“Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need other’s approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” ~ Lao Tzu
“Dr. Jacquith says that tyranny is sometimes expression of the maternal instinct. If that’s a mother’s love, I want no part of it.” ~ Charlotte Vale in Now Voyager
One of the universal issues, in my opinion, that almost every human being must deal with is self-love and acceptance. It’s sad that we’re not taught to love ourselves. But then neither were our parents or theirs before them, so perhaps that situation is not so unexpected after all. Learning to love myself has been one of the most profound things I’ve undertaken in my life. And I’m not finished yet. So, when I first saw the movie, Now Voyager on Turner Classic Movies some years back, I could completely relate to Charlotte, played by Bette Davis, in her quest to not only learn to love herself, but deal with her extremely difficult mother.
Charlotte Vale’s story is nothing new, except that she comes from a old wealthy Boston family. So often we think that the rich have no problems whatsoever. This story shows that’s not always true. Charlotte has had no chance to become independent of her mother’s control or family ridicule, which results in profound self-loathing. At the beginning of the story, she has a nervous breakdown, as it was called in the 1941, and must go to Cascade, a sanitarium to heal from years of emotional abuse.
Dr. Jacquith, played by Claude Rains, the founder of Cascade, is a pioneer in the field of psychiatry. He and his staff give practical advice about how to deal with almost any situation, and with difficult people. In general Charlotte and her fellow patients socialize with each other, so they can see that they are not the only ones in pain. This gives them an opportunity to practice their skills and gives them confidence in being with other people. The book gives more details than the movie about what Charlotte learns and her tentative steps in using the techniques Dr. Jacquith teaches.
Once Charlotte has been pronounced well, her family ally, sister-in-law Lisa, and Dr. Jacquith send her on a long ocean cruise so she can practice her new interpersonal skills. On the voyage, Charlotte meets J. D. Durrance, played by Paul Henreid, a married man who is going to South America (France in the book) on business. They form a friendship and later fall in love, though their demonstrations of love never go past kissing and hugging. J. D., or Jerry as Charlotte calls him, is an honorable man. He has a demanding, shrewish wife and three daughters which puts a great strain on him. The youngest of his daughters, Tina, is showing the same kinds of symptoms Charlotte had before her breakdown. These facts are additional ties that bind Charlotte and Jerry together. When Jerry leaves the ship for his business meetings, he and Charlotte vow never to see each other again, even though they are deeply in love.
When Charlotte gets home after many months of being away from her mother, she is extremely apprehensive. However, Jerry has sent her a corsage of camellias, a nickname he gave her on the voyage. She knows he’s thinking of her and that fact gives her the courage to assert her independence when her mother begins making demands.
After that first evening, Charlotte and her mother form an unspoken truce. Over the next months, Charlotte walks a fine line between open rebellion and compliance to her mother’s demands, until one day when Charlotte breaks under her mother’s belittling. They have an argument and her mother has a heart attack and dies leaving Charlotte a wealthy heiress.
That’s when the story takes an interesting turn. Charlotte, thinking she killed her mother, goes to Cascade, where she finds Tina, Jerry’s daughter. At eleven years old, Tina is in bad shape. She’s thin, sullen, and a loner. Charlotte understands Tina better than anyone at Cascade and undertakes to be her friend. This friendship is beneficial to them both.
Charlotte’s journey is unusual for a story written in the 1940s. Though Charlotte becomes engaged at one point, when that relationship dies a natural death, she says she will remain resolutely single. After meeting Tina she devotes herself to not only helping her, but opening her home to her nieces and nephews. She also donates money to expansion at Cascade where Dr. Jacquith puts her on the board. At the end of the book, there is no indication that she and Jerry will resume their previous romantic relationship. However, Jerry agrees to allow Tina to continue living with Charlotte and the couple make a pact to work together to help her grow into a happy, independent, accomplished woman.
The movie is very much like the book, with few changes. It uses dialogue just as Olive Higgins Prouty wrote it. This is one of those classic stories I feel lots of people can relate to, and even gain some techniques for dealing with some of life’s more difficult situations. I highly recommend it.
Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018
Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. I you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.