of ancient Rome, where cruelty was a part of the inmost fiber of daily life. Reading the Roman writers, we learn of public rapes, mutilations, and castrations; of open displays of masturbation and homosexuality, of the casual whipping and a torment of slaves; of a perverse and pervasive sadism infiltrating nearly every Roman activity. Here is a case history of an entire culture, grim testimony to the aggressive instinct’s power to run wild.
Many authorities have written that Roman sadism was a development of the later, decadent period of Roman history. Earlier Rome, they say, was a land of staunch puritan virtues, which built the great society that later degenerates helped to wreck.
This view has been called into question by many recent writers, among them the German Otto Kiefer, author of a classic study, Sexual Life in Ancient Rome. Kiefer has “found it increasingly clear that a nation whose development led it from a rough and primitive sensuality towards the unmistakable signs of a lust for cruelty must always have possessed at least these characteristics which were evidence of its inclinations…. Cruelty and brutality were original Roman characteristics, and not later importations.”
According to the European psychologist Wilhelm Stekel, “Cruelty is the expression of hatred and of the will to power.” If ever a nation was imbued with the will to power, it was Rome. Beginning, about 600 b.c., as an insignificant Italian city under the domination of the powerful Etruscans, the Romans inexorably expanded outward, crushing the Etruscans and absorbing all of Italy, and eventually, by the time of Christ, becoming masters of the known world. During those years of expansion, the virtues of militarism were assiduously cultivated in Rome, and a race of strong, ruthless, stolidly disciplined men was bred.
Nietzsche, in his Beyond Good and Evil, gives us a good description of the relaxation of tension that led the Romans from martial splendor into frightful degeneracy:
“But finally,” Nietzsche wrote, “the nation reaches happiness; the frightful strain is relaxed; perhaps no more enemies are left among their neighbors, and there is an abundance of the means to live and enjoy life. At one blow the constraining bonds of the old discipline burst asunder—that discipline no longer seems to be a necessary condition of the existence of the race….
“Variations from the type, whether they be mere deviation… or degeneration and debasement, suddenly appear in flourishing life; the individual has the courage of his individuality and dares to detach himself…. Stupendous collapse and self-destruction are caused by the savage combat and explosion of these individualities which, as they strive for sun and light, recognize none of the restraints, limits, and forbearances of previous morality. That previous morality was responsible for accumulating the enormous force which stands now so threateningly with bent bow; that morality is now fast becoming a thing of the past.”
The Roman, as we have seen, met sadism in the classroom from the earliest age. Birch-wielding or whip-wielding schoolmasters gave the young Romans their first taste of cruelty. Nor were matters any more cheerful at home. The historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus informs us, “The Roman lawgiver gave the father complete power over the son, power which lasted a whole lifetime. He was at liberty to imprison him, flog him, to keep him a prisoner working on the farm, and to kill him.”
Generation after generation of Romans, growing up in this environment of sadism, waited none too patiently for their turn to be on the giving end rather than the receiving. Neighboring peoples, and Romans themselves, felt the impact of this pent-up urge toward revenge for childhood injuries.
Many episodes in Roman literature show us this innate sadism at work. One of the bawdiest of Roman novels is The Golden Ass of Apuleius, written about 150 a.d., at a time when Rome was entering its period of greatest debauchery. In one of the many erotic scenes or this work, Apuleius describes a baker’s wife who commits adultery with a young boy. The baker catches his wife and her adolescent paramour in flagrante delicto. But he has no intention of divorcing his wife, nor of turning the boy over to the courts, where he would face a death penalty for seducing a married woman. Instead he exacts a characteristically Roman revenge, outside the law:
“He made the unwilling boy come along to the bedroom with him. Not to outrage his wife’s modesty he locked her in another room, then climbed into bed with the boy and enjoyed a wonderful revenge for the wrong she had done him. The next morning at the first sign of dawn he called the two toughest of his mill-hands, who hoisted the boy up for him to thrash on the bare backside with a stick.
“After giving him a dozen or two of the best, he said: ‘Such a nice little boy, too! You ought to be ashamed of turning down lovers of your own age and trying to break up respectable homes. You’ll be getting yourself a bad name, my son, and adultery is a very, very serious crime, don’t you forget that.’
“He gave him another half-dozen for good luck and chased him out of the house. So this most enterprising adulterer got away with his life, which was better luck than he had hoped for, but with sobs and cries for his pretty white backside, which was aching terribly after all that it had been through.”
Homosexual abuse, a bare-buttock thrashing—and yet the baker is no sinister pervert, but simply a good-natured ordinary citizen who feels he must avenge himself upon the seducer of his wife. So casually did sadistic perversions present themselves to the Romans!
In warfare, Rome practiced an almost Assyrian ferocity. Again and again we read accounts of such campaigns as that against Sora about 300 b.c. The Romans killed all but 225 of the men who opposed them on the field, and took the survivors to Rome. There they were publicly flogged in the Forum, and then beheaded—summo gaudio plebis, as the historian Livy remarks, “to the great joy of the common people.” These public executions of prisoners of war became obscenely brutal in the later years of Rome, with disembowelments, castrations, and other refinements added.
Notable for his cruelty was the dictator Sulla, who ruled in the first century b.c. After one victory, Sulla had 8000 prisoners killed; another time, he ordered 12,000 to be impaled on javelins. A voluptuary given to homosexual sport, Sulla was a forerunner of such later Roman monsters as Nero and Caligula, yet the Romans considered him a great man.
Roman law was predictably severe. The Roman jurists appeared to feel that the mere death penalty, which brought quick surcease from pain, was insufficiently severe. Crimes punishable by death usually drew a preliminary flogging or torture, to make the execution a long-drawn-out affair that would be rewarding and instructive to the spectators. Thus the German historian Mommsen explains, “At these executions the condemned man’s hands were bound behind his back. He was chained to a post, stripped, and flogged; then he was laid on the ground and beheaded with an axe. This proceeding exactly corresponds to the killing of the sacrificial animal as it is demanded by the sacral character of primitive executions.”
Sadism as public ritual—sadism as an almost religious spectacle! And public executions were carried out in England as late as the eighteenth century, and in many parts of the Oriental world today: a ceremony of sadism in which the viewers are purged of their savage desires and urges by watching the scapegoat victim perish in agony.
The Roman punishment with which we are most familiar is, of course, crucifixion. There were various methods of administering this punishment. The victim was often fastened to the cross by the patibulum, a wooden yoke that fastened round the throat; if he was lucky, it strangled him quickly, but when arranged carefully the patibulum gave no such quick release. The hands and feet of the victim were nailed to the cross, and he was allowed to die of exposure and bleeding. He could be crucified in a variety of positions, as the playwright Seneca observed:
“There I see crosses, not of one kind alone, but built differently by different men. Some hang their victims head downwards, others drive the pole through the privy parts, others again spread their arms widespread on the gibbet. There I see wires and lashes, and machines invented to torture every limb and every joint.”
Slaves were a universal target for Roman sadism. The slaves, having no human rights, were treated like beasts, and lived or died at the whims of their masters. One did not generally murder one’s slaves, of course, since they were valuable property—but one could amuse one’s self to almost any extent short of slaying. Thus we read in Ovid’s Art of Love:
“I hate the woman who wounds her maid with hairpins or her nails. The poor girl curses every hair she touches, and weeps and bleeds behind her mistress back.”
The mocking poet Juvenal gives us this brilliant portrait of the sadistic amusements of the wealthy Roman housewife:
“But you should know what Everywoman does at home all day. Suppose her husband turns his back to her in bed. God help the housemaid! The lady’s maids are stripped, the coachman’s thrashed for being late (punished because another slept), rods are broken, bleeding backs are scourged and lashed: some women keep a private flogger. She scourges while her face is made up, talks to her friends, examines a gold-braided frock and thrashes, reads the daily paper through and thrashes, till the thrasher tires, and she screams GO NOW, and the inquisition’s over. She rules her home more savagely than a tyrant. Has she an assignation, wants to look more beautiful than usual, quick, he’s waiting under the trees, or in Queen Isis’ brothel—poor Psecas combs the mistress’s hair, her own tattered, with naked shoulders and bare breasts. ‘This curl’s too high.’ At once the oxhide thong lashes the wretch: her crime was a coiffure.”
The public amusements of the Romans also, as one would expect, pandered to this universal sadism. Criminals, we have already observed, were publicly executed amid unspeakable atrocities. The amphitheaters of Rome were the scene not only of these executions but of the infamous gladiatorial games, where hired performers battled to the death while a delighted crowd cheered each spurt of blood.
Roman women in particular seemed to relish the gory displays of the Colosseum. The death of a handsome gladiator could reduce a woman to a state of feverish sexual receptiveness, and there were many instances of copulation right in the stadium. The sadistic exhibitions stirred uncontrollable lusts in the onlookers, who satisfied those yearnings on the spot. The contagious nature of these displays was made unforgettably clear by this anecdote to be found in the Confessions of St. Augustine:
“A young Christian was living in Rome as a student. He had long avoided the amphitheatre, but was at last taken to visit it by friends. He told them that they could drag his body there but not his soul, for he would sit with his eyes closed and so be really absent. This he did, but a great shout induced him to open his eyes in curiosity.
“Then his soul was stricken more sorely than the bodies of those he yearned to see, and his fall was more lamentable than that which had caused the shout. For with the sight of blood, he absorbed a lust for cruelty; he could not turn away; his gaze grew fixed; he was drunk with the lust for blood. Why should I say more? He looked, his blood burned, and he took away with him a madness which goaded him to return again.”
The account of Roman sadism could be infinitely prolonged if we turned to the doings of the Caesars. Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars, which served as a textbook for Gilles de Rais, is a harrowing and revolting account of the incredible perversions of the emperors of Rome in the years just after the time of Christ. We meet in its pages such characters as the mad Caligula, who enjoyed parading his wife Caesonia naked before hi. friends, and who was at first unsure of his own daughter’s legitimacy, until he finally was convinced of his own paternity by “the child’s violent temper; while still an infant she would try to scratch out her little playmates’ eyes.”
Caligula was fond of executions, his preferred method being to have numerous small wounds made in the victim’s body. “Make him feel that he is dying!” was a customary command of this Caesar. Suetonius remarks, “He frequently had trials by torture held in his presence while he was dining… he kept an expert headsman always in readiness to decapitate the prisoners.” The tales told of Nero, Claudius, Heliogabalus, and the rest of the royal line are hardly more cheerful.
The mind reels at Roman sadism. Yet when we turn to the Orient, we find the same institutionalized cruelty, with such an abundance of shocking incidents that they numb the intellect. In his essay, Sexual Savagery in the East Allen Edwardes writes of Tipu Sahib, the Sultan of Mysore, who proclaimed, “I am the chosen servant of the Prophet Muhammed, predestined in the eternal Book of Fate to root out the infidels from India and cast them into the bottomless pits of hell.”
Edwardes writes, “This Tiger of Mysore took pains to capture the children of Europeans. Then, when he felt the urge, he ordered them out of the dungeons and into his private chamber. There, he defecated and urinated upon them, hung them over slow-burning fires, and having drugged them to insensibility, murdered each by decapitation after a single sodomitical session.
Sometimes he would employ a pair of Abyssinian slaves who, taking each child by the head and legs, would twist them to death and toss their broken bodies out of the palace windows. These black beasts were no less feared than the sultan’s man-eating tigers. Tipu castrated twenty captive English drummer boys, whom he then educated as singers and dancers….”
Another sadist of India was Nana Sahib, who during the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 is said to have raped dozens of English girls. Edwards writes that “Nana Sahib sated his sadistic thirst by forcing tubes and small charges of gunpowder up women’s vaginas and men’s rectums, then firing them off.”
Turks and Mongols, Arabs and-Chinese, Japanese and other Asiatics all have had a similarly relaxed attitude toward the practice of sadism. What we in our innocence regard as unutterably monstrous behavior has frequently been held up, in such societies, as ideal manliness.
When a society en masse gives itself over to sadism, normal psychological criteria become almost irrelevant. One cannot apply diagnostic techniques to an entire culture. The mass sadism of the Orient, of ancient Rome, and of other such civilizations is a sorry stain on the human record. The raging beast within not only managed to free itself, in those societies, but to establish itself in an institutionalized way within the framework of the law. In such a society, the man who shrinks from doing violence becomes the deviant—as in the example of the “Christian student” mentioned in St. Augustine’s chilling little anecdote.
We need not feel that this institutionalization of sadism is something limited only to the ancient world or to the peoples of the Orient. In our own century, we have had the most potent example of all of how easily the beast of sadism can run amok.
Nazi Germany, of course, is the civilization in question. Out of the Teutonic world came the scientists and psychotherapists who first analyzed and diagnosed sadism, including Krafft-Ebing himself. And then, a generation or two later, this nation of scientists and industrialists spawned the Nazi movement with its attendant cruelties.
Oddly, much of the Hitlerian slaughter had only a limited sadistic component. This became painfully clear during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, in which it was demonstrated that Eichmann was a kind of ribbon-clerk of death, a pallid, uninteresting man without passion or vigor. Millions of Europeans went to their deaths in Nazi gas chambers, but the men who shoved them in often did it in a joyless, mechanical way, experiencing none of the true sensual arousal that is the hallmark of perverse sadism. It was, incomprehensibly to us, just a job for them— not a sexual perversion.
