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The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston Part VII – Elly Jansen: The Most Shameless Story

Much of The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston tells stories we have heard many times before, but in the case of Elly Jansen, the girl whose name Lynn claims is the reason she named her lead character Elly, there is a whole new story in the book that demonstrates why you can’t really trust Lynn’s biographical writing in a big way. I will discuss after the cut.



First off, I should mention that aprilp_katje found Elly Jansen on ancestry [dot] com last year. She was listed as:

Elli Jansen
Found 10 Records, 10 Photos and 357,141 Family Trees

Born in Amsterdam, Holland on 1945 to Cris Jansen and Ria Bootsfeld. She passed away on 1960 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Assuming that ancestry [dot] com is correct, then Elli died when she was 15 years old and when Lynn (born in 1947) would have been 13 years old, and Lynn did not know her well enough to spell her name correctly. Here is the story Lynn tells this time about Elly Jansen.  I will quote from the book in italic, make my own comments and refer to Lynn's 10th anniversary collection version of the story in bold:

Elly Jansen was my soulmate. I loved her more than I can say. One day we were sitting in the local movie theatre in North Vancouver, and I noticed she wasn’t watching the screen. She had a terrible headache – she was getting them more often. Stoic and strong, she sat through the show without complaining. I made jokes to try and cheer her up. Her dad picked us up. Elly was silent as he drove me home. It was Christmastime.

This is relatively close to Lynn's story from the 10th anniversary collection:

I remember Elly’s headaches. She would come with Luccia and me to the movies, and she would close her eyes when the pain was too strong. She rarely complained, although we could see she was in agony. It dulled her eyes and made her shrink from the light and sounds around us. We never knew how ill she really was.

No dad. No car ride home. No seeing the movies with Luccia (who was a big part of the 10th anniversary collection story).

When I returned to school with the rest of the kids in the New Year, Elly wasn’t there. Our teacher, Mr. Lowney, called me aside. He asked me to sit down. He told me that Elly had died from a brain tumour and that her funeral would be tomorrow.

This is relatively close to Lynn's story from the 10th anniversary collection:

Returning to school after Christmas break was hard for us all. Elly had been a favorite. Looking at her empty seat was gut-wrenching, agonizing, the ache went to the center of my heart and stayed there.

Mr. Lowney tried to explain to us that this was life, that we were to be grateful for having had her as our friend for even a short time. He told us that she was in heaven and would be with us always, and then he broke down and cried. Lucy was the first to run up to him. I was next. One by one the entire class of seventh grade students came to the front of the room. We threw our arms around each other and formed a solid wall around him, comforting him, comforting ourselves. It was a day of intense emotion and it made a family out of our one small class.


The use of Mr. Lowney is consistent, but in the new version, Lynn is specifically set aside to receive the information personally. In the 10th anniversary there is no funeral. This class group hug is all you get. And now for the never-before-mentioned funeral of Elly Jansen:

I was speechless. I had never been in shock before. I was taken home by one of the custodians. My mother, who was working at the jewellery store, came home to be with me. I sat in my room for the rest of the day and stared at the wall. Worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle a funeral, my mother suggested I not attend, but I insisted. I wanted to be there. I had to go.

The funeral home on Lonsdale had an attractive wood-panelled chapel. My mother took my hand and led me to a seat on the aisle – in case we had to leave quickly. Neighbours, teachers, parents, and other students filed in. Elly’s family was behind a wall with an opening in it for viewing. I could hear her mother crying, her father soothing her, and her little sister, Lois, asking, “Daddy, where’s Elly?”


I have never been to a funeral where the family was sequestered behind some wall. Usually they are out in the open where people can talk to them to express condolences. Maybe things are different in Vancouver, but this statement made it seem to me like Lynn hasn’t been to a funeral before. The line from the little sister, “Daddy, where’s Elly?”, is over-the-top.

I had never experienced real grief before. It was unbearable. I cried so hard that my mother tried to put her hand over my mouth, but Mr. Lowney stopped her.

