HPfGU #52390

TBAY: Solzhenitsyn's Russia meets the Wizarding World

RE: TBAY: Solzhenitsyn's Russia meets the Wizarding World

"So now that we're through with all that Invisibility Cloak talk," Elkins said, sprawling out on the lawn of the Safe House. "What did you think of my spin on your Crouch theory?"

"Loved it," answered Eileen immediately. "The Pensieve scene is not nearly as upsetting to me now."

No," agreed Elkins slowly. "I don't suppose it would be. It does make his behavior there quite a bit more sympathetic. On a number of different levels."

Eileen nodded. "You remember that in my original responses to the sections of the Crouch Novenna dealing with this precise point, I was very..."

"Emotionally distraught." Elkins shuddered slightly. "Yes. I remember."

"Your picture of Crouch's behaviour was so black, and I really couldn't find anything to argue with it, except to start weeping and protesting it couldn't be true."

"Wildly and desperately denying all charges. Yes. And a brutally effective strategy it was, too."

"It was?"

"Well, assuming that your intention was to make me feel wretchedly guilty, it was. As I recall, you were particularly distressed over the notion that Crouch Sr. might have thought that there was a chance that his son was innocent when he—"

"Yelled, 'You are no son of mine!'" Eileen looked as if she were contemplating crying again. "Yes. I don't want him to have done that! He couldn't have done that!"

Elkins sighed. "Oh, you're just spoiled, you are," she said. "You should try identifying with the man's son for a change, see how that feels. Trust me. You go contemplate the fate of the Longbottoms for a little while, and I think you'll find that a little renunciation between family members starts to look positively benign. But really, you know, it did sort of surprise me that you should have been so upset over `you are not my son.'"

"It did?"

"Well, yeah. I guess that I just don't perceive the disavowal itself as all that much of a betrayal, really. It pales in significance, to my mind, when compared to the whole sending-someone-off-to-prison-for-life-on-the-basis-of-scanty-evidence thing. I mean, would it really have made matters any better if Crouch had sent his son off to die in Azkaban and not denounced him first? Would it have been more reassuring if he'd looked down at his son in the dock—or, more precisely, chained in that horrible chair—and said: 'Yes, son, I know that I'm your father, but I am a fair and unbiased man. Therefore, I am going to deny you your due process and railroad you to Azkaban, just like I do everyone else whenever it suits my political purposes?' Surely that wouldn't have made you feel better about him, Eileen. Would it?"

"Well," said Eileen. "When you put it like that..."

"I should have thought that the kangaroo court itself would have bothered you more than the denunciation," said Elkins. "Maybe it's just me. To me, the denunciation makes Crouch far more sympathetic, particularly the way that he keeps raising his voice louder and louder to drown out his son's pleas. It shows him as conflicted. Without it, he would come across as positively inhuman in that scene. The denial of due process, though...well, that's a different matter. Sending people off to effective death sentences without much at all in the way of evidence. Allowing political expedience to override concern for the truth. As far as I'm concerned, that's far worse than disavowal. It's...well, to be perfectly honest, I consider it tantamount to murder. Crouch's behavior in regard to his son is really only one short step away from filicide, in my opinion. Crouch Jr. may have been guilty, but he could just as easily have been innocent. Sirius Black was."

"But if you factor in self-protection, the picture's a whole lot greyer," pointed out Eileen.

"Yes, it is. And if you factor in the possibility of additional evidence, evidence that Crouch suppressed, then that makes it even more so. Not only does it give him self-protection as a motive, but it also gives him an at least somewhat better reason to have suspected his son to be guilty than 'he was caught in bad company, and besides, I know for a fact that he was out of the house that night,' which is pretty much what you're left with otherwise. And that really does make me feel a whole lot better about things, you know, because—"

"Hold on, hold on," said Eileen, frowning. "That makes you feel better about things?"

"Well, yes. It does. Because the thing here is that I do think that Crouch genuinely believed his son to be guilty. I said as much in the novenna. I am far more willing than you are to accept the possibility that he had considerable doubts. I don't see how he couldn't have done, given the lack of evidence. But I also did say that I thought that he at least believed in his son's guilt at the time of the trial. I've always wondered why, though. Why? There seems to have been no real evidence. It's always bothered me a great deal about this plotline, actually. It just doesn't fit together for me. If in fact there was some evidence, though, evidence that Crouch suppressed in order to protect himself, then that makes me feel a lot more comfortable with it. Because otherwise, you know, it just seems so very out of character to me."

