Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Possible Influence? The Works of Margery Lawrence

While working on the next entry for this blog, I came across this quote: "he forced upon me what should only be given in love."  This line regards Julian raping Cathy in the upcoming section and is--I thought--a classic example of Andrews' strangely coy descriptions of all things sexual.

Except I took a closer look, and it isn't.    

In fact, this line is a direct quote from a 1930 novel,  The Madonna of Seven Moons, by Margery Lawrence.  The only difference between Madonna and Petals is that the Madonna quote is in third person, while Petals is of course in first person.  Criterion describes the film adaptation of Madonna of Seven Moons as a "lurid tale of sex and psychosis" about a woman who was raped by gypsies.

The little I found on a quick research of Margery Lawrence is that she was a writer of occult mysteries in the 1940s.  She was very much into spiritualism and published a couple of books on the subject; she prefaced some of her (obviously fictional) Gothic works with a disclaimer stating that they were true stories with the names changed for privacy.  Cambridge University's Orlando index, which catalogs the works of female British authors, describes her work thusly:  Female sexuality looms large in her work and she often places female characters in impossible predicaments, often involving social convention, money, or class.

It's too little info to make a connection to Andrews, but I did find it interesting that the most outstanding conventions of this woman's work sound like things that could be said of Our Gal Ginny.  It sounds as if Lawrence could have very well be an influence on Andrews, and the direct quote strongly implies that Andrews read The Madonna of Seven Moons

I feel it necessary to point out that I do not imply Andrews may have plagiarized this other author.  One lifted line does not a plagiarist make.  Writers brains are like flypaper for unique phrases, which tend to get regurgitated without our realizing it.  Recently in my own fiction, I had to go back and edit the opening of a scene when I realized it too closely resembled the opening of a similar scene in a published novel.  I'm sure that if I had to bear down to catch a whole three paragraphs, a line or two here and there has probably slipped under my radar.  That's how we writers roll.

Margery Lawrence's works are sadly out-of-print, and the few copies available are antiques far out of my price range.  She seems to be well-known enough to have a Wikipedia article, but obscure enough that I can't find any scholarly papers on her work--and believe me, us desperate English majors will dig up writers you've never heard of in order to stand out in our field.  I do not have quite enough time to do any in-depth research investigating other potential links between the two authors. But if there's a thesis anywhere in this, I call dibs.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I Chase the Wild, Elusive Butterfly of Andrews: a short essay with no immediate application

There is an astonishingly tiny universe of biographical information about V.C. Andrews.  A significant proportion seems to be obfuscation disseminated by Andrews herself.  For example, she liked to understate her real age even after her biographical information became widely available.  As Andrews remained a very youthful-looking woman right up to the end of her life, she could get away with the ruse.  There are two apparent origins for this small vanity: one, as told by E.D. Huntley in V.C. Andrews: a Critical Companion* states that young Andrews may have lost some friends when they discovered she was nineteen, rather than sixteen, and that thereafter she always knocked a few years off her age.  The other is the notorious People interview that essentially ended all interviews with Andrews.  People reported Andrews' age accurately as fifty-six.  Andrews, furious, fired off a letter to a fan where she claimed to be "twenty years younger."

I don't call this lying. I call it a small, understandable vanity.  God knows she's not the only woman in the world who ever misrepresented her own age.  But even with limited insight into Andrews' psyche, one knows that she never did anything for just one reason.  Perhaps, feeling that she had lost out on her young adulthood through illness and immobility, she decided to celebrate a second youth once she had the money and power to do so.  Perhaps she wanted to be as young and glamorous as the women in her writings, either for emotional reasons or to sell her image to the public.  Perhaps she had been understating her age for so long that she really believed she was thirty-six.  Whatever her reasons, I personally find this a sweet, sympathetic fib, a deception that harmed no one. 

Knowing that the mutability of age that is a prominent theme in Andrews' work, it is hard not to read a direct parallel with the author's life.  Cathy sets twenty-six candles into Paul's birthday cake because that is the age she wishes him to be.  Vera in My Sweet Audrina changes her age to reflect however she's feeling that day, from sixteen to twenty to thirteen; Audrina herself has no ability to determine the ages of others and must rely on what they choose to tell her, with each individual choosing to remain the age they like best.  In Heaven, Kitty, a glamorous thirty-five, is obsessed with looking twenty.  And in arguably the most famous example, Heaven's grandmother Jillian literally suffers a complete mental breakdown when confronted with her true age, accompanied with the gripping image of her youth peeling from her face like the layers of an onion.  These examples are simply the ones that come to mind immediately; I can think of half a dozen others.

For all the ribbing I give to Andrews' stylistic quirks, the truth as I see it is that that she was a woman who wrote close to her own bones.  Because there is such an obvious personal component in her novels, coupled by the lack of concrete information with the woman herself, it is hard not to read too much into the text, if only to satisfy one's curiosity for a woman who deliberately made herself elusive.  In this way, Andrews begins to remind me of the shadowy, long-dead mother figures in both the Dollanganger and the Casteel series.  (The first) Corrine Foxworth and Leigh Van Voreen hover over both these sagas without physically manifesting**, influencing from beyond the grave the course of the heroines' lives.  Both families are haunted by the legacies of these beautiful, dead woman.  Somehow, I don't think this interpretation would have displeased Andrews herself.         

*Yes, there are critical guides to Andrews' work written by people who are not me.  

**Well, Leigh does but we'll get to that later.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Petals on the Wind, Part Six: In Which We are Going to Carry On as if Nothing Happen

After confronting Julian with her upcoming nuptials, Cathy goes back home for--oh look, another Christmas.  Considering that this book culminates in a dramatic Christmas Eve face-off, I'd like to say that making Christmas a constant touch-point is Andrews's way of foreshadowing, but I think she just really really enjoys gift-porn. 

"Thank God I had Paul to escape to," Cathy gushes.  "And I wasn't going to let Julian take the joy from this Christmas.  For this was the time Paul and I had agreed to announce our engagement, and the only person who could ruin my happiness now was Chris."  AND HE WILL.