Film and lit crit about disability

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Streatfeild, "Ballet Shoes"
Beech leaves
elettaria wrote in crip_crit
Every time I read or watch something with disability in it, I always think I must post about it here, and I never get round to it! Anyway, I had a random craving to reread this old children's book over the last couple of days. It was written in 1936, has been immensely popular ever since, and it's about three sisters who go to a stage school. I listened to the audiobook this time instead of reading the novel, so the odd detail may be wrong as I can't just flick through and check it.

[Probably not all that spoilerish, but just in case]The story opens with an elderly, absent-minded professor of palaeontology, hereafter known as Great Uncle Matthew (Gum), who brings home three babies from his travels and leaves them to his niece to look after. We have disability right at the start: Gum loses a leg, and is not remotely quenched by this. He just transfers his adventurous spirit to another medium, takes up sea travel, and this is how he ends up finding and adopting the girls. When he reappears at the end of the novel, he is delighted by the idea of moving on to air travel, something far more new and exciting in those days. Other disabilities flit through the novel: Winifred's family is in bad financial straits because of her father's illness (I think possibly injury, or involving surgery?), the French teacher tells an inspiring story (well, one girl finds it inspiring, the other brushes it off) about a famous elderly actress who also had a wooden leg but could bring tears to your eyes by her portrayal of a teenage boy, there's a school fundraising effort for a children's hospital which had helped a very ill young Russian girl. And the novel is surprisingly full of everyday illnesses, flu and whooping cough and colds, and uses them as part of the story. The thing that really impressed me is how cheerfully and casually it does this, without making them anything monstrous, and indeed they often provide good opportunities of one sort or another. One of the thing that really appealed to me about this novel was the sense of a family cobbled together out of unrelated people, since it's based on Gum's niece Sylvia, the three adopted girls, Sylvia's old nanny, the cook and housemaid, and the five boarders who live with them, including a thinly veiled lesbian couple. The couple in question are academics who encourage the girls to be independent and break gender boundaries, so I reckon the novel was probably fairly ground-breaking in various ways, and it's probably one reason why it still appeals. I'm not quite sure why I associate this found-family thing with disability. Maybe it's because, like being LGBT, you often end up having a strained relationship with your family of origin, and then finding that you build a warm relationship with other people who are also LGBT or disabled, so that alienation on one side can also mean a wonderful found family on the other.

Of course, the three girls can only make their progress on the stage thanks to being healthy and attractive, but the novel is very conscious of the fragility of that. It praises hard work and talent while admitting that looks and connections often take precedence in the theatre, it's casually mentioned that actresses are disposable and that ballerinas have a short shelf life, and at one point Petrova, the middle girl, frets that she will fail to get a theatre part because she has a stye on her eye and is feeling self-conscious about it as well. Illness and disability are a real part of everyday life, not pushed out of sight as is the norm in other literature. I liked that.

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I love Ballet Shoes, I've read it like 3 times.

It's very endearing, isn't it.

I haven't read it, but a couple of years ago I stumbled across the movie with Emma Watson and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I guess I'd better see if I can lay hands on the book! :D

I watched the film the other week, it was very sweet and generally true to the book. Gum's wooden leg was skipped, but on the other hand more fuss was made about Garnie's ill health (and Garnie got a romance as well).

Of course, the three girls can only make their progress on the stage thanks to being healthy and attractive, but the novel is very conscious of the fragility of that.

Yes, especially as Petrova is shown as not attractive or talented compared to her sisters or Winifred, though she is hard-working. And Garnie's tuberculosis (which will very soon be curable with antibiotics!) is a constant thread through the books. That's a lovely parallel you draw with a found family and disability and LGBT people, too!

I was just trying to work out why that element really spoke to me, and that seemed a good explanation.

Do they turn up in other books, then? I have vague memories of someone at the end of another book meeting the grown-up film star Pauline Fossil, but have no idea which book it was.

Another odd thing is that I watched the film before rereading the book. The film made much of Garnie's TB, and I had vague memories of that, so it fitted. Then I reread the book, didn't notice Garnie's TB being mentioned (if it was, I missed it, though I remember her being described as tired and getting grey hairs), and was rather puzzled.

Pauline shows up as an adult film star in "The Painted Garden" and they're mentioned in "Curtain Up" though I don't think they're ever main characters again.

In the book it didn't say "TB" or "consumption" but it used all the pre-antibiotics codes for it - Garnie coughed into a hanky, had a condition that warmer weather would improve, got pale and wan, etc.

They are pen-pals and scholarship sponsors of the three sibling protagonists in Theatre Shoes (which I think is the US name for Curtain Up - they Shoes-ed pretty much all the names of her other books)

I just re-read these two last year! I had no idea there was a movie, and now I'm not sure if I want to see it or if I would just end up screaming at the continuity changes.

I completely missed the TB references, which is personally apalling as someone who combs books for the medical and disability stuff. I mean, I slurped up all the gastric influenza and whooping cough bits. . .

Is there text behind your spoiler cut? I keep clicking on the hyperlink and it keeps sending me to the same post with the hyperlink.

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