Eileen stared at her.

"I can't believe what I'm hearing," she said. "Out of character? For Crouch? That incarnation of all things infamous?"

"But I don't read him as the incarnation of all things infamous, Eileen," objected Elkins earnestly. "Just as the incarnation of some things infamous. Things like political opportunism. Things like disregard for the rights of others. Things like unhealthy and narcissistic and devouring expressions of perverted _storge_. Things like hatred that masquerades as love. But I can't ignore those last things in favor of the others, because that just doesn't seem to fit in with his other actions in regard to his son. Throwing Sirius Black and other random accusees to the mob as blood offerings is one thing, but his scion? The son who carries his name? The one whose individuation he has such a hard time accepting? The one that he will later drag out of prison, keep alive and under control in his house, and try to indoctrinate? The one that he perceives as his mirror?"

Elkins shook her head.

"I just don't buy it unless he had some reason to believe that the boy was guilty. Crouch was self-interested, all right, but his investment in his son was a big part of that self-interest, and even if his political star was falling, I can't imagine that he was entirely without clout at the time of the Longbottom Incident. If it had just been a matter of some Death Eater fingering a member of his family, I can't imagine that he wouldn't have been able to extricate himself from that position with a bit more competence and grace, witch-hunt atmosphere or no. There had to have been something else. There's no indication anywhere that Crouch was disposed against his son before his arrest, and there's plenty of suggestion that precisely the opposite was true. In his mad scene, he speaks of him with quite a bit of pride. His behavior at the sentencing is that of a man who is outraged, and I've said before that I don't think that was all an act. The entire public response to Crouch Jr's arrest isn't in the least bit consistent with a scenario in which young Crouch was perceived as a black sheep, or as a bad seed. It's obvious to me that he was a golden boy. Dumbledore's backhanded eulogy on him reinforces that. JKR even went so far as to give him all that blond hair!"

"Although..." Eileen began.

"Yeah, I know. Blond hair is a backhanded marker in the Potterverse to begin with. But still. The parallel scenes also suggest that Crouch didn't think that his son was innocent."

"You mean the parallel with the QWC?"

Elkins nodded. "At the QWC, Crouch renounces Winky, and I read that as a blood sacrifice, and as a diversionary tactic, and as a failed exorcism, and as an expression of projected self-loathing, and even as a bit of self-flagellation, as well. Self-punishment. All of which also works when applied to his son. But it doesn't come out of nowhere with Winky, does it? He did have some cause for feeling that she had failed him. And he did have some cause for finding her an appropriate mirror onto which to project his disgust with his own weakness.

"So as I see it," Elkins continued. "He had to have had some cause for believing his son to be guilty, as well. Maybe not the greatest cause, maybe not good enough to warrant a guilty verdict, but at least something a bit better than a random accusation or guilt by association. It just doesn't make any sense to me otherwise. I interpret his reaction to his son as one of horrified recognition. Hs son was trying to bring about what he himself secretly desired: Voldemort's return. There is projection going on there, but it doesn't make sense to me if I try to read it as a totally irrational projection. I do read Barty Crouch Sr. as pretty seriously messed up, but I don't see him as totally delusional."

"No," said Eileen snarkily. "That was his son."

"Now, now. Even his son wasn't all that divorced from reality, really. Especially not when you...well, you know. Take one consideration with another. But at any rate, the Invisibility Cloak left behind at the scene of the crime speculation helps me to resolve that problem, and it also ties in nicely with so many other things. Like the self-preservation. Because I do read that Pensieve mob as out to get Crouch. I think that they liked watching him suffer. I think that they liked it when his son went all to pieces on him, and when his wife fainted dead away at his side. And they loved the denunciation. They ate that up -- just as Crouch knew that they would. Because I am convinced, you know, that he was playing to the crowd a bit with that."

There was a short silence.

"It's not a very pretty scene," said Elkins quietly. "On any level. In fact, I find it by far the most disturbing scene in the entire series. Do you know that when I first heard that people had been making complaints about GoF being 'too dark for children,' I didn't even think of Cedric's death? I didn't think of Graveyard at all. Or of anything having to do with Voldemort, for that matter. I just immediately assumed that it was Pensieve they were talking about. A sequence which apparently," she added, with a slight laugh. "Doesn't bother children at all."

She shook her head. "Children are so weird, aren't they? I never understand children. I didn't even understand children when I was a child. I...Eileen? Hey, are you all right?"

