Writer: Alan Davidson
The living a lie story – the story where the heroine is living a lie for one reason or other. But she gets increasingly caught up in her own lies, resorting to ever more desperate and even shocking measures to keep her secret, and living in constant fear of being discovered. And if she gets discovered, where is it going to end, and what is going to happen to her? Or will she be able to extricate herself from her sticky situation without getting into too much trouble – that is, if she even deserves to?
Such makes the suspense and thrills in another of Jinty’s first stories, “Gwen’s Stolen Glory”.
Gwen Terry longs to have friends, be popular and pursue a career as an actress. However, she has no confidence in herself and does not consider herself good at anything. The other girls consider her boring and useless and tease her. Her home life does not help; her dad is on an invalid’s benefit, so they can’t afford much or a decent home. She envies Judith Langham, who is everything she is not: popular, confident, good at everything, and just been accepted for drama school. Gwen does not realise Judith sympathises with her position and stands up for her.
In the school drama class, it’s Gwen’s turn to recite, but she dries up. Everyone laughs at her and she runs off in tears. Their taunts go too far when the distraught Gwen falls over the cliff and lands in a precarious position. Judith goes to the rescue, but the rescue goes through a series of unexpected turns which end up with everyone thinking that it was Gwen who saved Judith, who is now unconscious after a fall.
Gwen is now the heroine of the school, and seizes her opportunity for happiness. Indeed, she has everything she dreamed for now: glory, popularity, loads of admiring friends and showers of gifts. She even takes Judith’s place in the drama school, and the gratitude of the Langham parents ensures the Terrys a better home. When Judith comes to, she has lost her memory of what really happened, so it looks like Gwen’s glory is sealed and everything will be just dandy for her from now on.
But the glory has come at a price – Gwen’s conscience. She cannot forget that it was really Judith who saved her life. Her troubled conscience gives her no peace of mind and she is ashamed at the depths she has sunk to, so all her new-found gains cannot give her full happiness. And it filters through; her mother wonders why Gwen seems ashamed rather than proud. And in the cloakroom a guilt-stricken Gwen says, “Oh Judith, what have I done to you? What have I done to myself?”
Too bad for Gwen that Julie Waring was in earshot. Julie has been having niggling doubts about the whole affair, and after what she overhears, she becomes really suspicious. Soon Julie is drawing the right conclusions and makes no secret of what she suspects to Gwen. Now Gwen’s guilt is compounded by the fear of being found out, losing all her gains and becoming an outcast! Another consequence of living a lie.
Julie challenges Gwen to recreate her heroic climb on the cliff to save Judith – something Julie knows Gwen could not possibly have done. Gwen fails the test, but the girls still think she is a heroine, and accuse Julie of being jealous. But Gwen is taking no chances – she frames Julie and gets her expelled. It looks like her secret is safe, but now she has sunk even further.
Before Julie goes, she defiantly tells Gwen, “You’ll suffer for what you’ve done, Gwen, if you’ve got any conscience at all. It won’t do you any good in the end, I know it won’t!”
Julie’s words bear out when Gwen looks in her bedroom mirror. She is shocked to see her face has taken on a hard, selfish, cruel look. Gwen realises what a monster she has turned into and is now more ashamed than ever. But her greed and selfishness are getting too strong and Gwen starts turning into a Jeckyll and Hyde type character, with one half the deeply ashamed Gwen, and the greedy selfish one who will stop at nothing to keep what she has gained, even if it means Judith dies on the cliff and her secret is safe forever.
Yes, Judith is beginning to remember, but not fully. She goes to the cliff to jog her memory and Gwen has no choice but to go with her. Her conflicting personality traits surface again. The cruel half gets the better of her, but when she sees it reflected in a puddle, she is ashamed at what she has become and hates herself. Seeing only one way to get rid of that evil face, Gwen deliberately goes to the same perch on the cliff as before in the hope of restoring Judith’s memory – and it does.
Then things take another surprising turn when Gwen ends up saving Judith’s life for real. For the first time in her life, Gwen finds she has reason to respect herself. The grateful Judith even offers to keep Gwen’s secret. But Gwen refuses; she must get rid of that evil and find peace of mind. So she confesses to her parents and then the whole school. She runs off in tears, expecting dire consequences.
But Gwen is in for a surprise. The girls say it was their fault too; they treated her badly, so perhaps they drove her to it. Well, they did – literally – when their scorn had her running off and going over the cliff in the first place. They are also impressed with the way Gwen really saved Judith this time (something Gwen did not mention when she confessed) and declined the offer of the easy way out.
So it’s forgiveness from them, and from Julie, who is reinstated at the school. Judith goes to drama school, but it looks like Gwen might follow the next year.
Most living a lie stories, such as “Holiday Hideway“, generally focus on all the scrapes the heroine gets into to keep her secret. They may be played for humour, thrills, or to make us despise the character. But here the focus is on the character development of Gwen, and this is the real strength of the story. Gwen starts off as a character you can instantly sympathise with. She feels a nobody who is desperate to step out of the shadows, but lacks the self-confidence and is always the target of teasing. And she has an accident and nearly gets killed because of it as well!
Once she becomes the centre of admiration, she laps up her new-found glory, happiness, friendships, and the acting opportunity she had dreamed of. Her life is looking up at last, and she starts gaining confidence. But the lie of it all means she still has no reason to love or respect herself, which is what she really needs if she is to be truly happy. The lows she sinks to in order to keep her secret bring out her dark side, which she never realised she had before. The revulsion of what she is turning into, and how this has led to her to destroy two people, has her discovering what a tormented soul truly means. And the changes in her face and personality are truly disturbing. On the other hand, it is this horrific change, rather than the guilty conscience, that sets Gwen on the path to redeeming her character, even though it will certainly mean ruining herself. But thanks to another turn of events, Gwen ends up on the path towards true self-respect and happiness as well as redemption.
Was Gwen forgiven a bit too readily and the ending a bit too pat? After all, she did get Julie expelled for something she did not do, and that would be an expelling matter for herself. Perhaps it is a matter of opinion. Certainly it is a frequent thing in girls’ comics for errant heroines to get off too easily, without any punishment. Forgiveness is a big thing in girls’ comics, but at times it comes too easily to be believable. On the other hand, the girls, and perhaps the staff, had reason to reflect on Gwen’s former miserable situation after she became a heroine. The gifts the girls shower her with could well be balms for guilty consciences as much as tokens of admiration. And now they have real reason to admire Gwen, for the courage in her honesty as well as heroism. It could well be that the headmistress was among those who was far too impressed with Gwen to think about punishing her.