You have to admire VC Andrews’s nerve she stomped on the rules of writing with the delicacy of a Mexican hat dance and still managed to churn out a fascinating best seller. For those of you who don’t know the story of Flowers in the Attic it’s about four siblings who are kept prisoner in the attic of their grandmother’s luxurious mansion , while their recently widowed mother attempts to get back into the good graces of her dying father, their grandfather. It’s all in the hope that before he dies he’ll write her back into his will – ending their poverty. Their existence must not be discovered by the father until he changes his mind. However a few days begins to turn into weeks and months and years. It’s a tale of , greed , torture , lust and secrets. In a nutshell it’s a trashy page-turner updating the mothy-gothics of the 60’s and 70’s.
The Gothic genre goes back centuries but the in the 70’s it had become less Dracula , Melmoth and Poe and more Bulwer-Lytton. Who if you’ll recall wrote those infamous first lines It was a dark and stormy night. In fact most of 70’s gothic promised it was a dark and stormy night ideas, with their eerie covers –
– but delivered only it was a dark and stormy night prose: flat and dated with nothing more spooky than bats in the heroines hair and one dimensional heroes , all in all they were a bit of a let down. V.C. Andrews was different. Donald Westlake once said – Gothic is a story about a girl who gets a house. True only , V.C. Andrews spins the genre on it’s ear by giving the villain the house.
….. But then again her formula seems more rooted in an off-branch genre stemming from the forties – what could loosely be described as Gothic-soap , though Flowers in the Attic at the time of release was pushed and packaged as Horror. Too true, it had horror elements but horror in the 80’s would never take so long to draw blood from it’s victims. Instead there is such a build up , requiring a deconstruction of the family, that one can recall mammoth melodramas that dedicated chapters to this same tear down quality of secrets unveiled while the hero or heroine grew to maturity. Think Peyton Place and it’s procurer Kings Row, both have gothic elements that ripped the facade off small towns. Peyton Place gave us incest , murder , a body buried in pig pen by a young brother and his teenage sister ( a.k.a the murderer. ) Illegitimacy and a mother who dotes on her son to the point of sexual jealousy ( in the movie sequel Return to Peyton Place – a mother hid repeatedly in the closet to listen to her son make love to his new bride. ) Kings Row despite being older seemed to one up Peyton Place. It offered a homosexual Lothario who had taken all the local boys on moonlight walks ( none of them seemed to mind ) , a sadistic town doctor who cuts the legs off a young man, he didn’t want his daughter to marry ( the act , after a train accident – was totally unnecessary ) , a man who keeps his daughter locked away from the world and forces her into an incestuous relationship which ultimately drives her mad ( in the movie the father locked her away because she had genetic insanity.) And the hero Parris Mitchell is plagued by memories of his first love whom he believes was beaten to death by her father, who spied them making love when they were only twelve.
V.C. Andrews however stripped away core elements of the Gothic soap , the elephantine cast for one , the outside world another , and confined her focus with claustrophobic precision while keeping in mind the truest ingredients – family secrets , red herrings – ( hinging everything on the act of the Grandfather dying but ignoring the possibility of whoops a codicil! ) , sadism , budding sexuality ( marred of course by the adult world ) , and danger. Check out these truly gothic lines ‘Was the house already doing ‘things’ to her – making her different?’ pg 206 , ‘Cathy on my word of honor we will escape this house!’ and ‘This house wasn’t going to do us in’… pg 329.
So what of her inspiration? Many might ask , and have on scathing reviews, who would write such a horrible novel! ( writing aside they meant content ) and I wondered myself – there are rumors of it being based on a true story non confirmed- But I recall, in my preteen obsession of devouring Hollywood bios, a novel that bore striking similarities. Flowers in the Attic was published in 1979 one year after another best seller swept the world that also featured an abusive mother – Mommie Dearest.
Years later the campy movie eclipsed it’s impact but it’s still an emotionally grueling book ( whether you can debate it’s accuracy or not ) about one of Hollywood’s foremost stars Joan Crawford depicted as an abusive tyrant to her four adopted children. I’m not saying V.C. Andrews read the book but certainly she could not have avoided it’s release. Every talk show , news cast , magazine article offered opinions and snippets from the pulpy tell-all. Note the similarities between Joan Crawford’s adopted children – Christina , Christopher , Cathy and Cindy. And V.C. Andrews fictional Dollanganger children who are called – Cathy , Christopher , Cory , Carrie. Each family even has a set of younger twins! – Cathy and Cindy and Cory and Carrie.
Though one could brush this off as mere coincidence – considering Flowers in the Attic is based in the fifties – rattling off sibling names by letter was a common trend but if you examine how the children were named you can see a psychological symbolism that V.C. Andrews also incorporated. First off Joan Crawford was born Lucille LeSueur. Christopher Dollanganger was born Christopher Foxworth. Both sets of children take on the stage(d) last names. The first baby , Joan names after herself – implications of ego – before renaming her Christina. Next she adopts a boy and calls him Phillip Terry after her then currant husband but when they split she renames the baby Christopher who ironically isn’t the first baby Christopher ( the first was taken away in a botched adoption. Shades of My Sweet Audrina? ) Each child seems to have been set on a road of thinly veiled expectations before Joan hesitantly gives them their own identity but even their last name is linked to the icon and not the woman.
Now look at the Dollangangers. Notice how Cathy whose birth name is Catherine echos her mothers name phonically Corrine / Catherine even if you pronounce it Cor-een – the spelling draws you back to a visual echo. Christopher sr and jr are as blatant as it gets. But look at Carrie – two r’s like Corrine ( which isn’t the proper spelling it’s actually spelled – Corinne with two n’s ) and Cory could be a nickname of Corrine. The parents have found a way to name all four children after themselves. What’s the result of this. Well it’s not a shocker that Christina turned out to be just as stubborn as her mother and tried a career in acting which was fraught with problems – some say ego others say she couldn’t shake off the shadow of her mother, either way she’s wasn’t entirely her own person. Neither are the Dollangangers who are doomed to enact and reenact their parents tragic mistakes. Here’s another name tidbit – V.C. Andrews is actually – Cleo Virginia Andrews – the C.V. was inverted and added to blur her gender. Head mama has a C name! And in the sequel Petals on the Wind –
when Cathy confronts her momma – finally! – she sarcastically calls her dearest Momma several times!
There are no real scenes in Mommie Dearest that could’ve guided the direction of Flowers in the Attic just an overall tone , and several ideas – one was that Christina was starved for three days in a showdown with her mother over whether or not she would eat her supper, which included rare meat oozing blood. The plate was continuously returned to the fridge and brought back to her cold and congealed for the following breakfast , lunch and dinner, the only new addition to the meal was a glass of milk which she wasn’t allowed to drink until after she ate. Mommie, due to scrutiny, caved first. This food idea is relevant to FITA ( Flowers in the Attic ) defining it’s overall theme of horror ( starvation / poisoning/ control ) verified down to the symbolic pickiness of Carrie’s character who declares We ( as in her and her brother ) don’t like Cold food! The week long starvation by the grandmother ends as abruptly as Christina’s ordeal with no explanation ( perhaps just to reinforce – Grandmother is no killer. )
Clothing is made a big to-do in Flowers in the Attic. The only joy the Dollangangers get is from the gifts that Momma brings. In Mommie Dearest black and white photos show Christina as an adorable youngster, dutifully dressed in yards of ruffles , lace and velvet, very Shirley Temple sweet. In the tell-all however Christina notes that her mother is reluctant to abandon this dress up and keeps purchasing dresses that are styled too young or are extremely unflattering. Compare this with the fact that Cathy is denied a bra. Momma keeps promising but never fulfills it. To acknowledge Cathy’s budding curves would be a twofold dilemma, first she would have to recognize she is no longer dealing with children , next she’d have to admit Cathy is becoming a rival for her hold over Christopher, the only one who keeps her dire plot on track. Both mothers are guilty of implied jealousy – ditch from mind the rest of the Dollangangers – Cathy herself is put in the ivory tower so that the evil queen can peer into her mirror and get the answer she wants – thou art the fairest one of all , she can snare the handsome prince , gain the kingdom and the wealth that accompanies it because if Cathy was released there is a hint that all this would crumble – in a mere moment Cathy’s youthful innocence catches the attention of Corrine’s new young husband Bart.