Eileen was staring blankly at the swingset, where the two Elkins' were embroiled in a shoving match over Memory Charm theories.

"I identified with that mob in the Pensieve scene," she said dully. "I've told you that, haven't I? That I can see where that crowd was coming from?"

"Yeeesss," said Elkins cautiously. "You've mentioned that before. Outrage on behalf of the Longbottoms, wasn't it? Like Harry?"

"Yes," said Eileen. "And no." She paused for a second. "Argghh... I hate this. I just hate this. I've mentioned my first emotional response to Crouch Sr. on the list many times. Sympathy. And, of course, that response to his... charisma. But I've never really gone into the darker side of my emotional response on the list, have I?"

"Uh-oh. Oh look, Eileen. This isn't going to turn into a performance of 'Who's Afraid of J.K. Rowling' or anything, is it? I mean, we're not playing a round of 'Get the Listmember' here, are we? Please tell me we're not. Because, you know, if you'd rather talk about something else..."

"I have this nasty suspicion," Eileen said quickly. "That for all my bleeding heart tendencies, I would have been a Crouchist during the first Voldemort years, and absolutely worshiped the man. And believe it or not, this actually does not make me feel very kindly towards him. Do you know what it's like to break away from that particular type of charm, Elkins?"

"Well, I—"

"It's an exhilirating experience. To stand on your own two feet and realize that whatever De.. errr... I mean, the hypothetical politician wants is not the be-all and end-all. But you also feel very angry. You want to strike back at that person for taking advantage of you, of blinding your eyes to certain things. That's not entirely a healthy reaction."

"Isn't it?" Elkins thought about it. "Oh, I don't know," she sighed. "I guess that depends on how you define 'healthy.' It isn't an ideal reaction, no, but at the same time, it does seem perfectly natural to me. It's also highly congruent with GoF's position as the midpoint of a bildungsroman, don't you think? Because what you're describing sounds an awful lot to me like...well, it sounds to me like the same fundamental psychological dynamic that underlies some of the more troublesome developmental issues of adolescence. On a far more macrocosmic scale, of course. But still. Do you think that Crouch Jr. always disliked his father?"

Eileen stared at her.

"Because you see," Elkins explained. "I've always imagined that at one time, he must have absolutely worshipped him. He is envious of his mother: 'He loved her as he had never loved me.' His relationship with Voldemort is a substitution. It's displacement. What does that say about how he likely once felt about his father? He calls him 'disappointing.' Disapppointment isn't too far off from disillusionment, is it? You can't be 'disappointed' in someone unless you first had certain...expectations."

"No," murmered Eileen.

"Mainly, though, I read it that way because as I see the entire Crouch subplot, Crouch's relationship with his son replicates on the personal level his political relationship with the wizarding world as a whole."

"Yes, so you've said."

"And said and said and said. Yeah, I know. I repeated that sentence like a mantra in the novenna, didn't I? I think that it may have come up in three separate posts. But that's because it really is just so intrinsic to my reading of this plotline. It's the glue that binds it all together."

There was a long silence.

"Elkins," said Eileen, in a low voice. "I really don't want to identify with Crouch Jr."

"I am sorry. But if Crouch's son is a faulty mirror to Crouch, then Crouch must also be a faulty mirror to his son. That's just how mirrors work. And if Crouch was a faulty mirror to his son, then he must have been one to the wizarding world as well. Because as I see it, that's how that dynamic is constructed in the text. Thematically speaking, leaders and fathers occupy the same symbolic position. Crouch Jr's antipathy towards his father reads to me like a backlash response, replicating on the personal level the public and political backlash that we see in the Pensieve."

"The wizarding world couldn't have felt very good about itself," said Eileen slowly. "They didn't just have something to regret in the small world of Canadian politics. They had to regret supporting some pretty horrible things. So, naturally, they would have turned their anger on Crouch. They wanted him gone. Because he reminded them of themselves. He was their faulty mirror. I don't think the Pensieve Croud's jeering just represents the anger of the people who had been hurt by Crouch. I think it represents the far greater swell of anger from the people who had helped Crouch hurt others."


"'Take him away. Shunt him aside to International Magical Co-operation, where we'll never have to see him again. Where we can forget what we did.'"

"Sweeping it under the carpet," agreed Elkins. "Like the wizarding world does with everything having to do with that era. Just like all of those acquitted Death Eaters."