Yet there is ample evidence that the German soldiers, as opposed to the mass liquidators, took a sensual delight in the crimes they committed. One single account of German sadism during the second world war will suffice, I think, to serve as a representative of the infinity of brutalities committed during that most sadistic of wars. The writer is speaking of the occupation of the city of Kiev:
“German tanks roared through the large Jewish quarter, after the occupation, blasting every living object in sight. Scores of independent reports build the picture of how, when the firing stopped. German troops, egged on to hysteria by the Nazi propaganda, went through every house. Groups of girls and women, from nine to thirty, were savagely pushed into rooms, raped, terribly mutilated and then bayoneted or strangled. Pregnant women and mothers with babies were flung into flaming buildings or used for bayonet drills. Babies only a few days old were flung into the air and impaled on bayonets by gangs of laughing soldiery. Then, when the bestial appetites of blood and lust were sated, 6000 people were rounded up and marched from the town. On the way, invalids and old men were savagely clubbed and beaten.
“Groups were encouraged to run away and then were shot. Men, women and children were nailed alive to doors, terribly mutilated with knives and bayonets, and then their clothing set afire. Women’s breasts were cut off.
“When the doomed procession reached the woods they were ordered to dig an enormous mass grave with their bare hands…. For three days, taking it in turns, squad after squad shot their victims so that they fell into the grave on top of one another….” (Comer Clark, Eichmann: The Man and His Crime, Ballantine Books, 1960.)
EARLY IN the summer of 1964, a news story appeared on an inside page of The New York Times, under the following headline:
BOY, 6, SET AFIRE
BY 2 OLDER BOYS
ON EAST 8TH STREET
The story told how six-year-old George Schiller was playing with a ball on the sidewalk near his home, in a not-quite-slum section of Manhattan, about 6:15 one evening. Suddenly the little boy was attacked by two strangers—fifteen-year-old Jesus Garcia and ten-year-old Julio Martinez.
“Without provocation, according to the police, the older boys poured combustible liquid over George’s head and body and then struck a match,” the Times story said. “They watched as he burst into flames.”
Two policemen arrived in a radio car after horrified onlookers had torn the flaming clothes from the boy’s body. The two youthful pyromaniacs were still on the scene, and eyewitnesses described them as “arrogant” when the police seized them. A team of doctors, six in all, worked round the clock to save the boy’s life. The burns covered 32 per cent of his body. The arrested boys were booked, then “released in the custody of their parents” to await trial.
The day after that story was published, newspapers in New York and New Jersey had this to offer, emanating from Jersey City:
“Two boys aged 14 and 15 were arrested early today and charged with the strangling of a 10-year-old girl in the cellar of a building in downtown Jersey City.
“The victim, Deborah Coleman, was found dead yesterday with a rope from a Venetian blind wrapped around her neck…. The police said she had been beaten and raped.” Dozens of neighborhood youths were questioned, and finally two boys confessed to the crime.
What is startling about these two cases—and about the dozens of similar ones reported nationally during the same season—is not that they should have happened at all, but that they should be received so calmly by the public, and given so little general attention. For there was nothing really novel about the cases. Teenage sadism has become a way of life in the United States. It is accepted with shrugs and apathy, in contrast to the nationwide sensation of the Leopold and Loeb case two generations ago. Newspaper readers have been taught, through headline after headline, that it is customary for American youth to beat, maim, torture, rape, “stomp,” and kill. That much is taken for granted. Only a remarkably spectacular teenage crime is likely to make the front pages any more.
There are many currently fashionable answers to that question. The traditional conservative answer is that there has been a general deterioration of moral standards in the United States—too much pornography, too much leniency in the rearing of children, too much “relaxation” of ethics, too little religion, too much godlessness. The extreme right wing points vehemently to the Supreme Court decision on school prayer as a contributing factor to the rise in teenage violence.
The liberal faction has answers too. Teenage sadism, we are told, results in part from the overriding world tensions that beset us today. Young people, reared in a world that could be obliterated in a nuclear holocaust at any moment, seek for “quick kicks.” Then, too, the liberals say, much of the youthful violence could be averted if there were only proper opportunity to channel the energies of the young—wider employment openings, more youth enterprises such as the Peace Corps and the New Deal’s C.C.C., less racial discrimination, and so forth. Both liberals and conservatives unite in blaming television crime shows and cheap comic books for much of the upsurge in sadistic behavior.
There is real justification both for the liberal and conservative viewpoints. The conservatives urge a return to the whip and rod; the liberals demand on easing of world tensions and a more enlightened approach through education. No doubt much of the current teenage trouble does stem from overlenient parents; what other explanation can there be for sadism in the “overprivileged” suburbs, where boys and girls cannot claim the excuses of racial discrimination or poor education? No doubt, too, the brutal threat of atomic destruction leads many young people to adopt an “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow comes the H-bomb” attitude.
But there is more to the problem than that.
The chillingly ingenious forms that teenage violence takes point to some deep-rooted neurosis that cannot be explained away in glib left-wing or right-wing jargon. The pyromaniac case cited above is a good example. And consider these:
In Norwalk, a suburb of Los Angeles, a group of boys bound seven-year-old Michael Evans to the Santa Fe Railroad tracks. His father rescued him only moments before the express was due to pass.
In Argentina, pro-Nazi teenagers seized a nineteen-year-old Jewish girl and carved swastikas on her breasts with knives.
In New York City, a girl of fourteen was held prisoner by a band of boys for several days. They raped her repeatedly, violated her anally when the mood took them, and thrust lighted cigarettes into her vagina.
In Chicago, a boy of eleven was attacked by seven girls in their early teens, who compelled him to perform cunnilingus (mouth-genital contacts) upon them, then were considering castrating him when he managed to escape.
In New Jersey, an eighteen-year-old boy driving a car was dragged from it by teenagers who beat him severely and gouged out one of his eyes.
In Boston, a teenage gang surrounded a middle-aged woman, snatched her purse, then knocked her down and kicked her into unconsciousness.
In New York, two boys in their teens made a hobby of terrorizing helpless Bowery bums, beating them and tormenting them.
It is more than simply a matter of H-bomb tensions, inadequate schooling, or parental lackadaisicalness. In many instances there is something of almost anthropological concern involved. The sadism of the teenager is very frequently a ritualized attempt at demonstrating that he (or she) has arrived at adulthood.
The old symbols of maturity—the first shave, the first menstrual period or brassiere, the first pair of long pants, dating, dancing, necking—these have come to seem passe. Americans are growing up faster and faster all the time. Girls get brassieres at the age of ten in many suburban communities, even though their breasts do not begin to develop for two more years. Eleven-year-olds date. Smoking and drinking are commonplace among sixth-graders. Boys demand razors before they have reached puberty.
Other tokens of manhood or womanhood are needed. Boys and girls who consider themselves men and women at the age of ten must find some way of reinforcing that “maturity” as they get toward the middle teens. Very often, both in the slums and in the plushest suburbs, this new “rite of passage” takes the form of violence. Like Raskolnikov, the student-hero of Crime and Punishment, who killed an old woman to show that he was a superior being, our modern youngsters plunge into the dark world of sadism to prove to themselves and their companions that they are hombres.
In his study of juvenile delinquency, The Shook-Up Generation, Harrison Salisbury compares two teenage gangs, the Cobras of the Brooklyn slums and the Sportsmen of a middle-income neighborhood. Speaking of the Sportsmen, he says, “Their conduct is molded in the same narrow, aggressive, antisocial patterns [as that of the Cobras] Their interests outside their own adolescent world are no broader than those of the Cobras They, too dream fantasies with a gun. They, too, build their lives on conflict and hostility to other groups and individuals If their rituals are outwardly more sophisticated they have the same inner emptiness. They judge by the same false standards of ‘heart’ and ‘punking out’…. They treat one another with… brutal sadism.”
In the gang world, the “war leader” who can devise the most cleverly perverse and sadistic torments to inflict on others wins prestige. The boy who thinks up the lighted-cigarette-in-the-vagina bit becomes a local hero. The Chicago boy who cut the nipples off a captive woman won high marks for his imaginative sadism. So did the Los Angeles boy who stomped a pregnant girl into miscarriage, and the Baltimore youth who compelled the girlfriend of a rival gang leader to eat excrement before he raped and beat her.
Even outside the tight, airless world of the kid gangs, teenage sadism exists as a means of proving one’s self to one’s self, if not to one’s comrades. Thus a New Jersey boy of sixteen, the classic choir boy type, an A-grade student, mild-mannered and polite, raped a five-year-old girl several years back, and killed her after the assault. He told police:
“I wanted to have sex but I was afraid the older girls might laugh at me or tell my parents. I was tired of being a good boy. So I did it with the little girl. She started to scream and I panicked. I didn’t know she’d carry on that way. So I choked her to keep her quiet.
Sadism, among the young, becomes precisely the sort of search for identity that it is among older individuals. The teenager reaches out in passion—and his passion turns to violence, because he knows few other ways of expressing himself. Undisciplined, thwarted in many ways, the teenager turns to sadism as his outlet.
And so the headlines multiply. Responsible citizens draw away from groups of children, afraid of the fury that may be unleashed. Blood flows in the streets. The violence of our world is nowhere better illustrated then in the actions of our children.
A typical comment is that of Dr. Marcel Frym, director of criminological research at the Hacker Clinic of Beverly Hills, California. “The accent on violence,” Dr. Frym declares, “is expressed in many ways—the use of atomic power for mass destruction in warfare, over-powerful motor vehicles, acute international tensions implying the threat of war, intense racial tensions, etc. These developments are enforced by mass communication media which are more suggestive and impressive than ever before—television programs which can be observed at home, day and night, motion pictures, emphasizing and actually glorifying violence as indicative of masculinity, gory newspaper reports as well as comic strips and comic books which feature force and ridicule higher values.”
Undoubtedly Dr. Frym is correct that the pervading climate of violence is a motivating force in the general prevalence of teenage violence. But in the long run, we must come down to the individual level and not speak in easy generalities. The television programs may offer some suggestions of technique to the horde of teenage Caligulas loose in the nation—but commercialized violence is a symptom, not a cause, of what is wrong with our society. If we drive the peddlers of commercial bludgeonry off the television screens, we are likely to see a ghastly upsurge in the crime rate comparable to the upsurge in alcoholism during Prohibition. At present, the newsstand sadism of the James Bond school of literature serves to provide vicarious kicks—keeping many, no doubt, from searching for the real thing.
Where is the answer, then, if not in suppression?
In the individual. Only when each young person in the nation feels respect and esteem for himself will we be safe from the menace of teenage sadism. Love for others begins with love for one’s self. Hatred, of which sadism is the ultimate expression, arises out of ignorance, fear, and inner loss of identity.
“Who am I?” every child asks. Some seek the answer in violence. “I am the killer,” they can answer. “I am the rapist. I am the maimer.” It is an identity, of sorts. It provides an answer to the question.
But it is a terrible answer. Teenage sadism is the outgrowth of teenage confusion. There is the true indictment of our society. Rootless, purposeless children, seeking prestige, asserting their identity, slide into the dark abyss of sadistic behavior. They are not necessarily twisted psychotics such as can be met in the other chapters of this book. On the contrary, they seem to be sane, well-balanced, “normal” individuals. Until they strike out in bloody and incredibly cruel hatred. That is the most frightening aspect of all.
All that exceeds a simple death appears to me absolute cruelty; neither can our justice expect that he whom the fear of being executed by being beheaded or hanged will not restrain should be any more awed by the imagination of a languishing fire, burning pincers, or the wheel.
TORTURE is the ultimate institutionalization of sadism. In a society that countenances torture, sadism becomes an official instrument of the state, a means whereby the government’s ends are served. Naturally, those who are most directly involved in the process of torture—the inquisitors and the torturers themselves—have the opportunity to attain perverse sexual gratification through the fulfillment of their official duties. And, where torture is a public spectacle, it has also afforded the populace at large a chance to exorcise its sadistic impulses in a vicarious manner.
The Romans, unsurprisingly, were devout torturers. Since the slaves were frequently in revolt, they met with constant torture, and, as Seneca noted, “Everything is permitted against a slave.” So we read in the works of the great doctor Galen, “Such are they who punish their slaves for some error by burning, slitting and maiming the legs of runaways, the hands of thieves, the bellies of gluttons, the tongues of gossipers—in short by punishing each offender on that part or the body by which he has offended.”
Roman torture instruments included such as the fidiculae —cords for wrenching the joints apart; the eqiculeus— a trestle on which the slave sat while his limbs were dislocated by a winch or by weights attached to his feet; the laminae, hot plates applied to bare flesh; the ungulae, or barbed hooks; and many others.
These savage devices were often supplemented by sex tortures in particularly sadistic instances. This was particularly true of the unbelievably cruel nymphomaniac Messalina, third wife of the Emperor Claudius. While her middle-aged husband amused himself with small boys and the study of ancient history, Messalina took upon herself a series of lovers whom she wearied of quickly and cast aside or subjected to torture. One of her sports was to order a man masturbated until he succumbed to permanent impotence or died of exhaustion. While this process was going on—it might last for many days—Messalina would look on, toying with herself. (Ultimately Claudius was goaded too far by her outrages, and put her to death.)
A literary counterpart of Messalina’s sex-torture is to be found in this passage from Torture Garden by the decadent French novelist Octave Mirbeau—a work rich in sadistic fantasy:
“Last year… I saw something astonishing. I saw a man who had attacked his mother and then disemboweled her with a knife. It seemed, besides, that he was crazy. He was sentenced to the torture of the caress. Yes, my darling. Isn’t it wonderful! Strangers aren’t allowed to witness that torture, which, besides, is very rare today. But we gave some money to the guard, who hid us behind a screen. Annie and I saw everything! The madman —he didn’t seem to be mad—was stretched out on a very low table, his limbs and body were tied by stout ropes, and his mouth was gagged, so he couldn’t make a movement or utter a cry. A woman with a grave face, not beautiful, not young, and dressed entirely in black, her bare arm circled by a broad gold band, came and kneeled beside the madman. She grasped him and set about her task Oh darling, darling, if you could have seen! It lasted four hours… four hours, think of it! Four hours of frightful and skilled caresses, during which the woman’s hand did not relax for a moment, during which her face remained cold and gloomy! The culprit died in a jet of blood, which splattered the entire face of the tormentress….”