“Let her cry," he said. “Let her cry.” When the service was over, everyone began to file past the small wooden coffin where Elly’s body lay. My mother tried to lead me away from the coffin, but I pushed forward. I wanted to see her – out of love and curiosity. There were flowers everywhere. The lid of the coffin was lined with satin. Asleep on the pillow was a face I recognized, but it wasn’t Elly. It was a lovely young girl with a soft, brown feather headband. Her hands were crossed on her chest. She looked peaceful and somehow wise. I stopped crying. The grief was gone. We left the building through the back door, past the people, past the hearse. Rain was pouring down. I though rain was appropriate for the kind of day it had been, and I was glad to avoid the cemetery and go home.


Mr. Lowney is the hero and Ursula is the villain. I am the shocked reader who can’t believe Lynn went there.

Elly wasn’t dead. She was gone. If the girl in the coffin wasn’t Elly, then she was somewhere wonderful. It wasn’t heaven. I refused to think that a kind and loving God would take her away when she had so much to live for. She was only eight years old. I told her then I would love her forever and would remember her for the rest of my life – and I have. Elly’s death was a critical event in my life. Few experiences before or since have rocked my world like the death of my best friend. I named the lead character in For Better or For Worse after Elly Jansen – it gave me closure, and I think she would be pleased.

At age 8, Elly is a younger than the 7th grader she was in the 10th anniversary collection, and much younger than the 15 years she was in real life. My guess is that Lynn is playing fast-and-loose with the age in order to get reader sympathy. As in the 10th anniversary, Elly’s death leads to Lynn getting a little harsh with God. Unlike the 10th anniversary story, Lynn's grief for Elly was gone almost immediately. This is the 10th anniversary text:

When Elly died, I lost my faith in God. I was a teenager with a mind of my own, and despite all of the religious outpourings and biblical rationale, it was gone. I left my position in the church choir. I stopped going to services altogether, and although I professed to have abandoned my faith, I wrote long heart-felt letters to her and burned them, hoping she’d read the phantom thoughts and forgive me for not knowing how seriously ill she was; for not being there when she died. You do strange things when you’re grieving.

I read this story and I was dumbfounded at how different it was. It appears to me that Lynn is trying to make the following points:

1. Ursula is an emotionless, heartless woman who stands in the way of young Lynn’s grieving for Elly by trying to stop her from crying or seeing the coffin. The story is a giant slap in the face to Ursula from Lynn.

2. Mr. Lowney is a most wonderful teacher who aids Lynn in her grieving for Elly by opposing the will of Ursula. “Let her cry," he said. “Let her cry.”

3. Lynn's grief for Elly is the most important thing.

4. Lynn managed to separate Elly the physical body in the coffin from Elly the person and that allowed her to stop grieving, and this is supposed to give us some kind of impression about the thoughtfulness of young Lynn.

5. It’s God’s fault Elly is dead, not the brain tumour.

6. She wants you to feel bad for Elly too and she doesn’t mind altering the facts to get you there.

The funeral story seems like a complete fabrication to me. Any doubts I had that Lynn did not really know Elli Jansen the real person very well have been laid to rest. Fortunately, there is no other story in the book that is as shameless as this one is.

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  • Wednesday, 27 October 2021

    John appeals to Elly's fear of dying alone and unwanted to pry her away from her life of busywork. Synopsis: John's in the mood for a nice evening…

  • Tuesday, 26 October 2021

    The one where Mike reminds us that he'll never really grow up. Synopsis: Mike reacts to being caught pilfering Elly's baking by engaging in…

  • Monday, 25 October 2021

    The one where Elly reminds John that she lives and dies by what other people think of her. Synopsis: When John has the temerity to question Elly's…

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  • 58 comments

  • Wednesday, 27 October 2021

    John appeals to Elly's fear of dying alone and unwanted to pry her away from her life of busywork. Synopsis: John's in the mood for a nice evening…

  • Tuesday, 26 October 2021

    The one where Mike reminds us that he'll never really grow up. Synopsis: Mike reacts to being caught pilfering Elly's baking by engaging in…

  • Monday, 25 October 2021

    The one where Elly reminds John that she lives and dies by what other people think of her. Synopsis: When John has the temerity to question Elly's…