Cathy and Christopher a.k.a. – Hansel and Gretel?
This brings us to the fairy tale theory – what if Flowers in the attic is nothing more than a bloated version of Hansel and Gretel? A view first exposed by E.D. Huntley in V.C. Andrews a Critical Companion. Having done a little research on fairy tales I was surprised to discover that their roots bare little resemblance to the beloved version we’ve grown to love. The brothers Grimm brought in their own cultural style – Hansel and Gretel might appear to be extraordinarily exotic names but they are the equivalent of John and Jane but to us they are synonymous with the tale – still those fated children abandoned in the woods. The structure of the house was changed from bread to gingerbread which on the surface seems insignificant but when you recall that the bulk of the story is about getting enough bread , the house turns from life sustaining to a symbol of luscious luxury.
Lets start to compare. In the tale of Hansel and Gretel we are quickly introduced to the dysfunctional family – a father who is a wood cutter ( considered a poor working class profession at the time ) and a stepmother who suggests they ditch his children in the forest when it becomes apparent they cannot feed everyone sufficiently. Why he agrees to this is anyone’s guess but a film version from Shelley Duvall’s fairy Tale theater hinted, by casting the stepmother as Joan Collins and spicy dialogue, that the husband was swayed by sexual promises. Only one word in the Grimm’s version bellies this implication. The stepmother reasserts not only her position but his to her, by using the word husband to remind him – his duty belongs to her not his children. In FITA ( Flowers in the attic ) the tone is different – the family is a magical unit whose only cracks of unease stem from the jealousy Cathy feels at the birth of her twin siblings and a general queenship quality her mother exudes ( later at Foxworth Hall the children reserve her a chair and call it her throne – she still reigns ) reinforced by the fact that they ( the children ) never felt welcome in Momma’s pastel perfect living room. ( Only the jealousy is resolved when her father promises to love her a little more than anyone else. The other can’t be for sake of plot. ) This state of bliss is strengthened by the fact that their haven is called Gladstone. The moment Christopher sr dies, the characters are thrown into turmoil and suddenly children’s cries of hunger are ignored. Both fathers have been dismissed one permanently one emotionally – either way they are ineffectual to the events about to take place.
In Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment – his fairy tale analysis of Hansel and Gretel exposed the children of having oral anxieties about being rejected for their greedy demands. And by longing to return to Mother’s breast find themselves dreamlike gorging at the witches gingerbread house which could symbolize the body of their mother. This of course is ultimately destructive , and Hansel and Gretel can only free themselves from their gluttony by taming their appetites and defeating the witch – notice how each one plays a significant part – neither one is a complete rescuer. Once this is done they are then able to discover riches and return home.
If we scrape off the oral fixation – for now ( I could make cracks about Christopher never wanting to escape his Momma’s bosom but I’ll refrain ) – and boil it down to Hansel and Gretel’s needs vs. Step mother’s needs with an understanding that the Stepmother has made hers more significant. Considering a small child even a starving one would eat less than a grown up , the step mother seems unwilling to cut her portions. In Flowers in the Attic – Mother’s initial greed – living above their needs, putting them in debt, allowing her husband to indulge her every whim, has brought them to a place of desperation – even more desperate than the woodcutters. Hansel’s father can cut wood only no one is buying it due to a famine – they still have a roof over their head and clothes to wear and beds to lie in. The Dollangangers are suddenly faced with repossession right down to the toys in the children’s bedroom. The mother admits a feebleness early on ‘I don’t have the skills to earn an adequate salary to support four children and myself as well’ pg 32. She is seen as a self focused person – when Daddy comes home she spends a day preparing for his return – not cooking or anything so domestic as that – the overhaul is merely for the sensual delights of her body. Issues of the children’s neglect especially hunger are made apparent from the get-go long before they reach Foxworth Manor ( their gingerbread house .) At the birthday party Mother’s worry makes her tune out the twins cries for hunger , it’s only sensible Cathy that reminds her. Later on she is distracted by her Mother’s reply to her letters and snaps “Time enough for dinner later.” To drive her selfishness home – Momma asks the children to pack their belongs into two suitcases – four children with two suitcases split between them. While Momma herself takes the other two for her own things. This is rather symbolic of perhaps the unfair portioning that Hansel and Gretel might’ve felt when Stepmother and Father took bigger chunks of bread. Did they need more or take more? Stepmother denying her children’s portion to broaden her own. When Momma says support four children and herself – is she thinking in terms of their needs or her wants?
When father has no voice or gives no voice the children feel intimidated by mother – in FITA this is made crystal clear- ‘Momma was acting so strangely’ and ‘We were already intimidated enough in a fatherless home’ pg 25. But Father somehow manages to escape judgment for the predicament he helped to bring about. He is built into a figure of untouchable , unshakable , unimpeachable sainthood. When one of the toys he was bringing home, for Carrie the day he died, is discovered – a plush purple pony with a red saddle – those royal colors are turned into his trademarks signaling vistas of dreamlands – 302-303 , a crimson never-never land…a purple sky full of enchantment and love and at the end as they wait to escape by bus – watch the sky above turn a promising lavender-rose. Contrast that with the pastel – wishy-washy colors of Momma – that turn into the mimicking grey and black symbols linking her to the Grandmother – clearly funeral colors. The father in Hansel and Gretel gets off scot-free like Christopher sr. and his treachery is worse in the Grimm’s version having anchored a stick to repeatedly whack a tree-trunk so that the children will be secure in thinking he is nearby chopping wood. But all is forgiven when they return home with riches – just as Christopher and Cathy never slur their father’s name.
While Hansel and Gretel repeatedly deny the situation they’re in by trying to return to a home that cannot sustain their needs , Christopher like Hansel takes the initiative to talk Momma out of leaving the now barren Gladstone. Which of course doesn’t work. Rather than resort to the Hansel and Gretel fate of twice attempting to return home – V.C. Andrews takes us straight to the witches house , Foxworth Hall.( Notice their real last name, also the name of the house, is Foxworth – a name the children never accept – fox’s are symbolic of being con artists. Worthy con-artist – which is a little like a gingerbread house containing an orgress witch. Sweet Poison.)
In a chapter entitled The Road to Riches Momma leads her children through the dark woods at night same as Hansel and Gretel’s folks – the only difference being that Hansel and Gretel were well aware of their parents plot while Cathy and Chris only had hints – “Lord knows, they better walk outside while they can.”pg 40. Corrine mutters after she orders the twins to wake up and walk. In Hansel and Gretel the gingerbread house takes on a dreamlike quality of a self destructive desire – the very thing they want – a home with provision , would be quickly destroyed if their greed went unchecked. The children arrive at Foxworth manor with great expectations ‘my parents are….filthy, unbelievably , sinfully rich.’ Corrine boasts ‘I will soon be the heiress to a fortune beyond belief, and through me every dream you’ve ever had will come true.’ and willingly enter the witches/ grandmothers gingerbread house of false promises.
Notice how both witches have the appearance of being a grandmother – grandmother’s are supposed to be the most protective , spoiling and nurturing and for a moment in Hansel and Gretel she is just that , taking them in, despite them nearly devouring her house, feeding them and
tucking them into her bed. FITA doesn’t have these moments, not quite that is, because the grandmother and mother serve as a kind of same person unit, split temporarily by their opposing contrasts. Grandmother as witch tries to lay down the law and coop them up in one room. Mother pleads the case of allowing them a luxurious wing. Grandmother wins. (but it’s a moot argument – both agree to the same thing – imprisonment for the children. ) The first night for them wavers as Christopher poses the idea – she can’t possibly be as mean as she seems and even the Grandmother is promising them treats -cake and ice cream if they’re good but reneges the deal. The next morning, like Hansel grabbed and hauled off to a cage with a lattice window, the children are given a set of impossible rules one of which if broken , the punishment promised would be to have the skin peeled from their backs. Now they know. Intriguingly, though they eldest are chilled by this, their faith lay not in keeping the rules – but in the fact that Mother wouldn’t allow the Grandmother to enforce them.
