By Shaurya Verma
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a heartfelt novel by an American novelist Taylor Jenkins Reid, published in 2017. The book gives an insight into the life of an actor on the very surface, but it’s underlying topics are of much more relevance than one can think.
We often see celebrities changing their names to sound and appear more popular than their real name would. So does the protagonist in this novel do from Evelyn Herrara to Evelyn Hugo?
Evelyn made her name in Hollywood by selling herself and using her most prized asset, her breasts. She was, as the popular opinion goes in the book, “all tits, and no ass.” She used her body to reach the top of Hollywood and succeeded. Her movies, bold and realistic, are full of scandals because they display the true desires of women, which tend to threaten society at large; she says people talked about it, liked it, and chastised her because they weren’t happy that they like it. She had been made a sexpot by the very society and subsequently criticized for the same.
The protagonist never regretted her decisions, no matter, however degrading and manipulative and selfish it was. She taught me how one could be sorry for something but not regret it. And during her interview with the narrator, she yet again proves how she does not regret still.
Hugo comes out as a robust, civil, and no-nonsense personality who believes that “sometimes doing the right thing gets ugly” because the world “doesn’t give things, you take things.” A significant amount of her life was spent learning and mastering the art of playing with the truth. She tries to do the same thing with Monique Grant because the world who was at that time, deaf to the sexual needs of the people, saw her only as someone having seven scandalous marriages refusing to allow themselves to glance at the reason that might have been possible for her on-and-off relationships.
Ried’s character Evelyn Hugo is highly influenced by some of the popular 1940s’ actresses, Elizabeth Taylor, who was married seven times, Ava Gardner, who was known for sharing her life’s secret with a journalist and Rita Hayworth.
This novel highlights the love of one woman who loved another with all her being. To keep her beloved close, she made up scandalous affairs with men deliberately. She even married two men to be in proximity to her because homosexual norms were not acceptable at that time. Hugo defines love as something extremely close to the heart, which can be kept secret and yet public, something that does not always pertain necessarily to the sexual needs; love without an ounce of guilt, of second-thoughts, of denial. The way she loved the-love-of-her-life, the same way she loved her husbands, Don Adler, and Harry Cameron, with the latter being a fellow homosexual. And she asks Monique to tell the world, “don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box” when Grant calls her lesbian upon the revelation of the-love-of-her-life. Hugo’s narrative is of importance since it reveals the actual dilemma of the ‘Other’ faces. Throughout her life, she struggled to make herself feel at peace and home by settling down with her love by doing what was needed not to make them both public and hence vulnerable. Still, throughout her life, she only feared tearing down what she’d made so arduously, at the cost of worsening things with her life partner and losing her twice.
By the age of fifty, Evelyn finally marries a man for the last time but lives with her beloved regardless of societal opinion and gradually marries her. Hugo explicitly distinguishes between sex and sexuality, saying, “There’s a difference between sexuality and sex. I used sex to get what I wanted. Sex is just an act. Sexuality is a sincere expression of desire and pleasure.” She shared the act with many, but she shared the desire with her one and only.
This book touches the heart, tears it open, makes it bleed, causes immense pain, and finally chooses to love it all the more. It defines love, sexuality, sacrifice, suffering, and all the beautiful feelings that one may have forgotten or buried long ago. It rekindles the hearts’ capacity to love boundlessly, to feel immense, and to pour abundantly.