On a Middle-Aged Obsession

Literature is filled with stories of older people becoming completely obsessed with someone much younger than themselves. These situations are not like a so-called May-December Romance, where the feelings come from both sides of the extremes. No, there is a media trope where an older person, usually a middle-aged or older man, makes a much younger person his or her object of worship, of devotion, and becoming so enamored of the younger person that the feelings comprise the most important thing in life. Nabokov’s Lolita is an extreme example of this. Jane Eyre, Little Women, and Mann’s Death in Venice all contain elements. Most of these describe manipulative, unhealthy attempts at relationships that gratify the older person at the expense of the emotional (and sometimes physical) health of the younger.

Howard was in his late 40s when he became obsessed with the 19 year old young man. The 19 year old certainly boasted striking, unique features, there was no denying it. Howard could look at his profile forever. He memorized the large eyes, the slender neck, the almost feminine, long fingers. He imagined long conversations between them, conversations that he, in the back of his mind, realized that could never take place. After all, it was the 1920s, and such things were impossible.

Another issue was that Howard grew incredibly shy around royalty. The young man was of noble birth, and Howard had been raised that one does not pursue someone not of your social standing. Perhaps that social distance made the attraction greater for him. At any rate, Howard should have known that such distance could never be spanned, although this didn’t stunt his pursuit of knowledge of the youth.

Such was Howard’s obsession that he began secretly pilfering items from the young man’s room. Oh, there were so many personal items strewn about that no one would miss the things Howard took. Yet, to him, they became secret, prized possessions, totems, icons that he treasured, and he would often stroke them and trace their shape with his fingers.

Rumors began to spread about Howard. In that culture, at that time, an unmarried man of Howard’s age caused such talk. In addition to his bachelorhood, Howard was known for his dogged tenacity–a trait that only fueled his obsession with the young royal. Perhaps surprisingly, Howard was not secret with his attentions towards the youth; however, no one knew the level of his obsession until after his death.

That’s when people found the swiped treasures in Howard’s house. Incredible, priceless personal items belonging to the young man–dozens of them–lay about his rooms. Not wanting to expose Howard to public ridicule by the airing of his obsession and his theft, his executors quietly made arrangements to have the priceless items given or sold to museums around the world.

And the 19 year old? Oh, he never changed or aged. You see, the young man had died over 2000 years before. The youth Howard Carter was obsessed with was the one whose tomb Howard had discovered in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.

You know him as King Tutankhamun.


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