My Sweet Audrina: Miscarriage and Melodrama
Before my postdoc I spent many years working in a public library and Virginia Andrews is a hugely popular author, but one that I’d never read. When you’re working in a public library, reading widely in the stock is a good idea so that you have a good knowledge of what the library is offering to its different service users – I even read a Mills & Boon in aid of this, though I can’t say I enjoyed it – but Virginia Andrews was someone I had never gotten round to.
I read the novel when it was recommended on one of my favourite podcasts, the true crime/ comedy show My Favourite Murder. The hosts, Karen and Georgia, remembered My Sweet Audrina fondly from their teenage years and my local library had this edition in stock. With its Dynasty-style glamour combined with a 1980s-era Stephen King-looking font I was intrigued and decided I could spare some time to see what the fuss was about.
My Sweet Audrina could, I suppose, be described as Southern Gothic. The action centres around a family who live in Whitefern, a well-to-do but neglected house in the woods, one where the legacy of the American Civil War echoes down the decades and haunts their everyday lives. The story is told from the perspective of Audrina who lives in the house with her mother and father, her Aunt Vera, and her aunt’s illegitimate daughter, Vera (who may or may not be Audrina’s half sister). Audrina is not just haunted by the historical legacy that lies heavy on the house, she is also haunted by the memory of her deceased older sister, also named Audrina, who apparently died after being raped and attacked some years before.
The book is certainly readable, and you can understand how its melodrama would appeal to teenage readers. Audrina is confined to the house, ostensibly for her safety, and much of the drama comes from friction with her cousin, Vera, who does what she can to get some attention from Audrina, including having an affair with Audrina’s music teacher. The affair results in a pregnancy and, ultimately, a miscarriage.
Vera miscarries because of a fall during one of her rows with Audrina and the event is described in the lurid, sickening detail that might be expected in this genre. Audrina is ‘amazed to see great pools of blood on the floor’ (211). Audrina runs for her aunt and when they return:
We arrived to see Vera crawling on the floor, drenched with her own blood by now and still bleeding as she pawed through the congealing pools of blood, crying out, ‘The baby…I’ve lost my baby…’ (211)
It would be silly (although easy) to criticise this description in terms of realism since it is very unlikely that a pregnancy in such an early stage (before Vera has started to show) could be lost in such a spectacular fashion. What is more interesting is to think about how rarely the experience of miscarriage is portrayed in literature and how it is used here as one of a series of over-the-top dramatic events. This is an event normally passed over in silence, and certainly rarely described in such visceral detail. One could certainly dismiss the portrayal (and the novel as a whole) of catering to young readers who are looking to be shocked, or older readers looking for titillation. However, the novel’s repeated dramatic events and the repetitive language in which they are couched does something to dramatise the experience of trauma. Audrina repeatedly compares herself to her sister, ‘the First and Best Audrina’, a semantic motif that is repeated throughout the novel. There is also repetition in the doubling of themes and characters. Audrina is doubled with the First and Best Audrina, but also with Vera, a kind of evil twin. Her mother and aunt reflect one another, not least in their relationships with Audrina’s father, and even this incident of the miscarriage is an echo of Audrina’s mother’s last pregnancy which resulted in the premature birth of a disabled child.
The nightmarish repetition of the text continues right until the novel’s finale when Audrina has a chance to escape the house and the horrors she has suffered there, but instead turns back. The novel’s final words are:
I would begin again in Whitefern, and if this time we failed, we’d begin a third time, a fourth… (378)
The suggested repetition of the novel’s events ad infinitum adds to the already claustrophobic effect and makes the novel an account of trauma that encompasses rape, abuse, miscarriage and death. The novel’s success is in its representation of the horror of being taken out of linear time by the weight of trauma, both historical and personal.