Biblical distortions – 21 commandments and counting
Before each tale goes their separate ways – because while Hansel and Gretel zips through 12 and half pages of story , FITA clocks out at four hundred and eleven pages ( and it only took them 43 to get to the house ) – there is an expectant punishment theme in this layover as the children wait to discover the true nature of grandma. When a child listening to the tale of Hansel and Gretel reaches the point where they are tucked into bed, this child is actually awaiting the children’s punishment – after all they were destructive to the witches home before they knew she was a witch and lied. Even the gorging of the sweets has an element to it – note they were given supper afterwards – and what child hasn’t heard the same old spiel of no-sweets before dinner you’ll spoil your appetite. So far the ‘grandmother’ has been too good to be true. No matter what a child thinks of Hansel and Gretel there is a sense of executing justice in all of us. Part of it is due to the fact that most religion has stressed the payment of sin – you can’t escape your bad deeds , karma will get you, but even worldly justice , a family unit is deemed unfair if the proper party isn’t incarcerated or punished. New Testament thinking , Christ’s forgiveness of sin, even pardons becomes a battle. Does he forgive all sins , does that mean forgive and forget? People add to and take away from the actual Greek , watering down the freedom ( not weakness ) this entailed and trap themselves back into the cycle of guilt , ultimately distorting the truth and it’s true symbolism. Examine Hansel and Gretel who have to prove themselves worthy of escaping their fate ( curb your gluttonous appetite ) as do the Dollangangers ( are we really the devil’s issue? But we’re so perfect , talented , patient and understanding ).V.C. Andrews bogs herself down in religious cliches. But she attempts for truth in the most suspect of characters – ‘to believe in God is a good thing, a right thing. But when you reinforce your belief with words you take from the old testament , that you seek out and interpret in the ways that suit your needs best , that is hypocrisy and that is what my parents do.’- Corrine pg 95 – and ironically it’s what Corrine does! but since every character in this tale is made to mirror sins , V.C. Andrews, herself, has sabotaged her own candor and become the hypocrite wielding the characters like helpless marionettes and reinforcing notions of cursed bloodlines – the everyone must pay motto.
The one who dishes out the rules/commandments ( the most blatant of all biblical symbols) is more devil than ‘god’ but she reigns with only fairy tale analogy- ogre/witch-to unmask her. Notice that most of the rules given to the children are self sabotaging because of their confined state and they also come with a warning of a blood payment/punishment if broken.
Though there is some veracity in thinking God had designed sets of rules which we couldn’t begin to obey they were only given to show we could not earn ( or in a sense buy – ) his favor/salvation ( – our way into Heaven ) , it had to be freely given in order for us to understand we are truly loved by Him. Religious cliches however ignore the basics : the commandments were asked for by His people and it was not God’s will – Breaking them was not just a physical act but a heart action – once you dwelt on it you’d done it and the big one – Jesus one act – death & resurrection reversed the curse/fall and reinstated Adam/Eve= Mankind back to Eden.( John 19:30 Jesus – It is finished. ) Forgiven once / forgiven always. No illness – ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.’ Rather than embrace this many writers ( and people ) keep rooting up scriptures out of context to show God is still after them , even their salvation is in danger and that some sin is beyond forgiveness. The Dollangangers seem to be victims of this thinking because they have sinned and are made to pay the price – Momma tells the children‘Keep this always in your minds: if your Grandfather learns too soon you are up here, then he will throw all of you out without one red penny – after he has severely punished you for being alive’ pg 46 – they are viewed in Old Testament manor as the Devil’s issue – cursed from birth. Their fate of repeating their parents sins is written in the stars – ‘…the stars seemed to flash Morse code…fate accomplished.’pg358. leaving nothing apparently to choice. ‘Christopher Doll I appoint you the father’ Cathy pg 56 to which Christopher calls her wife – more telling than mother. ( Remember their parents are guilty of incest.)
Sometimes the reader gets lucky and writers can weave in a symbol not realizing that it could unravel some of their more potent cliches – and the religious ones are most maddeningly muddled. Check it out -[ If Corrine is to be seen as Madonna-like, a god figure to the children ( she is called Madonna-like once – Christopher’s goddess several times) – she becomes a god of myth – not Biblical but a murderer sacrificing her children for her greed. Her attempts at recreating an Eden are a joke – paper flowers to replace real ones , vitamin c to replace sunshine? And if we consider the Grandmother as god-like –heartless , judgmental , punishing -though not the actual destroyer of the children to be – she too becomes a fruitless symbol because she is motivated by hatred deeming that she will ‘dole out food , drink and shelter but never kindness or love. It’s impossible to feel anything but revulsion for what is not wholesome.’ pg 92. Even as an ‘Old Testament god’ she falls short. And when she tips her heartless scale being the first one to give the children a pot of flowers which are yellow – their symbolic color of hope – what are we ultimately to make of this? – both sabotage not only their ‘god’ symbol but cloud their villainy and we are left with the trickle of Christopher sr. who with his royal colors assumes a sort of ‘sainted’ imagery especially when Cathy feels her father would want her to hold back from belting Momma who is watching Cory rasp his last poison-wracked breath. pg 367. However if he is to be our ‘righteous’ symbol , he, if viewed through Christopher falls as short as the others – all are lead by personal demons – Momma- greed , Grandmother -jealousy , Christopher sr/jr blind-lust. ] A hidden symbol exposes the Grandmothers weakness not only in her personal life but spiritual. Though one could call the Grandmother a religious fanatic -she could never be called a Christian ( she is still operating on merit/commandments ) – because even symbolically she rejects forgiveness – her fear ( an incident brought on by her parents – implications – taught ) blocks her from entering the children’s attic/garden/Eden. And when Cathy attempts to hand their Christmas present to her – a picture symbolizing a garden complete with butterflies ( renewal/rebirth/resurrection ) she rejects it as well. Cathy though constantly up and down about God admits that even after destroying the picture kept the butterflies all her life. It’s not surprising that the Grandmother in Cathy’s dream is depicted as a caterpillar or that Momma is turned into a butterfly that becomes malevolent because it exposes the fact that all religious symbols in FITA are corrupted by a failure to recognize the basics.
If Mother is at first a symbol of Christian forgiveness – she deems the children to be perfect , wholesome , free from shame and guilt ‘you are wholesome and godly in every way possible’ pg104 – since we know the part mother plays in the ending her ‘truths’ become clouded. The Grandmother ‘justifying’ hatred runs so deep she can’t even look at Christopher who reminds her of her husband’s young brother , Christopher sr. but it too could be clouded -I have often felt their was lust behind this – one of her rules was not to look at members of the opposite sex – and Christopher has been revealed as being beautiful a twin not only to his father but to his grandfather. Notice there is nothing the children can do to reverse their exiled sin state – nothing at all – there is no mercy not with seemingly forgiving Momma or unforgiving Grandmother. Grandmother is pictured an old testament vengeful ‘god’ – ‘You know she spies on us , just hoping to catch us doing something!’ Christopher pg 239 – and at one point the children feel she can see them all the time. She even brings up sins of which Cathy is ignorant of ( Condemnation draws sin , forgiveness draws love ) and keeps a willow whip handy eagerly anticipating the children’s errors. She says ‘Neither your grandfather nor myself can allow ourselves to feel anything for what is not wholesome.’ Ironically remember she can not enter the attic which is symbolic of a children’s off limits garden ( gardens – usually seen as a biblical symbol – Eden – and in children’s literature a fairy-state off-limits to adults ) – only serpent/sly Mother can enter. But Mother is a compromise a symbol for majority persuasion when she turns into the butterfly in Cathy’s dream pg 243 from her mother’s caterpillar – it’s a vulgar transmogrification into evil. A fallen angel whose traded wings for horns.
Think of Mae West whose sexual opulence Momma often emulates ( caribou feathers , mauve and pink bedroom , the swan bed ) – is she beautiful butterfly or more likely black widow?
