Everyone has that show that they can’t get enough of despite its obvious aptitude to destroy brain cells. Whether it’s Dog the Bounty Hunter, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, or Pretty Little Liars, we all have that show that we crave despite the fact that we “know better.” My brain poison of choice has recently been Gossip Girl. What’s not to like in a drama featuring a teenage tycoon who owns half of New York City, a busty, blonde, babe who invariably chooses the wrong guy, (occasionally ones with whom she shares a half-sibling), a brilliant and beautiful schemer who usually has her plots fail spectacularly even with the help of her Polish maid/mother, and a socially awkward do-gooder who somehow got in with “Manhattan’s Elite.” I was in the middle of season four when I had an epiphany: Gossip Girl is actually literary. I’m not just talking about the brilliant word play and puns featured in Gossip Girl’s narration, or the fact that Dan Humphrey is constantly whining about his tween fiction and his dreams of the New Yorker; Gossip Girl actually contains several veiled literary references suggesting that maybe this pleasure need not be so guilty after all.
My first literary revelation came in the shape of Lily Bass/Van Der Woodsen/whatever her name is. Both Lily’s name and situation mirrored that of the protagonist of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. LILY Van Der Woodsen marries BART Bass; the protagonist in House of Mirth is named Lily Bart. I assumed the name was a coincidence until I thought about Lily and Lily’s similarities. Both are New York socialites who fall in love with someone below their status. Both risk losing their inheritance over this love. While Lily Bart does tragically lose all her money, and dies without her lover, Lawrence Selden, Lily Bass manages to avoid this catastrophe by marrying and divorcing several men so she is eventually rich enough to marry her true-love Rufus Humphrey without destroying her social standing. Lily Bass’ situation would probably ended up the same as Lily Bart’s had she not been a modern woman. While Lily Bart relied on men to clothe herself and live and had no opportunity to support herself, Lily Bass does not require a husband to be financially independent.
The second literary instance I noticed was after Chuck Bass was mugged and shot. He is rescued by a poor, yet stunningly beautiful French girl who nurses him back to health. When Chuck awakes from his feverish state he decides he would like to start a new identity for himself, so when the girl asks him his name, he looks at the book on his bedside table Henry V. If I hadn’t been currently reading Henry IV, I probably would not have noticed the connection, but Chuck Bass and Henry V have a tremendous amount in common. Henry IV is the leader of Britain, until his death, when his son is crowned King. Henry V, aka Hal, however does not have the spotless reputation his father would have desired. Hal is constantly getting on the other side of the law with his roguish companions, including Falstaff. However he rises to the occasion and becomes a successful king. When Bart Bass dies, he leaves the empire to Chuck despite Chuck’s less than stellar behavior record. Everyone is surprised that Chuck actually takes his leadership in stride and is a successful businessman.
Readers, I implore you to keep watching and let me know of any other literary land mines you may stumble upon. Happy watching!
You know you love me,