Justine O’Neill, Meggie’s legitimatenchild, breaks the unhappy tradition ofnthe Drogheda Women. She falls in lovenwith a man whose intentions are honorable,neven tedious. He waits years beforenventuring a kiss, but then: “Thoughtsnand senses merged at last, but her crynwas smothered soundless, an unutterednwail of gladness which shook her sondeeply she lost awareness of everythingnbeyond impulse, the mindless guidancenof each urgent minute. The worldnachieved its ultimate contraction, turnednin upon itself, and totally disappeared.”nThis is the only unuttered wail in thenbook, the larger quality of which is similarnto the quality of guidance each urgentnminute gets above.nBnut The Thorn Birds has been anbig success, one of the biggest we havenhad in this country. How can it benexplained.’ Emerson said something tonthe effect that people do not deserve tonhave good writing, they are so pleasednwith bad. But that’s not very kind. Thenreal explanation for the novel’s popularitynmight be simply: it was fated to be so. DnRecreational Revulsion and Self-AbasementnElizabeth McNeill: Nine and a HalfnWeeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair;nHenry Robbins/Dutton; New York.nEdna O’Brien: I Hardly Knew You;nDoubleday & Co., Inc; New York.nby Nancy Yanes HoffmannWhat are we doing to ourselvesnand why.’ What does sexual self-destructionnreveal of the nature of our culture.’nAbout where we are going and why?nSuch are only a few of the questions thatnElizabeth McNeill’s (obviously a pseudonym)nNine and a Half Weeks: AnMemoir of a Love Affair raises. Thenreviewer, recipient of a letter from thenpublisher which accompanied the book,nis beset by problems when reading a booknlike this. Should one review this sadomasochisticnchronicle, and by reviewing,ncall attention to what might be allowednto drop into the Wide Sargasso Sea ofnreader indifference? How does a wellrespectedneditor, as is Henry Robbins,njustify publishing what seems to be hardncore pornography under his imprint?n1 could be flip and reply that Button’snexcuse is that jargon phrase which arguesnfor dubious ends excusing even morendubious means, the phrase, “the bottomnline.” Not good enough. For an editornlike Robbins to print Nine and a HalfnWeeks seems to be a betrayal of responsibility,na symptom of the corruptionnNancy Yanes Hoffman has just beennawarded a National Endowment for thenHumanities Summer Stipend.ntainting and pervading our “civilized”nworld. Robbins’ letter reveals his ownnuneasiness, his compulsion to explainnand equivocate; Robbins comments:n”What some may regard as pathologicalnbehavior can also be seen in another light:nsimply human. In my view, this book isnat once an account of a special kind ofnaddiction (perhaps more prevalent thannmost of us realize) and an explanationnof the outer boundaries of sexual, andntherefore human, behavior.” Again, notngood enough.nWe are not born human and civilized.nWe are, at the beginning, a human potentiality.nWe learn, or try to learn—andnkeep forgetting — how to be civilized,nhow to be human and humane, how tonbe for ourselves and for others now. Thatnmankind can figure out more exquisitenmeans of brutalizing one another, ofnimposing our wills, is nothing new. Thentorture chamber museums of every eranand country, the horrors of the holocaust,nattest to man’s inhumanity tonman—or woman—in the name ofnpower’s intoxications.nMost frightening about McNeill’s nonfictionalnaccount of supposedly actualnexperience (as opposed to The Story ofn0, as “fantasy”) is the degradation whichnthe narrator matter-of-factly wishes for,npermits, willingly complies with: “So itnwent, a step at a time. And since we sawneach other every night; since eachnincrement of change was unspectacularnin itself; … it came about that I foundnmyself—after the time span of a merentwo weeks—in a setup that would bennnjudged, by the people I know, as pathological.nIt never occurred to me to callnit pathological. 1 never called ‘it’ anythingn… I dare only look back on thosenweeks as on an isolated phenomenon,nnow in the past; a segment of my life asnunreal as a dream, lacking all implication.”nNine and a Half Weeks ‘implication isnin the title of the “porn flick” thatnMcNeill and her master (for never wasnshe his “mistress;” his appeal for hernwas the total abandonment of self to him),nthat “attractive, well-educated, middleclass,”nexecutive couple, didn’t haven”time” to see, “Beyond All Limits:” “Afternthree days I’ve gone beyond my limits.nFor two months now, I’ve been out ofncontrol.” If too much control is stultifying,nconfining, deadening, so too is drunkenndriving, sensation for sensation’s sake,nobsession with the senses without sensenor reflection or thought, a desperatendeath. Nerve endings can be crushed byntoo much as well as too little. And in hernceding of herself to him, the narrator isnas imprisoned in solitary confinement asnis any sexually inhibited woman or man.nIf this relationship (and most obscenenof all is her calling this a “love affair”) isna metaphor for the domination andnhumiliation which exists between all mennand women, as Robbins avers, nobodyndominates and nobody is humiliated withoutnthe victim’s assent. Finally, the narratorncracks, can’t stop crying. Her Nazintakes her to a hospital and she never seesnhim again. Her last hues, unreflective tonthe end, are: “It’s been years and sometimesnI wonder whether my body willnChronicles of Culturen9n