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Keeping Jealousy to Yourself

Sex, monsters, fools, and jealous, invisible wraiths

Roland Barthes (1975)

Dale Hathaway, 27, cut off the nose of his ex-girlfriend, Maria Vella, 33, with a steak knife. Ms Vella had dumped him for another man.

Hathaway attacked with such jealous force that Maria Vella’s nose was left “hanging from her face”. Part of it was dangling “forward on to her top lip”. The attack happened while young children and families looked on. Ms Vella needed 200 stitches to reattach her nose.

When the attack took place Hathaway and Vella had been drinking all afternoon in the lobby of the Hilton Newport Hotel in South Wales. This was in April 2014. Their conversation had become dangerous when the subject veered to Ms Vella’s new boyfriend.

Jealousy? There are the typical signs of the emotion, triangulation (Dale Hathaway, Maria Vella, and the unnamed new boyfriend), strong emotional reaction (feelings were running high at the bar in the Hilton Newport), and a sense of loss (Hathaway’s seems to have been unassuageable).

When I discussed jealousy with the irrepressible Colin McEnroe recently on his show on WNPR (here is the link) he suggested that the templates for the jealous person in literature - and maybe in life too? - were provided either by the monster or by the fool. Think of Shakespeare’s Othello. Was he a just a monster, or a fool as well for letting himself be gulled by Iago?

And Dale Hathaway. Is he a real life example of the literary tradition to which Colin McEnroe was referring? When the case came to law in the Cardiff crown court in October 2014, Hathaway was given six years. He admitted to causing grievous bodily harm with intent. But his sentence, his punishment for jealousy, was appealed. It was increased to eight years in London's Criminal Appeal Court, where the judges said the original term was 'unduly lenient' (here is the link). Lady Justice Macur, sitting with Mr. Justice Blake and Mr. Justice Dove, concluded: 'Bearing in mind the use of a weapon, and the manner in which it was used and the description of the injury, we consider that the correct sentence was one of eight years.'

The judges in the appeal trial didn’t give a hoot for the annals of this emotion of jealousy, but they do seem to have thought that Hathaway was a monster. He was also a fool. Either way, Colin McEnroe’s savvy summation seems to help to pigeonhole jealousy in South Wales.

Stories like that of Dale Hathaway seem sometimes to fill the newspapers. It’s easy to forget that, as subjects of jealousy go, there are probably as many invisible jealous wraiths - why not call them that? - as there are monsters and madmen. By wraiths I mean normal, decent people, who keep their feelings invisible and to themselves. We didn’t quite have time to get to this topic on WNPR.

Wraiths? There are lots of them. YouGov have recently published some fascinating statistics on jealousy (here’s the link). The research by YouGov “shows that younger Americans are much more likely to say that they're jealous when it comes to romantic partners. Overall 31% of Americans say that they're jealous people, but this varies from 42% of under-30s to only 19% of over-65s.” I guess this demonstrates into which demographic Dale Hathaway fits. But the figures also show how unusual was his response to jealousy. Of those under-30’s, 42% of them are not taking steak knives to one another. They keep their disquiet to themselves and keep it mostly under wraps. How do I know? Because they’re not talking about it. They’re not telling you and me about it. Their jealousy for most of the time is prosaic and often quite invisible. We like to be wraith like, and hide it.

How does this play out in the annals of emotional culture, the theme of this site? The philosopher and literary critic, the late Roland Barthes, wrote a very attractive and very human little book entitled A Lover's Discourse that shows how. He offers one of the most honest and succinct characterizations of the emotion that I’ve encountered. He describes the experience of jealousy like this:

"As a jealous man, I suffer four times over: because I am jealous, because I blame myself for being so, because I fear that my jealousy will wound the other, because I allow myself to be subjected to banality."

No fools or monsters here. Just a wraith. For Barthes it’s not just that many people are deeply reluctant to admit openly to feeling jealousy strongly. It’s also that they’d also never do anything about it. Why? Part guilt, part shame, part fear, and part pride. Pride and shame make people instinctively self-censor. Confessing your jealousy could be taken as a sign of weakness or others could disapprove it of. Or worse still it could offend the person you love. That’s perhaps the clincher. Say what you’re thinking and it’s curtains for the affair. And, besides, we are all much too sensible, civilized, and mature to suffer from jealousy, aren’t we? Or, really, too cautious to confess and too sensible to react.

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