Seven Husbands and a Glut of Gossip

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Tell me, readers, do you gossip? Where do you stand on the scale, from everyone should mind their own business to give me the dirt and let me roll around in it?

If you think that celebrity gossip is nothing more than mindless smut, I will ask you to reconsider. Gossip is a way to keep in touch with our community and can help keep us safe. And whether you want to believe it or not, absolutely everybody in the world is a gossip. Gossip is a reflection of our culture. It makes us human.

In Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, he discusses how the ability to communicate and store information about the other individuals in our tribe (in a word: gossip) allows Homo Sapiens to make the staggering leap to the very pinnacle of the food chain.

“All apes show a keen interest in such social information, but they have trouble gossiping effectively … a much maligned ability which is in fact essential for cooperation in large numbers. Reliable information about who could be trusted meant that small bands could expand into larger bands, and Sapiens could develop tighter and more sophisticated types of cooperation.” - Sapiens, Harari

I wholeheartedly love celebrity gossip. Yes, it is entertaining. It’s like dishing about the kids who sit at the popular table, only on a much grander scale. Salacious scandals are the best.

There is also deeper significance to celebrity gossip. It allows us to set a standard on what we view as moral behaviour and essentially create societal norms. So my love of gossip is not fluffy and insubstantial and you shouldn’t ever feel guilty about enjoying it too.

I also like to think that keeping up with what’s going on in pop culture is helping keep me young, knowing what’s going on with new Hollywood. Hopefully, when my kids are starting to get into pop culture (in a few years, holy crap!), I won’t be so far out of it that I have absolutely no clue what’s going on. Haha, who am I kidding, I am already completely out of touch. In a few years I will absolutely have no idea what kids these days are talking about, and I will shake my head at all these newfangled apps that are coming out and tell the new generation their music all sounds like noise. Now Britney Spears, there was a real artist. I’m about four years away from ancient.

All this to introduce you to the most delicious book I’ve read in a long time, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

That is the fastest way to ruin a woman’s reputation, after all – to imply that she had not adequately threaded the needle that is being sexually satisfying without ever appearing to desire sexual satisfaction. - Evelyn Hugo

This at the very heart of it is a book entirely about gossip. Evelyn Hugo reads like the most lascivious celebrity gossip scoop ever recorded, and that is of course the whole point. The titular Evelyn Hugo is the most famous, most mysterious celebrity icon of the century (the obvious comparison is Elizabeth Taylor), and she has decided to give away her entire story, showing the world everything that she was.

I loved how the whole story breaks apart the illusion that what is reported about celebrities is actual fact. And I was really into the use of newspaper clippings to support this viewpoint. Evelyn knew exactly how to play the media and the public into believing the image of herself she wished them to believe. In this day and age I think the public is more savvy about these celebrity finanglings and is much more cynical in general, but it’s still fun to see how Evelyn wiggled away from the truth for so long by creating the right narrative at the right time.

Evelyn’s mastery of gossip allowed her to hide in plainsight her whole life. And it shows how easily an audience will accept that which it is given … especially if it falls into their societal norms. Nobody believed the life Evelyn actually lived because it did not correspond with the story she had created for the public, nor was it what they wanted to believe.

Thematically, the book is about what makes life worth living. While the results are somewhat predictable, the way the author arrived there was fresh and entertaining. Even Evelyn admits that is it easy to say that fame and wealth are meaningless when you have all of it. It’s to you to decide if she means it or not.

This book had me thinking a great deal about one of the more insidious truths about gossip. Gossip has historically almost always maligned as improper, ungodly, and … female. Men shoot the shit, but women gossip and that makes it nasty. But gossip is a lifeline for women. It’s not just how we communicate, it’s how we warn each other. Often about the behaviour of men towards women. Women lack power in our society, but we do have ways to protect each other, and it’s often a whisper over the communal fire or behind a closed office door … “watch out for that one.”

In Evelyn Hugo, the tragedy of abusive relationships is addressed, and how women are asked to deal with this. The first time Evelyn must cover up her bruises, she is implicitly warned to keep her mouth shut. Later in her life, a former friend who married one of Evelyn’s exes confronts her – why didn’t you warn me? One phone call could have saved one woman a world of pain.

This understanding of gossip as a way that women protect each other is especially timely right now with the Time’s Up movement and the discussion surrounding the “whisper network” where women quietly and anonymously name names of those men who display predatory behaviour towards women. Whether this appalls you or you have benefited from the warnings, this means of communication is reality, and to some women has been a tremendous help, especially due to women’s lack of support when it comes to sexual harassment and assault in the traditional justice system.

The whisper network tries to address the inadequacies of the “proper channels,” which, as we’ve seen in recent cases of sexual harassment and assault, often punish women for speaking out. – The New Yorker (click here for full article)

And perhaps one of the reasons that gossip is so widely disparaged is because it can act to upset the balance of power. Gossip is still viewed as at best trivial and vacuous, at worst sinful or even evil, and almost always in terms of femininity. But I would argue here and always that it is one of the most important parts of human behaviour. And I will reiterate: absolutely everyone does it.

So this is why I believe this book, which is salacious and entertaining, is not inconsequential. It goes on to discuss that which is the most important in life. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo comes highly recommended by me.