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Crucial Update

Miss Havisham, Jane Bennett: Which Bedridden Female Literary Character Are You?

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You're probably reading this in bed right now, with no plans of leaving until you have to go to the bathroom after holding it for twelve hours. (I'm typing this in bed with no plans of leaving until I have to go to the bathroom after holding it for twelve hours). Luckily, some lonely, consumptive, hysteric bedmates are beside us! Here are the ten best bedridden ladies (plus one small boy) of literature.

Great Expectations

By Charles Dickens

Miss Havisham was jilted on her wedding day and, as a result, spends all day in her house or in bed wearing a wedding dress and one shoe (set a reminder in your GoogleCal right now: this is a pretty hilarious Halloween costume). Miss Havisham adopts a daughter named Estella, with whom Great Expectations' narrator Pip falls in love.

Great Expectations is really about Dashed Expectations, something you know all about. You really thought you were going to get a better job or make out with that hot person. But you didn't, and now you're Miss Havisham (though you're probably not wearing a wedding dress in bed, instead a crewneck sweatshirt, a claymask, and a pair of lace underwear). Sorry.

"The Yellow Wallpaper"

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Diagnosed by her old-school misogynist doctor/husband John with "nervous depression," the narrator is holed up in a creepy refurbished children's nursery on the top floor of a country home. The more time the narrator spends in bed and ordered not to write or think or worry, she becomes convinced she sees a woman creeping within the pattern of her yellow wallpaper.

You can relate to "The Yellow Wallpaper" if you've ever stayed awake in bed for hours stewing after someone tells you that you "look like you need some rest." Obviously, you live in a shitty rental with white walls that you're not allowed to touch, so you don't need to worry about a woman creeping by daylight in the wallpaper. That woman next door, however—you might need to worry about her.

"A Rose for Emily"

By William Faulkner

In the most Southern Gothic-y Southern Gothic tale in existence, a narrator outlines Emily's transformation from a young woman (unmarried at the croney old age of 30!) into a shriveled old woman who likely poisons her fiance with arsenic. At Emily's funeral, townspeople find the guy in a bed in a room sealed up for decades, dead and preserved on the bed next to a pillow with an indentation of Emily's head. One of her long gray hairs is beside him.

You're probably not a necrophiliac murderer like Lady Emily, but you've likely taken some time to lie in bed, thinking about how you love someone to distraction, to death, fearful that that romantic fixation is not reciprocated.

If that person were just by your side all the time—or if that person hadn't written such a cryptic "HAGS" in your yearbook—then maybe you'd be able to get up and gossip with fellow townspeople or pay your taxes on time. But probably not!

The Woman Warrior

By Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston finds herself in a hospital bed in her house for a year and a half as a teenager in America. The root of the illness is a mystery, but Maxine soon discovers that it's karma for bullying a silent Chinese girl in her class growing up.

You might have found yourself in bed on a Sunday morning (and all of the afternoon, and most of the night, until you decide to get up and start your day at bedtime) replaying the cruel and unusual things you said to a friend or acquaintance or colleague the night before. The shame of it all renders you incapable of movement, ordering a cheeseburger to your sickbed, or even watching the Halloween episode of every single sitcom you've loved since middle school.

What Katy Did

By Susan Coolidge

In this all-time classic and predictably grim children's book, twelve-year-old tomboy Katy Carr disobeys her aunt's order to not play on a swing the family has recently purchased. A nineteenth century novel for children wouldn't be a nineteenth century novel for children if Katy didn't disobey her aunt and become paralyzed after falling off the swing, confining Katy to her bed for four years.

Yes, her aunt warned her, and yes, Susan Coolidge wrote the swing fiasco into her book to teach incorrigible American children a lesson about #respect. But like Katy, you now fear venturing out into the scary world out there, even to Walgreen's to pick up some face wash with the little microbeads that pollute our riverbeds and choke our fish. Horrible, unfathomable accidents happen every day, and it might be best for you to just stay in bed.

Madame Bovary

By Gustave Flaubert

Emma marries a wildly dull guy named Charles and accordingly becomes so disenchanted with her disappointing married life that she takes to her bed. Her boring husband moves her to a new town for some fresh air and there, Emma meets a neighbor named Rodolphe and embarks on a passionate affair with him. When she realizes he doesn't really love her, Emma takes to bed again for months, grows ill, and nearly dies again.

You want high society! You want flashiness! You want sex! Make like Emma post-Rodolphe and spend all day in bed, electively. Browse the internet for luxury goods, put them all in your shopping cart, and then never buy them, unless you're having a particularly rough one.

The Secret Garden

By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Mary is a sickly, weak little girl sent to stay with her reclusive uncle in a sealed-off mansion in England while her parents live out their vague professional lives in India (something to do with the military?). While skulking around the mansion, Mary hears wailing and eventually finds Colin, another sickly, bedridden child, shut up in an opulent bedroom. Both children's health improve as they discover a secret garden together.

Readers never really find out what is medically wrong with the children (Hodgson Burnett mentions a few times that Mary is ugly and people don't like looking at her, which would not fly if The Secret Garden were written today), but when haven't you spent most of your adolescence in bed for no reason only to be revived by a bit of wild foliage? In your case, that foliage was probably in the game FarmVille in 2009.

"The Fall of the House of Usher"

By Edgar Allan Poe

Madeline and Roderick Usher are the final children in a haunted, unflourishing lineage of bedridden Victorians. Madeline eventually dies, and her brother decides it's best that he and the unnamed narrator bury her under the house "for science." When they accidentally bury Madeline alive, he kills her brother and the house collapses.

Family is hard. Once I read my sister's diary on a family vacation and she hit me and I took to my own bed for hours sulking and crying. You probably have a story like that—so what if Roderick buried his sister alive by mistake! Family is family, no matter what!

Pride and Prejudice

By Jane Austen

Lizzie Bennett visits her suitor Bingley at his manor and contracts a cold that somehow strikes her so fiercely that she feels it necessary to hole up in a near-stranger's spare bedroom for four to five days. Her little sister Lizzie heads to the Bingley manor to pick up Jane. There she meets Mr. Darcy and you probably know the rest.

Jane Bennett is a hero for all of us who had our moms call us out of school for paper cuts and pimples and probably-imaginary headaches. We love faking it, a little bit for attention, and a little bit because we're just tired to make it to our final destination. Lizzie comes and saves her, which I'm sure Jane was pissed about because she wanted to be doted on a little more by Mr. Bingley's waitstaff.

Wuthering Heights

By Emily Bronte

Mr. Lockwood spends the night snowed in at a house called Wuthering Heights and sees a ghost named Catherine. As it turns out, she was in love with WH's housekeeper Heathcliff, but married someone else, even professing her love for him on her deathbed.

Catherine's dead the entire novel, which is not great ~for women~ but she has a pretty high-octane flashback sickbed scene, wherein she swears she sees birds coming out of her pillow and pines for Heathcliff aloud. And if there's one way to be the ultimate bed-dweller, it's to put on a melodramatic show about it. Then, people will come visit you in bed instead of you ever having to leave that warm place.


Claire Carusillo lives in a bedroom in New York City. Follow @clocarus for an open discussion of books, bread, and eyebrows.