“I wrote 63 songs this year. They’re all about Jeter.” Just kidding. The game we love, the players we hate, and more.

Culture and Criticism

From Norman Mailer to Wendy Pepper — everything on film, TV, books, music, and snacks (shut up, raisins), plus the Girls’ Bike Club.

Donors Choose and Contests

Helping public schools, winning prizes, sending a crazy lady in a tomato costume out in public.

Stories, True and Otherwise

Monologues, travelogues, fiction, and fart humor. And hens. Don’t forget the hens.

The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: February 26, 2010

Submitted by on February 26, 2010 – 8:22 AM39 Comments

Dear Sars,

I would be ever so appreciative if you/the readers could possibly help me identify a book/story I have stuck in my head — it’s driving me insane.

This all came about because I was washing Jell-O off of a plate. I know, just stay with me for a second. So I’m standing there watching the Jell-O melt into the drain and all of a sudden, it starts freaking me the hell out and I have no idea why.

After thinking on it a minute or two, I remembered what I’m pretty sure was a short story I read sometime in middle or early high school. The only thing I remember about it is that a character who I believe was the older sister of the main character received some sort of “beauty tonic” from a questionable source, and started drinking it obsessively. I think she was rather preoccupied with her looks in the story.

Anyway, the creepy-ass ending was that the stuff made her start, like, melting or something and the main character had to dump her in the bathtub and possibly (ew, oh my god) wash her away.

All I remember picturing in my head was pink Jell-O and I recall a time when I couldn’t even look at the stuff because of this story that I hope to god I didn’t dream or make up. I’ve Googled various attempts at a more concise plot synopsis, but when I put in “pink beauty tonic melts girl,” it just asked me if I meant “tunic.”

Other possibly helpful things:

I feel like the title might have been the name of a girl (the melting sister).

I have two conflicting feelings on where I read this — part of me seems to remember it was in school, like for a class, and the other thought I have is that it was (I don’t know why) in a magazine.


Definitely off Jell-O for a while


Hi Sars,

My Vine question regards an English children’s book that I had when I lived over there.It is a collection of short stories, poems, and excerpts from novels.I believe it’s attributed to Hilda Braun, but it’s been so long that I could be remembering incorrectly.

The collection included excerpts from David Copperfield, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Fairyfoot.It had the whole tale of “The Selfish Giant.”It also contained part of Pinkle and the Witch.

The book had such wonderful illustrations!I think you have some overseas readers, so I’m hoping they can help me.




Dear Sars,

I’m hoping you and the Nation can help me find a book I read in 1997, and would like to find again. I picked it out of a bin of English-language novels at a bookstore in Norway while I was there on a student exchange.I don’t remember too much about it, but for a long time I remembered it as being by Baroness Orczy because it resembled the Scarlet Pimpernel adventures to some degree.However, none of her non-SP books seem to match my memory.

The few details I can remember (and may be mixing in from other books) is that most of it was set in France during or just after the French Revolution, the main character’s love interest was being forced to marry either her guardian or the main character (and there may have been a dramatic wedding scene in a church), and something about passing documents/catching diplomatic spies in a fancy hotel.I think there was also an old man who had escaped from a prison camp and was living incognito so that he didn’t have to go back, but advising the main character, possibly out of the need for revenge on the guardian.

Thanks for any clues,

I seek him here, I seek him there, that elusive (not) Pimpernel!




  • Kate says:

    The Jello story reminds me of a short story I read in Seventeen or Teen or one of those magazines back in the late ’90s. Only in that story, the girl’s sister melted into like, ranch dressing or something and the girl’s crazy mother bottled her up in the ranch dressing bottle.
    Jello, could that be what you’re thinking of?

  • April says:

    I remember reading this story in a magazine (odds are it was Seventeen). I googled “Seventeen girl in a dressing bottle” and came up with this link: I do think it’s the same story but I didn’t connect it until Kate mentioned that the girl was put in a bottle of salad dressing–I only remembered the salad dressing part! And I thought, “NO it wasn’t Ranch dressing, I actually LIKE Ranch dressing.” Turns out it’s French dressing. Anyways…is that it?

  • sherrylynn says:

    EEWWW. now I can’t eat jello or french/ranch salad dressing.

  • Diane says:

    I always hated Jell-o and French dressing, but that story IS affecting. Thank you for posting it, April!

  • Sarah says:

    Holy God, that certainly sounds like it. I hope there’s not more than one of this motif floating around in the atmosphere. I am seriously going to barf.

