The Fall of Peter Pan – Chapter 2

I have been writing my own novel over the last three years, and it is going to be published in eBook format on Amazon.com this week! For your delectation and delight, I will be posting up the initial chapters of The Fall of Peter Pan here first

This novel is an adaptation of the original Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.

Chapter 2 THE SHADOW

Fall of PeterPan

Mrs. Darling gave another squeak of fear, and as if in answer to a bell, the nursery door opened and Nana entered, returned from her evening out. She had been indulging herself by watching the greyhound races. Nana snarled and sprang at the boy, who hurled himself away through the window, the little light following at his heels. Again Mrs. Darling screamed, this time in distress, for she thought he was killed, and she ran down into the street with a lit taper to look for his crumpled little corpse. It was not there. She searched around, and in the black sky she could see nothing but what she thought was a shooting star, though it would have to have been very bright to shine through the smoky air of London that night.

She returned to the nursery, and found Nana holding something in her teeth, which proved to be the boy’s shadow. As he leapt out the window Nana had closed it quickly, and his shadow had not had time to get out; slam went the window and snapped it cleanly off. Together they examined the shadow, but it was quite ordinary, and Nana suggested they hang it out at the high nursery window, so that the strange boy could come back to claim it without troubling the children.

But Mrs. Darling could not leave it hanging out at the window; it looked so like washing and lowered the whole tone of the house. She thought of showing it to Mr. Darling, but he was not yet due home, and it seemed a shame to trouble him; besides, she knew exactly what he would say: “It all comes of having a dog for a nurse.” And then they would chase that conversation back and forth, battling Mr. Darling’s social insecurities on the one hand, and their monetary ones on the other, until the ideas were quite tired again and desired to be put aside till later.

She decided to roll the shadow up and put it away carefully in a drawer, until a fitting opportunity came for telling her husband, though as with many things we place in a safe place, it was almost instantly lost and forgotten.

The opportunity came a week later, on that never-to-be-forgotten Friday.

“I ought to have been specially careful on a Friday,” Mrs. Darling used to say afterwards to her husband, while perhaps Nana was on the other side of her, holding her hand with one work-roughened paw. “It was the thirteenth, after all. I should have taken precautions.”

“No, no,” Mr. Darling always said, “I am responsible for it all. I, George Darling, did it. Mea culpa, mea culpa.” He had had a classical education, and a love of reading histories of the martyrs.

“If only I had not accepted that invitation to dinner at 27,” Mrs. Darling said, “but I had been wanting to see them socially for some time.”

“If only I had not poured my medicine into Nana’s bowl,” said Mr. Darling, “though it is so very loathsome.”

“If only I had pretended to like the medicine,” was what Nana’s wet eyes said.

“My abominable liking for parties, George.”

“My fatal lack of humour, dearest.”

“My touchiness about trifles, dearest master and mistress.”

Then one or more of them would break down altogether into broken sobbing; Nana at the thought, “It’s true, they should not have employed a dog for a nurse.” Many a time it was Mr. Darling who put the handkerchief to Nana’s weeping old eyes.

“That fiend!” Mr. Darling would cry, and Nana’s bark was the very echo of it, but Mrs. Darling never upbraided Peter; there was something in the right-hand corner of her mouth that wanted her not to call Peter names. There is even the possibility that she had rediscovered the secret place in her mind, and was again using it as she should.

They would sit there in the empty nursery, their faces haggard, recalling every smallest detail of that dreadful evening. It had begun so uneventfully, so precisely like a hundred other evenings, with Nana putting on the water for Michael’s bath and carrying him to it on her back.

“I won’t go to bed,” he had shouted, still believing sincerely at three years old that his opinion was the deciding factor on a subject, “I won’t, I won’t. Nana, it isn’t six o’clock yet. I shan’t love you ever, Nana. I tell you I won’t be bathed! No! No, no, no!”

Then Mrs. Darling had come in, wearing her white evening gown. She had dressed early because John so loved to see her in her gowns, with the necklace George had given her. She was wearing Wendy’s bracelet on her arm; she had asked for the loan of it. Wendy loved to lend her bracelet to her mother, for it was no use to her unless they were playing at pirates and treasure. When Mrs. Darling had it, it was sure not to be lost, and then Wendy would be saved sitting through a scolding.

She had found her two older children playing at being herself and Father on the occasion of Wendy’s birth, and John was saying:

“I am happy to inform you, Mrs. Darling, that you are now a mother,” in just such a pompous tone as Mr. Darling himself may have used on the real occasion. Wendy pulled a face at him, but had obligingly danced with joy, just as the real Mrs. Darling must have done, if she were at all capable of dancing.

Then John was born, with the extra pomp that he received due to the birth of a boy, and Michael came from his bath to ask to be born also, but John said quite brutally that they did not want any more. Wendy boxed his ears, mainly for the pomp and a little for making Michael sad.

Michael had begun to cry. “Nobody wants me,” he despaired, snub nose running, and of course the lady in the evening dress could not stand that.

