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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

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Manic Street Pixies
lnhammer posted here about this very funny take-down of the magical ETA manic pixie dream girl topos.

The term was coined by Nathan Rabin in reference to films, and that's where you meet the MPDG most often, but being perverse of course I'm interested in her appearance elsewhere. She's definitely popped up in YA fiction, for example Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl, but I'm wondering more about her prehistory: can she really have sprung fully-armed in all her life-affirming zaniness from the head of screwball comedy? And if she did, why then? Was there some earlier figure whose function(s) MPDG at least partially replaced? Looking for precursors, the closest I've got to a pre-movies MPDG is Eppie from Silas Marner, who fulfils some of the essential roles - e.g. giving purpose back to a male protagonist who is stuck in a rut, and doing so not through romantic love but primarily through youth, vivacity and freshness. On the other hand, I don't remember Eppie - despite her strikingly MPDG name - being particularly eccentric or ditzy (though it's been a while).

Alternatively, if the MPDG really is new, is she made possible by some particular cultural moment? Is she a secular figure, or a post-Freudian one, for example? Or is her birth just one of those things that don't require explanation? I've no answers, but I'm pondering.
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I've heard Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby called a MPDG, but I disagree. To me she has too much of a self.

Agreed. I wonder if that would be equally true had it not been Hepburn in the role?

Possibly not!

I've heard Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby called a MPDG, but I disagree. To me she has too much of a self.

Agreed; I keep hearing screwball comedy credited (or blamed) for inventing the trope, but I can't see it. Especially Bringing Up Baby—Katherine Hepburn isn't an adorably quirky bundle of self-help for stuffed shirt Cary Grant, she's a force of chaos that rips through him from fluffy bathrobe to intercostal clavicle and it's not so much that she's good for him, she's just irresistibly, crazily, funnily right.

I said once in a similar conversation, "I have never yet seen an entire Brontosaurus skeleton destroyed like the Titanic in a contemporary indie rom-com and if I do I'll be really skeptical about it," and I think I stand by that as a genre definition.

Essay! Please?


Eppie is more Heartwarming Orphan, no?


You're right, of course. Perhaps HOs grow up in the most delightful way to become MPDGs?

Especially when crossed with Genki Girl or The Pollyanna.


I've never been clear on this trope, despite reading everything on TVTropes about it. It seems like it's just a particularly quirky character when shown through an outside POV, which...well, covers an awful lot of ground.

As I understand it (which you'll gather is not very far) she's also got to have a pivotal role in awakening the male protagonist's dormant zest for life. But I agree it's a fairly broad term, which is partly why I feel impelled to tease at it, to see if it a) unravels altogether or b) reveals itself to be more sharply defined. (That, plus it's more fun than marking.)

(It looks like you have two copies of this post up.)

Thanks. Problems with the DW cross-post.

Lulu in Something Wild. With a really interesting twist.

I agree it's not really a screwball comedy trope.

I've not seen Something Wild, but it looks as if it fits the MPDG specification to a T.

If it's not a screwball comedy trope, it does at least seem to share some of the mannerisms of screwball comedy. Whether this is a genetic inheritance or merely convergent evolution, I'm not so sure.

Any relationship to the Madcap Irish Girl of school stories?

Interesting. The context is very different - no jaded male protagonist to be rattled out of his threadbare comfort zone - but the girl may look very similar in herself, as it were. Maybe MPDGs get their schooling in English boarding schools?

Perversely speaking as a wannabe pixie myself, well, nixie anyway, I'd cite the stepmother in I CAPTURE THE CASTLE. And before her, Sheena Queen of the Jungle. Rima in GREEN MANSIONS got herself into the wrong kind of book. At least the girl in PIXIE IN PETTICOATS survived, apparently

Someone elsewhere cited someone in COLD COMFORT FARM, which suggests various models.

Oh, Pratt/de Camp's Belphebe, and Spenser's for whom she is named.

It's a while since I read I Capture the Castle, but my very vague memory is more "chaotic easy-going earth mother" than MPDG. I may be reading back later mothers into the mix, though - e.g. the mother in Hilary McKay's Saffy's Angel and sequels.

I'm not familiar with Green Mansions or Pixie in Petticoats - the latter's name is certainly suggestive!

Flora Poste is too organized and determined to be a MPDG, but she certainly ticks some of the other boxes - notably the turning of rutted lives upside down.

I don't know about the later version, but Spenser's Belphoebe is more of a serious Diana-type huntress, and not ditzy at all. Florimell might be a better bet, though she's probably too passive.

but my very vague memory is more "chaotic easy-going earth mother" than MPDG.

Yeah. Topaz likes to be a muse; she feels she's failing at her own art if she's not inspiring someone. I don't think of her as manic so much as bohemian, and she certainly doesn't solve James Mortmain's life. That's something he needs to work out between his brain, his book, and his daughter.

What about Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion? Or is she too much the force of chaos mentioned above? She certainly shakes Higgins out of his rut though doesn't end up being right for him, at least in the play.

She's an interesting case. I don't think she's manic or pixie-ish enough to qualify entirely, but you might see the play as an avant la lettre critique of the idea of fashioning women as poultices to the male ego - because Eliza refuses to stick to the script.

Edited at 2013-05-23 10:33 am (UTC)