Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

A friend in the City treated me to a ticket to go see Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which is currently on Broadway at the Shubert Theater. I was familiar with the movie of course, and the theme of infertility intrigued me on this second view because of my heightened sensitivity to this kind of subject matter. A minimum of research on Albee revealed him to be an adoptee, and an angry one at that:

And the stuff about the “blond-eyed, blue-haired son” is the first hint of Albee’s ongoing obsession with writing about his own adoption by wealthy, conservative New Englanders whom he grew to despise. Many of his plays after Woolf, which was his first full-length drama, have dealt with the theme of “invisible” children.

Another quote:

I never felt comfortable with the adoptive parents. I don’t think they knew how to be parents. I probably didn’t know how to be a son, either.

He left home at an early age, and this play seems to be a further indictment of this “perfection of family” myth attributed to adoption at that time; he very distinctly compares adoption to eugenic “selection” of children. There’s the line at the end of the play when the imaginary son has been “killed” and Martha says, “Maybe we could….” and George immediately cuts her off: “No.”

This is a moment of adoptive parent awareness that I find to be pretty amazing, even though it comes from the pen of an adoptee. Albee seems to be saying that their imaginary child, as “alive” as he was, at least didn’t have an impact on any living being, and perhaps, with the couple’s acceptance of their childlessness, some actual healing might occur for them.

I include this long intro in order to frame the following questions for discussion:

  • Are we aware of any other adoptees who raise the issue in a way which has such a large impact on the culture?
  • Are there other examples in which the onus of self-exploration, self-examination, and introspection is shifted back in such an obvious way to the infertile parents instead of on to the back of the adopted child?
  • Do we know of any adoptive parents who dare to tackle this subject in any way which is not at all indulgent of their perceived needs?
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7 thoughts on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

  1. Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    ‘This is a moment of adoptive parent awareness that I find to be pretty amazing, even though it comes from the pen of an adoptee. Albee seems to be saying that their imaginary child, as “alive” as he was, at least didn’t have an impact on any living being, and perhaps, with the couple’s acceptance of their childlessness, some actual healing might occur for them.’

  2. Pingback: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? « lara harlow-hentz

  3. Daniel, you may have seen Mommie Dearest, the movie about Joan Crawford adopting her daughter Christine and 3 others. That movie made an impact in two ways: adoptive parents could abuse and torture their adopted children but the adoption industry was corrupted by babysellers like Georgia Tann and others who profitted by illegal methods.

  4. It’s interesting you bring up Mommie Dearest, because it almost seems to be immune to any criticism of adoption whatsoever. It does, on the contrary, set up the beloved “exceptional case” that is then dismissed: The bitter, spoiled adoptee seeking revenge; the celebrity who “saves” orphans (and just happens to be an abusive tyrant). The line in the movie about the adoption being a “publicity stunt” seems to get as close to any kind of direct criticism as we can hope for.

    The mediation of the book and film is very interesting. For example, in this interview in Vanity Fair [ http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2008/03/crawford200803 ], Crawford refers to the adoption obliquely as a “good deed” that doesn’t go unpunished. She expressly refers to her “adopted daughter”. And then there is this line: “I adopted her, but she didn’t adopt me” which probably deserves a whole item to itself.

    But the quotes grow more bizarre, and more telling:

    You know the troubles I’ve had with my two older children. I can’t understand why it turned out so badly. I tried to give them everything. I loved them and tried to keep them near me, even when they didn’t return my love. Well, I couldn’t make them love me, but they could have shown some respect. I couldn’t insist on love, but I could insist on respect.

    [I remember once my adoptive father announced half-jokingly that he didn’t get any respect from his children. I rebutted that respect was “earned”, and not “given”, and there was a moment of silence that I think represented a decision not to deck me.]

    Here’s Bette Davis chiming in:

    I looked at that book, but I did not need to read it. I wouldn’t read trash like that, and I think it was a terrible, terrible thing for a daughter to do. An abomination! To do something like that to someone who saved you from the orphanage, foster homes—who knows what. If she didn’t like the person who chose to be her mother, she was grown up and could choose her own life.

    As Crawford & Friends attempt to save her image, they are equally attempting to keep intact the mythology of adoption.

  5. That is the Mommie Dearest mindset – the child is evil for not being grateful and perfect since that is how we are promised when delivered from the babybroker to the buyer. So are we to believe her adoptees caused her to be crazy? Maybe?
    (With propaganda and publicity, it’s never about the adoptee, is it?)
    Crawford, a classic narcissist, was ruled too old to adopt normally so she went thru a babyseller. That didn’t make the movie version.
    I don’t know if any of the Crawford adoptees inherited – highly unlikely. (That reminds me of Warren Buffet telling the world that his adopted grandaughter would not inherit a dime.)
    Like another horror flick Orphan – the adoptee is made into the bad guy.
    When we adoptees don’t fit their expectation, the adopters are to be pitied.

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