You are probably familiar with the 1967 movie The Graduate starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross, but have you read the 1963 novel of the same name by Charles Webb? Probably not. And, you’re probably not aware of the parallels between certain characters in the book and Webb and his wife Fred (I’ll explain a bit later).
Benjamin Braddock is very much like Charles Webb, the son of wealthy parents who lived in southern California. Elaine Robinson is, to some extent, based on Webb’s wife, Fred. But Fred doesn’t particularly consider that a compliment because Elaine is too conventional as far as she is concerned. The story of Charles and Fred gets even more interesting though the details vary somewhat from source to source.
One of the first things Charles Webb and Eve Rudd, a painter, did after they married well over 40 years ago was to spread their wedding gifts out on their front lawn and sell them. They don’t like to be encumbered by things – or money for that matter. They have given away a number of houses (some sources say two, some say four), and most of the money they have ever earned. In fact, it is estimated that they have disposed of over $1,000,000 in assets, and then worked in a series of menial jobs in order to survive. Many years ago Eve changed her name to Fred (with no surname) in solidarity with a group called Fred which helps men who suffer from low self-esteem. She began to shave her head to protest the role that women must play in our society, and she divorced Charles either, it seems, to show her disdain for marriage or to protest the taboo against same-sex marriages. In 1999 they moved to England for no particular reason, and now live on the public dole.
In 2001 Fred had a sever nervous breakdown. For two years she did nothing but sleep. Then she came out of it, but had two distinct, alternating personalities. One is her normal personality, the other is that of a five-year-old brat. Charles obviously had some adjusting to do, but seems to have cruised through this just like he has cruised through all the other bizarre aspects of his life. “Actually,” he says, “I’ve become more and more fond of the five-year-old. To begin with she was really horrible to be around: violent, uncooperative, seeking attention all the time. But now we can have conversations and I hope we’re going to start playing dominoes soon.”
Despite his crazy, unstructured life, Webb has written a number of other novels including a sequel to The Graduate entitled Home School, and New Cardiff which was made into the movie Hope Springs starring Colin Firth and Minnie Driver.