Today we welcome Harrogate resident Gary Dolman whose debut novel The Eighth Circle of Hell was published in October by Thames River Press. Gary’s historical crime novel concerns the Victorian era and a scandal of those times regarding the young. Here, in his article ‘Hell Goes Full Circle’ he links his novel’s story with very recent topical news and asks if protection of the young, vulnerable and innocent is truly present in our society – even now. What can we learn from the past?
Hell Goes Full Circle
More and more frequently it seems, the UK news media resonates with reports of scandals involving the sexual abuse of children. Most recently, Sir Jimmy Savile, the supposed TV and radio personality, philanthropist and national treasure, has been implicated in literally hundreds of claims that mainly adolescent girls were sexually abused by him since the 1960s.
Yet this is nothing new. It was in fact the great, Victorian pioneer of journalism, William Thomas Stead, who exposed what came to be known as the Defloration Mania.
In 1885, as editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, Stead wrote a series of truly sensational articles entitled, ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon.’ These exposed the widespread trade in very young, virgin girls who were procured for rape and prostitution. Stead’s, ‘Infernal Narrative,’ as he referred to it, revealed to a scandalised Victorian readership a seedy underworld of brothels, procuresses and padded chambers, where wealthy gentlemen could revel, ‘in the cries of an immature child.’
Under such headers as, ‘Virgins, Willing and Unwilling,’ ‘The London Slave Market,’ and, ‘Strapping Girls Down,’ the articles threw society into a state of near panic and achieved as a direct consequence, the implementation of the Criminal Law Amendment Act whereby the age of consent for girls was raised from thirteen to sixteen years.
To demonstrate how easy it was to procure a young girl for prostitution, Stead arranged for the purchase of one Eliza Armstrong, the thirteen year-old daughter of a chimney sweep for £5. However, as a result of what were subsequently considered to be illegal investigative methods, he was convicted of the, ‘unlawful kidnapping of a minor’, and sentenced to three months in prison. Thereafter, every November 10th, (the anniversary of his conviction), Stead would dress in his prison uniform as a reminder of his, ‘triumph.’
My own debut novel,The Eighth Circle of Hell, (published October 2012 by Thames River Press), explores the Defloration Mania through the disturbed and fractured memories of an elderly workhouse inmate. As a young orphan-girl she had fallen into the hands of a group of powerful, predatory men. Decades after she fled from the horror of her time with them, advancing senile dementia forces her to once again to relive those years of hell.
The inspiration for the novel came about during a visit to the care-home where my father was in the end-stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The elderly lady sleeping in a nearby chair suddenly cried out, begging some uncle to stop; screaming that he was hurting her. It made me begin to try to imagine what kind of torments she must be reliving and in researching the history of such abuse, I stumbled across the holocaust that was the Defloration Mania. The memories torturing that unfortunate lady must also have affected tens, probably hundreds of thousands of others just a few short decades before her.
When I submitted the original manuscript of The Eighth Circle of Hell to Thames River Press, the editor’s first reaction was that the novel was, ‘pulverising,’ to read. The great tragedy is that the characters and events I described were typical of the period covered by the Mania.
W T Stead was unbowed on his release from prison and remained committed to breaking what he considered to be the, ‘conspiracy of silence,’ surrounding the subject. Savile’s own victims are only just coming forward now, months after their abuser’s death, when another deafening silence has at last been shattered. As in Stead’s day, it appears they doubted that their own word would ever be believed against that of a celebrity ‘pillar of society.’ Many believed they must have brought the abuse somehow onto themselves. The term, ‘The Eighth Circle of Hell,’ is derived from Dante’s Inferno. Dante used it to refer to that part of Hell reserved for seducers and seductresses and I borrowed it deliberately to mock the hypocrisy of abusers who so often push the responsibility for their actions onto their victims.
In the novel The Eighth Circle of Hell, the victim eventually murders her principal tormentor. The twist is that it was love that, ‘made,’ her do it.
But Hell is a circle and today, over a century and a quarter after the, ‘Maiden Tribute,’ articles were first published the latest research by the NSPCC suggests that some one in nine children have been contact-abused sexually at some point in their lives. The Maiden Tribute is still being paid and the Eighth Circle of Hell continues to burn to this day.
You can read more of Gary’s thoughts at his blog here.
At the time of writing, Gary’s novel is available in both paperback and on Kindle at Amazon, but with the Kindle price at a competitively ‘buy-me-now’ pitch of £2.56.