(This essay first appeared as a four-part series in a newsletter on the EastEnders Yahoo discussion group in September 2001.)
Approximately 3000 years ago, there was a very popular Greek soap opera called Olympus. By talking about the characters (they called them 'gods') of this soap opera and about what happened to them, the ancient Greeks defined their own ideas about how the world came to be. And by identifying with these gods, they discovered new sides to themselves and others.
The principal goddess was called Hera. Hera was the goddess of home and hearth, marriage and birth. She was not only majestic and solemn, but also jealous and interfering and once she was angry, no one (not even her husband and principal god Zeus) dared to cross her.
Enter the modern day Hera: Pauline Fowler of the EastEnders pantheon. Majestic in her own right. Interfering and terrifying. But also loving and protective. Home and hearth are everything to Pauline. She probably can't imagine anything more heavenly than to have all the family around her dinner table.
Unfortunately, Pauline's Zeus was one of the mortal gods and she is still not quite used to not having him around. As a true patroness of marriage, Arthur and Pauline's marriage was a long and fairly happy one (despite one major glitch). They had their own balance. Arthur needed someone to confirm that he was doing the right thing and someone to reassure him that things would be all right. Pauline needed someone to fuss over and to make her smile.
Since Arthur's death, Pauline has found some sort of stability in holding onto Arthur's memory. The thought of ever loving another man horrifies her. On one hand because she respects Arthur's memory too much, on the other hand because it will bring her and her family a lot of insecurity and will knock her out of her afore-mentioned stability.
Jeff, a handy-man who fell in love with Pauline in 2000, felt the consequences of this when he foolishly proposed to Pauline after a short, "gentle romance". Pauline turned him down and has continued her old way of life once again.
Some time later, a friendship with a "family friend", Eddie Skinner, was blossoming. His very misery was making Pauline laugh and he sure could do with someone fussing over him, so in my opinion they would have been an ideal match. Unfortunately, the scriptwriters let Eddie move away from the Square.
Pauline rejected Eddie's advances by saying to him that being alone doesn't automatically mean being lonely. But lately phrases like the sarcastic "I think sex is overrated. Give me a good book and a cup of cocoa anytime!" and the fact that Pauline has been on a blind date with Terry via a dating agency (?!) show that Pauline is getting more and more lonely. Let's hope she finds a nice and reliable man soon.
So much for Pauline's (lack of a) love life. Let's get back to Pauline's need for stability. A good example of that is the fact that Pauline has never moved house. She still lives in the same house in which she was born. She once had the idea to move to New Zealand to live close to her brother Kenny (who emigrated to New Zealand years ago), but the thought of leaving her friends and the places she knows so well behind, was enough to dismiss that idea.
Pauline has also been doing the same job for years and years. She worked in a paint factory for a short while, but quickly returned to the job she knew well: working in the launderette. She does people's service washes and the dry cleaning. But more importantly, as Pauline is still a central character in EastEnders, people can come in and have a chat with her. Or, even better: while customers are waiting for a machine to finish washing, Pauline can give some unwanted advice!
Caring for and protecting her children has always been Pauline's main priority in life. Whoever dares to say something nasty about one of them is sure to hear phrases like: "My Martin is a good boy!"
The most important lessons that Pauline has taught her children is that they should always be honest ("You can't keep a secret for long around here!") and that family is the most important thing in their lives ("Family loyalty, that's the key!"). Pauline is also the living example to show them that no matter what life may throw at them, they will just have to adjust to the new situation and get on with their lives.
But there is one important thing Pauline seems to have forgotten to address in her children's upbringing: sexual education. Mark has been HIV positive for years now (because of unprotected sex as a teenager), Michelle has two children from two separate one-night stands. Her first child was born when she was just seventeen years old. And now Martin is a teenage father after a one-night stand as well. People have commented that with the recent infertility, the medical world should have a close look at Pauline's cooking! They might learn something there.
But like I said, whatever life throws at her, Pauline adjusts to the situation and muddles through. When she found out about Mark's HIV, it took her a while to get used to the idea (mainly the idea that he might die before she herself died), but she has always supported him. Because of her unconditional love and support, the bond between mother and son is stronger than ever. When she found out about Michelle's pregnancy, she wasn't happy with the situation, but she also unconditionally supported her daughter. She practically raised Vicky while Michelle finished college. A while ago, when she heard that Michelle was having an operation on her appendix, Pauline immediately got on a plane to the US to look after Vicky and little Mark. Pauline has also fought for a chance to raise Martin's child, Chloe, instead of having her adopted by a strange couple. But when she found out that Martin was not at all ready to be a father, and she realized that by taking in her granddaughter she might very well loose her son, she stopped her fight and let her granddaughter be adopted away by strangers.
Even though her overprotective nature gets on her sons' nerves sometimes, they both love their mother and are as protective of her as she is of them.
Pauline's idea of family also includes the family's friends. Doctor Legg, who has been the family doctor for years, can always expect a warm welcome. Dot Cotton, who is also Pauline's colleague, can always count on Pauline's support, whether Pauline agrees with Dot's actions or not. Dot even lived in Pauline's house for about a year. And when Ethel Skinner, another family friend and Dot's best friend, needed to be looked after because she only had a few more months to live, Pauline wasn't very pleased that she came to stay in her home. But she knew how important it was to both Dot and Ethel and adjusted herself to the situation; taking over Dot's shifts in the launderette and trying to make sure that both Dot and Ethel were all right.
If anyone seems a threat to the well-being of her (extended) family, Pauline will become aggressive. She is known to hit people in the face, to throw objects at people, but usually she'll just stare. To continue the Greek myth theme, her stare would make Medusa envious!
She is also known to shout at people a lot. But if you pay close attention, you'll notice she only shouts at people she cares about. Pauline only starts shouting when she feels quite hopeless in a situation, but she feels she really needs to stop a loved one from whatever (s)he is doing. To "outsiders" she hardly ever shouts; she will talk in a dangerously low voice, slowly pronouncing every syllable to make sure they understand.
Fans of EastEnders often complain that Pauline hardly ever smiles. Well, she doesn't have much to smile about at the moment, does she? She does smile every so often though. When the family is together and everyone is enjoying themselves (like at Christmas), you'll definitely see a smile on Pauline's face. She also smiles when she has been interfering in someone's life successfully. :-)
Because of Wendy Richard's brilliant acting and the equally brilliant scriptwriting that has been done for this character, Pauline is complex and "real", which makes it terribly difficult to summarize her character, but (in my opinion) it also makes her the most interesting EastEnder of them all.