February 2017 Club

Orphans of the Carnival

by Carol Birch

By the author of Jamrach’s Menagerie which previously starred in the club, Orphans of the Carnival is a fictional account of the real life of Julia Pastrana – born in 1934 in Mexico. Abandoned by her mother due to being covered in thick dark hair, with a protruding jaw and double set of teeth, Julia is brought up in the Governor’s house where she lives a relatively happy childhood learning several languages and enjoying showing off her singing and dancing talents.

Julia – a gentle, refined, talented character - is recruited into a Victorian freak show in New Orleans and is billed as “The Nondescript, the Wonder of the World, a scientific marvel” and one of the many scientists who prod and poke her claims she is related to the Ourang Outang. Although she is unable to go out in public, at least unveiled, she does find a certain happiness living with the other carnival “freaks” including Cato – a pinhead (nowadays we’d say he had Microcephaly) who she becomes very fond of.

Having had a series of managers, she eventually tours Europe and Russia with Theodore Lent. As a reader, it’s hard to make out what Lent’s intentions are: he seems kinder than previous managers and genuinely fond of Julia.

Despite having the show cancelled in Paris due to “the promotion of bestiality” and a threat to pregnant women, the couple are the toast of society from Vienna to St Petersburg. Eventually they do the unthinkable and marry, but Lent is constantly worried about what people think and is sometimes disgusted with himself and with aspects of her appearance. It’s only after Julia’s death in childbirth, when Lent finds a somewhat gruesome way to continue exploiting his late wife and child, that we discover what kind of a man he really is.

With the modern-day story of Rose running alongside Julia’s fictional life account, all the loose ends are tied up in a slightly stomach-churning way at the end.

Colourway inspiration

For the yarn choice, I wanted to give Julia the best and what she deserved – 100% silk. Luminosity fitted the bill – this particular yarn used to be spun in Italy but production has recently switched to Peru and gives a slightly different texture, so I’ve called it New Luminosity (although you’ll still find it under Luminosity on the Ravelry database as it’s the same length and same weight).

For the semi-solid colourway, Julia had many lavish gowns, but I always envisaged her in rose pink. I’ve called it Julia Pink.

For the variegated colourway, I started with a rose pink base and added brown to represent Julia’s hair, magenta to represent the bougainvillea in the New Orleans garden she loved so dearly and red for her stage boots. It’s called Life in the Spotlight.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photos. We were having the roof replaced at the old studio and the only window was covered in blue tarpaulin giving an awful caste to the pictures. Hopefully the yarn was prettier in real life.