"By the way," added Eileen lightly. "I think that public state of denial saved him. Really, Crouch Sr. should have been brought to trial for what he did during the war. And...NO!" she shrieked, as Elkins lunged across the grass at her. "What did I say? I...oh."

She blinked down at Elkins, who had thrown her arms around her.

"Oh. I see. Well, all right then. I thought that you didn't like hugging?" She patted Elkins tentatively on the back.

"Eileen," gasped Elkins, letting go of her. "Eileen, do you want to know why Crouch Sr. always makes me so very angry?"

"Because he reminds you of your—"

"No. No, it's not just that. It's also because I read him as a war criminal. A war criminal who got away with murder. A war criminal who was never brought to trial. A war criminal whose victims are still suffering for his crimes, even by the time of the canon. He's a lot like Lucius Malfoy, or Nott and Avery, or all of those other guys whose past sins everybody seems to know about but nobody is willing to acknowledge. Except that in Crouch's case, even the readers don't seem to care about it. And that just...oh, it just infuriates me somehow." She sat back on her heels, frowning. "I think that I find Crouch such an immensely frustrating character in part because while everyone thinks of those Death Eaters as war criminals, I have never before heard anyone other than myself say the same thing about Barty Crouch."

"Elkins, I..."

"And the one time that I did say it—on another list, that was—everybody just yelled at me."


"Thank you!"

"Elkins!" Eileen pushed her away. "Stop that! You're scaring me."

"I wrote an entire post about this, you know," Elkins explained, stumbling somewhat over her words. "Midnight In the Golden Wood With Crouch. A Novenna response. But then I was afraid to post it."

"Afraid? Why?"

"Oh, I don't know. Because it's a topic on which I can get a little bit emotional? A little bit strident? A little bit ranty? A little bit...oh, hell, let's be fair here, okay? A lot over-engaged. Frankly, I just can't keep my head on this subject at all. And because as a means of addressing and acknowledging that problem," she concluded wearily, "the Affective Fallacy horsie joke really only works once.

"Also because I worried that it might have bordered on implied ad hominem," Elkins added, after a moment's pause. "You know, sort of like the way that those posts objecting to Sympathy For the Devil readings by focusing really heavily on the plight of the DEs' victims can sometimes come across as accusatory? There's that 'it's your sort of person who lets the terrorists win' flavor that can sometimes start creeping in? Except that in this case, it would be 'it's your sort of person who lets the police state take over.' And I particularly wanted to avoid that because, well... Because it was January 24, all right? When I was all set to post it."

Eileen frowned. "January twenty...Oh! Oh, I see. You were worried about what Dicentra and I were talking about on that factional/fictional divide thread?"

"Yeah. Specifically that passage about you being unusually sensitive to implications that you don't care about civil liberties. You see, Eileen," explained Elkins with a rueful smile. "I don't exactly want to identify with Barty Crouch Jr. either. That's really not a positive reader identification for me. I wasn't sure how serious you were, was the thing, and I really wasn't keen on the idea of reenacting some twisted variant on 'The Egg and the Eye' for the amusement of the 5000 lurkers."

She shrugged. "I know that you care very deeply about human rights, Eileen."

"Most kind of you," said Eileen drily.

"I also think that Crouch should have stood trial. For war crimes. But I doubt that he would have got a fair one. Well," Elkins added, with a sudden grin. "Not unless he stood trial here, of course. Because as everyone knows, here on HPfGU, we always give characters fair hearings!"

"Bringing him to trial would have meant that the society would have had to examine its own self," Eileen pointed out. "Much better to exile him to Magical Co-operation... There was, of course, one other way to lash back at him, as I agree they desperately wanted to."

"By implicating him personally in the Longbottom Incident."

Eileen nodded her head. "I would have been scared out of my wits the moment the Longbottom affair was traced back to my door, invisibility cloak or no invisibility cloak."

"Yes, I suppose I would have been as well. Dumbledore says that the attack on the Longbottoms 'caused a wave of fury such as I have never known.' And he's...what? 150 years old? Nor was Voldemort's rise the first war against Dark Wizardry he'd ever seen. So I'm thinking that must have been quite some wave of fury. I guess I would have been pretty nervous too. People at the forefront of witch hunts do tend to get targetted in the end, don't they? Today's inquisitor is tomorrow's heretic. It's almost a cliche."

"The revolution eats its children," murmered Eileen.

