Rewriting History: Righting the stories about three tragic characters
Let history be a guide to life lessons in the future. A great idea but what if history had the facts wrong, and we could rewrite what happened? Then what?
Today, everyone is rewriting history, from taking down politically incorrect statues, rearranging art in museums to reflect greater diversity and renaming sports teams, colleges and galleries in museums.
History has made mistakes. We read in the newspaper and hear on the news about how new scientific methods, including DNA, have been used to exonerate prisoners, who sometimes have been incarcerated erroneously for decades. How might their lives have been different if never locked up?
Almost everybody needs a good story to read these days as we winter continues and as we try to for an escape (in our cases) from overloads of television series, movies and upsetting news.
So, we imagined what life might have been like for three well-known tragic characters—two real and one part of a fable—if historians didn’t get the facts right. We have taken poetic license to right some possible wrongs and invent new endings. See if you agree.
Marie Antoinette. Here’s where a big mouth into which she stuffed too many cakes and pastries became her undoing. Maybe, with her proclivity for sweets, her throwaway line during the French Revolution, “Let them eat cake,” could have led to a different fate. The reporter who interviewed her in jail and scribbled down these words might have heard them incorrectly especially if he had bad hearing. There were no hearing aids back then.
New twist: MA’s jailer, who listened to the interview said that she never actually spouted the words reported. According to his account, she said, “I love cake, especially those frosted roses and mounds of butter cream!” After all, any of us could lose our heads over a wonderful spongy, fluffy and moist cake.
At the last minute, the jailer rushed to tell the acting peasant leaders that MA was unjustly accused. They held an emergency meeting—of course, without cakes--and concurred. She wasn’t haughty, just silly and frivolous; it was all her hubby’s doing.
Instead of beheading her (a dummy was used to tamp down the angry crowds), she was whisked off to a secret destination and placed in the then version of the witness protection program. She shed the wig, fancy jewelry, ball gowns and tiny pointed shoes, so she’d be unrecognizable. In doing so, she reinvented herself as a pastry chef, a historic model for the late New York City cake maven, Sylvia Weinstock (may she rest in peace amid clouds of puff pastry). Unbeknownst to those who knew MA in her previous public life, she found solace in baking cakes annually for the jailer who had saved her neck and pastries for Louis XVII (her son with Louis XVI). Her son never knew that his mother had baked the delicious concoctions of butter cream frosting and his favorite--chocolate cake. Unfortunately, both mother and son overindulged in their cake consumption, went into sugar shock and died shortly thereafter. Fortunately, both their heads were intact.
Little Red Riding Hood. What a misdirected tale on many levels. Little Red Riding Hood did not have a good sense of direction. Perhaps, if she hadn’t futzed around trying to find her grandmother’s house, she would not have been confronted and flummoxed by the big bad wolf. He outsmarted her and poof, she became his dinner—red cape and all.
New twist: Like the game of telephone, every time the story is retold, the wolf gets bigger and “badder” than he originally was. In our version, the big bad wolf got a bad rap. He was lonely, spotted this helpless little girl because of her bright red cape and wanted to make a friend. Unfortunately, he had been separated from his mate and pups because they were taken to a zoo, one of the first of its kind to lock animals up rather than let them roam freely.
We also believe Little Red Riding Hood must take most of the blame for talking to a stranger, egging him on, taunting and bullying him. The wolf ran to the grandmother’s house to tell Granny that her darling granddaughter wasn’t so sweet and innocent. Maybe, Granny would heed the wolf’s truthful words. They had a frank exchange before Riding Hood arrived. When she did, she was shocked to see them sharing a cup of tea and sweet biscuits to satisfy the wolf’s hunger. Both sat Riding Hood down and reprimanded her. Riding Hood cried, was embarrassed and instead of offering a real apology, at first, she blamed her behavior on the fact that she had been bullied in school. After more discussion, she recognized the error of her ways and promised to make amends. Still upset, the wolf sued her for misconduct. Riding Hood was sentenced to 100 hours of community service to work at being kind to wolves and other misunderstood animals.
To salvage everyone’s pride, the wolf was sent to the zoo to live with his family. Riding Hood was told never again to wear red when visiting Granny or to be rude to strangers whether two- or four-legged. Granny learned never to let someone she didn’t know into her home. Everyone saved face, no questions were asked, and all went on happily about their lives.
Lizzie Borden. Was she unjustly accused, or did she get off scot-free after allegedly taking an ax and killing her father and stepmother in her New England city? Regardless, she was acquitted but ostracized the rest of her life. She lived like a hermit and in poverty and died of pneumonia in her mid-60s, alone and friendless. Her actions lived on in songs and poems. We’ll never know if she really gave her parents the ax!
New twist: The Bordens were a wealthy couple, and the father boasted in town about his many possessions, including his ax collection. One day, with both Lizzie and the maid at home, a robber entered through the front window and ran into the father face-to-face. The father, who was on his way out to chop down wood, had an ax in his hand. The robber grabbed it and gave dad a whack. His wife, Lizzie’s stepmother, came running and soon got axed as well. The maid hid in the closet and saw nothing but knew Lizzie was present. The robber ran off and was never apprehended.
Lizzie was accused with the maid the star witness. Because the robber left no traces and everyone knew how Lizzie never got along with her very difficult stepmom and dad, the conclusion was simple: guilty. However, eventually, she was exonerated.
Alone, but incredibly wealthy, her money-grubbing lawyer romanced and married her. She said “yes” because every other male feared her. The lawyer not only got his wife off but saw his criminal practice boom with clients coming from near and far.
Lizzie earned additional money by knitting quilts, sweaters and socks that she sold, donating the proceeds to those unable to pay for a criminal defense attorney. Most important, Lizzie and her husband never allowed an ax in or near their home. They hired a penniless man in town to provide wood he chopped, so everyone benefited.