Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride is the story of a young woman who is murdered by her fiance on her wedding night when attempting to elope with him. It is based on an old Russian folktale, in which a young man practices reciting his wedding vows out in the forest and a lonely woman murdered on her wedding night overhears and believes he is proposing to her.
Having loved it since its release in 2005, I watched the film the other day for old time's sake, and I was reminded once again how it bothered me that Emily's past was so mysterious and unexplained.
I think a lot of fans felt the same. We wanted to know more about Emily, so we made up theories connecting her to the characters in the film, and thus, filling in some plot holes along the way.
A lot of fans believe Emily (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) is actually the maternal aunt of Victoria Everglot, making her Maudeline Everglot's younger sister, and perhaps explaining why Maudeline is so strict.
It's my belief that Maudeline (Joanna Lumley) is strict because she is a caricature of the typical Victorian era mother, and Emily was actually the older sister of Finis Everglot.
Of course, there is almost zero proof of this, which is why it is little more than a fan theory. Still, here are some little things I gathered from the film supporting my gobbledygook.
Barkis Has Scammed The Everglots Before
"Lord" Barkis Bittern (Richard E. Grant) is the man who tricked Emily years ago and killed her out in the forest, just outside the town where Victor and Victoria live.
Years later, after spending all the money he stole from Emily, he returned to the same town. But why? If Victoria (Emily Watson) was already getting married to someone else, why sit in on the rehearsal? Why skulk around cackling in the shadows?
It's my belief that Barkis, being broke, had nothing else to do and no where else to go. So he decided to return to Emily's town and gloat over how he ruined her family. Perhaps he meant to present himself as a long-lost relative. Maybe he was going to reveal that he was married to Emily but would lie and say she died tragically in the hope of inspiring sympathy and gaining some coins.
Instead, Victor disappears, giving him the perfect opportunity to move in and claim yet more riches from the Everglots.
Emily Was Murdered Twenty Years Ago
A lot of fans believe Emily was murdered thirty years ago, but I posit twenty.
This is largely due to the fact that Victoria is stated to be nineteen in the film, and it seems Victor might have been a little older than Victoria, at least around twenty-five.
This is my estimate after observing his attitude in the film. Unlike Victoria, Victor was not brought up by a mother obsessed with decorum. If anything, he should have been a bit more lax having been raised by impoverished fish merchants. Instead, Victor is very keen on etiquette, which may indicate that he is older and more mature than Victoria, who disregards etiquette almost completely several times.
It is a weak argument, to be honest. Victor could just be big on manners as a personality trait. But it's my belief that, if Emily was murdered only twenty years ago, Victor was old enough to have known her (maybe a boy of five or six) but not old enough to remember her.
This would explain why Emily seems to know Victor. After she abducts him to the land of the dead, she has been with him all of six seconds, and yet she knows enough about him to have his dog, Scraps, ready as a wedding gift. By the end of the film, she also declares that she loves him, when she had known him all of a few hours in one day.
The only explanation is that Emily might have known Victor when she was alive and he still a young boy, and after her death, she haunted him, watching over him from afar. The blue butterflies Victor is obsessed with in the opening of the film are likely Emily, who turns into blue butterflies at the end, a subtle clue.
The Everglots Are Poor Because of Emily
The Everglots are presented as the only people with titles living in town. A hundred years ago, their family probably owned the land and ruled it. Now they are the local Lord and Lady but barely have two coins to rub together.
When examined in this light, Victoria is pretty much yet another princess being forced to marry. All marriages were business contracts to Victorians, but the theme of arranged marriages for princesses who wish to marry for love is strong in children's films.
Emily, meanwhile, is presented as having come from a wealthy family who lived in Victor's town. Either Emily's family died, moved away, or she was related to the Everglots. Emily seems to be all alone in the afterlife, so it must be one of the latter.
