Poorly misinformed character
February 25, 2011 12:27 AM   Subscribe

Name book and character, where character associates being ill with being interesting.

I vaguely remember some character in a fiction novel (possibly period / possibly YA) who thought that if she was ill, it would make her interesting, so she spoke with a faint voice. As close as I can remember the text went like, X was under the impression that being poorly/weak would make her fascinating (interesting) and so she did Y.

Which book was it? It can't have been Little Women because Beth was ill and that made her saintly. It can't have been What Katie did because she also became very ill and learnt to be saintly. It can't have been Anne of Green Gables, or maybe it was, but in a later book, one of the tarty girls gets TB and dies, and Anne mourns her. So I don't think it was Anne. Sense & Sensibility? No, because Marianne falls deathly ill, and a deathbed watch is kept. Possibly Georgette Heyer.
posted by b33j to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I know in the first of the Anne books she dresses up as the Lady of Shalott and pretends to be dead. Could that be it? I remember her being quite into the idea that it was romantic and elegant and she was trying to be that way a lot of the time.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 1:07 AM on February 25, 2011

Response by poster: Nope, in the instance of the character I'm thinking of, she's not playing. She being herself but trying to be more interesting. But good pick. Thanks.
posted by b33j at 1:33 AM on February 25, 2011

I don't remember exactly which book, but I've definitely read it, so can help you narrow it a little. It's not Georgette Heyer, because I haven't read that. I think it might be one I reread in the last few years, which would either make it one of the (later) Anne books, or one of the non-little-women Louisa May Alcotts.
posted by lollusc at 2:26 AM on February 25, 2011

Just picked up "What Katy Did" and there's a lot before Katy's accident about how Katy and her sisters thinks Cousin Helen is "very interesting" because of being ill.
posted by lollusc at 2:31 AM on February 25, 2011

Two quotes from "An Old Fashioned Girl" (Alcott)

""Katy don't amoose me; and I must be amoosed, 'cause I 'm fwactious; mamma said I was!" sobbed Maud, evidently laboring under the delusion that fractiousness was some interesting malady."


"Polly was kept on such a short allowance of happiness for six months, that she got quite thin and interesting; and often, when she saw how big her eyes were getting, and how plainly the veins on her temples showed, indulged the pensive thought that perhaps spring dandelions might blossom o'er her grave. She had no intention of dying till Tom's visit was over, however, and as the time drew near, she went through such alternations of hope and fear, and lived in such a state of feverish excitement, that spirits and color came back, and she saw that the interesting pallor she had counted on would be an entire failure."

I'll stop now.
posted by lollusc at 2:43 AM on February 25, 2011

It's definitely none of the Anne books. I've read all of them multiple times and nope, she never does that. The closest thing is that when she's younger she tends to write very dramatic stories where the heroines usually die of illness. But she never pretends to be ill to make herself more interesting.
posted by katyggls at 3:28 AM on February 25, 2011

Wrong gender perhaps? Colin in The Secret Garden?
posted by Ness at 3:40 AM on February 25, 2011

Colin genuinely believes he's ill and going to die an early death (as many of the adults around him also seem to believe).

It sounds vaguely familiar, but I can't think what. I've read most of the books you listed and don't think it's any of them. Certainly not Anne of Green Gables and I don't think any of the non-Anne LM Montgomery books either. I'll keep thinking and see if it comes back to me.
posted by *becca* at 4:15 AM on February 25, 2011

Did you ever read the Betsy/Tacy books? There's one, I think maybe Betsy In Spite of Herself, where Betsy spends a lot of time reinventing herself to be more fascinating to boys. At one point she twists her ankle skating, but then plays it up and intentionally stays in bed and tries to look pale and more injured than she is, again to get boys' interest.

Ring any bells? If so I can check the exact book, once the cat sitting on my legs decides to let me up.
posted by Stacey at 4:19 AM on February 25, 2011

Betsy comes down with the flu (la grippe) near the end of BiSoH, but her being ill forces her to realize that it's best to be herself.
posted by brujita at 5:53 AM on February 25, 2011

Hippolyte (the consumptive) in Dostoyevskiy's The Idiot?
posted by holterbarbour at 6:09 AM on February 25, 2011

Anne does think Ruby *looks* more interesting before she dies of consumption, IIRC. She commented on her lovely complexion - possibly in Anne of Avonlea, but I'll have to check when I get home.
posted by goo at 8:01 AM on February 25, 2011

And I googled it - it was Anne of the Island and isn't what you're thinking of, I'm pretty sure.
posted by goo at 8:15 AM on February 25, 2011

Sydelle Pulaski in The Westing Game?
posted by CCCC at 8:24 AM on February 25, 2011

The first thing I thought of when I read this was Emma in Madame Bovary.
posted by Fuego at 9:51 AM on February 25, 2011

I have a vague memory of one of the Pippi Longstocking stories involving illness.

And then at some point she's drinking freakin' furniture polish to fix it. Yecch.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 10:12 AM on February 25, 2011

In Montgomery's "Magic for Marigold," Marigold forms a friendship with Paula Pengelly (sp?) who is described as 'fascinating' and who plays up her sickly appearance because she thinks it makes her holy -- she claimed to be fasting (though iirc, her family just wasn't feeding her enough).
posted by frobozz at 10:40 AM on February 25, 2011

Response by poster: I'm pretty sure that none of the answers above are the character I'm thinking of, but wow, I had no idea it was such a re-used theme and that is fascinating. Thanks for trying.
posted by b33j at 12:05 PM on February 25, 2011

I haven't read this in a long while, but what about Robert Cormier's The Bumblebee Flies Anyway?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:21 AM on February 28, 2011

There's definitely a bit in The Peppermint Pig where a main character is recovering from scarlet fever and deliberately sucks her cheeks in to look more pitiful. I can't find an online source, though, and my copy is back at my parents' house.
posted by Acheman at 9:03 AM on February 28, 2011

Looks like you've already ruled it out, otherwise I would've put money on it being from the Betsy/Tacy books. I haven't read them in years, but I have a vivid memory about Betsy thinking illness made a girl "interesting" (with that phrasing) and the big fuss that was made to simultaneously pretty her up and make her look worse off when she sprained her ankle.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:16 AM on February 28, 2011

There's definitely a bit in The Peppermint Pig where a main character is recovering from scarlet fever and deliberately sucks her cheeks in to look more pitiful. I can't find an online source, though, and my copy is back at my parents' house.

That might be the example I'm thinking of. I think Poll stops eating for some time (my memory is that its in protest after the family's semi-pet pig is killed for food), gets thin and starts to enjoy the attention of all the adults fussing over how thin she is - leading to the sucking in cheeks scene described by Acheman.
posted by *becca* at 2:54 PM on February 28, 2011

Response by poster: I'm pretty sure I never read The Peppermint Pig or Betsy/Tacy books.

My character could be an amalgam, because it looks like many authors thought young females thought being sick was cool. (Maybe it was cool.).
posted by b33j at 1:03 AM on March 1, 2011

I think it definitely was a fad among tween girls in the victorian through early 20th c. period to think that sickliness and delicacy were cool (or feminine and romantic). Quoth Anne Shirley: "That was a thrilling book, Marilla. The heroine...could faint as easy as anything. I'd love to be able to faint, wouldn't you Marilla? It's so romantic. But I'm really very healthy for all I'm so thin."
posted by frobozz at 7:43 PM on March 1, 2011

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