It is worth observing here that prostitutes frequently indulge in sadistic fantasies involving torture. The prostitute, usually a sexually disturbed girl who suffers from frigidity or Lesbianism, teems with aggressive resentments against the men from whom she earns her living. Since she cannot externalize these resentments without losing her customers (except in the cases where masochistic men pay her to beat them—something she is glad to do) the prostitute dissipates her sadistic energies in fantasy.
In his study of prostitutes, The Call Girl, Dr. Harold Greenwald quotes this revealing excerpt from the stream-of-consciousness monologue of a prostitute named Stella who is undergoing psychoanalysis:
“Masturbation fantasies. Sadism—Male being punished. His body caressed then whipped. Have him tied and helpless. Other female used to stimulate him. I watch. Pull her away from him by force and cruel grab of her hair. He cries, whimpers. Body is purple with agony. Face contorted by lust convulsions. When he begins to droop and he quiets down—make her caress more and bring pitch up to agony. Get her caressed in same way. No relief for either—the whip to both. Spread her on table—open legs. She screams writhes in terror. Hold her down by force (others hold her) I then whip thighs. She is in terror and she knows I’m going to whip her again soon. She pleads, cries, twists—I stand erect whip comes down —she screams incredibly like animal—I laugh—whip again goes down she writhes, convulsive sobs, wonderment— he caresses himself—then he is helpless, spasmodic —unhappily in agony—no sense—all sex—mind is polluted! I’m dirty—no sense. Why? Dumb, stupid. I hate what is it ever who know why what where who what am I….”
Observe how this remarkably vivid sadistic fantasy alters suddenly into an expression of self-hatred in its final few words. Here stands revealed a typical mechanism of the neurotic, who disguises profound feelings of internal insecurity or self-loathing behind a mask of sadistic fantasy or actual sadistic activity. As the late psychoanalyst Karen Horney put it, “When analyzing a patient’s sadistic fantasies and impulses, we recognize that these may originate in sadistic impulses directed against himself. Certain patients have at times compulsive urges or fantasies to torture others. These seem to focus mostly on children or helpless people. In one case… the compulsive urge to torture… was hence interpreted as an active externalization of impulses to torture himself which, in addition, gave him a thrilling feeling of power over a weaker creature. The active urge then dwindled to sadistic fantasies, and these disappeared as his self-effacing trends and his loathing of them came into clearer focus.”
The Inquisition of the Middle Ages was one of the most grotesque examples of institutionalized sadism, for it practiced the most hideous tortures in the name of a Savior who preached only a creed of love. The torture of heretics by the Roman Catholic Church became a widespread practice in the eleventh or twelfth century, reached a peak in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries under such fanatics as Torquemada, and gradually died away. By 1816, when a decree of the Pope officially abolished torture as a valid activity of the Church, it had long since ceased to play a role in religious enterprise.
The spectacle of celibate priests inflicting the most awesome tortures on human beings whose only crime was a doctrinal difference with the established church is certainly one of the most saddening in history. There can be no doubt that for each priest acting out of righteous religious zeal, there were many who used the Inquisition as a means to liberate their sexuality through sadistic actions.
The extent of the Holy Inquisition’s activities is breathtaking. Henry Lea, the great historian of the Inquisition, tells us in his three-volume History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages (1887) that “a Bishop of Geneva is said to have burned five hundred persons within three months, a Bishop of Bamberg six hundred, a Bishop of Wurzburg nine hundred…. In a century and a half from 1404, the Holy Office had burned at least thirty-thousand witches.”
The inquisitor Torquemada was responsible for sending 10,000 people to the stake and 97,300 to the slave galleys. In one great inquest held by Bernard de Caux and Jean de Saint-Pierre in 1245 and 1246, 230 inhabitants of the small town of Avignonet were tortured, 100 in Fanjeaux, and 420 in Mas-Saintes-Puelles—nearly the entire populations. By a decision of the ecclesiastical authorities to curb abuses, it was decided that no one below the age of fourteen should be tortured.
The torments were extreme. From G. Rattray Taylor’s scholarly work, Sex In History, we discover that “the accused, of all ages from five to eighty-five, were stripped naked: the modes of questioning, even when torture was not technically being used, were cruel to a degree. A common one was to tie the right arm to the left leg and vice versa, and then to leave the accused for twenty-four hours, so that severe cramps occurred. The justification for this course was that witches give suck to demons, and these demons must revisit their patroness at least once in twenty-four hours…. Again, it was held that witches could be identified by the existence of insensitive spots. To locate them, the Inquisitors would prick every inch of skin as far as the bone with a thick bodkin, and especially the private parts.”
Sometimes the inquisitors themselves, after years of interesting labors over the nude bodies of their groaning victims, themselves were branded as heretics and underwent the torture. This was the appropriate fate of Savonarola, the fanatic who tyrannized Florence in the fifteenth century. When he was overthrown finally, and put on trial for his crimes in the name of religion, part of his interrogation consisted of a session with a device known as the strappado. This, Henry Lea comments, consisted in tying the prisoner’s hands behind his back, then hoisting him by a rope fastened to his wrists, letting him drop from a height and arresting him with a jerk before his feet reached the floor. Sometimes heavy weights were attached to the feet to render the operation more severe.”
Again, when the Inquisition turned against a religious group called the Templars, and questioned them as to their supposed heresies, the holy men of the Church subjected them to such treatment as that handed out to a priest named Bernard de Vado, who, according to Lea, “had been tortured by fire applied to the soles of the feet to such an extent that a few days afterwards the bones of his heels dropped out, in testimony of which he exhibited the bones.”
A great many of the Inquisition’s victims who survived the torture wrote books of memoirs in which they graphically set down accounts of their agonies. Some of these books became best-sellers of their day, going through dozens of editions. The “Inquisition literature” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries seems a direct counterpart to the sadistic thriller novels of today. The reader of a first-hand report of Spanish torture was able to derive much the same sort of vicarious thrills from it as an Ian Fleming fan can get from one of his idol’s paperback works.
One of the most popular of these torture-books was the work of a Scot, William Lithgow, born about 1582. Lithgow went to sea in 1609, and voyages of travel and commerce took him the equivalent of twice around the Earth in the next nineteen years. On one of his trips he visited Spain, apparently as a sightseer, and was arrested by the Inquisition, who suspected him of being a spy. (Spain, then the leading Catholic power, was a bitter foe of Protestant England.) Lithgow was severely tortured but finally released, and returned, crippled, to England, where he exhibited his “martyred anatomy” to King James’ court, “even from the King to the Kitchen-maid.” In 1632, Lithgow published an account of his travels and exploits, under the title The Total Discourse of the Rare Adventures and Painful Peregrinations of Long Nineteen Years Travels, from Scotland, to the Most Famous Kingdoms in Europe, Asia, and Africa. In it, Lithgow described in unsparing details the tortures he had experienced at the hands of the Spanish.
Thrill-seeking readers could regale themselves with such excitingly sadistic passages as this:
“I was hung by the bare shoulders with two small cords, which went under both mine arms, running on two rings of iron that were fixed in the wall above my head. Thus being hoisted to the appointed height, the tormenter descended below, and drawing down my legs through the two sides of the three-planked rack, he tied a cord about each of my ankles. And then ascending upon the rack, he drew the cords upward, and bending forward with main force, my two knees, against the two planks; the sinews of my hams burst asunder, and the lids of my knees being crushed, and the cords made fast, I hung so demayned for a large hour.”
“Now mine eyes begun to startle, my mouth to foam and froth, and my teeth to chatter like to the doubling of drummer’s sticks. O strange inhumanity of Men-monster Manglers! surpassing the limits of their national law; three score tortures being the trial of treason, which I had, and was to indure…. And notwithstanding of my shivering lips, in this fiery passion, my vehement groaning, and blood-springing fonts, from arms, broken sinews, hams, and knees; yea, and my depending weight on flesh-cutting cords; yet they stroke me on the face with cudgels, to abate and cease the thundering noise of my wrestling voice.”
“Thus lay I six hours upon the rack, between four a clock afternoon, and ten a clock at night…. where my body being all begored with blood, and cut through in every part, to the crushed and bruised bones, I pitifully remained, still roaring, howling, foaming, bellowing, and gnashing my teeth, with insupportable cries, before the pins were undone and my body loosed.”
The England of Shakespeare’s day, in which such accounts were eagerly devoured, was not free from its own love for torture. Among the numerous accounts, we find the instance of an Irish priest named Hurley, tortured in 1583 by “toasting his feet against the fire with hot boots.” An historian writes that “the rack seldom stood idle in the Tower for all the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign.” Elsewhere we read that in 1649, “The privy council was accustomed to extort confessions by torture; that grim divan of bishops, lawyers and peers sucking in the groans of each undaunted enthusiast, in hope that some imperfect avowal might lead to the sacrifice of other victims, or at least warrant the execution of the present ones.”
The rack and the thumbscrew have perished, perhaps, in our own day, but that does not mean that torture itself has died away. Modern man is simply much more ingenious when he strikes out in cruel sadism at his fellow man.
The tortures inflicted by the Nazis—including those performed by German medical men—have been amply covered in the many recent books on the Hitler era, and do not need another airing here. The recent Eichmann trial brought forth fresh evidence that the Third Reich was fully the equal of the Grand Inquisition in brutality, cunning, and vengefulness. (The Reich, at least, had the excuse that it was a political entity in time of war. The Inquisitors, who claimed to be men of God, have no excuse whatever.)
German bestiality was matched in degree, if not in scope, by the supposedly civilized French during the late Franco-Algerian War. Although official French censorship concealed much of the news, it seems indisputable that soldiers of the land of Victor Hugo, Montaigne, and Voltaire carried out the most sadistic of tortures against Algerian prisoners who were undergoing interrogation. The tortures seemed to center specifically on the genital region; many Algerian women were forced to undergo agonizing removal of the clitoris when they refused to become informers, while castrations and genital mutilations were common fates for the male prisoners.
Less shocking, because more expectable, are the tortures practiced in Red China today. China has long had a heritage of sadistic practice, so that the techniques of the minions of Mao-tse-tung need not necessarily be blamed on the prevalence of Communism in China. It is simply the Chinese way of doing things, in a tradition thousands of years older than Karl Marx.
The Chinese invasion of Tibet several years ago was the occasion for an uninhibited display of sadism. The chief document on which I rely for the following statements is Tibet and the Chinese People’s Republic, subtitled A Report to the International Commission of Jurists by Its Legal Inquiry Committee on Tibet, published in Geneva in 1960.
Here we are informed of the fate of two Tibetan lamas, Dawa and Naden, who were crucified by nails and left to die: “A lama named Gumi-Tsering was pricked through the thigh with a pointed instrument like an awl, the thickness of a finger. He was tortured in this way because he refused to preach against religion…. A monk named Turukhu-Sungrab asked the Chinese to desist and his arm was cut off above the elbow. He was told that God would give him back his arm.”
A farmer from Ba-Jeuba, aged fifty-two, heard a noise in his brother’s house, looked through the window, and “saw his brother’s wife’s shouts being stifled by a towel. Two Chinese held her hands and another raped her, then the other two raped her in turn and left.” In the village of Patung Ahnga, a man from a well-to-do family was crucified, and “a fire was lit underneath him and he saw his flesh burn.”
In another village, a prayer reciter was “stripped naked, and burned on the thighs, chest, and under the armpits with a red-hot iron about two fingers thick. This was done for three days, with applications of ointments between the sessions. When the witness left after four days the prayer reciter was still alive.”
More explicitly sexual was the treatment given to a young married couple from the town of Doi-Dura. They were both taken to a hospital, where “He was completely undressed, placed on a chair and his genital organs were examined. Then a digital rectal examination was carried out and the finger was agitated…. After this a long pointed instrument with handles like those of scissors was inserted inside the urethra and he fainted with pain. When he came round the doctors gave him a white tablet which they said would give him strength. Then he received an injection at the base of the penis where it joins the scrotum. The needle itself hurt but the injection did not. He felt momentarily numb in the region until the needle was removed. He stayed ten days in hospital and then a month in bed at home…. He had been married for only two years and prior to this treatment had very strong sexual feelings…. Afterwards he had no sexual desire at all….”
Meanwhile, his wife “was undressed and tied down. Her legs were raised and outstretched. Something very cold which became painful was inserted inside the vagina. She saw a kind of rubber balloon with a rubber tube attached, the end of which was inserted inside the vagina. The balloon was squeezed and his wife felt something very cold inside her. This caused no pain and only the tube and not the balloon was inserted. She remained conscious throughout. Then she was taken to bed. The same procedure was carried on every day for about a week. Then she went home and stayed in bed for about three weeks, and thereafter she had neither sexual feeling nor menstruation.”
From the nightmare world of the torturer, let us return once more to the analyst’s office, and to the garden variety of neurotic. I want to demonstrate how close the underlying kinship is between the inquisitors and torturers and the silently suffering individuals who live next door.