Emily was likely the older sister of Finis Everglot (Albert Finney), who -- twenty years ago -- was probably around the same age as his own daughter, Victoria, in the film. If Finis was about twenty when Emily died, this means he wasn't too young that he wouldn't remember Lord Barkis.
Still, twenty years is a long time and a lot of time to age. Lord Barkis, with his white hair, seems to be older than Finis even, yet another reason Emily's father was likely against the marriage. Compound this with the fact that Finis has a crap-memory and can't even recall Victor's name, and it almost makes sense.
After Emily ran off with the family jewels, Finis married Maudeline (the daughter of a lord from the next town) and inherited a thin trickle of money. He was a bad businessman, so what little left behind by his older sister dwindled to nothing over the years.
I posit Emily as being older than Finis because her being childlike, trusting, and naive doesn't automatically place her as a younger sibling. She was a spoiled rich girl who probably grew up reading romance novels and didn't have enough life experience to separate fiction from reality. Unfortunately, she learned the hard way that there are bad people in the world and that her father was likely overbearing in order to protect her from them.
The Theme of the Rebellious Princess
If Emily is actually an ancestor of Victoria, then it makes sense that she, too, would be a "rebellious princess" who wished to marry for love.
Emily and Victoria have a great deal in common given that both of them continuously disregard etiquette and behave exactly as they please.
When she was alive, Emily was probably the source of many a scandal. She played the piano vigorously, was full of passion and life. Even her wedding dress -- a very low-cut piece showing a great amount of cleavage -- was wildly improper.
Victoria longs to be the sort of woman Emily was, but her parents have a tight hold on her. She is not allowed to play the piano because her mother considers it "too passionate," and so she lashes out in other ways. She speaks to Victor -- alone, in private -- without a chaperone, which is sort of a big deal.
In that era, a young woman who was alone with a young man was easily assumed to have slept with him out of wedlock, and such a thing would destroy her reputation. Meaning, she'd be lucky to find someone to marry her.
This was kinda a huge deal, as Victorian women relied entirely on marriage to survive a male dominated society. If Victor had been a jerk-ass and lied about banging Victoria in the foyer before the wedding rehearsal, her life would have been over.
But Victoria is willing to take the risk, and to hell with a pompous and unfair society where women are treated like chattel. Much like Emily, she is full of life, full of defiance, in a world that is colorless and dead.
It is this passion for life that Victor longs for. He is obsessed with blue butterflies because they are the only living things in his boring, gray world. When he meets Victoria, he senses the passion and life in her spirit and he is drawn to it. He later meets Emily -- Victoria's dead relative -- and is drawn to the same passion and life in her.
It's my belief that, with both women being so similar, Victor falls in love with both of them easily. They are two rebellious princesses, lashing out at a world that would subjugate them, lifting a defiant hand that Victor -- being as meek as his father -- is too afraid to lift himself.
Victor helped Emily find peace by helping her realize that she was worthy of love and that she didn't deserve what Lord Barkis did to her.
Victor loved her enough that he was willing to commit suicide to marry her. Either he was desperately on the rebound after hearing that Victoria had "moved on," or perhaps he had finally remembered Emily from when he was a child.
Emily really is a tragic figure, when you think about it. She runs away thinking she's in love and is murdered. It probably snowed, so her body was covered up, and her family never found her. She was left alone out in the forest and probably hated herself for being tricked.
Then she throws herself at Victor, desperate for validation and affection, which he eventually grants so that she can move on.
When you think of it, the story actually has a toxic lesson. You can't depend on other people to validate you. Validation and self-esteem have to come from within. And yet, Emily can't move on until a man validates her.
At least that bastard Lord Barkis got what he deserved. I enjoyed that Warner Bros avoided a Disney-esque ending where the villain conveniently kills himself and instead had Barkis tortured horribly by zombies as he was dying.
Once that is done, Emily's spirit can rest and she . . . reincarnates into butterflies.
© 2018 Ash