Faulkner and Sylvia Plath

LORELAI: Or one of your authors, Faulkner or . . .

RORY: Or Sylvia Plath.

LORELAI: Hm, might send the wrong message.

RORY: The sticking her head in the oven thing?

LORELAI: Yeah. Although she did make her kids a snack first, shows a certain maternal instinct.

William Faulkner (1897-1962), previously mentioned, writer known for his novels and short stories set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County of Mississippi, based on the real Lafayette County of that state. William Faulkner spent most of his life in Oxford, Mississippi, which in his works is renamed Jefferson. The winner of the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature, he is one of the most celebrated American authors, and widely considered the greatest writer of Southern Literature.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) [pictured], previously mentioned several times, poet, novelist, and short-story writer, best known for her confessional poetry, as well as her 1963 novel The Bell Jar, previously discussed. Her posthumous 1982 Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize. Clinically depressed for most of her life, she killed herself by gassing herself in the oven. Before she did so, she made her sleeping children (two year old Frieda and one year old Nicholas) a snack of bread and butter, opened their bedroom window, and put tape and towels around the door in an effort to protect them from the fumes. Sadly, her suicide seems to have often become a punchline in television comedy, as with this example.

Insanity Plea

RORY: When did you see me with Dean?

JESS: At that stupid summer insanity plea the town put on.

An insanity plea, otherwise known as a mental disorder defence, is an argument put forward during a criminal trial that the defendant is not guilty for their crimes due to a psychiatric disease at the time the crime was committed. Using this as a defence goes back in law to the very beginnings of recorded history, and although it’s popular in fiction, it’s rare in the US – used in about 1% of cases, and then, only successful about a quarter of the time. The person who succeeds in winning their case this way will usually have to undergo psychiatric treatment in an institution instead of a prison sentence, or as part of their prison sentence.

Ottoman and Napoleon Complex

RORY: Hello living room.

LORELAI: Hello Rory, we missed you. Not the ottoman, of course, but everyone knows he’s a snob. Napoleon complex, he only really likes the magazine rack.

An ottoman is a small padded seat without a back or arms that can be used as a table, stool, or footstool. They are also known as tuffets, hassocks, or pouffes. The name comes from the Ottoman Empire from where it originated, the seat introduced to Europe in the 18th century.

A Napoleon complex is an imaginary syndrome attributed to people of short stature, where the short person (usually a man), overcompensates for their size by being too aggressive or domineering. In psychology, it is regarded as a derogatory social stereotype and a piece of mysandry. It comes from the idea put about by the British in the 19th century that Napoleon Bonaparte’s short temper was caused by him being of short size. In fact, Napoleon was 5 foot 7, average height for his era.

Presumably the ottoman only likes the magazine rack because it’s the one thing smaller than it is!

“The doctor is in”

RORY: You had another dream.

LORELAI: Yes.

RORY: The doctor is in.

In the Peanuts comic strip, previously mentioned, there is a running gag where Lucy van Pelt sets up her own psychiatry booth, in which she dispenses terrible advice for five cents. The booth has a sign on it, saying The doctor is in, when Lucy is available for consultation. Rory is having a sly joke at her own expense, as if any advice she has to offer will be similarly useless.

Writing Letters to Jodie Foster

LUKE: You know what people told me when I said you were coming here to live with me? They told me I was crazy, they told me I was insane, they told me to start writing letters to Jodie Foster.

Luke references John Hinckley Jr. (born 1955), a college drop-out from a wealthy family who attempted to assassinate president Ronald Reagan. Hinckley was reportedly seeking fame in a misguided effort to impress actress Jodie Foster (born Alicia Foster in 1962), with whom he had been obsessed since the 1976 film Taxi Driver, where Foster plays a sexually-trafficked twelve-year-old child – in the film, the disturbed protagonist plots to assassinate a presidential candidate (it’s based on a true story).

When Jodie Foster began attending Yale University, Hinckley moved to New Haven in order to stalk her, sending her dozens of letters and poems, and leaving messages on her answering machine. Believing that assassinating the president would somehow make him Foster’s equal, Hinckley fired a revolver six times at Ronald Reagan on March 30 1981, as he left the Hilton Hotel in Washington DC. Although Hinckley did not hit Reagan, he was wounded when a bullet ricocheted and hit him in the chest. He also wounded a police officer and a Secret Service agent, and critically injured a press secretary, who died from his wounds in 2014.

John Hinckley Jr. was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982, and transferred to psychiatric care. He was released from hospital in 2016 into his mother’s care under numerous restrictions. As of June 2022, Hinckley will be living freely in the community. He has a YouTube channel, where he self-publishes his own songs; they are also available on Spotify and other streaming sites.

Girl, Interrupted

RORY: I’ll tell you what, Sookie. How about Lane and I come up with a few more suggestions for you? Still melodic, but not quite as Girl, Interrupted.

Girl, Interrupted, a 1999 psychological drama film directed by James Mangold, and based on the 1993 memoir of the same name by Susanna Kaysen. The memoir’s title comes from the Vermeer painting, Girl, Interrupted at Her Music. The film is set in New England in the 1960s, and follows a young woman, played by Winona Ryder, who spends 18 months in a psychiatric facility after a suicide attempt.