‘Sometimes when you begin to play a role you.. become it ( does she mean wonderful wife and mother/ or dutiful daughter? Was everything a role to Corrine? )’ and ‘I’m telling you this… while I’m still myself. ( still In the role of mourning wife/ wonderful mother? )’ pg 100-101 – she allows her views on God to be manipulated to suit her situation , needs and acceptance ( erroneous views have been passed down from generation to generation from Mother to Daughter without anyone investigating their merits ) I give up so easily on things 135pg- she has become the hypocrite she accused her parents of being just as Cathy and Chris have become participants in incest mirroring mama and papa – no one escapes payment/judgment – by the end of the book no matter if she believes her children to be innocent they are better off to have never been born – ( now she is mirroring her mother and father.) This is pretty heavy stuff but an important element of FITA to dissect. There were a lot of religious themes going on in the 70’s most of them pulpy and overblown – Carrie by Stephen King , The Exorcist by William Blatty and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby so it’s not surprising that the Grandmother has gone the fire and brimstone route what is surprising is that she isn’t the ultimate villain of the story!
Fairy tale imagery but no beast slain.
In Hansel and Gretel having discovered their benefactor to be ultimately a witch they have set their hearts on avoiding their fate ( being eaten ) and to escape. In Flowers in the Attic – things are more complicated. Assuming they are under the shaky protection of their mother ( which they have to question as a valid assumption when they’ve seen she has been whipped and her threat to the Grandmother – ‘If you are cruel to my children I’ll take them out of this house tonight’ – is a bluff called when Grandmother tells her to ‘ take them away now…Do you think I care?’ pg 90) They are in no hurry. Trust holds them prisoner. They trust their Mother who has been exposed as having lied to them repeatedly even admitting – ‘Cathy, Christopher….I haven’t been completely honest with you’ pg. 123. ( early examples – Her false name Mrs. Patterson on the train. A night turns into weeks. The fact that their father is also their great-uncle.Which makes them not just siblings but cousins. ) Though she can display the countenance of a Madonna , and a fairy tale princess pg 124 she is inwardly as corruptible as the Grandmother is evil. The children lured by the candy-promise of ultimate fulfillment / ultimate wealth make the gingerbread house their home unaware of the witch’s ( which witch’s ?) plans.
While the fairy tale dealt with issues of time in a suspenseful manner – can they escape before the witch eats them? – V.C. Andrews goes for the ultimate horror (which at times bores readers) of extended time – like a thumb-twiddling prison stretch. Hansel and Gretel spend weeks awaiting their fate – summed up in a few tight sentences , The Dollangangers spend years, over numerous pages and chapters and not much happens – the real horror is the waiting. Notice how V.C. has flopped their fate – Hansel waited to be eaten – while Cathy was being destroyed by what she ate. But Cathy does have a horror of being devoured . ‘The dry branches of the trees scrapped the house at night and woke me up , making me suck in my breath , waiting, waiting, waiting for some horror to come in and eat me up.’ pg. 162.
Fairy Tale suggestions and words are meticulously woven in like metallic threads sparkling out at the reader , every ten pages or so. Even Momma’s incestuous romance with her half uncle, punctuated by the reigning image of a garden swing pg 99 ( which brings to mind J.H. Fragonard’s 1767 opulent vision of love and sex plainly called the Swing – one of the first paintings to kick off the rococo movement ) –
is boiled down by Cathy as fairy tales can come true! Even their personas are rooted in fairy tale figures – Momma is compared to a fairy tale princess pg. 12 and Grandmother frequently to a witch, even an ogre. Christopher to Prince Valiant , and Cathy to Princess Aurora and Rapunzel. Flowery talk of enchanted gardens, castle keeps , gallant knights , and Sleeping Beauty kisses keep the children hoping for a happily-ever-after rescue. Cathy can only look back and admit – ‘I didn’t know at that time that I’d come to live in what was virtually a dark castle, ruled over by a witch and an ogre. I didn’t guess that some modern day wizards could weave money to create a spell’ -Pg 80.
It takes them a long , long, time before they realize they will have to take the initiative to save themselves despite Cathy’s contrariwise character who ultimately is constructed as being gifted with the ability to see the world’s tarnish ( a.k.a reality pg. 41) but if this is true how is it that Cathy, whose eyes lead us through this tale, is firmly rooted in a fantasyland of myth and magic and folklore. This brings about a type of character failure – Cathy’s brains as well as Christopher’s are sacrificed for the sake of plot , stalling their Hansel and Gretel escape till one of their ‘kind’ – Cory succumbs. It’s the new era of horror – not everyone gets out alive.
Oddly enough the tale of Hansel and Gretel is actually envisioned as a straight forward symbol within Flowers in the Attic on pg 242. clashing against a vision on 328pg as Cathy notes that ‘our long days of traveling through a deep dark forest were almost over.’ Hinting that they never reached the witches cottage but stayed in a restless limbo of abandonment – further enhanced by the fact that they subsisted on picnic junk. The Dollangangers were forever picnic-ing.
Before their week long starvation Cathy dreams of coming upon a candy-laden cottage. Notice the difference between the two – Hansel and Gretel come to the Gingerbread house while starving – ( though prior to being lead into the woods were actually on the brink, reinforcing that both characters had been hungry for quite some time.) Cathy was not. If the dream is to reveal anything in it’s position -( provoked when Cathy worries the grandmother will make good ,her promise of withholding food ) – note V.C. Andrews loves to play with perspective; dreams within nightmare situations , doubles and twins , dollhouses owned by Dollangangers – and keeping this in mind – if we cast the front of the book as pure Hansel and Gretel – debt , mother abandons them at the gingerbread house, than what do we make of the dream now being that the children aren’t truly hungry yet , not like Hansel and Gretel – possibly that Cathy finds her mothers needs absurdly self-indulgent rather like the treats she envisions on her Gingerbread house – she didn’t need them only wanted them. Ice cream was a treat that Christopher Sr. was bringing home the night he died. Being lead to the gingerbread house then becomes an act, not of necessity, as we are lead to believe, but of desire/lust. Most of the items on the gingerbread house are luxuries the children have been denied for fear of cavities ( inconvenient! Ruinous ) -ice cream shrubs – turn to soup , hard candy pathways – makes big black holes in teeth. As inconvenient and ruinous a desire as Momma’s ill gotten gains. The appearance of the Maple sugar candy ( sweetest of all sweets? ) on pg 300 is no longer a forbidden treat to savor ( or an inconvenience ) it’s become even more dangerous because of it’s acceptance. Rather like the sickening sensation Hansel and Gretel must have felt – living in a house of sweets that was only constructed , seducing their salivary glands, to quicken their demise. Cavities no longer held any sway over Momma because the health of her children had become of no importance. The sign of sweets/luxury – quickened their death.
The comeuppance of the witch in Hansel and Gretel outshines the pallid ending of Flowers in the Attic. While Hansel and Gretel work together to seek out the witch’s weaknesses and use them to their advantage, they must also take a separate bow having used their own ingenuity to defeat the witch. She is tricked by a bone into thinking Hansel isn’t getting any plumper ( she has bad eye sight ) and by Gretel – Show me how to climb into the oven ( manipulating the witches arrogance )- who manages to push her in. Their growth is shown especially when Gretel won’t allow the duck to carry both her and Hansel across a river on their way home ( they’re too heavy despite Hansel telling her to climb on ) instead she asks the duck to come back for her separately. They’ve come full circle from Hansel having dominantly taken the role of Gretel’s protector ( usually pictured by him tugging her hand ) to Gretel coming into her own. By the end of FITA – Cathy and Chris are still exemplifying this vision/lack of growth – ( hand holding ) pg325. Though Cathy and Christopher find several weak spots in their witch ( Corrine ) – she is careless with her keys, careless with her money ,each advantage they’ve gained triggers monumental set backs – one even provokes an incident that will trigger their moment of sin and more feet dragging – Christopher laughs what’s the hurry? pg334.
This lackadaisical thinking permeates the book never allowing the characters a strong showdown between either mother or grandmother and ultimately robs us , the readers, of that true fairy tale quality of the beast slain. ( probably because V.C. was cooking up a sequel when she penned the ending. In Petals in the Wind- Cathy whipped the Grandmother now crippled, seduced Momma’s husband Bart and triggered her breakdown when Christopher jr. appeared and she thought he was the ghost of Christopher sr. Not too shabby but it almost felt – too little too late. ) Ironically it’s the shoddy quick-paced movie that offers a truly gothic twist with Momma half falling , half pushed off the balcony by Cathy pursing her with the poisoned cookie ( in the movie it was cookies not donuts ) and she winds up hanging by her wedding veil through a lattice patio.
