I am inordinately fond of bunny rabbits. What follows is a summary of experiences, feelings, and data in support of this assertion.
When I was a little girl, I begged my mother to let me get a bunny for Easter. Finally relenting, she agreed on one condition: the rabbit would never set foot inside her house full of antiques. So my mass of soft whiteness lived in a wire crate kept near the back door. Though I kept asking if he might not just spend nights in our basement, Mamie never relented. One morning, after a rain that I knew had been unpleasant for my bunny, I went out with breakfast to find his little body spotted with his own blood and his head missing entirely. I was inconsolable for weeks and was never allowed to replace him.
For years in Minneapolis, when I went to the state fair, my favorite place was the barn that housed show rabbits. Especially endearing were the lop-eared ones. I would stand by their cages for long stretches, speaking softly to them and wondering if they wished they were in some woods or at least back at the farm.
At some point after I’d been exposed to theories of reincarnation, I became convinced that I’d been a rabbit in some previous manifestation. Having share this with a friend, I was delighted when she presented me with a charming netsuke of a little tan bunny standing upright with an expression of quiet wisdom on its tiny face. It holds pride of place on my bedside table where I look at it every night when retiring and every morning before I get dressed for my day.
Some years ago, another friend referred me to a belief in someone’s mythology that there is not a man in the moon but rather a rabbit with a broom. His or her job is to sweep the moon to rid it of dust or other debris. When humans began going there, I felt sorry for that creature since we were leaving large mechanical objects resistant to flimsy broom actions.
Neighbors who garden, as do I, constantly complain about rabbits who eat emerging tulip blooms or gnaw bark from shrubs in winter. To fend off such invasions, they spray Lysol or sprinkle red pepper grinds or construct chicken wire fences around individual tulips or azalea bushes in late April. I, on the other hand, am always honored to find a small bunny in my back garden when I emerge at about 6:45 for my morning walk. I stop very still and begin speaking in a low voice saying something like “Hello, Bunny, I’m so happy you’re in my yard. Don’t be scared, I love you.” The bunnies who visit me never eat my tulips or gnaw my shrubbery because they sense how closely I identify with them.
Now we come to why I’m thinking once again of my long attachment. Recently I saw the movie “The Favourite” about the court of Queen Anne, the ruler of England in the early 18th century. Anne lost over a dozen children to miscarriages and stillbirths. In the film, her bedroom includes several elaborate cages that house many little rabbits, accumulated to replace the lost children. They are let out to scamper about while the queen sits on the floor in a childlike pose to pet and talk to them. Attending women are expected to follow suit. The first time the bunnies were released, I almost squealed with delight as I watched them playing with each other and the humans. This movie is a scathing account of the debauched life of the period, especially of the male figures at court who are either ridiculous fops or prune-faced advisors who tolerate having a woman sovereign. But the story of the queen and her two “favorites” is full of displaced ambitions, powerful lesbian eroticism, destructive competition, and painful losses for all three characters. Near the end, when the younger favorite, Abigail, shone reading a book while supposedly watching the rabbits as they run around the room, puts her elegantly shod foot on top of one of them. It was excruciatingly painful for me, inveterate devotee that I am of bunnies. I thought, “If she kills this rabbit, I may have to walk out of the theater!” At a crucial moment, after the innocent bunny has made some small but pathetic sound, Abigail lifts her foot and the movie proceeds to its very sad conclusion.
In the days since this latest reminder of my love for rabbits, I’ve kept returning to this particular image because I see it as symbolic of the entire culture of the movie. The tiny creature must try to survive being under the heel of the young woman intent on maintaining power no matter who gets hurt. Servants in the court are under the heel of the royals. Royals in the court are under the albeit gout-ridden heel of Queen Anne. Sarah Churchill Marlboro is under the heel of a culture that expects females to be adornment rather than people of substance and passion. Abigail is under the heel of her own avaricious drive to regain status after being displaced and forced into servitude. And the Queen herself is under the heel of accumulated grief and a compulsive relationship to food as a substitute for a sweetness she seldom enjoys. Suddenly this sometimes over-the-top spoof of monarchy and male vanity exposes various levels of discrimination still in full display in our own culture. And the icon that brought this to my mind is a sweet little black and white bunny rabbit.