The urge to hurt, as has repeatedly been stated, is one way by which the individual asserts his existence. “See,” he cries, “I am real, I exist—because I can make you suffer!” The more nebulous the personality, accordingly, the more powerful is the urge toward an overcompensating sadism. On a large scale, this can erupt into the practices of inquisitors, themselves troubled and uneasy men whole sexuality has been repressed and throttled. With thumbscrew, rack, and whip, they caress the nude bodies of their love-objects in a fantastic and morbid symbolic act of passion.
On a smaller scale is the dreaming sadist who bubbles with fantasies to which he only rarely gives free rein. I draw once again from my own practice:
Edward H., a man of heavily sadistic leanings, was impotent except when his sex-partner permitted him to spank her bare buttocks before the net. Only when he flung his nude companion across his knees and let her have it lustily did he experience a sexual erection. The sight of her reddening flesh, the sound of palm smacking against the cheeks of her buttocks, the hisses of pain she emitted—all this aroused him to the point where it became possible to complete the act of intercourse.
What had brought him to me was the fact that his method of bolstering his potency no longer was working too well. He saw nothing innately wrong with the necessity to spank a woman before having her. But the thrill was wearing off for him, after some ten years.
“I keep feeling the urge to do more violent things,” he told me. “About half the time, now, I don’t get an erection when I spank the girl. And as I look at her bare buttocks I’m tempted really to hurt her—to bite her flesh, maybe, or to whip her with a leather belt.”
“You’ve never done this?”
“Not so far,” he said. “I’m not a cruel man, doctor. I don’t spank them to inflict pain. It isn’t the pain that matters to me; it’s the act of spanking itself. The girl feels pain, yes. but what I really want her to feel is my strength, my vigor.”
“You mean, you want her to admit that you’re actually there,” I said. “You figure that by tanning her behind, you’ll prove that you aren’t merely imaginary.”
He looked startled but pleased. “Something like that, yes,” he said. “When I would go to bed with a girl and not spank her. it was like sleeping with a ghost. I didn’t get the feeling she was really there—or that I was. Spanking was my way of making contact with her. But now the spanking isn’t good enough. And I’m afraid I may do somebody some real harm if I get carried away with myself.”
I was interested in his analysis of his own motives. It was emotion he was trying to arouse, not pain—but so limited was the vocabulary of his emotion that he could get the needed response only through mild sadism. Otherwise he shrank from cruelty, and indeed seemed almost pathologically gentle, the kind of man who would walk out of his way to keep from stepping on an insect.
His degenerating potency was a source of obvious worry to him. We explored, over a number of sessions, some of the formative incidents of his youth that could have helped to establish his behavior pattern.
He told me that his earliest recollection of any sadistic behavior dated from the age of seven. He was then the playmate of two girls, sisters—a plump one, aged eight, and a lean one, aged nine and a half. They would act out prolonged fantasies in which he was their father, and was required to punish them for some naughtiness.
Edward showed little interest in punishing the older girl. He would simply spank her over her clothes. But the full, fleshy buttocks of the younger girl fascinated him. She permitted him to draw down her panties and paddle her with his hand across her bare flesh. The older sister would look on while this took place.
“What did you feel while you were spanking her?” I asked.
“Tremendous excitement—pleasure—definite sexual pleasure,” he said. “I would get an erection. I can remember that very clearly.”
“You remember erections you had at the age of seven?”
He nodded. “I know I’m not mistaken. Because after I spanked the plump girl, she let me see her genitals, and then the older sister took down her panties and showed me hers. Then they asked me to show them mine. I did, and I had an erection, because I distinctly remember that they commented on how stiff mine was compared with that of another boy’s that they had seen the summer before. They handled my penis and were deeply interested in it.”
“How long did this relationship go on?”
“All summer,” he said. “Two or three months. But then I went too far, and it all ended.”
“What do you mean?”
He told me. He had discovered, this seven-year-old sadist that it crave him extreme pleasure to spank the buttocks of his eight-year-old playmate. One day, egged on by the nine-and-a-half year-old sister, Edward decided that it would be even more pleasurable to punish the girl especially cruelly. So, stripping her completely naked lie beat her severely with one of his father’s golf clubs. Soon the screaming girl was in hysterics. She fled naked from the room, badly bruised. Edward, unable to explain to his parents or hers what he had done or why, was given a beating by his own father, and locked in his room for a full day without food. He never saw either of the two girls again.
“And you dare your sadistic behavior patterns from that episode?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “Since then I’ve always associated sensual pleasure with hitting a girl’s buttocks.”
“Isn’t there some earlier episode you can describe?”
“I don’t think so,” he said.
We let that point pass, while I had him describe the course of his later life. I learned that when he was ten, he made the acquaintance of a boy his own age who seemed to share his idea of pleasures. This boy’s father apparently had an extensive library of erotic literature, and Edward and his friend discovered in a book about the Inquisition that graphically portrayed scenes of flagellation in woodcuts. They took turns acting out the scenes; first Edward would whip his friend’s back and buttocks, and then Edward would become the victim. He very much more enjoyed taking the active role, and evidently his friend did not object to playing the part of the victim more often than not.
Thus an element of homosexuality was added to Edward’s sadism. I did not, however, regard this as particularly serious, since at the age of ten or eleven many boys go through a phase of innocent homosexuality, simply for lack of contact with the opposite sex. Two boys, not yet developed, full of curiosity about their bodies, may engage in mutual explorations and even mutual masturbation but this docs not generally leave any lasting effect on the personality because it is so universal.
In Edward’s case, the relationship only heightened his essentially sadistic drives. He drifted away from the boy after a while, but, as he said, “I searched for others who would give me the same gratification. We had a maid in the family, and when I was twelve or thirteen I would sneak up behind her and slap her rear—but always when she was fully dressed, of course. One day I tried the same thing on a girl I met on the street, but when I began to spank her she screamed and ran away from me.”
In early adolescence, Edward was completely thwarted in his sadism. He was forced to confine himself to vicarious experience. He collected pamphlets of pornography that told or showed pictures of spanking and whipping scenes; he clipped from magazines any pictures of female buttocks that he could find; he became a voyeur, skulking at windows or peering up staircases in hopes of catching a glimpse of forbidden flesh; in crowded buses he would allow himself the luxury of pinching, caressing, or slapping the buttocks of women nearby when he thought he could get away with it unnoticed. In all this, Edward was different only by degree from the women-stabbers described in an earlier chapter; if his frustrations had impelled him in that direction, he might well have eased his tensions by thrusting a knife into the forbidden flesh he yearned to torment.
He suffered from sadistic fantasies. He dreamed of a line of dozens of naked women, crouched with their buttocks upward while he moved down the line energetically wielding a whip. He tossed in bed at night, obsessed by dreams in which he attacked women’s buttocks—with knives and even with his teeth, ripping away chunks of flesh. Scenes of flagellation, torture, and even murder were common. His conscious mind regarded all these dreams with horror and dismay.
When he was seventeen he visited a prostitute. “I was impotent,” he said. “Nothing could produce an erection. Luckily for me, business was slow that night and the girl was reasonably kind-hearted. She wanted to earn her fee, I guess, instead of just getting it for doing nothing. She asked me if there was anything special she could do that would help me. I said I didn’t know. Then she said, maybe a spanking would do it.”
Edward was startled by that. How had she guessed the nature of his special fantasy? Of course, Edward’s type was common among her clientele, but he had no way of knowing that.
“She removed her clothing,” Edward said. She was a good-looking girl, around twenty-five or so, with firm, pale buttocks. As soon as I saw them, I felt excitement come over me. She lay down across my lap and told me to go ahead. I was very shy. On the first couple of strokes I hardly touched her. Then I spanked her, good and hard, and by the twelfth stroke I had a powerful erection. I fell on her and we had intercourse to my great satisfaction.”
The pattern was set. Coitus was impossible for him except with preliminary spanking of the girl. He admitted—all the while protesting that he was not a cruel person—that during these spankings he had fantasies of perpetrating a more severe torment. “Sometimes I imagined that I was whipping them with a spiked thong—or slashing their buttocks with a razor. I pictured them dangling by their thumbs when I whipped them. And now, now that spanking isn’t working any more, I’m afraid that one of these days I’m likely to try something more severe—just as when I beat that little girl with the golf club.”
Since he had harkened back to that formative episode voluntarily, I pressed him to give me more details on his early childhood. I suspected that his initial sadism had not sprung full grown out of his games with the two sisters, but that there was some triggering episode lying still deeper in his past. At first he could offer no suggestions. I pressed him with questions about his family relationship, his friends, his early memories.
At last something unexpectedly popped into his mind. He lit up in surprise, as though to say, how could I have forgotten this?
“It comes back to me now,” he said. “It happened when I was about six, I guess. I have an older sister, nine years older than I am—she must have been about fifteen, then. She had made my parents angry for some reason. Perhaps she stayed out too late on a date, or something. Anyway, my mother was scolding her. I could hear them yelling and screaming. I went upstairs and peeped through the keyhole to see what was going on.”
The scene that he witnessed left a deep imprint on his mind. His mother had thrown his teenage sister across her lap and had bared her buttocks. Now she was punishing the girl with a hairbrush. The girl lay in such a position that Edward had a clear view of her buttocks and of her genitals. Again and again the hairbrush descended; the girl writhed in torment; the flesh of her buttocks grew rosy. Edward, watching outside, began to perspire heavily. His heartbeat increased and his head whirled. There was a tight sensation in his throat.
“I wanted to go into the room and help my mother spank her,” he said. “But of course I didn’t dare. I was terribly excited by what I had seen. A few days later, I saw my sister accidentally knock over a potted plant. I told her she was naughty and had to be spanked, and I grabbed hold of her. All she was wearing was a dressing-gown, and I pushed it aside, and touched and saw her bare buttocks for a moment. Then she hit me and told me to leave her alone. After that, I spied on her as often as I could to see her buttocks. And then, the year later, came the episode with the two sisters.”
The reader may question how much of this material, remembered from childhood, is genuine, and how much happened only in the patient’s overheated imagination. The answer is that it does not matter. Certainly some youthful incident involving his sister’s buttocks had occurred; if Edward had encrusted that incident with fantasy and imagination, that only directs a searchlight on the nature of his obsession. The fact that the anecdote had been hidden throughout his therapy until this moment was even more significant, for it meant either that it was too powerful for Edward to admit into his conscious mind, or else so important to him that he had struggled to conceal it.
It illuminated a basically incestuous orientation in his sadistic drives. Early in his life, a formative episode had rolled into one network of associations his sexual desire for his sister and the concept that to punch a girl’s buttocks was exciting. Later on, whipping or spanking had taken on the symbolic meaning of intercourse with his sister. He was impotent unless he spanked, for by sleeping with a woman (the sister-substitute) he was helping the woman do something forbidden (incest-symbolized) and unless he punished her first, he could not cooperate with her in the act.
It was impossible to prove, but I believe that a still earlier scene had a powerful influence on Edward’s development. I believe that when only a child he was allowed to witness his parents in the act of intercourse. Many parents who would not dream of performing the marital act in front of a child of five have no qualms at all about doing it with a baby of eighteen months or two years in the room. They fail to realize that even a baby has eyes, a memory, and a good working intelligence.
Freud laid great stress on the psychological damage that can be caused when a child observes his parents having sexual relations. “If by chance he is a witness of the sexual act,” Freud wrote, “he conceives it as an attempt to overpower a woman, as a combat—the sadistic misconception of coitus.”
After prolonged therapy it became possible to break up Edward’s buttocks-spanking-incest combination of fixed beliefs. Now that the neurotic roots of his behavior were out in the open where he could achieve an analytic understanding of his own life-patterns, he was able to transcend them. He reported to me that he now was fully potent without the aid of sadistic foreplay, and that there was no longer any danger that he would turn into a Caligula or a Torquemada in the search for continued virility.
Out of such minor things—an eye at a keyhole, a hairbrush descending on bare flesh, the mischievous shameless-ness of small girls—are sadists made. In one instance, the pattern may result in a mild-mannered, troubled man like Edward. In another, the product can be a Neville Heath, a Gilles de Rais—or one of the torturers whose efforts have done so much to make human existence a hell on earth.
The unkindest beast is more kinder than mankind.
Timon of Athens
WE DO NOT need whips, leather thongs, or torture racks to be sadists. A much simpler instrument is readily available, one which nearly all of us make use of every day for purposes of injury: the tongue.
Psychological sadism is so widespread as to be nearly universal. There are few of us so mild and meek that we do not, in some way, establish a dominance-role through the use of sarcasm, insult, or other verbal aggression. With some, psychological sadism amounts to a neurotic compulsion. There are those who are unable not to hurt. They lash out vitriolically at all and sundry, gaining thereby the sadistic pleasures that for reasons of cowardice or physical weakness they cannot obtain in the more direct manner of some of the individuals described in earlier chapters.
This kind of sadist is particularly common in modern literature—as good a sign as any of how widespread the pathological verbal sadist has become. One of the longest-running hit dramas on the Broadway stage at the moment, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which is one of the most widely-discussed plays of recent years, is little more than a three-hour demonstration of the psychological sadist at work.
This searing play concerns two couples, one young and one middle-aged, in an academic environment. The older couple, George and Martha, are childless and neurotic. George is a weak, self-pitying history professor; his wife, a domineering, belligerent woman, is the daughter of the college president, and never lets George forget that whatever he is (which is not much) he owes to her. Both are hard drinkers. To ease the loneliness and pain of their life of mutual hatred, they have developed a shared fantasy, that of an imaginary son, whose existence they have put forth as real for so long that they have nearly come to believe it themselves.
The younger couple, Nick and Honey, are less obviously sick. Nick is a good-looking biologist, the sanest character in the play, against whom the others can demonstrate their neuroses. His young wife is a cipher, a blank, uninteresting girl who is dazed and bewildered before the blistering emotions revealed by the older couple.
