I Survived….

One of my favorite TV shows is I Survived… on the Biography Channel. On this show a person sits against a black background and tells their story of survival. There’s no reenactment, just flashes to photographs and videos of the locations where the story took place. It is surprisingly effective. Some people tell stories about surviving the elements, a snowstorm, the ocean, the jungle. Others tell stories of surviving abduction or assault by robbers or strangers. Too many stories are told by women who survived attempts to kill them by husbands or lovers.

This weekend I came across an “I Survived” story in a book I’m reading, London’s Sinful Secret: The Bawdy History and Very Public Passions of London’s Georgian Age by Dan Cruickshank. This book tells about the Georgian and Regency sex industry, the world of courtesans and prostitutes in which young and innocent girls were enticed or trapped by shrewd bawds.
In 1753, eighteen year old sevant Elizabeth Canning was abducted by two men and taken to a house where a gypsy woman tried to coerce her into prostitution. Elizabeth refused and was imprisoned in an attic room and given only bread and water to eat in an effort to wear down her resolve. The gypsy woman threatened to cut her throat if Elizabeth tried to escape. After 28 days, Elizabeth managed to remove a board from a window, to climb out and jump to the ground and to find her way back home. Her ordeal outraged the citizenry. The authorities made an effort to locate the house where she was imprisoned. Elizabeth identified the house and the gypsy woman who was arrested.

Here’s where the story turns strange in a way that could only happen in this era. The gypsy woman vowed her innocence and soon the citizenry were taking sides. Who was guilty and who was innocent? The gypsy had an alibi and Elizabeth’s story had inconsistencies. Ultimately, the gypsy was acquited and Elizabeth was convicted of perjury and was transported to New England.

But Elizabeth survived even this consequence. She eventually married a great-nephew of the governor of Connecticut and had five children.

This story was much more complex than I’ve described here, with Henry Fielding and others involved, but even if Elizabeth’s story was not as she described (and never wavered from), she had survived something. Her condition when she escaped was “deplorable.” Her hands and face were black, her ear was injured and bleeding. She was dressed only in a shift and petticoat.

I love survival stories. I love hearing about how people can endure the unendurable and make it through. We humans can be a tough lot, whether we live in Georgian England or in our modern, sometimes dangerous world.

This weekend, as the events of the Tucson shooting were unfolding and the fate of Congresswoman Giffords was uncertain, I thought of I Survived…. and the stories of so many people who had managed to survive shootings, stabbings, shark attacks, subzero temperatures, etc. Perhaps if they could survive, so would Giffords and the other injured victims. I pray so, and I pray for those who did not make it. My heart goes out to their families.

Do you like survival stories? Do you know of a good one?

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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Jessica
11 years ago

Wow, interesting story. I wonder which one of them was telling the truth.

I have to say, when I first found “I Survived” on Hulu I loved it. I don’t recommend watching them all at once like I did though, because then it’s just depressing. But I really don’t like that now they seem to be featuring all “near/after death experience” stories. I’m hoping they go back to their original format soon.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

This published before I finished the blog. There’s a little more to it. I actually also like the near death experiences too.

Maybe I’d feel differently if I tried to watch them all at once, though!

Judy
11 years ago

Wow. The more things change the more they stay the same. Horrific things happen, and people survive. My sister is the best story I know. She humbles me. She’s an MPD (multiple personality disorder) who has chosen to fully integrate. She often jokes that she wishes she could be something other than the worse-case scenario. She is amazing. This is her website:

http://weareone-ruth.blogspot.com/

Bibliophile
11 years ago

Josephine Tey wrote an interesting modern take on the Elizabeth Canning story, The Franchise Affair. You might want to take a look at it.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Judy, I looked at your sister’s website. How very admirable she is! There are all kinds of courage and all kinds of survival and her story fits very well! Thank you for sharing and your sister for being brave enough to tell her story to the world.

Bibliophile, thank you for telling us about The Franchise Affair. It was even voted one of the best 100 crime novels in the UK one year. I was excited to see it was made into a movie, but, alas, doesn’t seem to be on DVD. No Netflix.

Keira Soleore
11 years ago

Diane, I like to know if people survived their ordeal whatever it may be. I’m not so keen on knowing details about their ordeal. I feel horrible and helpless on my couch.

Keira Soleore
11 years ago

@Bibliophile: I consider Josephine Tey one of the finest writers of the 20th century.

