During the nineteenth century, novelists like Flaubert and Tolstoy viewed literature as interlinked with education. In their minds, literature was not reducible to its educational value. Novels, however, represented one of the most moving and creative means of doing both things at once: entertaining and instructing the general public. The great masterpieces of nineteenth-century literature, Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, show what happens when women lose their sense of self and boundaries and get involved with dangerous men. My new novel perpetuates this literary tradition for our times. The Seducer shows what happens to two women who get involved with a social predator. The modern seducer, however, is no harmless and frivolous player, like Madame Bovary‘s Rodolphe. He’s a vicious psychopathic sex addict posing as Mr. Right.
There’s no better time for reading educational fiction, intended to simultaneously enlighten and entertain you, than in the days following the new year. This is the time when most of us do some soul searching, to see how we can improve ourselves and better our lives. During these days, advertisers deluge us with new products–diet aids, exercise equipment, beauty supplies and how to books–all intended to show us that their products will help us lead a better and healthier life.
Most of the time, however, these self-help tools are like band aids for the soul. They may help us marginally improve ourselves if we already lead good lives, with loving partners and have a healthy self esteem. But no beauty treatment, exercise equipment or diet formula can change an inherently bad relationship, heal a partner suffering from a personality disorder, or give you a sense of worth. Self respect must come from within: from a healthy attitude towards yourself and others. Consequently, if you’ve spent months or even years struggling in a toxic relationship with a disordered partner, the best thing you can do for yourself this new year is face reality and leave the toxic relationship. This will not be possible, however, unless you learn how to respect yourself.
In my new novel, The Seducer, I illustrate how a lack of adequate self esteem and insecurities can lead some women directly into the arms of social predators. These dangerous men know how to flatter them initially, only to later gradually isolate them from others, play upon their insecurities and gnaw at their self-esteem. The insidious process of eroding one’s sense of self and boundaries is most obvious in the interaction between Michael, a sociopathic sex addict, and Karen, his loving partner who can’t escape their toxic relationship no matter how much he mistreats her. And mistreat her he does: he cheats on her with dozens of women; lies to her; plays catch and release games by breaking up with her and then feigning love and contrition to get back into her life; makes her feel insecure about her body image leading her to bulimia and food addiction; encourages her to feel unattractive by unfavorably comparing her to other women and undermining her self-worth. For many of you who are–or have been–involved with bad men, this story will sound very familiar, as fiction will reflect your real life.
The Seducer also shows how even women who have high self esteem, like the main character, Ana, can fall into the trap set by psychopathic seducers. Such men flatter you, reflect your dreams and pose as your soul mates. Only once you fall into their clutches do they show their true colors and start eroding your boundaries and self image. You can witness for yourself the whole process of psychopathic seduction in The Seducer, previewed on Neatorama’s Bitlit.
The main thing that can save you from a psychopath–or from any other manipulative person who wants to take over your life–is cultivating a healthy self-esteem. This may seem like a truism. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of common sense that many know but fewer actually practice. Any therapist will tell you that he or she stays in business largely because of people’s unrealistic perception of themselves. Character distortions not only damage our self-confidence, but also taint our relationships. They make us excessively vain, or needy, or inflexible, or too willing to bend over backwards just to please others. More seriously, character disorders, such as psychopathy and malignant narcissism, are unfixable in adults.
Fortunately, however, most people don’t suffer from such constitutive emotional and moral deficiencies. More commonly, we suffer from distorted perceptions of ourselves. This puts us at risk of falling into the clutches of controlling individuals. To find your compass you need to look within, as the Greeks wisely advised. Ultimately, nobody else can save you. You can save yourself by living well, which depends upon knowing your worth–neither underestimating nor overestimating it–and pursuing with a mostly internally driven self-confidence the path you want to take in life.
As a novelist and literary critic, I believe that this lesson can be learned as much from literature as from life. Novels can touch you on both an intellectual and an emotional level. I’m hoping that my modern cautionary tale, The Seducer, will introduce you to a fictional world that mirrors and magnifies the psychological reality within you to help you see more clearly–and surmount–the real challenges you face in life.
Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon