Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
What do you when you discover your baby daddy is the Prince of Darkness? This is not Rosemary Woodhouse’s quandary at the beginning of Ira Levin’s novel. There is a sense that Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse live in a glass house. They–mostly Rosemary–look out onto the world with the wide-eyed wonder of little children, their noses pressed to the glass. Guy seems jaded, brooding, and sensitive–all the hallmarks of a deep insecurity that is eating away at him. He is an actor seeking fame and fortune. Rosemary believes in him–she rattles off his productions with pride. It is obvious that something is eating away at him, but he masks it with sarcasm and faux enthusiasm.
When their number is up on the waiting list for the Bramford, Rosemary convinces Guy get out of the lease they’ve just signed for another apartment. They had been waiting on the Bramford for a long time. In that way of his, Guy is a convincing poser which will be the undoing of their family. He comes up with a convincing excuse to be let out of the lease. That’s the thing about Guy–the attributes Rosemary delights in, charm, wit, humor will be used to bamboozle her. Guy is a fitting name for Rosemary’s husband. Aside from his temperamental nature and deception, he lacks depth. This could be intentional on the part of the Levin. I tried to pinpoint the exact moment when Guy decides to offer up his wife as a surrogate for Satan’s baby in exchange for “getting so much in return.” It is difficult. Once I realized he was in on the deception, it made sense. Guy is consumed with want without self-sacrifice or effort. Rosemary on the other hand is very sacrificial and self-doubting exacerbated by a lack of friends and family in close proximity who want nothing from her. She is estranged from her family because she married a non-Catholic Protestant. Her one close friend, Hutch, tries to warn them against moving into the Bram because of its nefarious history. His later attempts to warn Rosemary about the danger that surrounds her results in his untimely death. By the time girlfriends of hers try to intervene she is sucked further into obscurity–all but forced to stay at home.
Upon moving into the Bram, Rosemary and Guy meet and are immediately smothered by their neighbors–an elderly couple who live in a larger apartment unit adjoining their smaller apartment. Roman and Minnie Castevet take them under their wing. Rosemary and Guy indulge their constant invitations and bulldozing out of pity almost. This attention brings benefits–whatever they need, the Castevets just happen to know a friend or have access to it. Old age is surely the perfect disguise in this case along with Minnie Castevet’s eccentricities. Soon it is revealed that more people are in cahoots with the Castevets. Rosemary’s doctor orders her not to read books or listen to others’ advice about pregnancy, which is laughable and nonsensical as professional advice. Rosemary, like the reader, is skeptical but her desire to ensure the health of her unborn child quiets her suspicions for a while. Sometimes she searches for answers to her quandaries and other times she castigates herself:
“You’re going to have your baby in four days, Idiot Girl…So you’re all tense and nutty and you’ve built up a whole lunatic persecution thing out of a bunch of completely unrelated coincidences. There are no real witches. There are no real spells…See, Idiot Girl? It all falls apart when you pick at it.”
But she never stops questioning the many inconsistencies and strange occurrences. I screamed at the pages several times when Rosemary seemed to deliberately ignore the clues. Recently I watched Roman Polanski’s film adaptation of Levin’s work and NBC’s mini-series remake of the film. The older version follows the book more closely than the recent one.
Rosemary’s Baby is suspenseful and just plain creepy. It casts evil and Satan in ways that are familiar. For me, Satan is not the biggest evildoer in this work, thought. He is outdone by her husband, that Guy, who gives her body over to be used without her knowledge or permission.