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What We Keep

The bedridden heroine

Being bedridden in Victorian fiction always sounds so lovely – sitting piled against lovely pillows in a lovely lacy bedjacket while people bring you cups of tea and soft boiled eggs and sit at your feet for advice on how they should conduct their lives. I could get into that. It is definitely not the same as being in bed because you are too sick to get up and stagger around. The Victorian heroine has a small fluffy dog with a pink ribbon to keep her company. I have three pugs who all snore and hog the pillows. The cats arrive too, in the hope that you have a fever and are warmer than usual.

The bedridden heroine is a variant of the woman known as “the angel in the house” who was just too good to be true, and whose little dog didn’t snore. She has her origins in a mid-nineteenth century poem by Coventry Patmore about the ideal woman whose only wish is to please her husband. As Virginia Woolf later said of her, she “was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed daily. If there was a chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it...”

Children’s Literature scholars know her as Katy in What Katy Did, or Pollyanna who when her legs are paralyzed is cheerful that they are at least still there. And then there’s Beth in Little Women. We all wept over Beth and promised to grow up to be just as good and kind as she was, if at all possible, which it wasn’t.

An incentive to get up and out of bed. If I turned into her my husband would assume that goblins had taken me and left a changeling.
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