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Mary Sue and Little Eva

Alison Reingold

Among the many merits of the Internet is the proliferation of fanfiction among writer communities as well as fan communities. Fanfiction is fiction where a writer takes the diegesis of a popular book, movie, or television show and writes from new perspectives, either creating new characters or expanding on existing ones. While fanfiction is an extremely interesting type of literature, one potentially unpleasant side effect is Mary Sue. "Mary Sues" are idealized characters, recognizable "by their unusual and dramatic traits and experiences, their similarity to their author, and, especially, their exaggerated superiority to other characters" (Wikipedia). As the embodiment of the author's desires and fantasies, the Mary Sue often has a unique and sometimes improbable combination of infallibility, innocence, and beauty. All morally good characters are not considered Mary Sues, but those characters created for the express purpose of perfection are greeted with raised eyebrows.

As a biblical allegory, Uncle Tom's Cabin could be seen as a type of fanfiction written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, reinterpreting old events with new perspectives. Stowe's morally good characters all share the patience and inner purity that is typical for Christians in literature but little Eva has risen above other characters in ways that are past merely Christ-like. Both Tom and Eva are Christ figures, but Stowe has a special affection for Eva, to the point of self-insertion.

There are many tests available on the Internet for fanfiction writers to see if their characters are Mary Sue's. Several questions apply directly to the author's intentions or are specific to popular stories like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, but despite the time difference, many are applicable to Uncle Tom's Cabin.

+ Does the character's name describe her/his personality? (e.g. Tristan means sad, Darcy means dark, Charity means charity, etc.) [1 points] Among several translations, the name "Evangeline" means "like an angel" or "the bearer of good news." Between characters, there is no dispute that Eva is angelic and to Tom, she is certainly the bearer of good news and blessings.

+ Is the character highly attractive? [3 points] Stowe introduces Eva as "the perfection of childish beauty, without its usual chubbiness and squareness of outline" (153).

+ Are one or more other characters attracted to her/him? [1 point] Eva makes "the ideal start when they looked at her, and by which the dullest and most literal were impressed, without exactly knowing why" (153).

+ Is an otherwise chaste or stoic character immediately attracted to her/him? [3 point] Although not in the sexual way most characters in fanfiction relate to modern Mary Sues, Miss Ophelia, though described having a "stony grimness" (167) and "a severe and somewhat gloomy cast" about her, "she loved the little girl" (168).

+ Does the character have an unusual eye color, or otherwise exceptional eyes? [3 points] + And are these eyes a color that does not occur in nature? [1 point] Eva has "violet blue eyes" (153), quite uncommon and questionably natural.

+ Does the character have eyes that somehow reflect hidden depths or experience or sorrow? [4 points] Eva's eyes contain a "deep spiritual gravity" (153) and when she peers at Tom, "he half believed that he saw one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament" (154).

+ Does the character get a disproportionate amount of physical description compared to the rest of the characters? [2 points] While it is debatable how much time is spent describing Eva, her first introduction on page 153 is nine complex sentences long, and other people's reactions to her beauty are nearly two pages.

+ Does the character have unusual or exceptional hair, or does her/his hair get a disproportionate amount of description compared to that of the other characters? [3 points] Eva has "long golden-brown hair that floated like a cloud" (153).

+ Is the character rich or well-to-do, although she/he doesn't work? [1 points] Although Eva is a child and therefore, not expected to work, her father is "the son of a wealthy planter" (160) and lives in "an ancient mansion" (171).

+ Is the character heir to a large fortune? [1 points] + The sole heir? [1 points] Eva is St. Clare's only child and although not explicitly stated, one can assume she is his sole heir.

+ Does the character have angst in the present? [1 point] Among many examples of painful empathy for slaves, upon hearing about Old Prue, "She grew pale, and a deep, earnest shadow passed over her eyes." She "sighed heavily" because "these things stick into my heart" (230).

+ Does the character collect things you consider intellectual or cultured? [1 point] Harriet Beecher Stowe describes all of Eva's surroundings lovingly as having a beauty and sophistication not normally associated with children. In Eva's bedroom, there is "curtains of rose-colored and white muslin," matting from Paris (298), "graceful bamboo lounges," a "Parian vase," and "two or three exquisite paintings" (299).

+ Does the character have any particular area of study/information/etc. in which she/he is the most knowledgeable or among the most knowledgeable? [2 points] + And is she/he widely known for having this knowledge? [2 points] Eva's devotion and knowledge of the Bible is well known and even Tom, the second Christ figure, defers to Eva. Eva says she has seen "the glories" and the "spirits bright" and Tom "had no doubt at all" (274). In fact, "If Eva had told him she had been to heaven, he would have thought it entirely probable" (275). She is "such a reader of the Bible as Tom had never before heard" (273)

+ Does the character have the same religious or spiritual beliefs as you? [2 points] Eva appears to subscribe to the same Christian beliefs as Stowe, though specific denominations are not mentioned.

+ Has everyone significant heard of the character? [2 points] While it is debatable as to which characters are significant, St. Clare, Marie, Miss Ophelia, Tom, Topsy, and Mammy are all acquainted with Eva.

+ Do all of the important characters end up liking/respecting/fearing her/him? [3 points] + Did they all like/respect/fear her/him from the beginning? [1 point] Every character acquainted with Eva instantly cherishes her. No character dislikes Eva.

+ Does the character reform a villainous character? [3 points] + And does the villain become evil again after the character dies or leaves, but retain some last vestige of goodness from his/her interaction with the character? [2 points] Eva's relationship with Topsy is her greatest reformation in the novel. Stowe describes how "the sweet tone and manner strangely on the wild, rude heart" (259). Upon Eva's death, Topsy pleads that she is trying to be good (305) and later, Miss Ophelia claims she "has improved greatly" (324). Questions taken from "The Original Fiction Mary-Sue Litmus Test"

The character of Eva ends with a score of forty-three points, qualifying her as a Mary Sue according to the test. Other debatable questions are if Eva dies or suffers punishment for a crime she did not commit and if her "empathy" or "prophecy" qualify as "special powers," or if her glimpses into heaven qualify as "Transdimensional travel or communication." It probably would have surprised Stowe to see her characters traits reappear in modern fanfiction. Eva is undoubtedly a Mary Sue character in the Harriet Beecher Stowe's fanfiction version of the Bible but it does not devalue her. There is a pervading opinion that Mary Sues are not legitimate characters in literature because they are not realistic. However, most fanfiction writers agree that Mary Sues can be improved by adding human flaws and have the potential to be legitimate moral leaders if they are freed from perfection.

I hope you enjoyed my paper. I know there's plenty more to be said and I know a lot of people at Bryn Mawr are knowledgable about fanfiction, so any comments or suggestions would be welcomed. Thanks!

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