[Varian Fry Institute Home]         [Chambon Foundation Home]

Mary Jayne Gold"Oh You Must Not Peek
Under My Sunbonnet"

an unpublished memoir by
Mary Jayne Gold

© 1997 by Mary Jayne Gold. All rights reserved.

"Oh You Must Not Peek Under My Sunbonnet" is the late Mary Jayne Gold's detailed, evocative and candid memoir of her first 19 years of life—and the development of her psycho-sexual personality.

A memoir of early 20th century America for early 21rst century America.   Profusely illustrated.

For information concerning all rights to the book, please contact Pierre Sauvage, by email or otherwise.


Everybody at some time or another wonders, "How did I become the person I am?" What special juxtaposition of persons, events and genes shapes our ends? These memoirs give an account of not why, but rather how this came about with me. The scenes and anecdotes constitute the stepping stones of that meandering path to adulthood. Early in the course of writing these memoirs, I recalled my grandmother reading to me—aged about three—"The Sunbonnet Babies". It was all about two little girls who wore dresses almost down to their ankles, just as I had a short time before. They carried shovels, rakes and a watering can with which they sprinkled the pretty flowers. And they held a secret that baffled me. "Oh you must not peek under my sunbonnet, deep and wide," they said. The illustrations were all in profile, the profile of the sunbonnets.

Tantalized, I went through the pages, hoping to get just one glimpse of their faces. I asked if I could borrow the book and took it to the playroom to make a more thorough search of my own. I told my problem to my older brother, Dick, who slyly remarked that there was one page on which they showed their faces. My sense of reality was still rather amorphous in that I believed that a thing that was not there one minute could suddenly manifest itself a moment later. But the mystery of the Sunbonnet Babies never revealed itself to me.

To refresh my mind I found a copy of the thin, tattered volume in the Children's Division of the New York Public Library. As I turned the pages, some seventy-plus years later, I realized that I still like to know what goes on under other people's bonnets and why they hide their faces. Right then and there I decided I would reveal what went on under my bonnet and turn my face to a full-front exposure, as much as I could, in this record of my first nineteen years.

My personal motivation for recording my life and times has been, in great part, nostalgic. I wished to get it down on paper before the whole thing and myself fade into nothingness. Most of the people of whom I write have long since departed from the scene, so I have brought them back for perhaps their last turn upon the stage. Pouring over my father's album was not enough. I wanted to be able to close my eyes and know what it was like to dance so sadly as Mother played on the piano, "Poor Butterfly—she just must die!" I wanted to make bonfires in the woods with Dad, sail down the Mississippi in the good yacht Marigold, fight with my brothers, lose myself in the lands of Oz and Camelot, be the class cut-up at school, and finally emerge in about 1926-1927 a neurotic flapper who, nevertheless, could execute a pretty nifty Charleston.

Secondly, I feel I need some explaining, particularly in regard to my reserve, my apparent limited affective and erotic activities and how they came about. Now with the leisure, the perspective and perhaps the wisdom of my eighties, I have traced my inhibiting and corroding sado-masochistic fantasies from their inception to their final form, exposing them layer by layer as they overlapped, interwoven with the more normal, more tender feelings, and mixed in with the many comical antics of growing up. I have recounted the events, which supported and enforced this primitive drive and told how, for me, this latent tendency was branded permanently on my still infantile psyche. Explanation and exposure are of themselves salutary and they tell you (and me) that I'm not such a bad sort after all. In this case my story might even discourage parents from beating their children.

These fantasies, long secret, have remained imaginary, and as such they did harm enough. I never considered joining a bunch of high-booted, whip-wielding nuts. Nothing doing!

For some reason, my memories go way back, almost to the cradle. They are, nevertheless, as vivid to me as what happened yesterday, more vivid, in fact, because I have played over the scenes of those shaping years so often in my mind. The early vignettes are necessarily fragmentary, but by coordinating them with current events and the meticulously dated photographs in my father's album, they emerge, without my planning it that way, amazingly age-adequate, so that instead of merely recounting amusing or touching tales of another time, I have been able to trace the development of a very small, deviant child through girlhood and adolescence, with the hope that my story will revive for the reader some of the magic of the earliest years when reality was fuzzy and dreams were real, recall the struggle of growing up, and the excitement of seeing the world gradually unfold in front of him.

"With such a sire and such a dam", yes, that laid the foundation. But I also was growing up when nineteenth century Puritanism was faltering in the face of the Jazz Age and the new freedoms of post World War I. When I was fourteen and fifteen, and beginning to think, H. L. Mencken and Clarence Darrow were on the front page; Havelock Ellis, Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway were on the bookshelves within reach of my eager teenage fingers. They helped me wonder, question, and even revolt.

In the course of reliving these first nineteen years, I have come upon insights, not only into myself but into the lives of my parents, my beautiful, unhappy and fun-loving mother, my father, distant and forbidding, that pestering jealous brother, Dick, and sweet little Junie—all decent unhappy people at whose troubles I have only hinted because this is not a novel and I cannot get into their heads, only mine. I can only report truthfully what a tiny little girl, a young cut-up, and a troubled flapper saw and felt. But as I wrote on and put it all together, they were, they are, all there, and I am with them again, at last. And it seems that is the way life is, not was.

That's the trip. This is the way it all came about, so long ago.

[Varian Fry Institute Home]             [Chambon Foundation Home]

[email us]   [contact information]   [table of contents]   [search]   [feedback]   [guest book]   [link to us?]

© Copyright 2006. Chambon Foundation. All rights reserved.                    Revised: February 12, 2008