“I do,” Mrs. Darling said, “I so want a third child.”

“Boy or girl?” Asked Michael, looking up hopefully.

“Boy.”

Then he had leapt into her arms. Such a little thing for Mr. and Mrs. Darling and Nana to recall now, but not so little when it was etched in their memories as Michael’s last night in the nursery.

They labour on with their recollections, against the contrary winds of emotion.

“It was then that I rushed in like a storm, wasn’t it?” Mr. Darling would say, scorning himself; and indeed he had been like a tornado.

He, too, had been dressing for the party, and all had gone well with him until he came to his tie. It is an astounding thing to confess, but this man, though he knew about long-term interest rates and shares, had no actual mastery of his tie. Sometimes the thing yielded to him without a contest, but there were occasions when it would have been better for the house if he had swallowed his pride and used a clip-on tie, for it would have spared them all a real fit of temper.

This was such an occasion. He came rushing into the nursery with the crumpled little brute of a tie in his hand.

“Why, whatever is the matter, Father dear?” Mrs. Darling asked.

“Matter!” He yelled; he really yelled. “This tie, it will not tie.” He became dangerously sarcastic. “Not round my neck! Round the bedpost! Oh yes, twenty times have I made it up round the bedpost, but round my neck, no! Oh dear no!”

He thought Mrs. Darling was not sufficiently impressed, and he went on threateningly, “I warn you of this, Mother, that unless this tie is round my neck we don’t go out to dinner to-night, and if I don’t go out to dinner to-night, I never go to the office again, and if I don’t go to the office again, you and I shall starve, and our children will be flung out into the streets to beg for crusts.”

Even in the face of this dangerous man-child, Mrs. Darling was placid. “Let me try, my dear,” she simply said, and indeed that was what he had come to ask her to do. With her nice cool hands she tied his tie for him, while the children stood around all owl-eyed to see their fate decided. Some men would have resented her being able to achieve what they could not so easily, but Mr. Darling was far too distractible for that; he thanked her carelessly, at once forgot his rage, and in another moment was dancing round the room with Michael on his back.

“Our last romp!” Mr. Darling groaned.

“O George, do you remember when Michael asked me, ‘How did you get to know me, Mother?’”

“I remember!”

“They were rather sweet, don’t you think, George?”

“And they were ours, all ours! And now…they are gone.”

The romp had ended with the appearance of Nana, and most unluckily Mr. Darling collided against her, covering his trousers with hairs. They were not only new trousers, but they were also the first he had ever had with braid on them, and he had had to bite his lip to prevent from shouting at the unfortunate Nana. Of course Mrs. Darling brushed him clean, but he began to talk again about its being a mistake to have a dog for a nurse.

“George, Nana is a treasure.”

“No doubt, but I have an uneasy feeling at times that she looks upon the children as puppies.”

“Oh no, dear one, I feel sure she knows they have souls.” Wendy from her corner glanced up with interest at this. She rather felt that children had no souls, just like puppies. Anything else seemed unfair to the puppies. Having a soul appeared to burden one with all kinds of responsibilities, which were best avoided.

“I wonder,” Mr. Darling said thoughtfully, “I wonder.” It was an opportunity, his wife suddenly recalled, for telling him about the boy. At first he pooh-poohed the story, but he became thoughtful when she showed him the shadow.

“It is nobody I know,” he said, examining it carefully, “but it does look as though it belongs to some shade of scoundrel or dirty urchin.”

“Nana and I may well have scared him off for good; but I am glad she is here to guard the children in case he comes back,” Mrs. Darling said.

“We were still discussing it, you remember,” says Mr. Darling, “when Nana came in with Michael’s medicine. You will never need to carry that bottle in your mouth again, Nana, and it is all my fault.”

Strong man though he was, there is no doubt that he had behaved rather foolishly over the medicine. If he had a weakness (he had many, but did not recognise them, so we shall avoid the subject), it was for thinking that all his life he had taken medicine boldly, and so now, when Michael dodged the spoon in Nana’s mouth, he had said reprovingly, “Be a man, Michael.”

“Won’t! No! Won’t!” Michael cried naughtily. Mrs. Darling left the room to get a chocolate for him. Mr. Darling thought this showed want of firmness towards the children.

“Mother, don’t pamper him,” he called after her. “Michael Darling, when I was your age I took my medicine without a murmur. I drank it down and said, ‘Thank you, kind parents, for giving me bottles to make me well.’”

He really thought this was true, and Wendy, who was now in her night-gown, rolled her eyes, though she said, to encourage Michael, “That medicine you sometimes take, Father, is much nastier, isn’t it?”

“Ever so much nastier,” Mr. Darling said bravely, “And I would take it now as an example to you, Michael, if I hadn’t lost the bottle. I can’t find it anywhere.“

He had not exactly lost it; he had climbed in the dead of night to the top of the wardrobe and hidden it there. What he did not know was that the efficient Liza had found it, and put it back on his washstand.

