Culture

Why Todd Akin Should Read W. Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Unconquered’

Culture

Why Todd Akin Should Read W. Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Unconquered’

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He’s a Republican Congressman. He’s a notorious enemy of birth control. He doesn’t have a uterus. Should it surprise us, then, that Todd Akin has just made some truly ignorant statements about rape and abortion? Not in the slightest. But when Rep. Akin announced in an interview yesterday that “From what I understand from doctors…if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he might have known that such a calculatedly controversial tidbit might lead to a bit of (pussy) rioting.

There’s obviously a lot to consider in his remark. What ‘doctors’ could he have been speaking of? Psychologists? Denists? Eye, ear, nose and throat specialists? People who have gone to college long enough to have the prefix ‘doctor’ attached to them even though they technically work at Home Depot? And what counts as ‘legitimate’ in these doctors’ eyes? Finally, when and in what context are these conversations taking place? It may be a failure of imagination on my part, but I find it almost impossible to dream up a situation in which Akin is going around to universities and mental health conferences in an earnest attempt to do research on rape and its effect on the female body. Otherwise he might not have let the term of ‘doctor’ go so unspecified and unqualified in his remark. But since, obviously, most everyone with a brain sees the irresponsibility of Akin’s statement and takes it for the utter bullshit that it is, ours is not stress this any further. Instead, we’d like to make a humble request of Congressman Akin. We’d like him to read W. Somerset Maugham’s (of Human Bondage fame) 1943 short story, ‘The Unconquered”, which tells the tale of a French family invaded in wartime by a German soldier (Hans) who rapes the daughter (Annette) and proceeds to come back to visit in increments throughout her full term, falling bizarrely in love with her in the process, despite her revulsion at the sight of him. After about thirty pages of watching this tortuous dynamic–the brutal economy of language, the eternally shifting powerplay that Maugham does so well–the baby is finally born, and the German soldier, aflame with pride, comes back to see it for the first time, but finds neither Annette nor the baby at home. Then she arrives:

“Hans flung open the door, and as he did so Annette walked in…She was soaked, and her hair, disheveled, clung damply to her head and hung down her shoulders in bedraggled wisps. She was deathly white. Madame Perier sprang towards her and took her in her arms.

‘Where have you been? Oh, my poor child, you’re wet through. What madness!’

But Annette pushed her away. She looked at Hans.

‘You’ve come at the right moment, you.’

‘Where’s the baby?’ cried Madame Perier.

‘I had to do it at once. I was afraid if I waited I wouldn’t have the courage.’

‘Annette, what have you done?’

‘I’ve done what I had to do. I took it down to the brook and held it under water till it was dead.’

Hans gave a great cry, the cry of an animal wounded to death; he covered his face with his hands, and staggering like a drunken man flung out of the door. Annette sank into a chair, and leaning her forehead on her two fists burst into passionate weeping.”

The defense rests. If Akin can’t listen to the reality of actual rape victims, or actual doctors, he might at least be able, as Maugham did, to use his own humanity and his own imagination to save him from ‘misspeaking’ again.