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Jennifer Moses
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Mourning Mrs. Maisel

'I want a big life,' says the fictional 1950s comedian, expressing what women like my mother didn’t even admit to themselves
The fictional "Midge" Maisel with her fictional father
The fictional "Midge" Maisel with her fictional father

Re: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I devoured it. All five seasons. And then, just like that – specifically, for me, on the evening of Wednesday, May 31 – it was over. The beautiful sets; the glorious costumes; the jokes; the running gags; the over-the-top Jewishness of the over-the-top Jewish Upper West Side; the frisson between the fictional Midge Maisel and a fictional version of the very real Lenny Bruce. And now what was I supposed to do for a little largely mindless, entirely fluffy, and (other than the somewhat salty language) innocently dewy-eyed entertainment?

I’m in withdrawal, an uncomfortable place to be. So uncomfortable, in fact, that rather than doing something useful with my daylight hours, such as work, I find myself googling all-things-Mrs.-Maisel. And you’d be shocked, or maybe you wouldn’t be, to discover that when you google “Mrs. Maisel,” hundreds–no, thousands–of Mrs. Maisel-themed websites pop up. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about you are either a Hasid or . . . sorry, you’re a Hasid, straight up. And I will indulge you. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” with its title character, Miriam “Midge” Maisel, is a five-season television comedy-drama, set in mid-century New York, that follows its eponymous lead character from contented young wife-and-motherhood to ambitious single-mother stand-up comic facing a world of condescending mansplaining men, to her final season where she shows the boys what she’s made of.

I watched a twenty-minute interview of the actors who play Mrs. Maisel and her manager, Susie Myerson, talking about the challenges of the show, unable to rip myself away from it even though I was hugely annoyed that the actual actors are nothing like the characters they play. I watched another longish video called “The Funniest Things Mrs. Maisel Said that You’ll NEVER Forget!” Really? Never? How could I resist? And yet another called “An Inside Look with the Cast of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Ahead of its Final Season.” And a whole bunch more, too. Plus the trailers. For all five seasons. Several times each.

Something is wrong.

Look, I’m a reader. An actual bonafide bonehead. I love a good book so much that when I’m deprived of one, I get anxious, grumpy, depressed. The entire world feels like it’s gone off balance. Not to brag – okay, maybe to brag – but I’ve read all eight million pages of Chaim Grade’s The Yeshiva. Ditto Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. I’ve nearly come to blows over whether this-or-that book is as good as its reviews claim it to be. I cry over beautiful prose. I also cry over bad prose, purple prose, overwrought prose, puffed-up prose, or pretentious prose, but then it’s tears of rage. As in how dare this piece of junk see the light of day? Really, I can be very serious about it. You don’t want to start talking to me in a bookstore. And you definitely don’t want to invite me to join your book group.

My late mother was born in 1932; she graduated from Vassar College in 1954; the following year she married my father; two years after that the first of her four children came along. Along the way she was a teacher, primarily of children with learning disabilities. She died in 2001 of ovarian cancer. And all along, she dreamed of the maybe-career she gave up in order to marry and be a mother, the alternative life where she was soaring across a stage in black leotards, leaping and turning, gliding, chasse-chasse-pas-de-bourree. I know because she talked about it, endlessly recalling studying in New York with Martha Graham, and her summer out west “in the desert” dancing with Merce Cunningham – or was it Erick Hawkins? I should remember but I don’t. What I do remember is how she lit up with something like longing for the girl she once was and for what I believed (and continue to believe) to be the future she could have, but didn’t, embrace.

The post-war years were a time of strict strictures for American women in general, and for well-off well-educated Jewish women like my mother and the fictional Mrs. Maisel, there was only one acceptable road, which was the one my mother chose to walk down, and continued walking down, never rebelling or even really complaining. (Maybe to her girlfriends. Not to me.) Maybe that’s why Mrs. Maisel got me in the kishkes the way it did: because of the struggle that women of my mother’s generation felt so keenly and women of my own still feel. Or at least I did. Do.

“I want a big life; I want to experience everything,” says Mrs. Maisel. “I want to break every single rule there is.” Unlike my very real mother, the fictional Mrs. Maisel – who could have been my mother’s sister, college roommate, or bestie – says out loud what most women of her generation didn’t even admit to themselves.

So in the end it’s great that Mrs. Maisel gets to the big time, but TV being TV, she can’t get away with her huge success without making an equally huge sacrifice. In her case, she’s thrice divorced, with grown kids who don’t seem to want to have much to do with her. And okay, maybe you can’t have it all. (Maybe? Definitely.) But does it really have to be one thing or the other? Home and hearth or art and ardor? Husband and children or fame and fortune? God help the ambitious woman. At least on television.

About the Author
Jennifer Anne Moses is the author of seven books of fiction and non fiction, including The Man Who Loved His Wife, short stories in the Yiddish tradition. Her journalistic and opinion pieces have been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Newark Star Ledger, USA Today, Salon, The Jerusalem Report, Commentary, Moment, and many other publications. She is also a painter.