I'm joined today by author Elizabeth Ellen Carter
as she talks about mean girls!
We all know them and we’ve all been tormented by them.
Or perhaps that was just me who still winces at the memory of awkward high school days...
There’s something fascinating about how certain types of young women interact with one another.
Thick as thieves one moment, mortal enemies the next.
It’s one of the reasons why young adult fiction is so interesting and so cathartic – even for those who have long past our teen years.
High school and early university/college days are where we are placed in social competition for the first time, our focus turns inward as we try to relate our place in the world outside the safety of our family.
Our relationship with girlfriends and female peers gives us a superficial benchmark by which to compare ourselves – are we pretty enough? Are we popular enough? And later, are we successful enough?
That’s not to say boys and men don’t go through the same peer pressures, they most certainly do but different genders deal with matters differently:
Jerry: What do girls do?
Elaine: We just tease someone 'til they develop an eating disorder.
Social inclusion is a powerful weapon in a society where individuals are more dependent on one another and rely on their good opinion for success.
And yet, as Coco Chanel pointed out in the 1920s, there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about…
Janis: Well what does it say about me?
Cady: You're not in it.
Janis: Those bitches.
-- Mean Girls
The phrase came into common usage in the late 1700s to mean social exclusion.
From a literary perspective, using words instead of fists as weapons, makes for fascinating reading – oh those witty zingers and lightning fast rejoinders that very few of us can manage in real life are delicious to experience on the page.
And let’s not forget another thing – the gleeful joy at the end of the book when the ‘mean girl’ finally gets her comeuppance.
The finest example of classic ‘mean girl’ literature is the 1930s play The Women by Clare Booth-Luce which was turned into a hugely successful movie in 1939 and a real dog of a production in 2008.
Sylvia Fowler: Of course! She adores the Fowler family. Particularly my husband.
Countess Tamara: Are you accusing me of flirting with Howard?
Sylvia Fowler: No, my little pet, but of trying to! I'd like to see Howard bat an eye at another woman!
Countess Tamara: Well I've seen him, and she's not bad either!
Sylvia Fowler: Did you get her innuendo?
-- The Women
Proof positive that inspiration can strike an author in the most unexpected of places.
Moonstone Obsession is set in 1790, a period in time where women exercised their social and political power obliquely through elaborate social rituals and mores. It features several ‘mean girl’ style conversations involving our heroine and three other young ladies (including our hero’s former lover). All of which are great fun to read.
“And you still won’t tell me who you’re going as,” Edith pouted.
“I thought the whole purpose of a masquerade was to conceal your identity?” Selina replied.
“It is,” assured Catherine. “It’s just that little Miss here has not the patience, nor the attention span of a gnat.”
Edith pulled an unladylike face before skipping around the room singing,
“Catherine is more tetchy than usual because she’s in love with the Colonel and is so sad that she won’t see him again for three whole days.”
Selina watched as Catherine’s face darkened with thunderous rage.
“You little minx! I told you that in confidence!”
Catherine darted towards her. Edith squealed and ran from the room, dodging around Abigail sailing in through the door.
Selina decided to ignore her and continue painting her silk, but Abigail would not let her.
“Are you feeling well, Selina?” Abigail asked in an exaggeratedly conciliatory tone. “You were looking awfully pale this morning and after the fainting spell yesterday, James and I are most concerned for you.”
So that hadn’t gone unnoticed, Selina thought with chagrin.
“Your concern for my welfare comes as an unexpected surprise,” she responded. “James on the other hand, makes his interest abundantly clear.”
Abigail’s eyes flashed with anger momentarily, then were cool and calculating again.
“I’d like to give you the opportunity to be the first to congratulate me,” she began. “There’s going to be an announcement at the Masquerade Ball. James and I will be announcing our engagement then.
“I did warn you.”
“Does James know about your supposed engagement?” Selina enquired sweetly.
“Why do you think he’s having tea with the vicar?”
Catherine, listening some yards away while pretending to read, snorted, then feigned interest in the West Country Farmer’s Almanac.
“James knows what his obligations are and as an honourable man he knows what he must do,” Abigail pronounced.
“At least we can be agreed on something,” nodded Selina. “James is an honourable man, but I fear where we differ is whether you and I have the same definition of honour. Now,” she continued, shifting on her stool and picking up a paint brush, “if you'll excuse me, I’d like to finish some more painting before the light goes.”
From the corner of her eye, Selina watched Abigail consider her and then Catherine who had withdrawn to a further distance, determined to keep out of the discussion.
“By all means dear,” said Abigail as she seated herself on a wicker back sofa. “It’s nice to have a little talent, so important to keep the wolf from the door.
“You keep up the good work; you’ll need to earn your living one day.”
Catherine was unable to resist. “Abigail’s little talents earn her an income too,” she chimed in, “but there’s a lot of competition on the streets around Covent Garden.”
Abigail gave her friend a hateful stare, then Selina too, who was doing her best not to laugh.
Moonstone Obsession to be published by Etopia Press on October 18
Continue the conversation with Elizabeth Ellen Carter