Thursday, January 2, 2014

Background Blogging: I Sense a Theme

Checking my stats after the long absence reveals a certain trend in my search hits.

"incestuous rape Flowers in the Attic":  This blog discusses the rape scene in Flowers in the Attic: Part Six, which is the secondmost viewed entry on this blog by several hundred hits, surpassed only by the entry on the Andrews estate's court case with the IRS.

"flowers in the attic rape": Yes, same section.

"flowers in the attic chris and cathy make love": Cathy and Chris don't make love in that book.  They do in later books, but in the first one, it's straight-up rape.

"flowers in the attic nude": There is a lot of casual nudity scattered around Flowers in the Attic, particularly in the section covered in Part Five.  There is no nudity in this blog, unless you count that one picture of Burt Reynolds.

"flowers in the attic sex excerpt":  The whole scene?  It's not very graphic compared to some of the scenes in say, Petals on the Wind, and it's rather short, and it's, well, a rape scene.  There's an earlier scene where Chris and Cathy kiss and make out a little that's probably more satisfying on the sensuality front.

"flowers in the attic porn":  I'm sure it exists, although a quick search reveals that, if it's out there, it's surprisingly difficult to locate amid the tons of cheeky articles that describe the book as "softcore porn for preteens."  Andrews' own sex scenes tend to be soft focus.  You'll have to go to the fanfiction for anything more graphic than that. 

At any rate, there's no porn in this blog, and there's no porn in Flowers in the Attic, except for maybe scenery porn.  Andrews does love to describe her sets.

In a bit of mood whiplash, however, I'd like to talk about some other search results that really bothered me for a number of reasons.

"was vc andrews raped/was vc andrews molested/vc andrews was an incest victim"

Serious talk about incest and some analysis of Andrews' oeuvre under the cut.

The official answer: I'm not in a position to answer that question and I don't think anyone still living is. 

My personal answer: No, I don't think so.  There's not a lot of information on Andrews' early life, but there is some, and all of the evidence seems to indicate that while there were a lot of physical and emotional issues in Andrews' life, incest was not one of them.  Given the themes of many of Andrews' novels, I can understand why it's tempting to ask the question and I can't judge anyone whose thoughts might go in that directlion.  God knows mine have gone there on a few occasions.

Authors whose works are deeply linked to certain themes or motifs are invariably assumed to have had personal experience with those issues.  But there is a separation between themes and actual events.  One of my conceits for analyzing Andrews' work is that she felt her physical handicap as a kind of imprisonment and produced novels in which young women are literally locked away from society and experience an arrested development that mirrors Andrews' own.  It's a far cry from that to the assumption that Andrews herself was locked in an attic.  Likewise, I tend to interpret the incestuous themes in Andrews' work as being symbolic of an absolute insurmountable barrier to true love, and a rather genius one in that even if the two lovers manage to get together, the obstacle to their love will always be there, generating tension.

V.C. Andrews used incest as shorthand for forbidden love.  She's not the first person to do this.  This is all throughout Gothic literature, and Andrews is, at heart, a writer of Gothic novels. 

Then, too, it was the 80s.  I cannot stress how vital this social environment could have been to these books.  Until the late 60s/early 1970s, incest was seen as a very rare and extreme phenomenon in Western societies.  During the late 70s, victims of abuse, of incest, of rape, came forward with increasing regularity to tell their stories in books and on the then-new and wildly popular "tabloid" talk shows.*  Incest was suddenly being talked about, and many people realized that they were not wrong for being deeply affected by childhood incidents they had dismissed--or had been told to dismiss--as harmless.

Into this sudden "epidemic" (that had actually been going on for literal centuries), Andrews dropped a bombshell of a book about incest.  You can talk about whether this was the best time to be writing what was essentially a pro-incest book, but you can't deny it was topical.  I believe that Andrews simply absorbed the then-current media, combined it with her own rich inheritance of gothic tropes, and the whole thing flowed out unconsciously, without regard for the implications.  And oh boy, the implications.

While there's still a case to be made that perhaps the sudden emergence of incest as a popular discussion triggered Andrews into writing about personal experience, I'm not going to make that case, mostly because Andrews never wrote about incest from the perspective of a victim.  In Andrews' novels, the characters are more often "victimized" by incest when it stands in the way of true love.  Cathy can't return Chris's love because he's her brother and society has some weird arbitrary unfair thing about that.  Heaven falls in love with Troy, only to learn that, just because Tony had to be her stupid father, Troy is her uncle and they can't be together.  Ruby's love for Paul is forbidden just because they happen to be related.  Andrews' first published short story, for a confessional mag, also has the lurid and amazing title "I SLEPT WITH MY UNCLE ON MY WEDDING NIGHT," which seems to prove that Andrews' fascination with this theme long predates her fame.

Ultimately, though, this is all conjecture via literary interpretation, which, while tantalizing, is ineffectual.  The two people who might be able to illuminate the question are Ann Patty, Andrews' former editor, who is working on publishing a memoir of her relationship with the author, and Andrews' surviving brother, who has never spoken publicly about his sister and in all likelihood never will.  This has less to do with any dark family secrets and more to do with Andrews being an extremely private person in life and his respecting her wishes after her death.