Interesting that theme of lattice work – Hansel trapped in a lattice cage , Cathy and Chris peering through the lattice gate at the glittering Christmas party – Momma hanging on her own cage.
Unfortunately in FITA the book, both the grandmother and mother escape unpunished , unscathed, ( it’s a fairy tale no-no to leave the beast unslain ) – in fact mother is off gallivanting on a trip – spending the riches that rightly belong to Hansel and Gretel! But then again the book had spent so much time building riches into a spell synonymous with greed that Cathy and Christopher had to escape, somewhat empty handed in order to keep the purity of their motto- that love makes the world go round ( exemplified in Petals in the Wind when Cathy , Christopher and Carrie are taken in by a wealthy doctor who becomes a benevolent benefactor. )
Hansel and Gretel – return home with their rightful bags of riches –
Barbie in the attic – doll doppelgangers = dollangangers
‘ He and I looked like doll parents, younger editions of mommy and daddy.’ pg 160
The weakness of the characters actually unearthed a shockingly bizarre idea – what if the story is a mere surreal tale of dolls in a dollhouse being manipulated by their ‘Momma’ the doll owner? I told you it was bizarre but I’ll plead my case by presenting some interesting evidence. First off the tale is seeped in fairy tale/myth/folklore imagery – even in the small things -Christopher has a kind of Zeus complex – Zeus is you’ll recall was a bit of a rogue ( Christopher expresses an urge to be a playboy pg77 ) and seduced women, one of which was Leda who took the shape of a swan to conceal her involvement. A telling image considering Momma is linked to a Swan bed! ( which is a non-too blatant symbol of her sexuality ) Zeus was also called father by the lesser gods even the ones he hadn’t fathered – Cory and Carrie call Christopher father/ daddy. He also married his sister Hera- a fate that doesn’t escape Cathy and Christopher who wind up living common law by the end of the series.
Dolls are mentioned right from the get go – even there identity is seeped in doll imagery – Dollanganger – is often chopped down by the characters in a teasing way – Cathy calls Christopher , Christopher Doll ( Ken-doll.) Their neighbors in Gladstone also refer to the family as the Dresden dolls which was a type of doll that at the time of the story – 1950’s had become discontinued , and by the books publishing a rare collectors item. Dresden Germany had put out the porcelain dolls which were famed for their uncommon beauty , dressed in the best velvets , and lace combined with their sweet smile and ringlets they were a Victorian icon. But in 1945 , during World War two the factory that made them was bombed out and burned beyond repair. So to be called a Dresden doll serves a dual imagery – beauty of course but also survivors. In order to make the Doll theory work however you have to recognize what’s really going on between the lines – I have to introduce the double/ Doppelganger theme.
If you’ll notice Dollanganger bears an uncommon similarity to Doppelganger – which is a ghostly double of a living person. The word is German and means double walker. Flowers in the Attic is full of double walkers. Cory and Carrie aren’t the only twins!
First off lets examine the family – Christopher sr. is of course a not so veiled double for Chris. But the Grandfather is also revealed as a double for Christopher sr. when Cathy notices, in her visit to the trophy room, the uncanny likeness between their looks pg 334. Doppelgangers typically can be the standard one good one evil variety , but the book is too complicated for that. In fact it’s rather too complicated for the doppelganger ( double ) imagery alone – it’s as if a character was posed between two mirrors and looking on saw how his reflection, his doubles, went on and on reaching to infinity. Not doubles, but triples and so on. That is how the doppelgangers/ Dollangangers appear. This idea actually makes a brief appearance at the Christmas party when Cathy notes how the mirrors reflected the dancers and you could hardly make out the image from reality. Pg 194. Though the Grandfather might be seen as evil – a hunter , his twin Christopher sr is angelically good. And his twin Chris is good and Chris’s twin Cory is good!
The Grandmother’s twin is Momma and both are viewed as evil – one for ambition/covetousness one for jealousy ( we are told Grandmother was fascinated by Cathy’s hair , targets it to be cut off , and we later learn Grandmother has no hair only wisps under her wig.) Cathy appears at first , to be above this twin-dom but her jealousy pulls her back into it. She is as justifying in her need to get revenge on Momma as Momma is to acquire more things ( this isn’t made as clear until Petals in the Wind but there is enough meat here to justify a comparison – she even considers seducing Christopher to avenge her mother pg.306 ) As for Carrie she is an echo of these women for the simple fact that she is the voice that must be heard. Like Momma with her lies, or Cathy directing the story – and very much the Grandmother speaking while the Grandfather ( Cory ) cannot/ won’t.
The doppelganger theme also represents a pair up rather like a marriage between the characters – Momma & Daddy not just married but linked by blood , Cory and Carrie – we don’t like this or that – their speech implies a oneness – they shared a womb , Cathy and Chris – brother and sister – mock parents. But watch what happens when we view their opposition – Grandfather and Grandmother are always separated and we feel this disconnect emanating from them – him an invalid – never there , her appearing –and never mentioning him and of all the relationships in the book theirs is the purest – for they are not blood kin!
For further examination let’s start with the boys – All the men suffer from sugar-daddy complexes boarding none-too subtly on incest. Typically more avuncular in their stance than fathers ( with some exceptions) – note that Daddy’s work takes him away and when he reappears it’s with gifts – rather like a visiting uncle. Even his relationship to Momma casts him forever in the role of sexy Uncle. The Grandfather is revealed in twisting terms as both harsh but also indulgent as long as Corrine does what she’s told. The end of his relationship with her smacks of the ole-wealthy-invalid-uncle cliche making her hop to earn her inheritance. Her sin seemed not so much in the taboo of Christopher as it was in the act of sex itself and abandonment – she ditched daddy for a youthful lover ( but in movieland – men were often thrown over for their brothers causing epic rifts) – and all sex for Corrine is deemed forbidden- remember her story of being beat for undressing a male doll ?or the fact that the Grandfathers will declares Corrine is to bare no children from her new marriage. Children is the blatant result of sex. A childless marriage has the appearance ,even if symbolically, of chastity. The Grandfather’s codicil seems like the revenge of a jealous husband. Even the Grandfather’s pop , Garland, dabbled in some sugar-daddy nonsense – marrying a too young bride Alicia who gives birth to Christopher sr. who of course kicks the hornets nest.
Christopher jr. is a vague figure a direct mirror to his father in name and in type. The duped male. The kicked dog. The father though, isn’t seen as a chump in so many words , but he is in a way – for it’s he who indulged Momma’s ‘needs.’ Christopher is cast as phony father but like real poppa he blindly looks the other way to insure Momma/wife’s needs are met to the sacrifice of his ‘family’ – Cory , Carrie , Cathy , and even himself. Though Christopher casts Cathy as ‘wife’ – his heart really belongs to Mommie even Cathy admits this, calling their mother – his goddess. This Oedipal tie is a strong hold that allows Corrine leverage in keeping the children put because Christopher is always there to argue her case. ‘Of us all, he ( Christopher ) loved our mother best’ pg 93. Even when you think Corrine has lost her hold on Christopher it’s only briefly to Cathy who is a Momma type and never manages to evoke much out of Christopher other than romanticized lust. At the end of the book he says – What’s done is done dismissing his Mother’s murderous actions as though his loyalty will not be as easily sacrificed as his brother Cory. ( Even by Petals in the Wind Christopher had not mustered even so much as some righteous anger in Momma’s presence – still the kicked dog. )
The difference between the doppelganger theme as good vs evil is contrasted by the deaths of the good characters with the death of the grandfather. Christopher sr’s death brings about sadness, poverty and their imprisonment ( they are vulnerable to their mother. ) Grandfather’s death should bring them joy , wealth and freedom – instead it brings them anger , isolation and death. It’s only through Cory’s death that allows them their oomph, their deliverance to see the truth and set them free.
Lets move on to the girls – The women of FITA are the strongest characters in the bunch – more frightening , more intelligent , more vocal ( Carrie ) they seem to have it all figured out. But they are not immune to repeating mistakes. Corrine , describing a strict childhood that basically drove her into the arms of her uncle , doesn’t realize she has become what she has loathed – her confining the children brings about the same results. Though you may see nothing of the Grandmother in her except evil both of them hide behind facade’s and justification. The Grandmother/Olivia justifies her actions by hiding behind scripture taken out of context , and a self-righteous attitude giving her an air of justice. She has chrome colored eyes – reflective to the viewer – Cathy ( who can see parts of herself in her grandmother whether she admits it or not. )
Corrine justifies her actions as well , she hides behind false promises and a mother’s love , her attitude of entitlement allows her the elevated station of Mother knows best. Both of them have twisted inerrant principals of love and acceptance into figures of hate and destruction.
