April 22, 2019

Rachel Ingalls, Rediscovered Author of ‘Mrs. Caliban,’ Dies at 78

Rachel Ingalls, Rediscovered Author of ‘Mrs. Caliban,’ Dies at 78


Her friend Hugh Fleetwood, a British author and painter, agreed that Ms. Ingalls had been delighted by the literary world’s recent embrace. In remarks at her funeral on Friday in London, he said, “She seemed to be not merely happy, but — like Violetta in the final scene of her favorite opera, ‘La Traviata’ — reborn.”

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Ms. Ingalls’ much-praised novel “Mrs. Caliban,” from 1982, tells of a romance between a lonely housewife and a sea creature. Despite the similarity of its plot to that of the 2017 movie “The Shape of Water,” Ms. Ingalls never raised an objection.

Over a half-century, Ms. Ingalls produced 11 books, most of them quite short, some of them collections of short stories. Her tales are often dark, ambiguous and threatening, but not without humor. If not exactly feminist, they thrum with female empowerment. Characters are always on the verge of betrayal or doom; the aura is fatalistic.

The housewife in “Mrs. Caliban” is mourning a recent miscarriage as well as the deaths of her child and her dog, and everything around her seems in a state of grief. “Everything,” Ms. Ingalls wrote. “It was a wonder the grass on the front lawn didn’t turn around and sink back into the earth.”

Ms. Ingalls has said that her biggest literary influence was “Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” which she took to bed with her as a child.

“I stuck with the Brothers Grimm while my friends went on to the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew,” she told The Boston Globe in 1987 in a rare interview. “The next book in my life was ‘Bulfinch’s Mythology,’ ” which popularized the stories of Greek and Roman mythology and other legends.

While she was absorbing heavy classics, and reading all of Shakespeare, Ms. Ingalls was fixated on the radio. She loved listening to soap operas and melodramas, and often incorporated into her work both the entertainment elements of the soaps and the menace of the Brothers Grimm. She also went to movies, the theater and opera constantly, soaking up all manner of storytelling.

The renewed interest in “Mrs. Caliban” dovetailed with “The Shape of Water,” in which a lonely woman falls in love with a sea creature. The movie won four Academy Awards, including for best picture.



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