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The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
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Weaving Stories

Haley Bruggemann

A story can be fashioned out of almost anything, much like a makeshift costume. Everywhere, a story is taking place every day and at every minute, even if they are not all recorded. "Literary influence is like genetics," Jeffrey Eugenides said in his interview with Jonathan Safran Foer for Bomb Magazine. He described the borrowing of "fireworks" from those who came before. If literature is indeed a game of genetics, an almost pseudo-biological process, Eugenides has borrowed "fireworks" from a rich literary history, a history rooted both in fact and in fiction. An analysis of the characters, the emotions, and the scenes that appear in his novel Middlesex is more than enough to prove that Eugenides has achieved a delicate weaving of stories and voices from the past.

One of the most central voices among them is Camille or Herculine Barbin, a nineteenth-century French pseudo-hermaphrodite. Like Cal/Callie, Camille was raised as a girl only to discover that she was biologically male. Eugenides borrows quite a bit from Herculine's memoirs. What is most striking is the relationship between Camille and Sara, the literary ancestors of Eugenides' Callie and the Obscure Object. Not only are the emotions and circumstances of these first intense love affairs similar in style and in wording, but they also strongly echo each other.

One scene and it's subsequent scenes in particular are direct mirrors of Herculine Barbin, down to the underlying emotions. This is the scene in which an intimate relationship begins for the first time. "Often I would wake up in the middle of the night," Camille writes in her memoirs. "Then I would slip stealthily up to my friend, promising myself that I would not disturb her angelic sleep: but could I contemplate that sweet face without drawing my lips close to it?" (48). Callie's first intimate encounter with the Obscure Object also takes place in the secrecy of the darkness, and it begins innocently enough. Callie first watches the Object as she sleeps. "I waited ten or so minutes, just to be safe. Then, as though tossing in my sleep, I rolled over so that I was looking at the Object." (Eugenides, 382).

Camille and Callie's feelings for their lovers are also mirrors of each other. Both couples start out as best friends and confidantes, while Camille and Callie secretly dream of something more. When Sara and the Obscure Object let them know of their importance in their lives, they are wild with joy. "'For Heaven's sake, Camille,' she said to me. 'What's the matter with you? Don't you really have any confidence in your friend any more? Aren't you the one whom I love most in the world?'" (50). Similarly, when the Obscure Object tells Callie that she is her best friend, Callie is secretly joyful. "I pretend to be engrossed in the magazine. Inside, however, I'm bursting with happiness. I'm erupting with joy." (Eugenides, 350).

The circumstances of both relationships, the difference of night and day, the secrecy, guilt and shame, are also comparable. Camille is aware that there will be serious repercussions if anyone is to find out about their intimacy. "I occupied an excessively delicate post, one of trust. And yet I was betraying them." (54). Camille and Callie suffer and bear the terrible weight of their secrets. Callie reports in a like manner, "I was wondering what would happen if someone discovered what we were doing." (383).

Camille's voice may have ultimately become a part of Callie and influenced her first relationship, but Eugenides was careful to listen to other voices as well. He decided to borrow from the more recent past for a less central role. His character Doctor Luce is based on the real-life Dr. John Money, who was at the eye of a storm concerning the "nature versus nurture" theory, and whose medical methods were somewhat questionable. Money was a "thin, delicate child raised in an atmosphere of strict religious observance" (Colapinto). In his early 20's, Money rebelled against his religious faith and became a self-titled doctor of sexology. Eugenides writes Luce as a man of a corresponding background. "A sheltered child once, from a reserved Presbyterian home, Luce was now liberated, free of antisexualism." (419).

There are still more comparisons to be found. Money became famous after the so-called John/Joan case, in which he changed an anonymous baby boy named John into a girl named Joan, who was raised alongside her twin brother. What followed after that first surgery was a medical case highly publicized as a success. It wasn't until later, and some would say too late, that many found out the truth about Money and his methods. The twins of his famous twin case were subjected to much of the same things that Callie is subjected to in Middlesex. "'Dr. Money would ask me, 'Do you ever dream of having sex with women?' Kevin recalls. And the same with Joan. "Do you think about this? About that?" (Colapinto). In a companion scene, Luce asks Callie if she is attracted to men or women. "In a straightforward voice Luce asked from the darkness, 'Which one turns you on?'" (419).

Money's methods also included forcing the twins and other patients to watch pornography in order to get a sense of themselves as boys and girls. In Middlesex, Luce uses the same method. "There was also the diagnostic tool of pornography" (418). Money and Luce both wanted to use the children to further their standing in the medical field and to prove their theories, at the children's expense. The twins-and Callie, were the ultimate experiments, something Eugenides was clear in pointing out.

Eugenides borrowed large parts of his tale from fact, but he also found a way to include his and Cal/Callie's cultural heritage by weaving in significant parts of Greek mythology. He describes the Minotaur in a pivotal scene with Cal/Callie's grandparents, and Cal/Callie often refers to himself as characters from the myths. For example, he most often refers to himself as Tiresias, the Greek who lived both as man and woman. So much of Greek mythology is fitting for Eugenides' tale, and he is a master at slipping the myths into his narrative.

"Influence isn't just a matter of copying someone," Eugenides told his interviewer. "Being influenced is largely a process of self-discovery." Eugenides combined and blended these stories and probably many others into the story of Cal/Callie. In Middlesex, literary ancestors have evolved into something new and, in some aspects, improved for this century. Cal/Callie's story is a story for our time, a modern narration which has taken on a new level of emotional maturity and life. It's lessons, drawn from all these different sources, are important to us and will continue to be to future generations. That is Jeffrey Eugenides' achievement, a story with plenty of "fireworks".


Barbin, Herculine. Herculine Barbin. Trans. Richard McDougall. New York: Random House,

Colapinto, John. "The True Story of John/Joan". The Rolling Stone. 11 Dec. 1997.

Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. "Jeffrey Eugenides". Bomb Magazine. 14 Nov. 2002

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