: If Tey wrote it, you want to read it. 🙂

Elena Greene
11 years ago

I haven’t watched, mostly because I don’t have time and because when I do, I tend to watch lighter fare.

Since my husband’s stroke, we’ve been living a survivor story. Based on what I’ve seen in him and fellow rehab patients, Giffords may well make an amazing recovery. I am praying so.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Elena, your husband, you and your whole family are a great example of survival! Sometimes it takes a long time, but survival IS the end result.

Keira, there’s something about the survivor telling the story that makes the difference to me. Their ordeal is not sensationalized by reenactment or gruesome images. At the most they play the 911 phone calls.

I’ll have to put Josephine Tey on my TBR list!

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

I am always fascinated by what it takes for someone to survive what to the rest of us seems unsurvivable.

Our local hero is a young pitbull dog named Louis Vitton. His owner’s son, enraged that she wouldn’t allow him to use her car, beat Louis with a shovel, covered him with lighter fluid and set him on fire. Louis was less than a year old and was not expected to live. Somehow he did, with the help of an amazing local veterinarian and people all over the community who donated money for Louis’s care. Since then he has been adopted into a very well-to-do family and is the spoke’s dog for all sorts of anti cruelty legislation in our state. He is such a happy, loving dog and visits schools, nursing homes and other facilities. He shows up for the local humane society’s Dog-u-tante Ball fund raiser in his black tie and he is always a hit. The young man who did this to him was sentenced to ten years in prison, the longest sentence ever handed down in a cruelty case and when he came up for parole recently people from all over the world wrote to demand this man stay in prison. His parole was denied.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Louisa! A dog survivor. I love it. Louis Vitton must be a great dog.

This would be a great idea for a show on Animal Planet!

Rachel
11 years ago

Elizabeth’s story is very similar to a story I wrote a play about. I live near a ghost town called Pithole. It was the original city of sin and was only around for 500 days during the oil boom. There was a saloon owner named Ben Hogan (not the golfer this was in the 1860s) and he ran a brothel. He would put ads in far away papers advertising for mail order brides. When they came he would force them into prostitution. One girl came from New York. She didn’t want to be a prostitute. Ben and French Kate (his madam) locked her in a room upstairs and fed her very little. Somehow she was able to write a letter and she threw it out the window. Someone walking down the street picked up the letter and paid postage. Her parents came to rescue her. Ben denied he knew her. They went to the Methodist minister who put a gun to Ben Hogan (the only time the minister ever handled a gun) and Ben gave up the girl. She went home to New York and led a happy life.

I always thought that was a very interesting story. Pithole is full of crazy stories like this. I got to read the actual newspapers from the 1800s and write a play that was a collection of stories from the newspaper. JA

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

What a great story, Rachel. I even love the name of the town–Pithole!
What a scam Hogan ran! I can see the hero of the story is the gun-toting minister.

librarypat
librarypat
11 years ago

I do like survival stories. They reinforce our belief in the strength of the human spirit to deal with what they must to pull through and help those they love.

The only survival story I can think of comes from my time in the Philippines. The older teachers I was working with had been young women during the Japanese occupation of WWII. ( I was there in the Peace Corps from 1968 to 1971). They told of being put in pens in a sort of prison compounds. The Japanese men would come and select girls they would take away and use sexually. The two old maid teachers I lived with were among these prisoners. The said the girls would smear excrement on their bodies to make themselves unappealing to their captors. They never said much more and I never pressed.

I just remembered another one. I also met several survivors of the concentration camps in Germany when I was working at a lodge in Lake Placid, NY. This was the late 60’s while I was still in college. Went to see THE PAWNBROKER which is a heartbreaking movie about a survivor told mostly in flashbacks. It terribly upset them. One woman said “Why would they want to remind us of that?” Most of them just wanted to forget about the experience. Actually one of them died of a heart attack that night. I have met others and they were still having nightmares about it.

Sorry this ended up being so long.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

librarypat, your survival story of the Phillipino prisoners of the Japanese is heart-wrenching. And the one of the Holocaust survivors, as well. Some people have endured the unimaginable.

(don’t ever apologize for a long comment! We love them.)

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

librarypat, your survival story of the Phillipino prisoners of the Japanese is heart-wrenching. And the one of the Holocaust survivors, as well. Some people have endured the unimaginable.

(don’t ever apologize for a long comment! We love them.)