I’ve been fascinated by adoption in literature ever since my mother read me Rumpelstiltskin. The miller’s daughter escaped relinquishing her son in the end. But the possibility of separating mother and child terrified me. It was a very close call for the miller’s daughter and her baby.
The Greeks and Shakespeare
I read Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex. the summer between high school and college.The complete set of Greek tragedies was given to me by my foster mother–the woman the adoption agency placed me with. I was in a farmhouse, hidden away, deep in the Iowa countryside, awaiting the birth of the baby I would give away. All of Oedipus’s troubles began because he was taken from his mother, I thought. What will become of my boy? As a theatre student, I found more adoption stories in Shakespeare. Cymbeline. Pericles. A Winter’s Tale. And in the novels of Charles Dickens.
Currently, I’m reading Nicole Krauss’s novel, Great House. It’s a complex story with several threads. The character of Lotte is mysterious. We learn she has a tragic past. But her husband does not know how tragic, exactly.
She struggled with her sadness, but tried to conceal it, to divide it into smaller and smaller parts and scatter these in places she thought no one would find them. But often I did–with time I learned where to look–and tried to fit them together. It pained me that she felt she couldn’t come to me with it, but I knew it would hurt her more to know that I’d uncovered what she hadn’t intended me to find. In some fundamental way I think she objected to being known.
Later in the book, Lotte develops dementia. She’s around 75 by then. One day she escapes from the nurse who’s tending her at home. Lotte goes into the courthouse, finds a magistrate, and says that she’d like to report a crime.
“What is the crime?” the magistrate asked.
“I gave up my child”, Lotte announced.