In the Snake Pit with Olivia & Arabella

In a film called The Snake Pit, wherein Olivia de Havilland portrayed a mental patient,  she demonstrated a difficulty loving, based on her relationship with her mother and father. Her mother was indifferent, and though her father was loving, when he sided with her mother, she grew angry with him. Then, when he died of innocuous causes, she felt guilt. She compared another man, named Gordon, to her father; and when he asked her to marry him, she felt a sick feeling, on account of that comparison to her father.

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Eventually, she married a man named Robert Cunningham. She was fond of him; but after she fell mentally ill, she felt a passionate love for her doctor, which was more likely than not reciprocated. Yet she chose the love for Robert, because that was what was deemed normal and healthy. She said at the end of the film, when Robert asked her how she finally got well: “It was because I finally stopped being in love with Dr. __.”

Now, is this because letting go of those feelings allowed her to return to the state the world expected her to be in, or is it because the love for her doctor actually was an unhealthy one? I, for one, will never know.

Compare this tale to Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (a book which, no doubt, will be featured in many more essays of mine). Look specifically at the story of Strange and his wife, Arabella. She was fond of him, surely – yet there was that comment about his long nose and his questionable disposition, which may have simply been made in jest, or which may have hinted at something less than true love. Then, after she returns from the hellish world of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair, consider her fondness for no one in the world but Flora Greysteel. Some might argue that this was because of Flora’s own connection to Strange; but personally, I think it was on account of a longing for what’s called “true love,” which Flora always longed for, too, but never found.

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At the end of the book, when Strange is trapped in the darkness with Mr. Norrell, it’s said that he doesn’t ask Arabella to come with him – and that she doesn’t offer to go. Again, the meaning is ambiguous. Perhaps Arabella simply realizes she can’t do him any good; or perhaps she is actually in love with Flora Greysteel, and wants to remain with her for a few years longer.

Most people would say that’s ridiculous. But, you never know.

So – to sum it up. Olivia de Havilland, in The Snake Pit, chose the love that the world expected her to feel, because that’s what helped her to be “sane.” Then, in Jonathan Strange, Arabella promised to wait for Strange until he returned from the darkness, though I honestly believe that she would have rather been with Flora Greysteel.

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Which leads us to the question: Is it possible to find true love in this strange modern world?

That’s all for now. In humble appreciation for your attention to my rambling thoughts, I say to you, “Merci.”

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21 thoughts on “In the Snake Pit with Olivia & Arabella

  1. Hi Mae, loving the remodel! Thanks for the like on the poem… I can’t speak for the narrative of ‘Jonathon Strange’ (never read it) but I don’t think ‘The Snake Pit’ narrative is all that sinister and repressive.

    Transference is a common side effect of psychoanalysis and so all the feelings that Olivia’s character felt for her Doctor would be construction of her (in this case parental) emotional attachments/arcs and therefore not genuinely inspired by the Doctor character. It was probably better for her to marry Robert, because he was a good guy, her affection for him was grounded on more genuine affection and in this scenario, he was relatively a civilian in the whole fight for sanity scene. Also, there still exists to this day for conflict of interest reasons a ‘no doctor patient dating’ rule.

    If you want further proof of how ill advised that is, look at ‘Spellbound’ by Hitchcock, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman or Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender is the Night’ – the literary poster child for Don’t Marry Your Therapist. ~ P ~

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    1. Excellent points, Pola! It’s a shame my new book is about a patient who falls in love with her psychiatrist (though she’s not actually crazy). But then again, who ISN’T crazy . . . ? :):):)

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      1. Hmm, I know what you mean. Less stories more “You did WHAT??!” anecdotes. I call my Second Ep Naked Streak “My midnight method audition for the musical ‘Hair.'” Still. I’ve managed to retain both of my ears. Thank you, fellow Sanityville soldier!

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      2. I think you have to use comedy as catharsis from mental illness otherwise you’d die. I’m not dating so my money’s on you being more successful. It would be tragic to have to invent a good meet cute in your REAL life though. Obviously fiction requires them.

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      3. Ha ha. I’ve yet to invent a story for my own benefit YET — seeing as I don’t usually care if people think I’m pathetic. And, besides — even if you made something up to make people like you, they’d find another reason for disliking you in about five seconds. At least, so I have learned. 😉

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      4. I’d never do it to make people like me, I’d do it to feel sassy and gauche. I mean, more so than usual in social situations. Given I’m the kind of person who falls over in flat shoes, I seldom need to invent because stupid things just happen and I need to comedify them to feel better. Who actually cares what people think unless you fancy them anyway?!

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      5. Very good point. And don’t feel bad about the falling over in flat shoes; in high school, I somehow had a habit of falling UP the stairs. Hmmm. Slightly more graceful now; but only slightly 🙂

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      6. OMG, I have fallen up stairs as well! Doesn’t tend to leave you entirely, I’m too old and still inept. I tripped over in the street today because I was thinking too hard. Honestly, that’s my defence and I’m sticking with it.

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      7. True. Gives one hope. I find that I developed a spidey sense for people at the end of my teens so I can gravitate to the right people faster. Let’s face it, no one wants to waste time being bored to tears: especially at networking events.

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