Her tale of love at first sight becomes repeated when Christopher and Cathy discuss the possibilities of this –even as they nervously acknowledge they are the same age as when Momma met Daddy.
By the end of the book Momma’s pastel colors ( ambivalent ) have turned , not to the strong red and purples that represent their father ( royal – fairy tale colors ) but to black – linking her to the Grandmother’s somber grays. The question is does Cathy and Carrie follow in their footsteps? Yes and No. Being that two female characters are the villains and men turn into the worst of the victims – deathbed ( Grandfather ) , car crash ( Christopher sr. ) , poisoned ( Cory.) The hero must therefore be a little above all of this. Cathy does not escape her mothers fate – though she doesn’t run into the arms of Chris , she is there just the same. She is also scratching for money by the end of the book – to survive – the same as her mother. And she has an unshakable ego that can be most costly – her unwillingness to chop off her hair costs them two weeks starvation , all the while knowing her mother wasn’t around to prevent the Grandmother’s imposed threat.
Even Foxworth manor has a twin the INHERITED ‘priceless’ dollhouse. And as mice run about the attic nibbling on the children’s food , Mickey their pet mouse roams through the dollhouse in the same manor upsetting Carrie. Cory says – ‘You must learn to behave Mickey. Bad things happen in big houses. That lady who owns that house over there , she hits you for anything.’ pg 286. As the mice allow poison to be sent up to the attic without qualm or question so then can Mickey be sacrificed to unveil the truth of the sugar donuts.
Now that we’ve established the doppelganger theme here’s the dollhouse theme. In order to fully imagine this idea you have to picture Momma , the owner of the dollhouse, as a rather self-centered child in her early teens , who has a big imagination and a disturbing Electra complex. Given a box of dolls who become her ‘children’ she names them harmoniously to echo her own name Corrine – Cathy ,Christopher, Carrie, Cory thereby each child becomes an extension of herself , a wish fulfilled – beauty , talent , anger , childishness, and brains. As the Electra complex becomes ultimately distasteful to ‘Momma’ she transforms her father into a more satisfactory spouse – Christopher sr who is hidden behind metaphors and doppelgangers. Notice she can’t quite shake the incestuous connotations so her father, Malcolm, becomes his own sudden illegitimate never-before-seen , much younger , susceptible brother – Christopher. Christopher even echoes the name of Corrine – with similar letters and sounds. Cor – topher. He is a dream figure she can escape with and indulge in a fantasy life that features luxury and adoration and worship by her doting children ( all pieces of her ego ) in a town ( realm ) called Gladstone. This dream however cannot be sustained and is shattered ( recall the severe punishment for undressing daddy doll Pg 187. )
The soap opera destruction of Christopher sr in a detailed car crash is childish overkill with movieland setting – who hasn’t caught a Sunday afternoon movie featuring Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes and recalled how she was orphaned: Her mother dashing to meet a bus
is hit by a car complete with screech of tires, flash of shapely legs twisted in the street while the camera lingers poignantly on Shirley’s smushed Christmas party cake reading Happy Landings. Christopher Sr’s burned body was found surrounded by plush stuffed toys ( for the twins ) and ironically was bringing home a treat -the ice cream. The description pg 17 has to be read to be believed. -‘According to the accounts, which we’ve recorded, there was a motorist driving a blue Ford weaving in and out of the left hand lane, apparently drunk, and he crashed head-on into your husband’s car. But it seems your husband must have seen the accident coming, for he swerved to avoid a head-on collision, but a piece of machinery had fallen from another car, or truck, and this kept him from completing his correct defensive driving maneuver, which would have saved his life. But as it was, your husband’s much heavier car turned over several times, and still he might have survived, but an oncoming truck, unable to stop, crashed into his car, and again the Cadillac spun over . . and then . . it caught on fire.’ – The fact that Christopher Sr was killed on a birthday , his birthday , suggests Momma’s rapid development as well as her father’s ( implications of aging ), is forcing her to reassess her fantasy. She is driven ‘back’ to real Mama and Papa ( the Grandmother and Grandfather – the names she uses are to disconnect with their hold over her, aging them, stressing the non-existent relationship they have with the dolls and not her. )
The sneaking into the mansion , Foxworth Hall, at night is symbolic of a child’s abortive attempt to runaway – suitcases , dolls, a sense of punishment to come. The fact that Corrine’s mother tells her to put the ‘dolls’ away – father ( grandfather ) mustn’t see them or you risk your forgiveness – shows that Papa discovered his daughter’s Electra complex and is trying to curb it, despite a contrary voice that implies papa-doth-protest-too-much ( but is this more of Corrine’s snide justification for her own proclivity. Once he loved me more than either of his sons pg. 32 Something Cathy can echo when she gets daddy to promise – I’ll love you just a little bit more if you promise not to tell anyone. – a statement that also exposes the real Electra throbs even in the doppelgangers ) Notice that Corrine has no real love for her mother – she sees her as overly religious , strict, condemning and unforgiving. Views that will be later put to the test. When Cathy Doll asks doesn’t everyone love their mother – Corrine answers No. Pg23. Even Cathy Doll’s existence hinges on that turning point of hating Momma – to love her would bring her death.
The stress of the dolls beauty , even recognized by the grandmother, is always contrasted with the danger of hidden deformities appearing as punishment for their ‘sin conception.’ Momma insists they are perfect. Beauty aside , the dolls are doomed by their handler. ‘Momma’ guiding them will in fact continue to rehash and replay this sin. Telling the dolls they are to be put away a punishment for being ‘alive’ is a little like a Mother and Father banishing a child’s dolls from the playroom in the hopes it will curb the girls attachment to them. The dolls ‘feel’ the punishment more as they have lost their contact with their animator and can only reenact – ( remember all those fantasies about dolls coming to life behind closed doors ) what they have been taught. It’s not surprising that the Doll’s first focus becomes trying on vintage clothes pg 68 and Christopher in a moment of self parody to their doll-state ( after viewing a big bosomed woman ) says ‘inherit a figure like that and you’ll make a fortune’ Well Barbie certainly did.
Unfortunately the Dollangangers though dubbed Dresden dolls , have complexions compared to porcelain pg. 170, their images are rooted in plastic – very Barbie doll , Ken Doll, Skipper Doll, Tutti and Todd dolls. The giveaway for this image is the vast importance laid upon their similar looks – all blonde , all blue eyed – think of the irony in the 1978 Malibu set – Sun Lovin Ken and Barbie. ( How irritated would that pair be stuck in an attic for 3 years! )
Not only do they look more like brother and sister than lovers check out the fact that Tutti and Todd are not only twins but Barbie’s siblings which makes her a mom in training.
Where is the Mother doll? Barbie with Tutti and Todd becomes a forever-babysitter to her siblings, a stand-in Mom. ( Later on Tutti and Todd transform their image of perfection into a kitschy symbol of the 70’s those sad eye bubble headed Blythe dolls or better yet the waif artwork of korny Keane – ( ‘Certainly their heads were larger and that should’ve diminished the size of their eyes. Yet their eyes appeared extraordinarily large.’ Pg 288 )
All of them though , apparently have the identity of orphans or is it that the creators know the real Momma is the doll-holder?
