OF THE BABY NAME ELIZA
Eliza Doolittle is the protagonist of George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play, Pygmalion, later made into a 1938 British movie starring Wendy Hiller. In 1956 it was reworked into the memorable Broadway musical, My Fair Lady, (starring Julie Andrews), with the film adaptation arriving in 1964 (starring Audrey Hepburn). All of the above, of course, is based upon the mythological story of Pygmalion, the sculptor, who falls in love with the statue of a woman he has carved and whom Venus turns into a real woman for him. Eliza Doolittle herself is one of the most delightful of fictional heroines – a Cockney flower vendor with definitive ideas, she puts herself under the tutelage of the linguist, Professor Henry Higgins, in order to become a “lady”. This trust, of course, may be somewhat misplaced, as the professor has ideas of his own, and he wagers a bet that he can pass her off as high society. The play is a politely disguised attack on upper class British societal snobbery and a wry commentary on the role of women, but pardon us if we just go ahead and enjoy the hilarious wit and stylish maneuverings of both the play and musicals. Eliza takes over our hearts with her winsome ways, her determination to succeed against all odds, her hilarious reactions to the ridiculous ways of the upper crust, but most of all, with her sweetly naïve belief in the power of plain, human love to effect any transformation.
Eliza Harris is a major character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s very important 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She is a sweet, Christian, acquiescent slave who accepts her lot in life, until – oh mama – someone tries to mess with her baby. That someone is her master, Mr. Shelby, who had promised otherwise, but decides to sell her son to an evil slave-holder. Eliza goes into action. Seizing her baby, she makes a heroic getaway across the frozen Ohio River, jumping from ice flow to ice flow, ripping her feet to shreds in the process, but always hoping for the eternal redemption of freedom – which hope is realized. She seems to us to be the quintessential icon of motherhood – do what you will to me, but don’t even think of hurting my child! God bless Eliza! And don’t forget – her plight was almost single-handedly responsible for the Civil War!