  • Natalie says:

    That story just gave me chills! So creepy! I can see why it stuck with you.

    I’m always amazed by how Vine readers can figure out what other people are referring to, even when the details are misleading.

  • Jello says:

    April, that IS the story. I had thought it was in a teen magazine but it seemed such a weird story to have been there. Yep, it still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

  • Bernard Kelly says:

    (non) Pimpernel, could the book have been Scaramouche? There’s a plot precis on wiki: . I just read it recently myself — it’s kind of an inverted Scarlet Pimpernel, with the main character aiming at bringing down the French aristocracy. It has some of the elements you mention (though I don’t remember the church bit).

  • Kristin says:

    Pimpernell, for some odd reason I’m getting a Dickens-y vibe from what you’re asking about — Nicholas Nickleby, maybe? I know it’s not set in France and there’s no espionage, but you can tick the ‘forcibly marrying the guardian/old guy’ and ‘help from sorta hidden guy’ boxes…

  • Sarah says:

    Cynthia, I think your book might be a Hilda Boswell, maybe this one or this one I had a Hilda Boswell Omnibus when I was a child and the illustrations were beautiful, but I can’t remember now if any of the stories you mention were in it.

  • …Agh, I didn’t care for either French dressing or Jell-O (texture issues? moi?) to begin with and I just read the story and now I am going to go renew my driver’s license and try not to “aaaaaugh” to myself too loudly.

    Meanwhile, I’ll have to pick up Scaramouche.

  • az says:

    Well, thanks for sharing that horrible story, April. If I have nightmares, I’m blaming you. Oh, and also Jello, for asking about it. Egad. I have the shivers.

  • Andrea says:

    Wow. Just read the melting queen storry and am pretty sure I won’t be able to eat again for days. That was one of the most disturbing stories I can recall reading. Hard to believe it was in Seventeen Magazine.

    Could the 3rd LW be thinking of The Count of Monte Cristo? I don’t know why, but that book just jumped into my head when I was reading the letter.

  • Andrea says:

    And that was supposed to say “story.” Sorry.

  • Kate (again) says:

    I’m going to take April and Jello’s word that the story April linked to is the one that Jello’s thinking about. Because 8 years later, just the *thought* of that story creeps me the hell out! No way am I re-reading it to make sure.

  • RJ says:

    I want to read that story, now, right now!!!!!

    And also never see Jello again!

  • RJ says:

    Okay, that was interesting. I’d love to see more work from the person who wrote that story.

  • rayvyn2k says:

    Won’t be reading that melting queen story…nope.

    The Scarlett Pimpernel one sounds interesting, though.

  • Leigh says:

    Wow, that was incredibly disturbing! (For those too afraid to click the link, it was the winner of a fiction contest in 2002, which kind of explains a lot. But not why they published it!)

  • shanchan says:

    Hi everyone, (Not) Pimpernel here- none of the suggestions so far are it, but thanks for your help! I’ll definitely have to check out Scaramouche!

  • Waverly says:

    I loved the Scarlet Pimpernel Movie with Jane Seymour. It’s from the early 80s. Not sure if it holds up or not, but it really rocked my socks back in high school.

  • Lynda says:

    I just finished reading the Jello story, and found it interesting and no more disgusting than most of Stephen King’s work (which I love), but more interesting as being written by a young woman.

    Still, what I found just as sad (and possibly horrifying) as the story itself was the comment of the person who posted the story to her website — Yes, I know it’s long but I know all of us have some times when we are bored and looking for something to do.

    I just find it really depressing that a person would think that story was *long* and that she thinks people read because ‘they’re bored and there’s nothing else to do’.

    :: shudders ::

  • Jello equals devil goo says:

    Wow, that story was disturbing and only reinforced my texture issues (high five, formerly anonymous intern of doom!) and my intense dislike of both Jello and french dressing. The only way that story could have bugged me out more was if it included eating rice pudding off of a wooden spoon (ack).

  • GrammaK says:

    I’m currently listening to The Mysteries of Udolpho (via as I workout on the treadmill. I’m not very far into the story (well, I’m about 6 hours into it, but speedy plot development was not one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s strong suits), but at least some of (Not)Pimpernel’s details match this story.

  • mnerva says:

    Thank you sooo much! I had the wrong Hilda, lol. I am so thankful; you cannot even imagine. Also thanks to Sars for even posting it!