The film received only lukewarm reviews, with most of the praise for the performance of Angelina Jolie, who plays a sociopath. Jolie won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The author, Susanna Kaysen, didn’t like the film, accusing James Mangold of adding too many invented, melodramatic scenes. Mangold rewrote the story as a parallel to The Wizard of Oz.

It seems possible that Rory could have read the book, either before or after the film came out. Not only does she enjoy female memoir and autobiography, but Susanna Kaysen was admitted to the same private psychiatric hospital where Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton were treated, as well as John Nash.

John Nash

RORY: That diploma hanging on the wall is going to make this all worthwhile, trust me.

LORELAI: I guess, unless I turn into John Nash and start drooling on people.

John Nash (1928-2015), mathematician who made fundamental contributions to game theory, differential geometry, and the study of partial differential equations. His theories are widely used in economics. Nash is the only person to win both the Abel Prize and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics Sciences.

In 1958, Nash began showing clear signs of mental illness and spent several years in psychiatric hospitals being treated for schizophrenia. His condition slowly improved in the 1970s, allowing him a return to academic work by the mid 1980s.

John Nash’s struggles with mental illness and his recovery were highlighted in the 2001 biographical film, A Beautiful Mind, directed by Ron Howard and based on the 1997 best-selling Pulitzer-winning biography of the same name by Sylvia Naser, with Russell Crowe starring as Nash. A Beautiful Mind was a commercial and critical success, winning four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Michael Landon

LANE: [runs up behind them] Hey, wait, stop!

LORELAI: Oh look, it’s Michael Landon.

Michael Landon, born Eugene Orowitz (1936-1991), actor and filmmaker best known for his roles in the television series Bonanza (1959-1973), Little House on the Prairie (1974-1982), and Highway to Heaven (1984-1989).

Michael Landon made an autobiographical television film in 1976, called The Loneliest Runner. The story is about a teenage boy named John Curtis, based on Landon himself, who still wets his bed. His mother publicises his problem by hanging the stained sheets from his bedroom window for all to see.

Every day, John runs home from school to take the sheets down before his friends see them. He starts running with the junior track team to channel his anger and forget the shame and hurt of his dysfunctional family life. Ten years later, he is a gold-medal winning Olympic champion, who credits his mother for his athletic success. Landon plays the adult Curtis himself.

Like John Curtis, Michael Landon wet the bed until he was 14, and his mother Peggy hung the sheets out to shame him. He had Olympic ambitions as a javelin-thrower, but a shoulder injury ended his athletic career, which propelled him into acting.

His unauthorised 19991 biography by Aileen Joyce, Michael Landon: His Triumph and Tragedy, relates that the bedwetting was brought on by the stress of having a suicidal mother. As a child, Michael Landon had to save his mother from drowning herself during a beach vacation.

Bunny Carlington-Munchausen

EMILY: I’m so sorry Rory isn’t feeling well. Is it that flu that’s been going around? … Horrible strain. Bunny Carlington-Munchausen has been bedridden for two straight weeks.

The show loves giving outrageous names to Emily’s society friends, and this one is pretty flamboyant. Bunny’s name seems to be an allusion to Munchausen Syndrome, a psychological disorder where people fake illnesses or deliberately make themselves sick in order to receive attention.

The name comes from the fictional character Baron Munchausen, created by German writer Rudolf Erich Raspe, in his 1785 book, Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia. The Baron’s story of his exploits focuses on his supposed fantastical and impossible achievements, and the Baron himself is modelled on a real person, the German nobleman Hieronymus Karl Friedrich, Freiherr von Münchausen, known for his tall tales of derring-do. The book was turned into a 1988 film, The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen.

The name of the illness came to seem flippant and rather heartless, and it is now known, less colourfully, as factitious disorder imposed on self.

There may be a suggestion that Bunny is likewise exaggerating her flu symptoms for sympathy and attention, but it is almost certainly highlighting the factitious nature of Rory’s illness! This is the second person named Bunny in the show, the first one was a Gilmore relative who passed away.

David Letterman’s House

LORELAI: Honey, you gotta ease up on that love potion you’ve been giving him or he’s gonna start showing up at David Letterman’s house soon.

In May 1988, David Letterman was stalked by a mentally ill woman named Margaret “Peggy” Ray, who stole his car, camped on his tennis court, and repeatedly broke into his house. Her exploits gained national attention, and Letterman joked about her on his show sometimes, but without ever naming her. Ray served 34 months in prison and psychiatric hospitals for stalking Letterman, but refused to continue her medication upon her release, and went on to stalk astronaut Story Musgrove. She killed herself in 1998. Both Letterman and Musgrove expressed sympathy for her – “A sad ending to a confused life”, said a spokesman for Letterman.

Another rather distasteful joke about mental illness and suicide, and the implication that it is somehow Rory’s “fault” that Dean is behaving so obsessively. There does seem to be a slight acknowledgement here from Lorelai that Dean’s behaviour is abnormal and unhealthy.