On this day, 155 years ago, Joseph Carey Merrick was born. It is in his honor that I share this excerpt from my debut novel, In The Eye of The Beholder. At the end, I’ve added a video of the late David Bowie playing Merrick in a Broadway production of The Elephant Man. Enjoy!
At London Hospital, in Whitechapel, Dr. Treves deposited me at what I presumed was his surgery office door.
“I’m wanted in the operating theatre, Madame LeMaître. Please make yourself at home,” he said. He bowed to me and left me alone.
I let myself into the suite, but saw no one. From a back room came a muffled “I shall be with you in a moment. Please have a seat.”
“Thank you, I shall,” I responded.
“Oh, my goodness. A lady caller? I wish I had known. I would have rung for tea.” From out of the back room came the man to whom the muffled voice belonged. The reason for his tone was immediately obvious: his mouth and head were grossly malformed, as was one side of his body. However, the hand he extended to me was as beautiful and graceful as a woman’s.
“Madame, please allow me to introduce myself. I am Joseph Merrick. Sir Frederick isn’t here just now. May I have the sisters bring you tea?”
I wracked my brain, for Merrick’s name was familiar to me. I finally remembered reading an article in the London Times about him: the press called him “the Elephant Man.”
I took the hand extended to me and sketched a brief curtsy.
“Thank you, Monsieur Merrick. Tea would be lovely. I am Madame Claire LeMaître.”
I took the proffered chair and continued. “Monsieur Merrick, Doctor Treves asked me to wait for him here. I believe that he wanted me to visit a patient.”
“Perhaps it was I whom he wished you to see? Sir Frederick had said he would try to arrange callers for me. I am rather lonely here. And please, could you call me Joseph?”
“But of course. And I am Claire. So, you are Doctor Treves’ patient?”
“Yes, and his friend. Sir Frederick rescued me from a traveling circus and I have lived here at London Hospital since then; he is trying to learn about my disease.”
I understood then how the doctor thought I could help. Erik’s face was not even a patch on poor Joseph’s case, to be sure. I was unafraid of what many people found freakish and frightening. How many women would take tea with Joseph Merrick?