Eliza Doolittle by George Luks 1908

A Day to be Eliza Doolittle

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Do you remember the first time you read George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion? Perhaps, like me, you too were just out of high school, taking a Theater Appreciation course. Pygmalion paired well with Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and so many other wonderful plays.

From that play, Eliza Doolittle is front-and-center in our thoughts. She’s introduced as “not at all a romantic figure,” but she soon she steals our hearts. We watch her transform from an ugly street urchin to a beautiful lady, of class and refinement. But, there’s also a very Faustian bargain in play. It was a deliberate bet, designed to prove a point — that  Professor Henry Higgins could take the most lowly of human beings and transform her. He’d promised that he could improve her speech enough so that she’d be recognized as a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party.

It was no easy task, but Higgins In true Cinderella fashion, she comes into her own, falls in love, and becomes a “pillar of strength”. She’d wanted human kindness. Instead, she was a plaything, a statue to be molded into the facade of a “perfect” woman — fit, even, for a king.

Retake on Mythic Pygmalion

In ancient Greek myth (Ovid’s Metamorphoses), Pygmalion was  a Cypriot sculptor, who falls in love with the statue of a woman he’d created out of ivory. Pygmalion offered tribute to Aphrodite, and then wished for a bride, who was “the living likeness of my ivory girl.” Of course, the goddess heard his prayer, and granted his wish.

Far from being made of ivory, Eliza is simply a flower girl — never expected to amount to much. In the end, though, she shows her inner strength, and she re-writes her own story — perhaps not in the way that we would have imagined, but certainly a metamorphosis that’s striking and unforgettable.

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Esther is a full-time freelancer, who draws upon her background to deliver fun and compelling stories. To her, the story and the vehicle(s) of expression are important, but sometimes it's just as essential to explore those areas just outside one's comfort zone. She loves to jump head-first into that deep ravine, and discover where her parachute will take her.


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