Willa, it’s funny that you view the Jenny-David relationship in An Education as unskeevy because she’s precocious . When I tried to understand why I wasn’t bothered by the 16-year-old dating a man twice her age, I came away with sort of the opposite answer.
This is one of those things I’ve tried to float in conversation before and it always ends with people silently avoiding eye contact (for the shy ones) or telling me I’m a perv (for the more outgoing), but I’ll try again: I kind of like the idea of the older, knowledgeable tutor type sleeping with his young, eager acolyte. When I learned in college about the relationships men like Socrates had with their attractive young male followers, I had a sense of-what? Nostalgia? It’s not envy; I certainly don’t want to sleep with every man who can teach me something. But I envy the relationship those Greeks had, back when terms like “statutory rape” didn’t exist. It strikes me as so perfectly symbiotic: The beautiful blank slate of a student takes knowledge from his wise and wizened mentor, and in exchange gives the joy of fresh enthusiasm. And sex. I won’t be so flip as to ask “What’s wrong with that?” (Obviously, there are many unpleasant examples of the Socrates figure taking advantage of someone vulnerable and non-consenting.) But I will say that, in its idealized form, doesn’t that sound kind of nice?