When I was younger, I felt great compassion towards animals. I still do, of course, but in my pubescent years these feelings seemed curiously out of proportion. In fact, after seeing an ad for a local animal shelter, I had vivid visions of walking down the street, seeing a dog being mistreated by his owner and heroically rescuing it… I imagined striking the wrongdoer in the same manner that he had just mistreated the animal…
Then my thought went further and I imagined that if I were on the same imaginary street and saw a person and a dog getting roughed up, on opposite sides of the street, I would most likely help the dog. I was ashamed of that thought but it was stronger than me…
…the man, after all, would be able to defend himself, if not physically, at least later on, with the shield of the law… or at least with his reasoning – he would be able to decide in his head that he survived a vicious attack by some crazy unfortunate person. Maybe, the man would even find compassion for his aggressor and write him a letter of forgiveness that he would never send and he’d move on, living happily ever after.
The dog however, was like a helpless child… oblivious to the reasons for his beating, afraid that the master had become an inexplicable source of suffering. Scared, now scarred too, tail between legs, not knowing when the blows would come raining down again…
Yes, I would save the dog.
Of course, with time passing, my fertile imagination shifted to other woes of the world, and yes, rest assured, more focussed on the people and less on our canine companions.
However, at that age, it’s this sort of innocent sense of justice that drew me to a book which I have never forgotten and have never been able to fully get over. In a good way.
Fannie Hurst’s “Backstreet” was a relatively popular book when it was first published in the 1930s – it was even adapted (several times) for the big screen. However, when it comes to critical acclaim, it was and remains somewhat lukewarm.
But my young passionate and rebellious mind absorbed it all. Every last drop, from the first to the last page, like a sacred piece of gospel I decided was the literary gods’ truth and an example (*not) to follow.
In the story, the heroine simply melts into the hidden background of her married lover’s family life. She devotes every ounce of her love and being to him… to the unspoken and improbable future for them as a couple. She lives for and by him, relinquishing her own shot at a “normal” future to stay available for him, for his occasional but passionate visits.
The story is one of passionate and forbidden love – the manna of a young hormonal teenager! But the message was a desperately sad one – the innocence, the blind love, the complete commitment and in the end the excruciating deception and ultimately extreme mystery of a love turned sour.
It may seem now like such an evident outcome for an age-old scenario. Lower class beautiful girl falls for the rich upper class guy, they have an affair, he can’t be with her (of course not, what would the “others” think), he marries well, they keep up the affair, they love each other, he has kids, she waits, he knocks, they make love, he goes, silence… ).
But for my young eyes, this was a stern and urgent warning. Before I’d ever even fallen anywhere close to the sandbanks of passionate loves, I had learned a lesson – always remain independent and on a very practical level, never be dependant financially on anyone.
Simple lessons, but looking back, I am so glad I picked up that book (which I still have by the way) at a very formative time.
So I do recommend it. If you are reading it at a post-pubescent age, please do so with a grain of salt… and a hill of open-mindedness.
And may I add that I thankfully never had to save a beaten dog or man, but I like to think that over the years I’ve done lots behind the scenes for both.
Every little bit of ink that inspires us, leads us in a certain direction, warns us, is like a gift from the aforementioned literary gods. And I am a a proud and staunch follower.
Here is a little (liberal, as always) portrait of Ms Hurst… in all her 30s glory!