AH the action takes place late one Saturday night at the home of George and Martha. Nick and Honey are dropping in for a visit, after an earlier party. All four drink heavily; and, as a kind of amusement for their guests, George and Martha launch into a psychological duel in which they sadistically strip one another bare. What takes place could hardly be less cruel if they had gone at each other with whips or knives.
In a speech late in the play, after an act of adultery has taken place but before the final sadistic thrust, Martha speaks of the off-state George and reveals the nature of her love-hate relationship for him, of the affection and sadism with which she regards him. Albee’s statement of her complex emotion is one of the finest, most psychologically perceptive insights into this form of sadism ever put on the stage:
Martha:… George who is out somewhere there in the dark…. George who is good to me and whom I revile; who understands me, and whom I push off; who can make me laugh, and I choke it back in my throat; who can hold me, at night, so that it’s warm, and whom I will bite so there’s blood; who keeps learning the games we play as quickly as I can change the rules; who can make me happy and I do not wish to be happy, and yes I do wish to be happy. George and Martha: sad, sad, sad.
Nick (Echoing, still not believing): Sad.
Martha:… whom I will not forgive for having come to rest; for having seen me and having said: yes, this will do; who has made the hideous, the hurting, the insulting mistake of loving me and must be punished for it… Who tolerates, which is intolerable; who is kind, which is cruel; who understands, which is beyond comprehension… Some day… hah! some night… some stupid, liquor-ridden night… I will go too far… and I’ll either break the man’s back… or push him off for good… which is what I deserve.
Through her sadism, Martha is paying George back for the inadequacies of her life: for her childlessness, for her loneliness, for her feeling of uselessness, even for the fact, scarcely his fault, that she is growing old. Sadism of this sort is our aggression-mechanism for dealing with injuries. It is not necessarily perverse in the sexual sense, except when it becomes a necessary adjunct to sexual intercourse or where it replaces intercourse entirely.
For example, I have known a woman neurotic—call her Joan—who was unable to obtain a sexual orgasm without first verbally flaying her sex-partner. From the moment she entered the bedroom with him, she felt it necessary to keep up a string of constant insults. She would mock his looks and his intelligence, would criticize his way of speaking, would insult him in startling ways. When they undressed for lovemaking, she would speak disparagingly of his sexual organs, comparing them unfavorably with those of other men. She might also make some remark about his body odor.
If a man kept his temper through all this and proceeded with the sexual act, he would be subjected to a barrage of criticism even as intercourse proceeded—until suddenly, much to his astonishment, he would find Joan going wild with ecstasy! Afterward she generally apologized for her behavior.
“I’m sorry,” she was likely to say. “I just can’t enjoy it unless I rip a man apart first.”
This strange behavior served several purposes for Joan. For one thing, it tended to keep men at arm’s length emotionally. No one was likely to fall in love with such a bitch, no matter how apologetic she was when offering explanations after the act. Most men found one round in bed with Joan quite sufficient. So she never became entangled in an affair of the heart. She remained single.
Then, too, insulting her partners was a subtle way of insulting herself—since, obviously, it was a reflection on her own sexual tastes if she went to bed with such generally worthless men as she claimed them all to be. Furthermore, her torrent of sarcasm and unpleasantness helped to direct attention away from what she considered her own “failures”—her poor complexion, her small breasts.
It can clearly be seen that behind Joan’s superficial sadism there lurked a powerful component of masochism. Imbued with deep feelings of inferiority, she was out to wound and punish herself in a variety of ways, chiefly by insuring that she would never be able to establish a permanent and meaningful relationship with a man.
This interlocking of sadism and masochism is a frequent phenomenon—so much so that many sexologists group the two perversions together at a single entity, sadomasochism, which others classify them under the heading algolagnia, covering all the phenomena related to sexuality and pain. As Havelock Ellis put it many years ago:
“Definitionally this merging of sadism with masochism is inconvenient, but psychologically it is sound. Masochism, as Freud put it, is sadism turned round on to the self. That indeed is the chief ground on which it is desirable to group sadism and masochism together under one heading. Clinically, they often exist separately, but there is no clear line of demarcation between them, and though it may be rare to find an element of sadism in the pure masochist, it is common to find an element of masochism in the sadist.”
Krafft-Ebing recognized the same pattern. He gave the case history of a laborer who was arrested “because he had cut a large piece of skin from his left forearm with a pair of scissors in a public park. He confessed that for a long time he had been craving to eat a piece of the fine white skin of a maiden, and that for this purpose he had been lying in wait for such a victim with a pair of scissors; but, as he had been unsuccessful, he desisted from his purpose and instead had cut his own skin.”
Here was a perfect case of thwarted sadism turning into masochism. He had no desire for sexual intercourse, but was possessed by his cannibalistic and sadistic drive, which however was doomed to eternal frustration. “Since the previous year he found it most difficult to bear his failures any longer, when he had unsuccessfully pursued a girl he would cut a piece of skin from his own arm, thigh or abdomen and eat it. Imagining that it was a piece of the skin of the girl whom he had pursued, he would while masticating his own skin obtain orgasm and ejaculation.
“Many extensive and deep wounds and numerous scars were found on his body.”
Sadism, of course, is not only a psychological problem but a legal one, and here the chief distinction between it and masochism arises. As Krafft-Ebing pointed out, “Active sadism immediately comes in conflict with the law. This is not the case with masochism.”
Another kind of psychological sadism springs from what I call the Turandot Complex. Turandot, the heroine (or villainness) of an opera by Puccini drawn from old legends, was a virgin princess of China. She refused to marry any man unless he could answer three riddles that she posed. Any challenger who attempted to answer the riddles and failed lost his head.
Of course, eventually a prince came along who ignored the warnings of wiser men, answered the riddles, and won the ice-cold Turandot, melting her into passionate ecstasy during the course of the opera’s climactic duet. It is stirring music, even if it is not particularly convincing as anything more than a fairy-tale story.
Translated into psychological symbolism, the character of Turandot stands clearly revealed. The icy princess is afraid of sex. She hides this behind an air of regal hauteur, making herself feared and hated. When suitors approach her, she meets them with scorn—the verbal defense mechanism of psychological sadism. She mocks them and flouts them. If they persist, she asks her riddles, thus exposing their ignorance and bolstering her own dominance. When they fail to answer the riddles, she has their heads cut off—an obvious symbolic castration. What better way to rid yourself of a nuisance of a male who wants to have sexual intercourse with you, than by castrating him?
Ultimately the barriers are broken down. Turandot meets a man whose skin is so tough that her insults bounce off. He conquers her and triumphantly takes her virginity, and as the curtain descends we can hope that she will be a loving and passionate wife thereafter.
(In the case of Joan, the verbal sadist described immediately above, a curious if predictable fate occurred. She met a man of strongly masochistic tastes who enjoyed being cut to pieces by her sharp tongue. They were married and, so far as I know, lived happily ever after.)
The Turandot Complex is extremely common among unmarried women. It serves wholly as a defense mechanism intended to conceal insecurity, fear, and feelings of inferiority. Unwilling to risk the possible humiliation that may be reaped in a sexual-emotional relationship, the Turandot type effectively frightens all men away with her coldness, her sharp manner, and her hostility. Even if someone persists in courting her, she fights back determinedly, attempting to perform a psychological castration upon her unwanted lover by humiliating and mocking him in every way she can. And, sad to say, only in the story-books and operas does the handsome prince generally get through Turandot’s last line of defense and conquer her impregnable virginity. Most women of this type go through life isolated and untouched, becoming withered spinsters before they are thirty. Such sexual pleasure as they get, they derive from their verbal combats with men. And so their psychological sadism becomes a perversion, since it takes the place of normal and healthy sexual relations.
The sex tease is a psychological sadist of a related species. Like all other sadists, she derives an ego-bolstering satisfaction from the infliction of pain. But the weapon she uses is her own body.
In the mildest form, the sex tease may simply put her body on display, with a “Do Not Touch” sign attached. Such women may be seen everywhere: the girl in the extremely skimpy bikini on the beach, who enjoys showing off her well-developed breasts and firm buttocks, but who refuses even to flirt, keeping a haughty distance; the woman in the breast-baring cocktail gown, who reaches for a verbal sword if you attempt to approach her; the lass in the skin-tight sweater and buttock-hugging slacks, who strolls provocatively down the street, willing to be seen and appreciated but not to be touched.
These girls are relatively harmless. They arouse desire through the display of their bodies, but they choke off any attempt at a relationship before real pain can be inflicted on the men who are drawn to them. Such showoffs are usually lonely, severely neurotic individuals who are unable to break through the iron cage with which they have surrounded themselves.
Much more vicious is the girl who flirts and holds back the ultimate satisfaction. This is particularly common among girls from fifteen to nineteen years old, who are led by society to think that their virginity is a precious commodity that they must not surrender at any cost, but that any other kind of intimacy with a boy is permissible. (I call this type the “technical virgin.” I have studied it in detail in my book Virgin Wives, published by Monarch Books in 1962.)
This sort of sadist is willing to go almost all the way in a sexual relationship. She will allow herself to be fondled and caressed. She may permit her bare breasts to be handled, may even allow her companion to engage in manual exploration of her genitalia. If she is particularly sadistic in her inclinations, she may even deliberately stimulate the genitals of her escort, rousing him to a fever pitch of excitement through fellatio (oral-genital contact) or by means of manual stimulation.
Then—just as he attempts to proceed to the logical conclusion of the lovemaking, intercourse—the tease drops an iron curtain.
“No,” she’ll say. “I don’t go all the way.”
The pain that this inflicts is both physical and psychological. A fully aroused male, if he is denied the release of orgasm, generally suffers severe discomfort of the genital organs for some hours. This pain can be relieved by masturbation, but what cannot so easily be soothed is the stinging pain of the girl’s refusal. It is a blow to a man’s pride, a jolt that is a kind of psychological castration.
Not very surprisingly, many teasers find their sadistic strategy exploding in their faces. Some men, when they have been led to a point of no return, are wholly unable to turn off their emotions. They reply to a teasing refusal with an act of rape. There have been many instances of forcible rape and even of murder committed by a lust-maddened male driven berserk by the mockery of a teasing bitch.
It is interesting to realize that some teasers explicitly seek such an outcome. This urge-to-be raped may exist either on the conscious or on the unconscious level. Their teasing behavior, whether they realize it or not, is an invitation to be raped, and when they find that the invitation has been taken up, they often respond enthusiastically after an initial period of resistance.
Where teasing is used as a strategic provocation for rape, we once again see the intimate relationship of sadism and masochism. Sadism—the teasing mechanism—becomes a lure by which the masochistic goal—rape—is attained.
What are the dynamics of this strange attitude? Why should a girl deliberately provoke rape through cruelty?
She is saying, in effect, “I am too proud, too locked up in my own neurotic self, to be able to give freely of myself and love another person. Yet at the same time I very much want sexual intercourse. The only way that I can have sex, without breaking down and admitting that I need another person’s affection, is to goad a man into raping me. So this is what I will do.” When rape fails to materialize, the girl gets the sadistic gratification of causing injury. When rape results, she receives the sexual experience (along with accompanying injury and humiliation, masochistically gratifying) which she fundamentally craves.
The teaser, then, is a kind of psychological castrater. Other women prefer to do their castrating after the sexual act. This is particularly common among frigid wives, whose behavior often follows the pattern of Edward Albee’s Martha in Virginia Woolf.
That is they submit to intercourse with their husbands—and then proceed to tear the man apart with destructive criticism after the act. They assail his virility, his technique, his ardor, everything. Without mincing any words, they coldly and brutally let him know what they think of his lovemaking.
The end result of this, of course, is to demoralize the husband. Faced with the initial challenge of a frigid wife (frigidity is a masochistic phenomenon, often) they are further assailed by bitter words at a time when they want only to relax and sleep. Many men take refuge in impotence. They become so thoroughly demoralized by their wives’ sadistic criticisms that they become incapable of the sex act. Others refrain from having intercourse with their wives, satisfying their sexual needs through infidelity. Still others separate altogether from the sadistic wife.
In all cases, the final situation leaves the wife without sex. She has driven her husband away, psychologically or acrually, with her harshness. By shutting off her own chances of sexual fulfillment in this way, she is punishing not only him but herself—and once again we see the masochistic component in sadism.
It should not be thought, by any means, that psychological sadism is a purely female mechanism. True enough, in the most common expression of sadism, men tend toward direct physical forms and women toward verbal, psychological attacks. Yet verbal sadism is found quiet often among men—and not merely effeminate, “catty” men either. There is nothing effeminate or catty about a top sergeant or about a Marine drill instructor, vet such men are often expert psychological sadists who can reduce a young recruit to a state of personality collapse without ever laying a hand on him.
Perhaps such sadism is necessary, in military training, to weed out those who are unable to resist aggressive attacks of a more direct kind. However, we find psychological sadism among men elsewhere, where it does not seem called for by the necessities of the situation.
The typical sadist of this sort is a man who holds a position of authority but who is unsure of himself internally. Sadistic military officers fall into this category: colonels and majors who wield great power over the men subordinate to them, but who in private life, stripped of their glamorous uniforms and their insignia of rank, are troubled, incompetent men harassed by fears of impotence or deviation. They externalize their feelings in harsh treatment of subordinates—while at the same time generally groveling to those who happen to be in authority above them.
