I watched “Feud” when it aired last year and absolutely loved it. It inspired me to watch more stuff with those two amazing actresses, but I have not yet been able to find a copy of the original film (and if you know where I can find one, I’d really appreciate it).
In the mean time, a friend of mine mentioned she had been inspired by the show to read the original novel by Henry Farrell. She listened to the audiobook, said it was a lot of fun and that she highly recommended it, which then inspired me to listen to the audiobook myself. I was pleased to discover it was readily available from my library through OverDrive, so I downloaded it right away.
It really is a superfun audiobook. Baby Jane Hudson was a child star who did cute little bits on stage at the end of the vaudeville era, but her parents died when she was young and then her younger sister, Blanche, grew up to become a hugely successful movie star. Blanche had it written into her contract with the studio that Jane was to appear in all her films, which didn’t actually do anything to assuage Jane’s intense jealousy of her sister.
At the time the book takes place, both women are probably in their fifties and they live a secluded life in Blanche’s mansion. Blanche was in a car accident that crippled her for life so she’s confined to a wheelchair. Jane, who may or may not have been involved in the accident, is stuck taking care of her – which means Blanche is completely at Jane’s mercy.
Begin psychological drama that includes starvation, dead animals, taking the phone off the hook, tampering with the mail, and sibling rivalry taken to a whole new level.
A couple things prompt the action of the novel. First, they start replaying Blanche’s old movies on TV, after which, a bunch of people to send her fan letters, although she never receives them. Jane handles the mail, and because this new wave of fan letters stokes her jealousy, she makes sure Blanche never sees them. Then Jane hears Blanche talking about selling the big mansion so they can downsize, since it’s just the two of them, but Jane hates that idea and is determined to put a stop to it.
Jane is not entirely sane. Not only does she do crazy things to terrorize her sister, but she’s planning to bring back her old act because she is apparently entirely unaware that no one wants to see a woman in her fifties perform children’s routines.
Things escalate out of Jane’s control as she tries to cut her sister off from what little contact she has with the outside world, and relaunch her own business. Blanche’s caretaker ends up dead and a musician gets run off the road and is very nearly murdered. Jane manages to get Blanche in their car and drives her to the beach because her fondest memories are of going to the beach with her parents. Blanche, near death, confesses that the accident was her own fault and that she had actually been trying to run over Jane, who had been embarrassing Blanche by putting on performances of her old routine.
So really the book is about how you can be undone by your own anger and jealousy – the saying “anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick” rings especially true here because the sisters harm themselves as much as each other with their mutual hatred.
In the film, Jane hears this confession and is shocked that she and her sister could have been friends all this time. In the book, it’s unclear whether Jane hears any of this, but it doesn’t really matter because the point is for Blanche to unburden herself of this secret.
In both the book and the movie, Jane goes to get refreshments for herself and her sister, but gets distracted when she realizes there’s a crowd of people watching her. Thinking they’ve gathered to watch her perform, she starts to dance and that’s the end.
The book switches perspective from Blanche to Jane to various other characters, including a fan of Blanche’s who recently moved in next door and wonders how the former movie star is spending her time these days. I’m always wary of books about women written by men, especially considering this was written in the ’50s, but it was surprisingly well done. I had no feminist complaints and would absolutely recommend this to anyone looking for a fun, suspenseful read.
What did you guys read/listen to this week? Anything else that inspired a movie and/or TV show?