Becky Shaw: What's In A Name?

Don’t be surprised if the title character in Becky Shaw seems familiar; she’s the girl that, whether intentionally or not, manages to find herself in the eye of the storm. This character has been the subject of many plays, movies, and novels, and according to Gina Gionfriddo, that’s the reason the play bears her name. She says, “The title Becky Shaw resonated because of a certain literary tradition. There are a lot of novels with women’s names in the title. What they have in common is that in almost every case, the titular women either wind up ruined or the cause of someone else’s ruin.” They are not unlike Becky, who creates rifts in a marriage and a friendship as she copes with rejection — to hilarious end, of course, in Gionfriddo’s scathing black comedy. Becky Shaw’s name recalls Becky Sharp — the calculating character from William Thackery’s Vanity Fair. Here’s a look at a few other titular women:


Emma by Jane Austen (1815)
Like Becky, Emma finds herself fumbling around her own love life and the lives of those around her. Austen’s novel focuses on Emma’s fear of love and her growing self-awareness. Unfortunately, her personal growth occurs after Emma inappropriately meddles in the love affairs of others and makes a match not quite made in heaven.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
Tolstoy’s protagonist isn’t confused about love; rather, she is quite aware that she is in love with Vronsky. Unfortunately, Vronsky isn’t her husband. Living under a strict moral order in St. Petersburg in the 19th century, Anna becomes an outcast when she leaves her stale marriage and abandons her duty as a wife.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (1891)
Hardy’s protagonist is an unfortunate victim of the lust for social advancement. When her father discovers her ties to the English aristocracy, he sends Tess to live in the d’Urberville mansion where she is seduced and eventually becomes pregnant by an amoral nobleman. When the ties prove to be false, Tess must return home, dishonored and broken.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
In Nabokov’s scandalous story of pedophilia, Lolita never really develops a sense of self-awareness as she ages from 12 to 18. Not entirely her fault, she is constantly forced to bend to the wills of Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty, two men who both act on their illicit feelings toward her in an attempt to win her affection.

— Chris Carcione

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