We find such sadists also in the middle-to-upper echelons of business life. The man at the very top rarely needs to indulge in petty sadism, for he is reasonable secure of his accomplishments and status. But the vice presidents and other men on the way up indulge in a good deal of verbal sadism, cruelly disparaging the men below them by way of ridding themselves of tension and feelings of insecurity.
The public schools also draw a great many men of this sort as principals. Often, the principal of a school is a petty tyrant, forced to preside over a largely female staff that does not dare to challenge him. In his fantasy life he may see himself functioning as a kind of sultan over his “harem” of schoolteachers, as in the case of one elementary school principal who described this vivid daydream to me:
“I see myself wearing a military uniform and carrying a bullwhip. I enter the auditorium of our school. All the teachers are there. I go up on the stage and one by one they come before me. They are nude, and they throw themselves at my feet, begging me to be kind to them. I whip them all, the young ones and the old. I whip them on their breasts and their buttocks. They run around the stage, screaming, and I crack my whip and beat them…. Then I rape them, every last one of them….”
It will hardly come as a surprise when I remark that the author of this particular fantasy was a mild-looking little man standing about five feet seven, with a soft voice, a thin mustache, and thick horn-rimmed glasses. His position of absolute authority in the school permits him not only to indulge in such wild dreams of whip-cracking, but to treat his teachers in actuality as though they are indentured servants rather than fellow employees. Yet at home, this same man is reduced to an insignificant role. His very real intellectual attainments are minimized by his wife, who bullies him mercilessly. His two children, of high-school age, pay little attention to him, though of course they are respectful toward the principal of their school. This conflict between a professional status of authority and a personal status of insignificance seems to be frequent among male school principals, and results in definite patterns of sadistic behavior.
Thus, in Dr. Joseph T. Shipley’s The Mentally Disturbed Teacher, various teachers are quoted in description of their principals:
“Mr. Tubb never has a kind word to say to his teachers.”
“When things go right, you never hear a word from Mr. Stone. When they go wrong, the roof comes down.”
“Mr. Hampton is a shouter. You can’t talk to him quietly; he shouts at you. When he comes into a room, if there is the slightest thing wrong, he shouts his criticism in front of the pupils.”
“Mr. Sorkin… comes in without a smile, without a greeting to either the teacher or the children. From the doorway he spots one child who doesn’t seem to be participating with the rest, and bellows at him. Then he walks across to the window, stands with his back to the radiator, and aims sarcastic remarks at the teacher. His criticism is always negative, always destructive. His remarks are always personal ones, about the teacher’s deficiencies. The fact that the room is filled with children and that the children are listening doesn’t seem to enter his mind. Perhaps, indeed, he relishes having them hear his abuse of their teacher….”
We are closer to the heart of the sadism problem in this chapter than in all the gory revelations of torture, perversion and lust crime. Such flamboyant deeds, the whippings and murders and rapes, do of course play vital roles in the sadism phenomenon as we understand it. But for every flogger or murderer among us, there are thousands of petty sadists whose sarcasms, small-scale tyrannies, or unkindnesses leave raw wounds in their victims.
The “war of the sexes” is an attempt to wound the opponent psychologically. In many bad movies and books, we see a supposedly “loving” couple engaging in supposedly light-hearted banter during the courtship period—and the striking cruelty of this flippant talk reveals, more clearly than the authors intend, the underlying intent to harm. Cheap literature often shows a society’s basic attitudes more clearly than conscious art.
Sadism represents an attempt to enhance the individual ego at the expense of others, as we have repeatedly illustrated. For some, this enhancement may be obtained only through violence or crime. For others, it is more simply attained through the “putdown,” the petty cruelty that becomes an innate reflex behavior for many.
Examples abound. Consider the man who adopts an air of expertise on every subject. He is always ready to praise another’s choice of automobile, appliance, home, or vacation resort, but he is equally quick with the destructive afterthought:
“Certainly the Lincoln is a fine car. Of course, it doesn’t quite have the styling of a Mercedes-Benz, but you can’t have everything….”
“You took a trip to Puerto Rico? How nice! It’s a wonderful place. Some time you ought to think about going to Jamaica, though. If you think Puerto Rico is great, wait till…”
“You’ve got a fine house here, Jim. Personally, I think I’d prefer fieldstone instead of brick, but every man’s entitled to his own tastes, and…”
It hardly looks like sadism. Yet it is—so subtle and so automatic that even the inflicter himself does not see his deliberate intent to injure.
And in man-woman relations, there is an entire universe of methods of cruelty, hardly needing much rehearsal here. The man who lets a woman know that her bosom is not quite as big as he would like it to be, the girl who quickly communicates to her date that he is unworthy of having sexual relations with her, the frigid woman who deftly shifts the blame for her lack of response to her lover—all these are practicing a refined form of sadism.
The flogger and the torturer usually are apprehended, and undergo imprisonment, psychotherapy, or both. The psychological sadists, since they commit no crime, remain at large. Their daily careers of ego-aggrandizement, at the expense of family, friends, and strangers, cause untold woe.
Neurosis feeds on neurosis. The victim of a psychological sadism, himself undermined and unstable now, turns on others. The chain of cruelty grows. None of us, of course, can say that he never was consciously cruel to another person. Yet this deep, throbbing core of sadism in our society is more potent in some individuals than others—and leaves wounds that are often impossible to bind and unable to heal.
There is a violence that liberates, and there is a violence that enslaves; there is moral violence and stupid, immoral violence.
Speech in Udine, 1922
RAPE IS the most direct link between sadism and sexuality. Rape is the act by which the aggressive personality most immediately enhances the ego through sexual achievement. In place of the indirect, symbolic assault represented by whipping, stabbing, or other crime, in place of the even more rarefied sadism of words, overt sexual intercourse is imposed, the act of violence fusing completely with the act of sex.
Rape is a complex subject, and probably the most complex part of it concerns not the rapist but his victim. It is well known among lawyers, jurists, and medical men that true rape—the forcible compulsion of an adult female to participate in sexual intercourse—is an extremely rare occurrence. Almost invariably there has to be some degree of willingness on the part of the victim.
It is, of course, possible for a grown man to rape a child without too much difficulty. There are also men of such bear-like physical strength that they can compel even an adult woman of normal strength to submit. But those instances are the exception rather than the rule. It is no easy matter for the average man to sexually penetrate a struggling woman. The vagina is not a particularly accessible target; the woman’s legs must be held apart and her pelvis tilted. Furthermore, the vagina of an unwilling woman is dry and tight, lacking the lubrication that makes sexual intercourse possible, so that the rapist must literally drive his way into her body. This is a difficult matter even when the woman is not resisting; it becomes almost impossible when she is putting up a real fight.
The difficulty of achieving a real rape was dramatically illustrated, so the story goes, by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great. One of her ladies-in-waiting came rushing into her chamber, crying that she had been raped by a certain member of Catherine’s court.
“He did this to you against your will?” the Empress asked.
“Yes, of course!”
“You didn’t encourage him in any way? You fought him throughout?”
“Yes. But he took me anyway.”
Catherine summoned the courtier in question. Without informing him of the charge against him, she asked the man for his sword and handed it to the woman who had been raped. Then she told the courtier to hold his scabbard with both hands and move it rapidly about while the alleged victim tried to sheathe the sword.
Desperately the woman tried to thrust the sword into the narrow mouth of the scabbard. But it was impossible. The moment she began to penetrate even a fraction of an inch, the courtier would twist the scabbard aside.
“I can’t do it,” the woman said finally. “Not unless he holds the scabbard still and lets me put it in!”
“Exactly,” said the smiling Empress, dismissing the rape charge with a wave of the imperial hand.
And so it is. Rape involves some degree of cooperation from the victim. One estimate has it that perhaps 80% of all rapes are performed without resistance, or with actual cooperation, from the victim. Furthermore, the vaginal lubrication that appears at times of sexual excitement often evidently develops during the course of a rape, a sign that the victim’s nervous system does not object to what is going on, however outraged she may claim to be. Why does a man commit rape?
The obvious answer is that rapists are men who suffer from sexual frustration. Like most obvious answers, this one has little truth to it.
Certainly there are some men who, deprived of sex, take it by force. But they are a very small minority. Typically, a man who suffers from extreme sexual frustration is neurotically unable to find a woman. Such men have almost no aggressive component in them; they shrink from all opportunity to make sexual “conquests,” and are about the least likely candidates for the role of rapist. In a world where prostitutes are available by a telephone call, and where “respectable” women are increasingly willing to go to bed with men on a casual basis, it is only a very timid man indeed who is totally unable to find a sexual companion. And such timid men do not make ideal rapists.
If the need for sex is not the mainspring of a rapist’s motivation, what is?
For an answer to that, consider a rapist whom I had a chance to examine several years ago. He does not fit into the stereotype of a rapist at all, as will be observed.
I’ll call him Don. Far from being ugly or repulsive to women, he was a clean-cut, well-put-together young man of about twenty-five. He was intelligent and articulate, with a high school degree, and held down a good job with an industrial firm.
Nor did he suffer from any visible sexual deprivation. He had been married four and a half years; his wife was a charming girl, attractive and even voluptuous; she had borne him two children, both boys, and their striking resemblance to their father was the best possible testimony to the fact that he had had sexual relations with his wife. From what I could gather, Don’s sexual relationship with his wife was an active and healthy one. One of her first comments, after hearing of her husband’s arrest, was, “I can’t understand it. We slept together four or five times a week!”
Don had committed three rapes over a period of fourteen months. The first had taken place in the building where he worked. One afternoon he had entered a women’s washroom and locked the door. He had followed a twenty-two-year-old married woman inside. Don forced her to lie down on the washroom floor and submit to him. Out of fear, she yielded without a struggle. After he had taken her, he allegedly warned her, “If you say anything about this to anyone, I’ll kill you.” She remained silent, as a result, until Don’s arrest, when she finally came forward to give additional testimony against him.
His next victim was a strikingly beautiful girl of seventeen. He spied her on a bus as he went home one night, and trailed her when she got off. Don caught up with her and dragged her into the proverbial dark alley, where he assaulted her. The girl resisted, and it was necessary to knock her unconscious before he could possess her. After slamming her head against the pavement, Don disrobed her completely and violated her. She had been a virgin. She did not awake for several hours; when she returned to consciousness she found herself nude, bleeding from the vagina. She had suffered a concussion and shock, and was unable to give much concrete evidence against her assailant.
Don’s third victim was a middle-aged woman, a widow of fifty-three. Apparently on sudden impulse, he entered her ground-floor apartment, knocked her down, and raped her. Her screams brought help, and Don was captured. Under questioning, he admitted the two earlier rapes.
Why did he do it?
His first answers were inconclusive and evasive. He talked about “an impulse I couldn’t resist.” But that answer was no answer at all. Obviously he had succumbed to an irresistible impulse; that was evident from what he had done. We wanted to know why that particular irresistible impulse had come over him.
Was it sexual need? No, he said, he was sexually satisfied at home. And his wife confirmed this.
Was it an overpowering desire to have intercourse with a beautiful woman? That could hardly be it, for only one of his three victims could really be considered attractive at all—the teenaged girl. The other young woman was decidedly plain, while the third victim was a woman of advanced years.
Don’s real motives for the three rapes only began to emerge after some indirect questioning dealing with his attitudes toward the female sex in general. I tried him on some free-association questions. This useful technique often reveals important information about the subject’s basic thought-patterns, provided the person being questioned can be induced to answer quickly, without pausing to calculate the most appropriate answer.
Here are some of my questions and Don’s responses:
It should be realized that these answers emerged over several sessions, totaling three or four hours, in which I asked a number of apparently irrelevant questions and slid the ones I wanted to ask in at well-spaced intervals. Nor were Don’s answers to the key questions always the same. Sometimes he gave more predictable answers, such as “Wife” for “Woman?” or “Pleasure” for “Sex?”
Yet his real answers, those that slipped from him when his guard was down, were extremely revealing. He had replied “Chain” both for “Baby?” and for “Wife?” Point one: Don regarded his family as a bond that tied him down like a prisoner.
Then there were three answers that showed an unmistakable vein of sadism. “Love?” had been answered with “Hate.” “Kiss?” had been answered with “Bite.” “Woman?” had been answered with “Hurt.” Point two: Don seethed with the desire to harm or injure women in some way.
The particular way in which he wanted to injure them was made clear by his response to the word “Sex?” He had answered, “Soil.” In the depths of Don’s soul, sexual intercourse was a way of making a woman dirty. He did not see sex as it ideally is, something a man does with a woman, for their mutual pleasure. He visualized sex as something a man does to a woman, something which soils her.
Of course, sexual intercourse does tend to be messy for a woman, since the man’s ejaculated semen does not all remain in the vagina, but exudes over the pubic region and the thighs after the act. None the less, it is not customary to think of intercourse as an act which primarily makes a woman dirty. It is a pleasure-giving and life-giving act.
Don’s idea about sex was further reinforced by a statement made in passing that implied an equation in his mind between semen and urine. Naturally, he was well aware of the distinction between those two fluids—on the conscious level, that is—but unconsciously he appeared to believe that they were closely associated and that sexual intercourse is a way in which a man voids a kind of waste material. Don also admitted a fantasy in which, instead of raping his three victims, he had urinated on them—a highly explicit statement, and one that left no doubt about the motives behind his rapes.
The last doubts were erased by the word-association of “Rape” and “Punish.” Don’s personality pattern was clear to me now, and I was able to ask the questions that elicited a straightforward explanation of what he had been doing when he committed his crimes.
Don had become a husband at the age of nineteen. It had not been a shotgun marriage, or anything like that; he had fallen in love with a nice girl, had decided he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, and had married her. At the time, it seemed like a sensible thing to do— especially since the wife he had chosen was an intelligent, attractive, and mature girl.