Barbie herself has no real identity accept as a three dimensional image – but even her body remains in a stagnant state of vague disconnect. Her breasts are merely there to push out a dress – sexual attraction. ( but with no nipples – she is not created to be a mother , to nurse. ) Her crotch is an unformed bump that denies entry. ( Though in all fairness are we actually supposed to give a child an anatomically correct doll?) Barbie seems caught in a vortex of eternal admiration and adoration with no payoff. Ken doll fairs worse. Nobody really needs a Ken doll , he’s an addition merely to admire Barbie. A shadow figure forever trailing behind. Notice how Ken echoes Barbie’s trends/identities but not all of them. While Barbie can be an Angel Face , Peaches n’ Cream , or Astronaut how often do we see Ken stand alone without his Barbie bookend. Ken is always dazzled by Barbie but is Barbie truly dazzled by Ken. His body is equally shrouded in mystery maybe even more so. What doll owner hasn’t eagerly stripped down Ken to unlock his mysteries only to discover with great disappointment that his modesty is forever intact – his briefs are one with his flesh. This pair is essentially a proponent for eternal asexuality despite the fact that outwardly – Ken’s six pack and muscles , Barbie’s long legs and big bust are flashing otherwise. Like two kids forever trying to fall off the knife walk of puberty. They are known by their parts – figure , hair , big blue eyes – and in FITA Cathy admits that the Grandmother didn’t see her as a whole person , but in sections that seemed to arouse her anger and she would destroy whatever made her angry ( the hair ) pg240.
Interestingly both Ken and Barbie themselves are distracted by clothing , accomplishments , talents , and ever acquiring the latest luxury that both of them never discover their ultimately barren state ( sound like any one? ) As long as they have Barbie’s dream house all is well. Notice that in Flowers in the Attic – most of the action takes place within the confines of a bedroom. Very telling because no matter where Barbie goes , no matter what Barbie does, whether she sets a fancy Thanksgiving table and is pleased by her efforts ( pg 143 ) no matter if she’s looking out the window of her hulking plastic Dream House the only view she has is that of her owners bedroom. ( a symbol made with double/doppelganger precision on pg.187 When the Dollangangers get a doll house. )
Notice how the children/dolls have no real view – a perpetual sky but no ground. Barbie lives in a climatized bubble , she has no backyard and no garden. Her dormer/attic style a-frame dream house however featured in it’s attic-tip-top ever-blooming plastic flowers.
The dolls getting a dollhouse becomes a dreamlike state of perspective, like the mock art to explain it – of a painter painting himself painting a picture – painting himself painting a picture and so on and so on. Watch what happens when Christopher attempts to give them a view pg 151 – Unable to open the curtains and peer out of their prison he paints beautiful vistas but then has the audacity to enclose it within a WINDOW frame. Though Cathy assumes this to be clever it isn’t, it’s adapting a dream to accept the fact that all they can achieve is a phony view – like Barbie’s dream house with it’s sunny ever-ready always out of touch pool.
The fact that the dolls are in this prison away from Momma suggests a playroom land – which Momma fills with toys to distract and entertain them , and clothes to amuse them – the attic frightens the youngest with precognitive knowledge – ( despite their image as brats they are in fact with their constant use of we a voice for all the dolls – they are often smarter than the eldest – withdrawing from Momma – questioning her loyalty – demanding better provisions rather than accepting them) – for what is the death of a doll? To be stuck in an attic and forgotten.
Corrine is reluctant to join the children – she takes a look at the dismal room and refuses to spend the night pg115 – Corinne ‘Momma’ we later learn has an opulent bedroom fit for a queen with a swan bed dripping with symbolic sexuality ( did you know Mae West had a Swan bed? Which appeared in her steamiest pic – She done him Wrong.)
Her daily routine becomes a urgent need to break free of the dolls and blossom into a ‘healthy’ young woman but when she reveals the antics of her secretarial school and her need to be the center of attention over a woman in authority who my-oh-my looks like her mother, the dolls are learning that Corrine’s growing detachment is still contaminated by past fantasies.
Worry fuels the dolls , will we be left behind? They ask themselves , forgotten and unloved? and like most tales that explore the idea of dolls/toys that come alive when nobody is looking – take Jim Hensen’s The Christmas Toy or Toy Story – the toy-world becomes no-more magical than the real world. The toys talk , bicker, have egos jealousies and frailties. They are in a sense human. But the Dollangangers have been guided by a childlike puppeteer , not an adult( notice that even in Gladtown Momma was exceedingly childish – trying to woo the children over to her plan in a sexy black negligee?! , her whoops-like dialogue his money will be mine! Mine! – ours pg. 32 , her need to take two suitcases for her own stuff. ) Though at first glance the dolls can appear to be strangely superior to ‘Momma’ but how like a doll owner to grace her ‘babies’ with innumerable traits and talents and interests and phony maturity– like Barbie who can be anything ( with the right outfit – notice how Cathy pouts declaring she can’t dance without the right clothes – not just a plain black leotard but a doll worthy costume pg 147-148 ) Cathy can sing – pg 177 ( like Super star Barbie or more apt – Folk singer Barbie ) , Cathy can dance – Ballerina Barbie , Cathy can be stand in Momma , big sis to Carrie and Cory – ( Tutti and Todd ). And Christopher he is pedantic in tone but shifty in deed – a doctor yes and a hopeful playboy, but he also likes to ski , wants to try surfing , he’s a Prince Valiant , a painter , a Poppa-stand in – a twin to his namesake ( Christopher Sr. ) with a Ken doll cache of disguises. They are unlike Momma who is hopelessly flawed ( unrecognized by Christopher but pointed out by Cathy – Can’t she have flaws pg.152) – it’s only in the younger dolls ( Momma’s own childishness ) that these flaws are exposed – a shrill demanding , unsatisfied brat ( Carrie ) , a goes along with another’s voice ( Cory.) Notice Carrie in FITA has no talents – I don’t know how to do anything ( Corrine pg 32 ) and yet she recognizes in herself the twinship she holds with the dolls but only in their surface imagery when she says of her father ‘I was part of his collection of Objet d’art’ ( Corrine pg 98 ) and early on admits to the dolls ‘I am a pretty useless ornament’ ( Corrine pg 32. )
The dolls become her token – her future inerrant of what she represents ( weakness ) and what she is doomed to become ( satisfied with things. ) Even Corrine has two faces which Christopher admits – sexy widow and mother pg199. Her parents – The Grandmother and Grandfather – waver. The grandmother is a figure of magnified villainy , she looks and acts the part of the witch/stepmother in any
fairy tale, an unspoken rival of Corrine for control over Daddy. Her constant misuse of the Old Testament and religion suggest that Momma feels persecuted and resents the ‘moral’ world which offers her no sympathy for her unnatural urges magnifying them to gain sympathy – why ( in her mind ) she is practically driven to ‘Christopher sr.
The Grandfather is a shadow figure – never met or seen – with the exception of a portrait on a wall and a glimpse at the Christmas Party – only talked about to the dolls and thereby becomes two distinct people in Momma’s mind ; the beautiful Christopher sr. who had every virtue , a glowing image of false perfection ( who doted on his doll-daughter ) – notice that like a child who assumes everything about her parents is perfect is an image that never quite shatters in the dolls mind – ( an extension of Momma ) – but outside the room – Momma lets go of perfect Christopher sr. and buries Daddy. The other side of the Grandfather / Malcolm displays every flaw, he is snidely referred to as ruthless , a hunter , unforgiving. He is also weak , sickly , judgmental, and punishing – completing the picture of parents as both ogre and witch.The only level on which both Malcolm and Chris – besides looks – become one is that both of them can be manipulated by Corrine’s sensual beauty.
But the parents identity is all heresy because the dolls themselves have three views. Cathy’s view is a direct link to Corrine seeing that she bares the most resemblance to her , she is both a figure of jealousy and warning ( note that Cathy adored her father with Electra throbs mirroring Corrine’s own urges – and becomes a rival for her hold ,not just, on Christopher jr. but the off-limits Bart. ) The second view is of Corrine’s whoops dialogue – pleading , manipulating and conniving the dolls to see things her way all she manages is to make the reader and sometimes the dolls wonder if everything she says is a lie -turning the grandparents into grossly exaggerated caricatures of her persecution. ( Though Grandmothers one violent act against the dolls could be her frustration at her daughter’s reluctance to let go – like a child who has put her dolls in a compromising positions to disgust the parent. Instead of lashing out at the daughter , Grandmother takes it out on the disgusting dolls. ) As for the third view, it is the dolls sneaky glimpses outside the confines of their bedroom/world where they are no longer held under the manipulation of ‘Momma’. Outside, Momma’s lies are exposed as well as her true intentions – pleasure ( ‘fore mentioned – on pg 135 when she tells Cathy about a book to teach you how simple everything can be – basically the Kama Sutra pg.339. From Old Testament to Sex positions , aigh! ) It’s keyhole education 101. Even the Grandmother’s opposing figure has transformed her into something regal , vulnerable and God-fearing. As for the mysterious Grandfather who loomed like a stringent father is dead – gone like Christopher sr. his kindly doppelganger. However the news of his death is not the joyous revelation the dolls hoped for, they are not reunited with ‘Momma’ as planned. Corrine has set her course to rid herself of these ‘fantasies’ despite the fact that the dolls are doomed to replay them out – echoing the sins of their ‘Momma.’ By the end of the story Momma has unfortunately not matured but regressed – she has taught herself that the world of a doll is something for her ( as much as the dolls take on her persona – she takes on theirs ) a surface life of beauty, things and acquisitions , a young man to control – Barbie has her dream house her Ken-doll. While in the attic – where everything from the past is disposed of the dolls refuse to be put away – like secrets and urges – they break out , escape – and will eventually catch up with Momma.
