# of pages revised: 20
# of pages written on new project: 8
Yesterday I was at the gym, listening to the podcast “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” and I learned a very bizarre story about a woman named Mary Tofts. I will now recount this story for you all.
Mary was a twenty-four-year-old English peasant who, in 1726, claimed to have given birth to a baby rabbit. As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, she went on to complain that she was giving birth to little hairless rabbits at the rate of one per day.
Mary’s somewhat confused explanation was that a while back she had been pregnant and out in the fields working. She had seen a rabbit and chased it, then grown ill and miscarried her child. After that, she became obsessed with rabbits and suddenly starting delivering them rapidly. She could feel them alive and kicking in her womb, but they were always born dead.
Naturally, people were skeptical. John Howard (deemed Eminent Surgeon and Man-Midwife by the Mist’s Weekly Journal) went to examine Mary and announced that she was indeed giving birth to skinned baby rabbits, as well as all manners of other animal parts, such as the legs of a Tabby cat and the backbone of an eel.
Howard invited other prominent doctors to come and observe Mary and her offspring and they, too, agreed that she was popping out dead bunnies and weird animal parts on a daily basis. Nathaniel St. Andre, a surgeon to the Royal Household of King George I, even performed a medical examination on Mary and concluded that the rabbits were bred in her Fallopian tubes.
So that’s when the British Royal family got involved. They were fascinated by freaky Mary Tofts and ordered she be taken to London and studied in a hospital setting. Under close surveillance, however, the bunny-births stopped. Surprise, surprise.
It was then found out that for the past month Mary’s husband, Joshua, had been buying a lot of young rabbits. That looked rather suspicious. Then Mary’s sister, Margaret, was caught trying to smuggle a dead rabbit into her sister’s room. When questioned, Mary claimed that the rabbit was for eating purposes only… That didn’t look good either.
So people started to accuse Mary of making the whole thing up. At first, she denied that she was lying, but a few days later, when she was threatened, she admitted to being deceitful. Apparently she had been stuffing animal parts up herself and faking violent contractions. (Although some blame really needs to be placed on the male doctors, who were so stupid about pregnancy and female anatomy that they actually thought she was giving birth to baby bunnies.)
Mary’s reasoning for the hoax? She wanted to get a pension and no longer have to work in the fields. She was eventually charged with being a “cheat and imposter,” and poor Dr. St. Andre probably felt a little awkward about his recently published 40-page pamphlet: A Short Narrative of an Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets.
Of course, my first reaction to this story was…AWESOME. It’s gruesome and creepy and bizarrely funny. But the most fascinating part of all is the psychology of Mary Tofts. What in the world was going on inside her brain? I mean, it’s one thing to not want to work, but her method of tricking people was awfully weird and extreme. Did she really think she would get away with it?
The other day my boyfriend asked me if I was following the Jodi Arias case. If you aren’t familiar, Arias is currently being accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Anderson, by stabbing him 27 times, slitting his throat, and shooting him in the head, all while he was naked and defenseless in the shower.
Sure, it doesn’t seem like a birthing-baby-bunnies-hoax at first, but there are a lot of similarities between Jodi and Mary. First of all, there’s the lying. Jodi has been lying her pants off ever since the investigation began. First she said that she wasn’t even in the state when the murder occurred. Then, when they uncovered naked pictures of Jodi and Travis, taken the day of the murder in Travis’s home, she admitted to being there, but said she didn’t know about the murder. Later she said people broke in and killed Travis. Later still, she admitted to killing him in self defense. Rather suspicious, you might say.
So both women lied outrageously to people’s faces. Then there’s also the fact that they both left obvious clues out in the open. In Tofts’s case, her husband buying rabbits and her sister trying to smuggle one was a pretty big indicator of her guilt. In Arias’s case, a week before the murder occurred, a gun was stolen from her grandparents’ home (where she lived), and it turned out to be the very same gun used to shoot Travis in the head. That didn’t look good for Jodi.
And, you know, it’s one thing to kill your boyfriend, but her method was awfully extreme, don’t you think? You don’t really need to stab someone 27 times AND shoot them in the head. What was she thinking? Did she really think she could get away with it?
* * *
Recently I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and I liked it so much that I went out and bought all of her other books (Sharp Objects and Dark Places) and read them immediately. I wouldn’t really recommend Sharp Objects, but Dark Places was a fast and furious murder-mystery thriller about a woman whose mother and two sisters were brutally murdered when she was seven years old. She testified that her brother did it, and he was convicted, but now, as an adult, she’s beginning to realize that she doesn’t know nearly as much as she thought she did about the incidences of that fateful night.
I’ve never thought of myself as the type to sit around reading paperback murder mysteries, and yet, on Monday night I stayed up until way past my bedtime to finish Dark Places. I was a little freaked out with myself. Why was I so interested in reading about a heinous murder?
It’s not that I wanted to read about murder. I don’t like violence as a general rule, and I skimmed over the paragraphs that described the gruesome death scene itself. It wasn’t the murder that interested me. It was the mystery. All of the characters were lying or withholding the truth for various reasons – even the narrator. And all of the characters made some questionable choices, even if the choices weren’t murder-related.
So it was the choices that interested me. The choice to do something bizarre or ill-advised. The choice to lie about it. It was the psychology of the characters that fascinated me. Why are they doing these things? Why are they saying these things? What is going on inside their minds? Do they really think they’ll get away with it?
I was a psychology major in undergrad, mostly because I wanted so badly to understand why people do the things they do. A bunch of courses and readings and papers later, I came to the conclusion that we still don’t really know. But that desire is what compels me to read books, and, often, it is what compels me to write about characters who fascinate me.
I’ll never really understand what Mary was thinking, or Jodi – and geez that frustrates me! I want to know! Good thing I’m a writer. I can create a character who lies and does terrible, crazy things. Then I can look inside her head (or her womb) and figure out what’s really going on in there.
Listen to the “Stuff You Should Know” podcast on “Five Famous Hoaxes.” You won’t be sorry.