But unconsciously Don was not yet ready for marriage. He had not really done all his sowing of wild oats yet. In his teens, he had worked after school, supporting his ailing parents, rarely taking time for teenage pleasures. Now he was simply exchanging one set of responsibilities for another. His hope of going to college evaporated when his wife became pregnant not long after their marriage. A second child followed a couple of years later.
Don was still only in his early twenties, and had three mouths to feed. Meanwhile, he could see most of his boyhood friends still single, running around with girls, travelling in fast convertibles, generally living it up. He envied them their carefree irresponsibility—even though he refused to admit that fact consciously to himself.
Through his early marriage and fatherhood, Don escaped military service. Even that became a source of inner resentment to him. Many of his friends who were drafted went off to exotic places like Germany or Japan to do their stints. Don had never been out of his home state. Ignoring the drudgery and inconvenience of military service, he saw only the glamor of it, and came to imagine that he had been “cheated” out of his chance to serve by his family responsibilities.
The pattern of thought that grew in him was this: his marriage, happy though it was on the surface, was a trap. He had surrendered all his freedom. Somehow he had never had any real pleasure in life. He had forfeited the period of helling around that every young man was entitled to. He was as bowed down with cares as a man ten years his senior; he had never experienced the light-hearted gaiety of a carefree young bachelor.
And who was to blame?
Why, his wife was to blame—and the whole female sex, for that matter. It was all a conspiracy. They had ganged up on him and nudged him into the marital trap. Now he was stuck for life.
Don developed a lively, though well-hidden, hatred for women. He longed to lash out, to punish them for having stolen his youth. He wanted to steal something from women in return. What did a woman have worth stealing? Why, her chastity.
In committing an act of rape, Don felt that he was carrying out an act of punishment on his victims—that he was inflicting upon them the greatest theft possible. In this attitude he was correct, for a rape robs a woman of the sanctity of her own body. Whether she is a virgin or not before the attack, she is never the same afterward, for she can always remember what it was like to have her legs pulled open and a man’s body forced into hers. The stain of his unwanted semen “burns like acid in me,” as one rape victim said more than two years after her attack.
Behind Don’s facade of mild, good-natured industry, these resentments simmered into boiling hostility and aggression. Another man might have chosen outright sadistic violence, a beating or an injury to a woman. Don preferred sexual assault. Such violence as he inflicted was simply an adjunct to the act of rape itself, which was his main “punishment” for the women, “soiling” them with his sexual onslaught.
Thus the surprising explosion of rape from this apparently virtuous citizen. As Dr. Robert Lindner, the late author of The Fifty-Minute Hour, once commented in a similar context, “In the long run it would have been far better for the rapist if he had allowed these emotions to come out much earlier and in more direct fashion. Then his elders would have had a chance to observe them and to encourage their expression in healthier fashion— means by which they might well have been able to prevent much sub-surface tension from ever building up within him.”
We were able to save Don from the jail sentence that his crimes merited. It would do his wife and babies little good to have him sent to prison for a period of years, and by plunging Don’s family into poverty it would probably result in two new criminals in the next generation. Instead, it was possible to win a suspended sentence for Don, with a probationary remand during which he would undergo psychotherapy. His fine record as a citizen and as a family man made this possible; the Court was willing to look at his unbelievable-seeming career as a rapist as a wild aberration of his personality.
Prolonged therapy straightened him out. There was no way that therapy could give him back his adolescence and early manhood, but it was possible to help him adjust to the realities of his family responsibilities. At the same time Don was guided toward ways of ridding himself of his hostility and feeling of being “trapped.”
Rape, then, is a way of demonstrating aggressiveness. It is not primarily a means of obtaining sexual pleasure. In the words of Douglas Kelley, former professor of criminology at the University of California, “Rape can only be understood when one realizes that it is essentially sex with punishment or violence.”
The rapist may be seeking vengeance for a variety of reasons. Perhaps, as in Don’s case, he burns with deep, repressed hatred for his wife and children. Perhaps it is his mother against whom he unconsciously seeks revenge for her failure to love him sufficiently. Perhaps it is the whole female sex whom he desires to punish through a few symbolic rapes, because he feels that he has not received his due from women.
These needs build up until they become uncontrollable. Then the rapist lashes out. Often he is unaware of his actions at the critical moment. He is a man caught up in a blinding storm of hatred. At its most frenzied, rape may lead naturally to murder, merely because the rapist cannot tell where to stop.
The tragedy of our customary punishment for rape— jail—is that it does not recognize the fact that rape is almost invariably the result of a powerful neurotic drive. For every rapist of subnormal intelligence who overpowers a woman “just for kicks,” there are dozens who are driven to their terrible deed by inner furies. Putting such men in jail does not settle the conflicts within them. And so, of all sex offenders, rapists generally have the highest incidence of repeat offenses. As soon as they are released, they revert to their old pattern of seeking to “punish” women by inflicting sex on them.
The answer to rape is psychiatric care. It is no panacea, it will not automatically turn every rapist into a useful, law-abiding citizen. But it is at least a beginning to a solution, whereas jail alone without therapy solves nothing at all. Locking a rapist away to rot behind bars is just sweeping the problem under the carpet. Therapy allows some hope. “In any case,” says Dr. William Menninger, who was chief of psychiatric services for the U.S. Army during the second world war, “this is the only approach to the rapist which offers any hope whatever, whether to society or the rapist himself.”
Rape is a uniquely satisfying means for attaining the gratification of sadistic behavior. It combines many features otherwise separated. There is, of course, direct sexual orgasm as the climax of the rape, as opposed to the sexual pleasure that may or may not result from other sadistic behavior. There is, in addition, the thrill of violence, since rape must be a forcible matter. There is the pleasure of inflicting pain as the rapist drives himself into the unwilling body of his victim. And, perhaps most important of all, there is the gratification of psychological injury—the knowledge that the victim is being shamed, humiliated, robbed of her chastity, and, to use Don’s word, “soiled.”
All this adds up to a powerful incentive for the sadistic neurotic. Nor is the victim necessarily female, either. Homosexual rape is a fairly frequent way of expressing sadistic impulses. We saw in the case of Vacher the Ripper how this man indiscriminately raped boys and girls. In the Orient, homosexual rape is used as a weapon of humiliation; one classic case is that of T. E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia,” who fell into the hands of Turks during World War I and was sodomized by a group of Turkish soldiers who thereby inflicted deep and lasting wounds on his personality. During the same conflict, there were reports that the Turks were violating dead or dying soldiers on the battlefield—not so much for the sake of homosexual pleasure as to demonstrate contempt for the fallen men.
Rape is fundamentally a non-sexual or an anti-sexual act. It has little or nothing to do with sexual desire except as sexual desire is perversely expressed. Rape is an act of hostility toward others, generally an act of hostility toward the opposite sex. It may even conceal a latent homosexuality, curiously enough; the inveterate rapist of women can very frequently be seen as expressing his loathing for the female sex through rape, and not, as some may suppose, his powerful attraction toward women.
Forcible sexual penetration—rape—shows the sadist in his most direct sexual activity. It is small wonder that in the novels of the Marquis de Sade, rape is nearly as important an activity as flogging and torture. Flogging and torture subtly spur the perverse excitement of the sadist; rape brings him to a frenzy of delight in the most immediate way.
ONE OF the classics of German literature is Penthesilea, by the brilliant, deranged poet Heinrich von Kleist. One scene in particular of this eerie, flamboyant work provides a chilling and revelatory instance of female sadism.
The heroine, the Amazon queen Penthesilea, is pursuing Achilles in a blaze of desire. Finally he falls into her hands, and with lustful, murderous fury she rips his body into pieces and sets her dogs on him:
“Tearing the armor from his body, she strikes her teeth in his white breast—she and her dogs, the rivals, Oxus and Sphynx—they on the right side, she on the left; and as I approached blood dripped from her hands and mouth.”
Afterward, Penthesilea is sated by her bloody act. “Did I kiss him to death?” she asked. “No. Did I not kiss him? Torn in pieces? Then it was a mistake; kissing rhymes with biting [in German, Kusse, Bisse], and one who loves with the whole heart might easily mistake the one for the other.”
Kissing rhymes with biting. One who loves with the whole heart might easily mistake one for the other.
Kleist’s penetrating words strike to the heart of the theme of this concluding chapter. The line between perverse sadism, such as we have been examining in the previous sections of this book, and normal cruelty in the sex act is often hard to determine. Many individuals feel that a degree of cruelty lends spice and savor to sexuality. Kisses of love and bites of love are often interwoven, so that the German rhyme becomes a linkage in fact.
This strange paradox has led anthropologists and sexologists to certain disturbing conclusions about the sexual passion:
Cruelty, not tenderness, is the basic emotion underlying the sex act.
A kiss is really a concealed bite.
Sexual relations are fundamentally sadistic in origin.
These statements seem startling—and, indeed, they are. They appear to deny our cherished beliefs in love, in affection, in a philosophy of sexual warmth. They are statements of forgotten truths, forgotten because they have become buried under the veneer of civilization.
They are part of humanity’s dark heritage from the beast.
When we are trying to determine whether a given practice is perverse or not, we should keep in mind this perceptive passage from the writing of Freud:
“Abominated as they [the sexual perversions] are, sharply distinguished from normal sexual activity as they may be, simple observation will show that very rarely is one feature or another of them absent from the sexual life of a normal person.
“The kiss to begin with has some claim to be called a perverse act, for it consists of the union of the two erotogenic mouth zones instead of the two genital organs. But no one condemns it as perverse; on the contrary, in the theatre it is permitted as a refined indication of the sexual act.
“Nevertheless, kissing is a thing that can easily become an absolute perversion—namely, when it occurs in such intensity that orgasm and emission directly accompany it, which happens not at all uncommonly. Further, it will be found that gazing at and handling the object are in one person an indispensable condition of sexual enjoyment, while another at the height of sexual excitement pinches or bites; that in another lover not always the genital region, but some other bodily region in the object, provokes the greatest excitement, and so on in endless variety.
“It would be absurd to exclude people with single idiosyncrasies of this kind from the ranks of the normal and place them among perverts; rather, it becomes more and more clear that what is essential to the perversions lies, not in the overstepping of the sexual aim, not in the replacement of the genitalia, not always even in the variations in the object, but solely in the exclusiveness with which these deviations are maintained, so that the sexual act which serves the reproductive process is rejected altogether.”
We have shown thus far in this book that abnormal cruelty on the part of a human being is the sexual perversion termed sadism, manifestations of which involve such things as flogging or mutilating or otherwise inflicting pain on the sexual partner. This perversion, also known as algolagnia, is a pathological condition which indicates some deep sexual maladjustments.
But sadism, to a certain degree, plays a normal part in sexual relations. There are two chief reasons for this:
Pain, inflicted or suffered, is a by-product of the love-making act; pain is not far removed from pleasure, and it is sometimes true that the two are identical, or at least occur simultaneously and indistinguishably.
Furthermore, pain is a nerve-stimulant capable of increasing and enhancing sexual desire.
Therefore, pain and pleasure are frequently intermingled in the act of making love. The Roman poet Propertius vividly shows this in a poem describing a quarrel between a man and his mistress:
“She wounds my face with angry random blows.
She bruises all my neck, her teeth leave bloodstains,
And most she strikes my eyes, the criminals.
Then, when her arms were tired with my chastisement
She caught the page-boy hiding behind the bed—
He prayed me on my soul for mercy, grovelling—
But what could I do, I, a prisoner too?
At last my pleading hands procured her mercy
And grudgingly she let me touch her feet.
She cried, ‘If you wish peace and absolution, Here is the treaty which you must accept. Thou shalt not be a dandy in the Forum Nor with the crowd in Pompey’s colonnade. Thou shalt not turn thy head to the ladies’ boxes Nor linger by sedans with curtains drawn….’ This was the law. I answered, ‘It is binding’: And she, my haughty sovereign, laughed with joy. Now every place touched by the foreign ladies She censed and purified; she washed the sill, Commanded me to change my dress twice over, And touched my head three times with sulphur flame. And then the bed was changed, with all the covers, And in my arms she ratified our peace.”
The quarrel before bedtime has definite aphrodisiac powers, as any married couple knows. First the harsh words, perhaps even blows—and then the reconciliation, the close embrace. But even more true to our theme is the cruelty and violence that accompanies the sexual relation itself. Krafft-Ebing mentions the case of “a man who had several wounds in the pectoral muscle, which a woman, in great sexual excitement, had bitten at the acme of lustful feeling during coitus.” He mentions another instance of “a powerful epileptic who during coitus bit off pieces of his consort’s nose and swallowed them.”
Krafft-Ebing wrote, “It is clear how lust impels to acts that otherwise are expressive of anger. The one, like the other, is a state of exaltation, an intense excitation of the entire psycho-motor sphere. Thus there arises an impulse to react on the object that induces the stimulus, in every possible way, and with the greatest intensity…. The most intense means, however, is the infliction of pain.”
When we examine sexuality in animals, we discover that cruelty is the rule in sex. Man is the only animal whose sexual intercourse seems at all to be characterized by any show of tenderness. In the lower species, violence and pain are the invariable companions of sex.
The mixture of tenderness with animal cruelty is the result of society’s influence over methods of making love. Man has risen from his primordial nature; he has invented affection between the sexes, to mask the drives which originally accompanied sex. But, though thousands of years of civilization have altered the primitive ways of lovemaking, the basic animal nature breaks out uncontrollably even now.
