Envy attack

Justine Toh explores envy - with reference to Elena Ferrante's novel My Brilliant Friend, the film Amadeus, and the story of Cain and Abel.

Instagram Envy exposes that gaping void in your soul you didn’t know was there until you realised you want—nay, crave—what others have posted.

There’s holiday envy, likes envy, I-just-published-a-book-envy. (Or is that just for writers like me?)

The complicated, even tortured, friendship between Lila and Lenù, in Elena Ferrante’s best-selling novel My Brilliant Friend, shows how envy stalks the closest relationships. Lenù’s chronic fear is that she’s just “Lila’s pale shadow”.

Then there’s Amadeus. An old film, sure, but an abiding monument to resentment. Bitter at Mozart’s superior musical gifts, the composer Salieri proceeds to methodically destroy Mozart’s life—all under the guise of concerned friendship.

We’ve all felt, and feel, envy. But who wants to admit it? It doesn’t feel good and it’s an ugly look on others.

Envy drives one of the oldest stories in The Book—as in, the Bible. Cain should keep and care for his brother Abel, yet out of resentment Cain kills him. It’s the first murder in the biblical story, and one that reveals the crux of all petty and profound envies: the wish for another’s annihilation, if what is theirs cannot be yours.

‘Amadeus’, many have recognised, is Cain and Abel set to heavenly music. Both Mozart (of the film) and Abel are the obvious victims of jealous violence. But, shockingly, something in Salieri and Cain’s villainy reveals them as victims, of a kind, as well.

“Resentment,” the cliché goes, “is taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

In a similar spirit, envy feasts on the achievements, talents, and traits of others. But the more I’ve eaten (so to speak) of another… the more envy has eaten away at me.