The English writer Brian Masters is the subject of Theodore Dalrymple’s October essay over at New English Review.
Brian Masters subsequently went to a grammar school, that is to say a school that selected its children on the basis of intelligence and scholastic aptitude. It was the making of him, as it had been that of my own father, also born in East London in conditions that we should now consider deeply impoverished. As far as educational standards were concerned, no allowances were made for the poverty of the pupils (as children at school were then still called): Masters was expected to learn in precisely the same way as more favourably-placed children, and discipline was strong if not always just. He thrived academically as a result.
I think it was Stevie Smith who wrote about Man something like “It is his goodness needs explaining, not his failing”. Of course, serial killing is something much more than a mere failing. However, though I have never met a serial killer (at least I think so), they don’t seem very mysterious to me. They may have some psychological trait or emotion most of us have, but intensified to a degree that it cancels out everything else. For instance most of us can be afraid that people who are important to us will leave us, and would like to prevent them, and it seems the serial killer Brian Masters wrote about did just that — prevented his victims from walking out. Other serial killers might kill people because their victims have something in common with someone they hate, and they — like most people, perhaps semi-consciously –, fail to distinguish between similarity and sameness (just like when we are pairing mismatching socks…)
As for the main question: “But how can they do such a horrible thing, and not only once, but several times?” — well, I am afraid Agatha Christie is right: only the first time is difficult, later on it gets easier and easier…
Hi, Zsuzsanna. Thank you for your comment and greetings from Budapest. It is nice to see that Theodore Dalrymple has other readers in Hungary in addition to myself. Viszontlátásra!