The rapist who strangles his victim as he makes love to her, the lovers whose teeth meet passionately in each other’s lips, the girl whose fingernails rake her partner s back as she reaches orgasm—these are instances when the animal breaks through. So closely knit is the relation between sexual desire and cruelty that not even the powerful influence of our civilized mores can keep it submerged continually.
Many animals, of course, are beasts of prey. They must hunt and kill for their food. And so, purely as a matter of survival, the process of hunting and killing must be one that provides intense satisfaction for carnivorous beasts.
Sexuality, too, is a survival matter among animals—almost entirely so, since in the animal kingdom only man mates for non-reproductive purposes. Other creatures have intercourse only at times of fertility, for the specific purpose of reproduction. Powerful instincts drive the animals toward mating at such a time. Among many animals, sexuality is characterized by callous cruelty and delight in inflicting pain. An animal gets an almost sexual thrill out of the sight of blood, of another animal mangled, out of the joy of battle. This delight is part of nature’s design, to assure that the animal will continue to hunt and kill and provide food for itself.
The reproductive instinct is bound up intimately with this delight in hunting. Sexual hunger is made pleasurable to the animal through its associations with the infliction of pain, with killing, with all the by-products of food-getting.
Thus sex becomes a violent matter in the animal kingdom. Clellan S. Ford and Frank A. Beach, in their Patterns of Sexual Behavior (Harper, 1951), observe:
“Many mammals bite their partners in connection with sexual intercourse. Male shrews, bats, and rabbits mouth the female from the rear, and during copulation they seize the skin or fur of her neck or back in their teeth.
Male fishers bite the female’s shoulders while copulating. Biting and holding the female’s neck skin is an indispensable element in the coital patterns of some species. Just before he mounts the receptive female, the male domestic cat grips the loose skin of her neck in his teeth. This behavior has these results: (1) It produces an erection in the male. (2) It causes the female to lower her fore quarters and assume the mating position. (3) Since the grip is maintained after the male has mounted, it assists him in making the bodily adjustments essential to achieving intromission. Cats that fail to grip and hold the female’s neck rarely succeed in completing the copulatory act. Male lions bite the neck of the lioness after mounting her. The neck grip may be relaxed after intromission has been achieved, but if the female shifts her position the male may bite her again.”
Ford and Beach also point out that male sheep bite the ewe’s wool and skin during foreplay of coitus; that seals and sea-lions, stallions, mink, marten, sable, and many other creatures have the same biting practice. In the case of the mink and sable, they note, “His long, sharp canine teeth pass completely through her pelt and his jaws may remain locked for most of the copulatory period. The female’s initial response consists of a vigorous attempt to escape, and for a considerable length of time the two animals engage in what appears to be a violent battle.”
They cite also the aggressive behavior of male baboons and monkeys, chimpanzees, and other primates. “The female spider or howler monkey actively solicits the sexual favors of the male,” they write. “He may claw and bite her; and when this happens she retreats and then returns after a short interval.
What passes for affection among animals mates— grooming with the tongue, or huddling together—is chiefly a reflex or a desire for warmth. Animals, unfettered by our moral codes, do not share our feelings about the mate. Innumerable cases are on record of animals devouring their mates in quarrels, or after the mate has been wounded. At the New York Zoological Gardens a male and a female jaguar were kept in adjoining cages, and during the period of their separation they showed almost human signs of longing for each other: licking each other’s paws, purring, “sighing, and otherwise taking delight in the other’s presence. But as soon as the partition between the cages was removed, the male s first act was to pounce on the female and kill her.
So there is no affection, as we understand that word, in animal life. Sexual hunger is just that—naked, quivering hunger. Male does not desire female for her looks or for her personality, but for simple gratification of his own throbbing sexuality. The female, similarly, has no longing for the male except as he is useful to her, necessary to satisfy her fierce maternal drive by fertilizing her.
As hunger for food makes an animal cruel and voracious, so likewise does sexual hunger. When an animal finds a mating partner, he unleashes on her all his pent-up rage and unreasoning fury, as he would rend and tear a piece of meat thrown him by his keeper after a period of enforced starvation.
Anecdotes of the ferocity of sexual intercourse between animals are truly amazing. Again and again, we discover that animal mating is a stormy, intense encounter from which both participants usually emerge bleeding, bitten, and mauled.
The lower we go in the scale of life, the more consistently true this is. Spiders and many forms of insect life go about intercourse in what is to us a most unattractive fashion: after the sex act is completed, the female customarily kills and eats the smaller and weaker male!
Among animals, no such relationships can be found— fortunately for male mammals!—but instances of violence are common all the same. When camels mate, for example, the act of intercourse is performed without undue turbulence, but as soon as the male dismounts, the female turns on him with her teeth, and, snarling and nipping, she drives him away in utter terror of her.
It is more difficult to observe the mating of fiercer animals under natural conditions, but the recorded anecdotes bear out the pattern. One hunter reported witnessing the area where two jaguars had coupled an hour before; the jungle was devastated for a hundred feet around, with broken branches and severed vines scattered all about. It must have been an epic contest!
The pattern is clear: for an animal, sex is as vital an impulse as eating, and fulfilling the sex-drive usually involves treating the partner as prey. Always accompanying the sexual impulse in animals there seems to be a desire to give pain. This, perhaps, is borne out by the way in which many female animals quickly separate from their mates as soon as intercourse has taken place. Their haste to depart, it appears, is not the result of modesty, but is motivated by a desire to clear out of the way before any outbreak of fighting can occur.
This, then, is the pattern of sexual behavior among animals, and we can see clearly the factors that contribute both to the normal degree of cruelty that enters into every human sexual relation, and to the perversion known as sadism or algolagnia. It is reasonable to suppose that the earliest men shared in the animal savagery of the sex act, and though its brutality has been camouflaged even among the most primitive people on Earth today, it still breaks through more readily than we might think.
The kiss is the most obvious manifestation of this primordial cruelty. Like so many carryovers from primitive customs, the superficial nature of the act has altered, but the motivation remains the same. The kiss has evolved from the act of biting.
This is apparent when we consider the part that biting itself has in sexual relations today. For a woman to sink her teeth firmly into her mate’s shoulder at the height of her sexual excitement is not at all uncommon—as the scars of many men testify.
Among certain Asiatic tribes, to give another example, a betrothal is officially agreed upon during a ceremony in which the young man bites his loved one’s breast. And, in an amusing instance from the ancient world, we find that the Egyptian word meaning “to kiss” also meant “to eat.” The affectionate exclamation, “I’d like to eat you all up,” has certain sinister cannibalistic connotations of which most people are unaware! (Then, too, the contemporary colloquial expression for cunnilingus, the genital kiss, is “to eat”.)
Many primitive human tribes make use of biting as a prelude to intercourse, much the same way as we use the kiss in foreplay. A traveller who visited the Amu, a primitive tribe living in the northern part of Japan, reported a love affair he had with an Ainu girl in these words:
“Loving and biting went together with her. She could not do one without doing the other. As we sat on a stone in the semi-darkness she began by gently biting my fingers, without hurting me, as affectionate dogs do to their masters. She then bit my arm, then my shoulder, and when she had worked herself up into a passion she put her arms round my neck and bit my cheek.’
The traveller had to halt things there; he was too startled and pained to let the toothsome wooing go any further. But this is an example of the sort of primitive survival still to be found in human sexual practices. The Ainu girl, of course, was unaware that her act originally had a literally malevolent basis, and was merely demonstrating her affection according to the customs of her society.
Again, an anthropologist who has worked with the South American Indians called the Siriono provides us with this description of their lovemaking:
“Couples frequently indulge in such horseplay as scratching and pinching each other on the neck and chest, poking fingers in each others’ eyes, and even in making passes at each others’ sexual organs…. The sexual act itself… is a violent and rapid affair. There are few if any preliminaries. Kissing is unknown, but oral stimulation is not absent; lovers have the habit of biting one another on the neck and chest during the sex act. Moreover, as the emotional intensity of coitus heightens to orgasm, lovers scratch each other on the neck, chest, and forehead, so that they often emerge wounded from the fray. Although people are proud of them, these love-scars sometimes cause trouble (in cases of extra-marital intercourse), because they are visible evidence of the infidelity of a husband or wife.” (A.R. Holmberg, Nomads of the Long Bow. Smithsonian Institution, 1950.)
And the anthropologist Malinkowski offers these observations of the sexual habits of the Trobriand Islanders:
“So near to each other, they will rub noses. But though there is a good deal of nose-rubbing, cheek is also rubbed against cheek, and mouth against mouth. Gradually the caress becomes more passionate, and then the mouth is predominantly active; the tongue is sucked, and tongue is rubbed against tongue; they suck each other’s lower lips, and the lips will be bitten till blood comes…. The teeth are used freely, to bite the cheek, to snap the nose and chin. Or the lovers plunge their hands into the thick mop of each other’s hair and tease it or even tear it…. On the whole, I think that in the rough usage of passion the woman is the more active. I have seen far larger scratches and marks on men than on women; and only women may actually lacerate their lovers…. The scratching is carried even into the passionate phases of intercourse. It is a great jest in the Trobriands to look at the back of a man or a girl for the hallmarks of success in amorous life.” (B. Malinkowski, The Sexual. Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia Harcourt Brace, 1929.)
The presence of an element of sadism in a normal sexual relationship seems to be a universal characteristic. As the seventeenth-century English writer, Robert Burton, pointed out, all love is a sort of slavery. The courtship pattern in our society is one in which the male must symbolically debase himself in order to win the female; he must make himself subject to her whims and fancies, and, in effect, allow her to torture him. But later, the roles are reversed; the successful lover becomes the inflicter of pain upon the female, in the initial sexual act.
This concept is found widely in world literature. Lucian, the ancient Greek satirist, commented, “He who has not rained blows on his mistress and torn her hair is not yet in love.” In a novel of Cervantes, it is remarked that for a man to beat his sweetheart is an appreciated way of demonstrating love. And Havelock Ellis, in his Psychology of Sex, cites the case of the psychoanalytic patient who remarked, concerning her husband, “He docs not know how to make me suffer a little. One cannot love a man who does not make one suffer a little.”
Like all problems connected with sex, the factor of sadism is a complex one. Cruelty in sex is partially a carryover from the universal animal patterns of behavior, and partially (as Havelock Ellis, Krafft-Ebing, and many others suggest) a means by which flagging sexual desire is stimulated. We have already seen that the latter is the cause of perverted sadism: a person will turn to the stimulation of inflicting pain in order to arouse his feeble desires.
In this matter of normal sadism we uncover one of the basic differences between men and the animals. Only man seems to be capable of mingling affection with cruelty to form the complicated entity known as human love; affection does exist in the animal world, but not in the sexual relation. It may be found only in the relation of a mother to her offspring.
Throughout the world of nature, it appears that mother-love is nearly universal, love between mates a rarity. In some cases—as with the birds, where a male is needed to help hatch the eggs—it may seem as if the female is giving affection to her mate, but actually her interest in him arises solely out of the fact that she needs his cooperation in order to get her eggs hatched. She ends the association once the eggs are hatched.
Among the lower mammals, though, there is often no necessity for the female to keep her mate once the young are born. She is able to perform the maternal functions without any assistance from the male. After the birth of the litter, the female mammal commonly spurns her mate, devoting all of her interest and affection to her children. This is also true, to some extent, even among human women, who find they have no sexual interest in their husbands for some time after the birth of a child.
In the higher primates, the male again becomes necessary to a certain degree, since the females of most species are weak and defenseless even after giving birth, and need the protection a male affords. This is a possible explanation for the development of permanent relationships and affection among human beings—but, of course, it is only part of the complex story.
Males have, unlike females, no biological constraints against promiscuity. There is no physiological reason for remaining with the mate once the sexual hunger is gratified: it is a refinement of civilization that brings this about. In fact, as a matter of record, tender love and affection for the mate run so counter to biological tendencies that they frequently result in impotence among human males—when an excess of sentimental “love” prevents performance of the essentially violent, unsentimental act of sexual intercourse.
The origin of tenderness in the male is not in sexual attraction but in maternal conditioning. “Just as the transferred affection of the female for the male is a direct derivative of maternal feelings,” observes the noted anthropologist Robert Briffault in his famous study, The Mothers, “so all feelings of a sympathetic, compassionate, altruistic character, which are in direct contrast to biological impulses, are almost entirely absent in animals, and are specific characters of human psychology, are extensions of the maternal reaction. They owe the mere possibility of their existence to the development of maternal feelings.”
The crucial factor that distinguishes the bloody struggle that is the coitus of the jaguar from the quieter embrace of human beings is the development of love. Love is an entirely human phenomenon, not found—as far as we can tell—anywhere in the sex life of the animal kingdom. Human behavior is governed, sexually speaking, by love —its absence, presence, or rechanneling.
But at the basis of every human activity is some animal counterpart, and this is especially true in the realm of sex. Actions which, in the animal kingdom, arise out of blind instincts toward violence, are transformed and re-motivated by love in human beings—but though the motives are different, the acts are akin. The biting and scratching and tempestuous embracing, so common in intercourse, are perfectly normal manifestations of sexual desire. The fundamental difference is that animals practice these things out of an innate bestiality, while the human motivation is one of love and shared understanding.
When love is not present, or when it has been diverted into strange channels, perverse sadism may result. Thus, so innocent a pastime as the kiss, when magnified and transformed by the distortion of neurosis, can turn into the monstrous bite of a human cannibal like Ripper. In the true sadists whose horrible exploits we have recounted in these pages, we see merely the exaggerated mutation of normal sexual impulses. Gilles de Rais is not so terribly alien from us. There, but for the grace of sanity and love, go we ourselves.