  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Waverly: Our history teacher had us watch it; was it a miniseries? I forget who played S. Pimp, but we went around imitating it the rest of the trimester. Ham buffet.

  • Jaybird says:

    And thanks to the Scaramouche suggestion, I now have “Bohemian Rhapsody” on a constant loop in my head. Anybody got an idea how that whole fandango thing works out for him?

  • Adrienne says:

    (Not) Pimpernel: The timeline is totally wrong but this sounds so much like Celeste Bradley. I think her first books came out in the early 2000’s, though. I know, she’s romance, but no judging: her historical fiction is more story, less, you know, doin’ it. Lauren Willig then wrote almost the same books, but against the backdrop of a grad student doing research a few years later and with less sexy times.

    Something pimpernel-y in the zietgeist?

  • Christine says:

    Sars, it was Anthony Andrews. My best friend had a huge crush on him. (He was also Sebastian in the BBC version of Brideshead Revisited.)

  • shanchan says:

    Okay, now I have to shamefully admit owning the Jane Seymour (miniseries)on VHS. Absolutely cheese-tastic, and a young Ian McKellen as Chauvelin. Anthony Andrews’s voice is annoying as Sir Percy but that makes his SP voice absolute hotness.

    Adrienne, I’ll need to search those out- nothing wrong with a little romance.

  • Jen S says:

    That story reminded me of one I read as a kid in Highlights magazine, of all possible places, where a girl named Annie goes to school one morning and meets a new girl who’s her exact double, except Annie has long brown hair and the new girl short, curly blonde hair.

    The story describes how New Girl dyes her hair and grows it out, and basically takes over Annie’s life. The end has Annie literally fading away as her doppleganger takes over, the last line is about how her triumphant laughter echoes in Annie’s empty room.

    It is no exaggeration to say that story FREAKED ME RIGHT THE FUCK OUT, but I couldn’t stop reading it over and over, hoping somehow it would end differently. I wonder if the authors of such stuff know how their work echoes in the brain decades and decades later.

  • LaSalleUGirl says:

    @ Lynda: I opted not to read the story, but I did click on the link and was equally thrown by the “yeah, it’s long” (it’s…not really) and the whole “reading = something to do when you’re bored” things.

    That Hilda Boswell omnibus sounds lovely! I might have to look for a copy.

  • attica says:

    I liked the Richard E Grant/ Elizabeth McGovern S Pimps from the turn of the century. Yes, I have on occasion addressed friends of mine “Citizeness.” Why wouldn’t I?

  • RJ says:

    “@Waverly: Our history teacher had us watch it; was it a miniseries? I forget who played S. Pimp, but we went around imitating it the rest of the trimester. Ham buffet.”

    To my knowledge, there has never been a good version of “Scarlet Pimpernel” made. Dear family friends once made us watch the Anthony Andrews version and it made me want to poke my own eyes out.

  • Jenno says:

    @shanchan (-Pimpernel) — utvekslingstudent i Norge! Me too, but 10 years before you. Where did you live? There are so few of us, I’m always thrilled to find another.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    @Jaybird: I think he encounters thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening…
    @jello equals devil goo – I’d bet if I were to BITE MY T-SHIRT you’d nearly barf, huh? I believe there are certain eccentricities that travel in packs. Food texture issues, touching wet wood & biting cloth are Hell’s Trifecta. (Do cotton balls bother you, too? The ones in pill bottles?) Sorry about the barf.

  • Jello equals devil goo says:

    @Margaret in CO: wow, I actually gagged reading that. Gross! And yes, those cheap weird pill-bottle wads of cotton completely freak me out-they make me feel like I’m suffocating, like they are IN my throat. Also evil? Popsicle sticks, tongue depressors, and, to return to topic, Jello with flippin’ FRUIT in it. Oh my, I need to put my head down on my desk now.

  • shanchan says:

    @Jenno: Hallo! I lived i Bergen, in the Fantoft hostel, and went to UiB. You? Sadly, I have forgotten most of my Norwegian, although I still have a copy of an “X-Files” novel in Norwegian that I cherish. :)

  • opheliasbooks says:

    Could the French Revolution one be Leon Garfield’s The Prisoners of September? I haven’t read it so I’m not sure if the plot’s right. But he’s very Dickensian and it’s definitely set during the FR.

Leave a comment!

Please familiarize yourself with the Tomato Nation commenting policy before posting.
It is in the FAQ. Thanks, friend.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>