OF THE BABY NAME MILDRED
Mildred Rogers is the object of Philip Carey’s obsessive love in W. Somerset Maugham’s 1915 novel, Of Human Bondage. This Mildred is so very unlikeable that we are hard put to understand Philip’s overwhelming attraction to her - but that is the nature of obsession – it does not adhere to ordinary rules of conduct. Mildred is a shrill and self-absorbed waitress from the lower class, who comes to dominate the poor, unfortunate, clubfooted medical student. Mildred agrees to move in with him, although she does not love him and is, in fact, pregnant with another man’s child. This doesn’t stop Philip, who is prepared to marry her and adopt the child. Mildred repays this offer by running off with Philip’s friend. Many machinations later, Mildred is reduced to prostitution, her child has died, and she is ready for Philip’s help again. By this time, our hero has had enough and spurns her as a lover, therefore she trashes his living quarters and moves on. On to a horrid death by you-know-what-disease, perhaps the only allowable outcome in 1915. Wow. Bette Davis’ portrayal of her in the 1934 movie made her a star, but it is said that Maugham’s favorite Mildred was played by Kim Novak in the 1964 adaptation, which evoked a gentler version of this memorable character.
Mildred – aka Nurse Ratched – is the very memorable nurse in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, even more memorably portrayed by Louise Fletcher in the 1975 movie of the same name, for which she won the Academy Award. Mildred is the head nurse at the state mental hospital who wields enormous power over her disturbed charges, calmly and serenely bullying them into taking medications, attending group sessions, and ordering electroshock treatments and lobotomies, even causing suicides, with terrifying aplomb. She is so graciously mean, so authoritatively sadistic, and so serenely righteous, that she defies any and all attempts to have it any other way but hers. So supremely evil is she that the American Film Institute named her the fifth greatest villain in film history – no small honor, that!
Mildred Pierce is the protagonist of James Cain’s novel of the same name, published in 1941. It was also made into a 1945 Oscar-winning movie starring Joan Crawford, as well as an Emmy-winning miniseries in 2011, starring Kate Winslet. Mildred is a one-of-a kind woman – tough as nails, but also soft at the core, especially when it comes to her duplicitous daughter, Veda. Caught in economic straits as a divorced mother of two, Mildred works her way up from waitressing to owning her own successful restaurants, all the while shelling out the dough so Veda can have all the advantages. Veda takes the money, of course, but scorns the type of work that makes it possible. All that Mildred does is done for Veda, and as may be expected, she is treated thanklessly by her ungrateful daughter. The plot throws some devastating missiles at Mildred, and we are left with a great deal of admiration for this determined and resourceful woman, who always seems to rise to the occasion.
Mildred is the wife of the protagonist, Guy Montag, in Ray Bradbury’s 1953 sci-fi classic, Fahrenheit 451, which was also made into a film in 1966, with Julie Christie playing both her and Montag’s young love interest, Clarisse. Oh dear, it is rather difficult to find a saving grace in this character. Happily falling in line with the dystopian society that forbids reading and learning, Mildred is addicted to her television walls, disinterested in anything her husband might suggest, self-absorbed and vacuous. In the final analysis, she even betrays Montag, turning him in to the authorities for the crime of hiding books. Perhaps, though, all this masks a truly unhappy, questioning woman underneath it all, for the first time we meet her, she has attempted suicide. This is not the act of a satisfied woman, so we may assume that the status quo is as devastating to her as it is to her husband and Clarisse.