Wednesday, November 16, 2022

CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY: Lena Dunham, Teen Brides, and Incest Fantasies

In Karen Cushman’s Newbery Honor Book Catherine Called Birdy, Rollo, a lord, country knight, and the father of Catherine called Birdy, not only has a habit of spanking Birdy, with his hand, on her 13-year-old “rump”, but he intended to sell her to a wealthy man. Consequently, Rollo asked his daughter the following questions:

"Exactly how old are you, daughter?"
"Have you all your teeth?"
"Is your breath sweet or foul?"
"Are you a good eater?"
"What color is your hair when it is clean?"

Interestingly, despite being 13, Birdy, who described herself as “sun-browned and gray-eyed” with fountains that went from the size of walnuts to apples within a year, wrote that she was “near grown”.

Birdy’s first suitor was Master Lack-Wit “of middle years and fashionably pale”. Of Master Lack-Wit, Rollo proclaimed to his wife: “The man stinks of gold. If he will have her and pay well for the privilege, your daughter will be a wife.” However, after Birdy rubbed her nose red, blacked out her front teeth with soot, and “dressed” her hair with mouse bones, Birdy’s first suitor “left without a betrothal.”

Despite using similar tactics to dissuade a number of subsequent potential much older suitors, Birdy shared that she and Aelis, Birdy’s best friend: “[...] flirted with the guards and arranged to meet them later in a chamber [...]” and Birdy was in love with Uncle George. That’s correct. Her uncle, whom she described as tall, fair, funny, and handsome with green eyes that are “[...] alive and change colors in the sun [...]”

And of her uncle, Birdy wrote: “He makes me confused. My cheeks glow, my heart flutters like a hawk moth, and my dreams grow soft and swoony.”

Uncle George even almost killed his niece - with a wink. “[...] my uncle George winked at me and made all the uproar worth it. My heart almost stopped.”

Consequently, it was painful for Birdy to see Uncle George on a walk with Aelis. “Seeing them gives me pain in my liver.” And once Birdy learned that Aelis, “the uncle thief”, and uncle George were in love and planned to marry, due to a “jealous evil” in her heart, Birdy did everything she could to prevent the marriage from happening. She even conspired: “[...] to make a spell to curse them [...]”

“It appears that the curse has worked.” Because Aelis was: “[...] sold at auction to the highest bidder like a horse at a horse fair, but [Birdy wrote] I am gladdened to have my uncle George back.” (Despite being sold, Aelis confessed that she will love uncle George “until she dies”.)

But after Birdy discovered that uncle George was to wed, “Ethelfritha, the very rich widow of a salt merchant [...]”, Birdy wrote, “And he is still not mine [...]”

Thus, it’s worth repeating that, despite using misleading tactics to dissuade her older suitors, Birdy was not, by default, against age-gap marriages, but the problem was that none of the men could “compare with [uncle] George”.

Interestingly, Robert, Birdy’s older brother, married the 12-year-old “little heiress of Foxbridge” after it was discovered that she was pregnant. Birdy wrote: “Robert promised not to bed with her while she was of such a tender age, but [...]”

In the end, Birdy agreed to marry Murgaw, the “Shaggy Beard” lord of Lithgow, whom she referred to, among other things, as an “odious old man”, but before they could marry, Shaggy Beard was “killed in a brawl over a tavern maid.”

Interestingly, per Amazon, the book is for reading ages 10+ ‏and for grade levels ‎ 5 - 7.

Approximately, two minutes into Lena Dunham’s adaption of Catherine Called Birdy (2022), we learned that Birdy is 14, but we also see the second difference between the book, which is that in the book, it was Rollo, Birdy’s father, whom wanted to sell Birdy, but in the film, Finneas the Steward, a Black man, introduced the idea to Birdy’s father. #smh

In the book, Aelis’ age wasn’t clear, but in the film we learned that she was 16 and the “prettiest girl in the shire”. Consequently, Lord Sidebottom, Aelis’ 81-year-old father, shared: “We have already had five or six marriage proposals, all of them serious inquiries [...] I care if they can pay for my daughter in gold brick.” (FYI, Lady Sidebottom, Aelis’ step-mother, was 25.)

Later Lord Sidebottom proclaimed, "My daughter is a virgin, confirmed by exam, and can command more than twice [...]” Birdy inquired, “They pay more for virgins?”

Unsurprisingly to us, in the film, Dunham took Birdy’s attraction to her uncle George steps further. For example, we learned from the film that: 

Uncle George was 28-years-old and “SO. HANDSOME.” 

In the film, Birdy looked upon her uncle lovingly - not platonically. 

Morwenn, Birdy’s maid, teased Birdy about Birdy’s obvious crush on her uncle. 

In one scene, Birdy wrestled with uncle George to the lyrics “My boyfriend's back and you're gonna be in trouble”.

Birdy described uncle George as “beautiful” to Aelis, and Birdy shared with Aelis that she wanted to marry her uncle: “If I were to marry, Aelis [...] then I shall choose him [i.e., uncle George]” “If only he were my cousin and not my uncle. [However] [t]rue love can prevail.” 

Birdy and Shaggy Beard

And just like in the book, 28-year-old uncle George had an affair with 16-year-old Aelis. Consequently, after Birdy saw her uncle kissing her best friend, the following conversation took place between the two nymphets:

Aelis: “But I have done nothing wrong.”

Birdy: "Except for stealing the man I love with all my heart. Behind my back - no less. To me, you are a deceitful coward.”

But just like in the book, Aelis and uncle George married others, but Birdy was still unhappy. “My heart has been shaved and boiled like a parsnip. George is to be married. George is to be married.”

After Birdy visited uncle George and his new wife, Birdy asked her uncle, “Uncle George? Will you tuck me in? [...] I want you to tell me a story.” And Birdy subsequently asked her uncle, “Do you love me?” Uncle George, “Desperately.” Shockingly, that conversation was followed by lyrics from Misty Miller’s romantic song “Fade into You”: “Fade into you\Strange you never knew.”

Birdy and Shaggy Beard

A bit out of character for Lena Dunham, who is approaching Woody Allen in the amount of age-gap content, in an apparent attempt at political correctness, Dunham, not only made Birdy’s mother go against her Birdy’s age-gap marriage proposals, but instead of Shaggy Beard dying in a fight over a maid, Birdy’s age-gap marriage didn’t happen, because lord Rollo changed his mind. 

Lastly, Birdy reminded us of 17-year-old Erin of Mare of Easttown whom had an affair with her uncle. And we were reminded of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen of House of the Dragon whom, after having an affair with her uncle in her teens, she went on to marry her uncle in later years. Consequently, Cosmopolitan posted: "Now That 'House of Dragon' is Over, I'll Say It: Incest Fantasies are Hot". Wait, is uncle becoming the new daddy? Let's pray not!

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