I really hope Patty publishes.  If she does so, she will instantly become the foremost, perhaps the only, Andrews biographer, and a lot of questions we've all had over the years may finally be answered, including this one.  I believe, and I hope, that the answer is in the negative.

ETA: A commenter asked for information as to what shows in particular were discussing incest in the late 1970s.  Long story short: after doing my homework, I can find no evidence to back up my statement that incest was being discussed in any significant way on any talk show until at least 1986.  I jumped the gun on that statement, and I'm legitimately sorry for any confusion.  This topic is very important to me and I do not want to spread any misinformation that might muddy the waters in any way.


  1. I found your blog by searching "Garden of Shadows page 90 and 70" cause those were the pages missing from my book :P

    1. Really? That's really strange. Is it missing twenty whole pages or just page 70 and page 90? On the plus side, I think Google Books can help you out.

      (I also have a mobi of GoS, if you have a Kindle or an e-reader.)

    2. UGH! That should be 69 to 70 *Faceplam* Just two pages and those pages are missing from Google Books too! I was listen to the Dollanganger series on audio to save time and heart ache (Hurricane Ike took our roof and most of my stuff. The books that survived are still packed up and I'm not sure if those books made it) For some reason the old recording was all jacked up when Olivia goes in the attic for the first time. So I read that chapter on Google BUT those two pages are not available. I just wanted to get ready for the movie, but now I hooked again :P I'm trying to find the Casteel series on audio cause I really enjoyed being able to "read" while doing house work!

    3. Good news on the missing pages: look up GoS on Amazon, Look Inside, then "search inside this book" for "69". Both your missing pages are available.

      It is really hard to find Andrews audiobooks. It looks as if lot of the earlier books (except for Flowers) were only ever put out in cassette form. I'm kind of hoping that the upcoming movie might bring about a resurgence of interest and make Audible or somebody fix that, but until then, the only place to find them is through torrenting services of dubious legality. They're mostly MP3s of the old cassette audiobooks, but they have the advantage of *existing* (and not being $500, as the current audio of Heaven is on Amazon). Good luck hunting!

    4. Yup, the Garden of Shadows audio was from a cassette & sounded like crap BUT thankfully I read those books so much as a teen, I found myself saying it along in my head! Does that make sense??

    5. Nah, I think that's normal. There's been more than a few times when I've written a quote on this blog, then checked the book and found it's spot-on correct.

  2. You stated: “During the late 70s, victims of abuse, of incest, of rape, came forward with increasing regularity to tell their stories in books and on the then-new and wildly popular "tabloid" talk shows.”

    I'm not remembering any “tabloid-type” talk shows that were on in the late 1970's. Would you name a few? (Donahue had a talk show, but I don't think he or anyone else would have considered it “tabloid,” at least not in those earlier years.) My memories of the first sensationalistic-type talk shows are from the mid to late eighties.

    The first time I remember incest being talked about publicly and on a national scale is with the premier of a made-for-t.v. movie called Something About Amelia, which aired in 1984.

    In other words, I'm not so sure that incest was so topical in the late seventies. However, I was still a child so it's possible that certain things were being talked about in the media that I was simply not aware of.

    1. Oops. I think you just outed me. I totally overstated the case on this one.

      I was born in the late 70s so my memory only starts around around the early 80s. Donahue's arguably the most longest-running and most famous tabloid talk show, and he first aired in 1970. There were shows before him that did indeed take on taboo topics, but I can find no evidence that child sexual abuse was among those topics (their topics tended to be more like "Homosexuality: Does It Exist?" and "Sex Reassignments: Some People Have Them." Man, we were so innocent before Geraldo).

      The national conversation about child abuse probably started in 1962, when for the first time federal funding was granted for Child Protective Services, marking the first time the government formally acknowledged that yes, this was a problem. Around the same time, child abuse was also an issue taken up by the women's rights movements and a number of the psychology journals, to the effect that by 1967, every state had enacted mandatory reporting laws. When the mandatory reporting came in, the number of reported cases spiked. I suppose that by the late 70s and especially the early-to-mid 80s, the culture was saturated by enough evidence that yes, this was happening, that abuse victims began to feel safe enough to give personal accounts--but most of these accounts were written, not broadcast.

      Long story short: while the topic of incest was definitely A Thing by the late 1970s, I can find no evidence to back up my statement that it was a matter for talk shows until at least 1986. I jumped the gun on that statement, and I'm legitimately sorry for any confusion.

      I'm going to append this reply to the post above to clear up any confusion in the future, as this is a subject that is very important to me and I don't want to be responsible for any kind of misinformation. Thanks for pointing this out, so I can fix it!

    2. Thanks for the very thorough reply.

      When I wrote my comment I hoped I wasn't coming across as too critical or nit-picky because I've very much been enjoying your blog.

      And I appreciate you taking the time to do some research to either dispute or confirm what I was saying – I'm not sure many people would have made the effort.

    3. No worries! You came across as curious, not critical. That was more me going "by gum, she's right" than anything else.