In my novel In the Family, Hedley Atkins speaks for himself, his monologue providing an insight into his character and psychology. I remember first being transfixed as a school pupil by the monologue of Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover, a powerfully atmospheric poem in which the speaker sits with Porphyria, strangled by him with her own hair, upon his knee and reveals (with the delicacy of touch that Browning also deploys in My Last Duchess, a poem about a very powerful man who has his wife done away with) how he has quite matter-of-factly ensured that she will be entirely his. A combination of scene-setting (a contrast between the storm outside and the cosy cottage atmosphere created by Porphyria) and the brooding personality of the lover heightens the sense of menace. The horror is achieved in an understated way, not by graphic depiction of blood and guts. The power of monologue is well-known in drama, too: for example, Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads characters brilliantly demonstrate how apparently incidental details cohere to develop our engagement and to surprise us.
Are we so hardened by our exposure to the prevalent and unsubtle presentation of graphic violence on film and in books that we are no longer absorbed and excited by suggestion? I hope not.