I’ve always loved the book “The Velveteen Rabbit.” First of all, I love rabbits. I tend to be sentimental too, so the book’s mix of pathos and rabbits is perfect for me.
“The Velveteen Daughter” is a work of historical fiction. It’s about The Velveteen Rabbit’s author, Margery Williams Bianco, but even more it’s about Margery’s daughter, Pamela.
Margery and her husband Francesco have a son and a daughter. Pamela, the daughter, is an artistic child prodigy. Her father acts as her agent, setting up shows for her works. She gains a lot of fame. But, along with the good is the not-so: Pamela also suffers from mental health issues. I’m guessing that today her illness would be tagged as manic depression or bipolar disorder. “She can still fly high, but it’s the landings I worry about.”
Throughout the book, I found myself empathizing with Margery and her worries for Pamela: “At any rate, I confess that my immediate thought when Pamela talked of her childhood ending was, ‘I’m afraid, my dear, it never really has.’ Now here she is, and not a thing I can do. I hear nothing. The door to her room is shut, there is no sound of movement. She’s utterly quiet, as if she’s not here at all — yet somehow she fills the apartment so that I feel there is no room for me in this place.”
Pamela loves her mother but feels a very strong pull toward her father, which is sad because he suffers from major depression and is very volatile. Margery says, “I may have been her sun and her moon and her stars, but her father was God, and off she would have trotted (after him) … Patience, watchfulness — and time — seem to do the trick in the end. Francesco’s bouts simmer like a low-grade fever. But it’s not the same with Pamela. Pamela’s attack like the plague.”
We learn a bit about Margery’s writing of The Velveteen Rabbit. It was inspired by her life; but whereas in that book the little boy gets sick and recovers, in real life Margery’s 12-year-old sister Agnes is sick and dies. “My favorite toys are by my side; the skin horse, the jointed wooden dog, and the soft velveteen rabbit that St. Nicholas left in my stocking.”
As a young teen, Pamela develops a crush on family friend Diccon. However, Diccon (who is seven years older) turns elsewhere for romance and this is a severe blow to Pamela. She ends up institutionalized for a while, and this pattern continues throughout her life. She marries twice and has a son, but struggles with mental health. As an adult, her artistic work ebbs and flows. This is another area she struggles in: feeling she has not lived up to her childhood potential. “I yearned just to understand, to be part of the world of men and women together. But I was not one of them, I was pieced together differently, and I never could run with the other rabbits in the meadow.” I liked the allusion here to The Velveteen Rabbit.
The author did a wonderful job taking us into Pamela’s mind and what it must have felt like to be tortured as she was. I struggled a bit with the book’s format, as the chapters alternated between Pamela and Margery, and the time frame kept changing. This changing timeline was difficult to follow, and I would have preferred the story to be told in a more linear fashion.
The author includes a note at the end letting us know which parts of the book were factual and which she embellished. I appreciated knowing that.
I enjoyed “The Velveteen Daughter” and would recommend it. Next time I read The Velveteen Rabbit, I will enjoy knowing a bit more about the woman behind it.