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.

1 comment:

  1. I like this.

    I can think of another reason why Andrews might have shaved years off. She was disabled. Now, I have no proof of this. I'm just thinking about how growing older makes me, a disabled woman, feel.

    It scares the shit out of me.

    Getting older when you're disabled almost certainly means losing your independence, your transportation, your ability to come and go as you choose. It may mean losing a house and going into low-income housing so that you can get Medicaid. It may mean grueling poverty. It almost certainly means becoming increasingly depersonalized; older people are not respected in America. To be old is to be vulnerable and unwanted and disregarded, an old fart who has nothing of importance to say to anyone.

    And, damn it, it's hard being in your fifties when you don't feel old. I have a hard time saying my real age. I feel about thirty-five.

    I don't blame her one bit for shaving off the years. If I thought I could get away with it, I would, too. (And I'd change my birthday while I was at it. I'm tired of seeing people wince when I say that my birthday is 9/11.)