2013’s been a tough year for peeping Toms. The flimsy roof of a movie theatre in Georgia foiled the smutty birds-eye view plans of two twenty-somethings who were left on the ladies bathroom floor in April with nothing but bruised butts. And just last week, New York residents screamed “lawsuit!” at Arne Svenson, an artist who’s flogging photos shot through their apartment windows for $7,500 a pop.
But penal-code enforcers didn’t dream up the term “peeping Tom.” The phrase harks back to the 13th century legend of Lady Godiva who rode naked through Coventry, England, voicing her displeasure at the authority’s unfair taxation of her husband and his tenants. Later versions of the legend place Tom at the scene, a horny lad whose eyes were smashed from his head by scandalized residents. So in honor of the original Tom, and his crew of sordid successors, here are nine infamous peepers found in the pages of books or on the big screen.
Virile Lesbian Pulp Fiction
In 1950, Tereska Torrès wrote the hallmark of lesbian fiction, Women’s Barracks, spurring a hoard of men to ride lesbian-based paperbacks hard. Under female pseudonyms, men wrote scene upon gratuitous scene of woman-on-woman sex, normally adding a token male character for patriarchical effect. The peeping wasn’t in the depthless characters the men didn't bother developing, but rather in the writing of the books themselves.
Cartoonist Gabrielle Bell lays her life out on every page of her autobiography like a six-paned window. This girl sure whines, but it's a compelling whining, if such a thing exists. Bell is the voyeur of her own memoir, but the Toms’ of the story appeal to the mixed art community she’s part of who stand on rooftops watching couples having sex, experiencing varying levels of titillation in the process.
Though not quite as American-dreamy as Death of a Salesman, French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet's Le Voyeur tells the tale of Mathias, a watch seller, who may or may not have killed a young girl. Whether the novel unravels Mathias murderous ways or simply his murderous fantasties is the magic of the book.
Hilditch, the peeping Tom William Trevor weaves into his 1994 novel (and later in the 1999 movie starring Bob Hoskins), is a bone fide bastard who convinces a young girl to abort her baby before trying to kill her. Luckily, Hilditch ends up (spoiler alert)hanging from the kitchen roof, courtesy of the pair of tights tied around his neck.
Nicholson Baker has got sex down in his 1994 novel, in which his main character, Arno Strine, exploits his time-freezing abilities to immobilize women and undress them, before releasing them from their statue-like state to continue the peeping show in real time. In short, it's every voyeur's fantasy come to life, and every body-conscious person's (read: everybody) nightmare.
The Tin Drum
Lead character Oskar Matzerath uses his eardrum-shattering scream to renounce the aging process as he lies languishing in a mental asylum. He proceeds to live his life out as a messed-up Peter Pan who will kill to keep his most-prized toy—a tin drum. The voyeuristic knot in the tail comes in the form of Bruno Munsterberg, Oskar’s keeper, who watches Oskar’s murderous actions through a peephole.
Walter The Worm
Last and possibly least. Popping up like a cute but bad smell in Roger Hargreaves’ 49 book-strong Mr. Men and Little Miss series, Walter plays a diminutive by omnipresent role in most stories—a curious worm if ever there was one. This is one Peeping Tom who doesn't seem to overstay his welcome.