And now my piece de resistance to tie off my doll theme – Dolls – especially Barbie – have one fear ( My worst fear – Cathy pg 240 ) – scissors. Boxes of butchered Barbies baring crew cuts fill unwanted toyboxes and even Cathy fears the loss of her long golden locks as being something not only permanent – Barbie’s hair can’t grow back , but a loss of power. Does Barbie have power in those golden locks?Probably more so than her figure. Cathy allows two weeks of starvation to keep her hair. Pgs 240 – 254. A foolish trade considering that , like Barbie, she is all dressed up with no place to go.
Horseapples – fertilizing the flowers
If you’re waiting for the horse apples of my title here it comes – like I said before the Oedipal/Electra implications creep up on you like the subtle boom boom of a tip toeing elephant. ‘Daddy’ sets the pace stressing that the best way to express love is physically – come shower me with kisses IF you love me. And it HURTS me when you don’t run into my arms and give me kisses pg. 10. Okaaay. Momma doesn’t help matters by discussing her plan to weasel money out of the grandparents in a sexy black negligee! Or by cuddling Christopher’s head to her breasts whenever his common sense wages war with his libido. The only option against such perversely manipulative affection is the villains’ – anti-affection. Since we know that’s not going to happen the reader is supposed to feel what glad?!when Christopher and Cathy wind up together – just like a fairy tale! Hoo boy.
V.C. Andrews foreshadowing also displays that same elephantine touch – a babysitter who says Momma and Daddy look more like brother n’ sister ( boom-boom-boom ) , I never felt comfortable in Momma’s pastel living room , ( boom-boom- ) Lord knows they better walk outside while they can ( boom! ) Oh, lets not forget Christopher comforting Cathy.
I sometimes got the impression ,reading FITA, that V.C. Andrews rattled this off on her typewriter without stopping or planning. Some things just don’t add up and other things stretch the belief of the reader much like his jaw left swinging in the wind. Like this nugget- not one escape attempt?! Think about it, all V.C. Andrews had to do was write an escape attempt ( failed of course ) and it would have given her characters some guts. Instead the children – especially Christopher ( after all he’s supposed to be the genius ( snort! – I think he lost that title when he read out loud the rule about wetting the bed in front of Cory scaring him. ) look like lackadaisical idiots – I mean the truth
is staring them smack in the face – smiling at them, all fresh and glowing and tanned ( Momma ) and they sit back like meek little mice awaiting their poisoned donuts – ARRGGGGH! They could’ve shimmied down through a forgotten chimney – ha now there an idea ripe with possibilities – getting stuck or coming into a maid’s quarters , running into the thief of Foxworth Hall!- and because Cathy has that effect on men is near raped. Hero Christopher to the rescue! Or maybe even Momma who shows her true colors by not allowing this scoundrel to leave and possibly tattle or resort to sexual blackmail and beats him to death. Forcing the children to hide the corpse up in the attic till the spring thaw comes. See even a reader can cram in an exciting event. Instead we are faced with repetitious conversations that tug-o-war Cathy and Christopher’s opinion on Momma. While Cathy comes to believe she’s a selfish nitwit , Christopher pretends like none of this is really happening – though in Petals in the Wind we get a load of his crack-pot thinking ( he wishes they were back in the attic where he had Cathy all to himself.) Hmmm. Cathy is still daddy’s little music box dancer eh? And as for the incest theme -clearly over the top – Momma loves daddy-uncle, Christopher loves Momma than Sis, Sis loves Daddy than Chris than lip locks with new Stepdaddy! and this is the prison the Dollangangers built!
There wasn’t any tension I usually felt from horror novels – usually an author built up three events that were set on a collision course but with FITA virtually nothing happens! and the sick thing is , the reader actually feels relieved when the children get beat because something is happening! All those arguments! I mean –Duh! – anyone who keeps their children in a hot stuffy attic while they go sailing has to be a monster – end of argument. Plus this was the fifties – youth rebellion was on the rise – Brando – What are you rebelling against Whaddya got? Oh three years in an attic – good enough for me!
Here’s a particularly irritating scene in which Cathy begs Momma to take the twins – having just recovered from a bad case of the flu for a car ride. Here’s Momma’s answer – “No! Of course not! I can’t take a risk like that! Eight servants work in this house, and though their quarters are quite cut off from the main house, there is always someone looking out a window, and they would hear me start up a car. Being curious they’d look to see what direction I took.” No, wait until dark walk? No, wait until the servants have a day off? Cathy gives up too easily. And Christopher deserved a slap upside the head – the only time he ever got angry is when he thought Momma was ‘cheating on him’ with Bart. Notice how Cathy’s forbidden kiss on their sleeping stepdad fuels up the same possessive lust. If only V.C. had given some answers – even Christopher wonders briefly why they weren’t shipped off to a boarding school or tucked away in a house somewhere. I always wondering why she was poisoning them slowly and what was the deal with her leaving after Cory died? Was she leaving her mother to carry out the sentence, if so that blows Christopher’s theory – that the Grandmother knew about it but didn’t help – out of the water. The donuts apparently had to have the arsenic sprinkled on daily. Maybe she left an overloaded batch. Or maybe she gave up on the whole thing and left them to the care of the Grandmother – who was to keep them prisoners forever. I didn’t buy Christopher’s sappy sentimental hope that Momma left items behind ( Daddy’s stuff ) as if knowing they were the burglars. Momma was ditching the past. That included Christopher sr and junior.
FITA’s main problem is length, the story is waaaay too long, about a hundred pages too long. She should’ve taken a clue from Hansel and Gretel less is more.In attempting to show the dreariness of long trapped days, all V.C. does is reinforce the foolishness involved in not having Cathy and Chris attempting escape. When they climb down for their midnight swim and have trouble climbing back up Christopher-genius declares ‘we can’t do that again. you don’t have the strength in your arms like I do’ pg269. Ever heard of a push up bar? The characters barely survive a knowing audience who might be enraged by , if not the stupidity , the obvious sexism – Christopher constantly talks out of the side of his mouth even when it comes to dismissing the Grandmother as a loony but insisting the Grandfather must have brains because of his fortune. Ah what logic – considering their prison was dear ole grandpa’s idea – not grannies. Cathy unfortunately is no bra burner – she doesn’t own one so can we blame her – but screaming over bugs – cliche! And the busy little hausfrau oy!
FITA’s other problems is that it can be flowery – maybe she did see something vengeful on those white worms of brains..pg92 – corny – I had a gift too; not the bright and shining coin that was Christopher’s. Sloppy – crystalized snowflakes ( Gimmie a crystalized snowflake and a wet glass of water but hold the sandy bit of sand, that’s going too far) – doggone repetitive – the twins are compared to all things flora so many times I wanted to pop off their dandelion heads and last but not least FITA was often misfocused like -totally off the rails. After several readings the true villains are still elusive , one minute the characters are attempting suicide the next playing Monopoly , and the lunacy of Cathy writing on the blackboard – We lived in the attic , Christopher , Cory , Carrie and Me , Now there are only three – a proposed ‘enigma for someone in the future to unwind’ or rub out as easily as they nearly were, I suppose. Which sums these nuts up in a nutshell- Leaving their mark on a temporary surface! Kinda like a paperback novel!
Coming Soon – Sweet Valley High vs Flowers in the Attic