Having had the good fortune to see a well done interview via a posted link here, by a David Cullen, lead me to revisit a psychological thriller "The Bad Seed", written by William March, link provided. The interview being about personality types that are characteristic of people who plan and carry out mass killings or shootings like Columbine or the recent shooting in Arizona. In the interview he mentioned the four types as: psychotic, sociopathic, depressed and for a cause, like terrorist groups. The "Bad Seed" is about a character like the ones mentioned in the interview. This book made a huge impression on me.
Reading the history of William March I was struck by both his intelligence and pathos. He had come from a large family and had few opportunities tried to finish high school and study law although unable to afford the tuition for worked as a law clerk. He enlisted in WWI and was very effected by his experience suffering depression and anxiety. From the time of his first publication and his death at a rather youngish age of a heart attack at 62 he had written perhaps ten books. The last being "The Bad Seed", about a sociopathic female child which later became a play and popular Hollywood film. He died shortly after the publication of this novel and did not live to see how famous it would become. Also found it interesting that most of his novels were published while he was in his forties and fifties. (This is a digression but when you feature young writers you get a lot of stories about thee ole childhood like the recent sampling from the New Yorker new young writers edition, although great stuff)
Reading the biography of William March I understand better how that book came to be lying about our house. The book and movie would have been popular during my mothers teen years. I was 7 and already liked scary stories and had actually gone to the library looking for the poem "The Raven" because I had the impression from somebody that it was scary. I did find a copy and read it. It was the first book I remember checking out of the library by myself to be honest it had an inset of the Raven on the cover and it was small so I found it pretty. The Bad Seed was easy for me to read which might be unusual for a seven year old. I can still remember some passages. It was written with a lot of clarity. I would almost call it modern and the language would still be contemporary. Definately it is easy for me to recall the plot. I have not read it again since I was seven.
The book is about an upper middle class family with a prenaturally neat and well behaved eight year old daughter. The father leaves on business and the mother is confronted with evidence that her daughter has killed several people. During her research the mother discovers that she was adopted and the daughter of a notorious serial killer of that time. She is so devestated both by this revelation and that her daughter has killed three people all for petty reasons and small gains and likely will continue killing, that she gives the child and herself an overdose. Unfortunately the mother dies and the child survives with nobody aware of this dreadful patronage or murders. I have never seen the movie and read that the ending is different in the movie.
Not ever trying to articulate my response to this book before bare with me. I was struck by the juxiposing of the sociopathic Rhoda and her merciless cool toward the people she murdered while they expressed very intense emotions and reactions. I can now understand the writers exploration of sociopathic behavior as he had to almost affect or pretend to be a sociopath during his WWI experience. In the small biography I read of his life in his first book he describes on of his worst experiences as coming upon a blond German soldier and thrusting a bayonet through his neck and watching him die. Henceforth the writer suffering terrible boughts of psychosomatic symptoms with his eyes and neck. So, my cursory guess was that he was a good person trying to understand sociopathic behavior or personalities having suffered in WWI. Already predisoposed to writing and analysis I can now reading his biography understand why these topics would interest him.
What I find incredibly relevant and interesting about this writer is that he came of age at the turn of the century where psychological matters were not routinely discussed so I find his book ahead of it's time and almost clairvoyant. I am really excited by this book to this day. After reading it I was also somehow envious of the pretnaturally and perfectionistic character Rhoda, although a sociopath. Like Sylvia Plath stated every so geniously "Every girl wants a boot on her neck". or something to that effect, I am definately no Plath scholar. In other words, to me it means that there is something so alluring and darkly attractive about these kinds of characteristics and via the exploration by this writer William March, although we would all like to think we don't have these characteristics, in certain circumstances we could. In times of war or even perhaps in times of stress or just cause.
What I find interesting over the entire spectrum of discourse concerning the terrible shootings in Arizona by a psychotic man with a semi automatic rifle of 20 people killing and wounding them, is how everyone leaps literally seizes upon the idea that these characteristics are different than us. That these sociopathic characteristics are so inconceivably different that we could never behave like this. What I learned from reading the biography of William March and his WWI experience and his grappling with these issues in his writings makes me realize that me thinketh that the lady doth protesteth too much. (us) Although of course I seriously believe that yes, most of us would not entertain these thoughts, or at least never admit them to anyone.
Cool book, now I want to read everything William March wrote and order it online in my next book order.