"Oh, Eileen, Eileen!" Elkins laughed wildly. "So does the status quo!"

"Pull yourself together," Eileen told her, smiling.

Elkins took a deep breath. "Crouch was definitely trying to save his political career in the Pensieve," she said. "But it is possible that he was also trying to save his own skin. Eric Oppen suggested that possibility all the way back in April, actually. He suggested that Crouch was afraid that he might be carted off to Azkaban himself if he didn't throw his son to the mob as a kind of a sop."

She pulled a brittle yellowed message out of one pocket and unfolded it gently. "This is Eric, in message #37781:

Face it, learned colleagues, Crouch Sr. was in a dicey position himself at that trial. If he had shown any sympathy for his son or anybody else on trial (Mr and Mrs. Lestrange?) he could have found himself up on charges himself---I would not want to attract any such thing with the Wizard World in what amounted to a lynching mood. Distancing himself from his son the Death Eater in the most public way he could was, if nothing else, a necessity for his own and his wife's safety. We know that people were hauled off to Azkaban without so much as trials, at his command. Wouldn't some of these folks have people they'd left behind who'd _love_ to pay Crouch Sr. out?

Elkins smiled dreamily. "I love it when Eric calls me a 'learned colleague,'" she sighed.

Eileen was staring at her.

"Elkins," she said. "Are you actually blushing?"

Elkins jumped, then quickly folded up Eric's message and put it back in her pocket.

"Yes, well," she said briskly. "So Crouch could have been fighting for his life there. Which is indeed rather sympathetic."

"Pitiable, anyway," said Eileen, with a rueful grin. "Wasn't it you who said a while back that you always feel for the person who's fighting for their life, no matter what they've done to get there?"

"That was me. And you were the one who agreed with me, I seem to recall. Yet Barty Jr. was fighting for his life in that Pensieve scene, and I fail to see you shed a tear about it."

"Yes, that's rather strange," said Eileen. "I have got weepy over Crouch Jr. several times, but it's never when reflecting on the Pensieve scene. The Pensieve scene just doesn't move me. I always feel remarkably cold-hearted towards Crouch Jr. there."

"I assume that you mean on re-reading?" asked Elkins. "Or am I misremembering? For some reason, I'd remembered you saying that he really tugged at your heart-strings there. Was that just when you thought that he was innocent, then? You know, the strange thing about this," she said thoughtfully. "Is that I actually sympathized with him in that scene a whole lot more on rereading? On first reading, I did think that he was innocent. Yet I felt rather more strongly for his father."

"That's simply perverse, Elkins."

"Yeah, it really is, isn't it? But I just can't help it. It's always like that for me. I always feel a whole lot worse for the guilty than I do for the innocent in those sorts of situations. I think that it must be because I know how much worse it is to suffer for something when you know that you've brought it all upon yourself. When you don't even have the knowledge of your own essential innocence to sustain you. When you don't have anyone other than yourself to blame."

Elkins shuddered helplessly. "It's precisely the same reader sympathy that I feel for Pettigrew in the Shrieking Shack. Which is the reason that your own lack of sympathy surprises me so much, actually."

"What is?"

"Shrieking Shack. You see, I wouldn't find it all that strange for anyone else to feel cold and unsympathetic towards Crouch Jr. in the Pensieve scene. Not on re-reading, at any rate. After all, his sins are truly dire. Even if you assume that he was innocent of torturing the Longbottoms, he's plenty wicked enough elsewhere to make up for it. And my own idiosyncratic reader response aside, Crouch Jr. really isn't written as a sympathetic character. But I do find it somewhat surprising coming from you, Eileen, because you identify with Peter in the Shack, which I see as a very similar situation. They're both scenarios in which a character is about to pay a very high price for his crimes, and is absolutely terrified, and can't escape from what's about to happen to him, and desperately, hopelessly, wants to be spared his fate, even though he's really not at all innocent. So what accounts for the difference in your reader response?"

There was a brief silence, while they thought it over.

"I wonder if it might be because Barty never actually confesses?" suggested Elkins. "He protests his innocence to the very last. Peter, on the other hand, does abandon his denial eventually. In the end, he's simply pleading for mercy. Could that account for it, do you think? Or is it possibly because you identified so very strongly with Crouch Sr. overall that it caused your reader sympathy to stay more narrowly focussed on him in that scene?

"I don't know. I'm just throwing out guesses here. What do you think?"




Crouch Novenna and responses: message #47927 and downthread replies

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