“I know where it is, Father,” Wendy cried, always glad to be of service. “I’ll bring it,” and she was off before he could stop her. Immediately his spirits sank.

“John,” he said, shuddering, “it’s the most disgusting, nasty, sticky stuff.”

“It will soon be over, Father,” John said cheerily, and then in rushed Wendy with the medicine in a glass.

“I have been as quick as I could,” she panted.

“You have been wonderfully quick,” her father retorted, with a vindictive politeness that was quite lost on her. “Michael first,” he said doggedly.

“Father first,” said Michael, who was of a suspicious nature.

“I shall be sick, you know,” Mr. Darling threatened, “then you’ll feel bad, won’t you?”

“No,” said Michael truthfully.

“Come on, Father,” said John.

“Hold your tongue, John,” his father rapped out.

Wendy hid a smile that was entirely mischievous. “I thought you took it quite easily, Father.”

“That is not the point,” he retorted. “The point is, there is more in my glass than in Michael’s little spoon. And it isn’t fair: I would say it though it were with my last breath; it isn’t fair.”

“You are bigger than Michael, father. I think it’s rather fair you should have more of it,” Wendy said, crossing her arms. Even John, his faithful shadow and compatriot, sensing the direction this was going in, stood closer to Michael than Mr. Darling.

“Father, I am waiting,” said Michael coldly.

“It’s all very well to say you are waiting; so am I waiting.”

“Father’s a cowardly custard.”

“I’m not frightened.”

“Well, then, take it.”

“You take it first.”

Wendy sighed. “Why not both take it at the same time?”

“Certainly,” said Mr. Darling. “Are you ready, Michael?”

Wendy gave the words, one, two, three, and Michael took his medicine, but Mr. Darling slipped his behind his back.

There was a sputtering yell of rage from Michael, and “O Father!” Wendy exclaimed in disappointment.

“What do you mean by ‘O Father’?” Mr. Darling demanded. “Stop that row, Michael. I meant to take mine, but I—I missed it.”

It was dreadful the way all the three were looking at him, just as if they did not admire him. “Look here, all of you,” he said entreatingly, as soon as Nana had gone into the bathroom. “I have just thought of a splendid joke. I shall pour my medicine into Nana’s bowl, and she will drink it, thinking it is milk!”

It was the colour of milk; but the children did not have their father’s sense of humour, and they looked at him reproachfully as he poured the medicine into Nana’s bowl. “What fun!” he said doubtfully, and they did not dare expose him when Mrs. Darling and Nana returned.

“Nana, good dog,” he said, patting her, “I have put a little milk into your bowl, Nana.”

Nana wagged her tail, for milk was a rare treat, ran to the medicine, and began lapping it. Then she shuddered, gagged, and gave Mr. Darling such a look, not an angry look: she showed him the great reproachful eyes that make us so sorry for bothering noble dogs, and crept into her kennel quite crushed. It was all very well for Mr. Darling to doubt her abilities as a nursemaid because she was a dog, but to mock her so…! She whimpered quietly.

Mr. Darling was frightfully ashamed of himself, but he would not give in. In a horrid silence Mrs. Darling smelt the bowl. “O George,” she said, “It’s your medicine! Why on earth would you do such a thing?”

“It was only a joke,” he roared, while she comforted her boys, and Wendy hugged as much of Nana as she could reach from outside the kennel. “Much good,” he said bitterly, “my wearing myself to the bone trying to be funny in this house.”

And still Wendy hugged Nana. “That’s right,” he shouted. “Coddle her! Nobody coddles me. Oh dear no! I am only the breadwinner, why should I be coddled—why, why, why!”

“George,” Mrs. Darling entreated him, “not so loud; the servants will hear you, you know how they talk.” Somehow they had got into the way of calling Liza the servants, particularly in front of company. Company were always careful not to comment on it when with the Darlings, but would occasionally snigger about it with their friends later on.

“Let them!” he answered recklessly. “Bring in the whole world to see how I am rewarded for my labour! But I refuse to allow that dog to lord it in my nursery for an hour longer.”

The children wept, and Nana fawned at his feet beseechingly, but he waved her back. He felt he was a strong man again. “In vain, in vain,” he cried; “the proper place for you is the yard, dog, and there you go to be tied up this instant.”

Wendy stared at him in hurt and dismay as the facade of greatness he had so carefully cultivated fell in ruins around him. Nana fled into her kennel.

“George, George,” Mrs. Darling whispered, “remember what I told you about that boy. Nana must stay in the nursery to guard the children!”

He was determined to show who was master in that house, and when commands would not draw Nana from the kennel, he lured her out of it with honeyed words, and seizing her roughly, dragged her by force from the nursery, bumping her down the stairs as she scrabbled for a footing. He was ashamed of himself, and yet he could not stop himself; his pride and need for admiration so bruised that he required a firm show of mastery to restore self-respect. When he had tied Nana up in the backyard, the wretched father went and sat in the passage, with his knuckles to his eyes, his head chiming with a sudden migraine.

In the meantime Mrs. Darling had put the children to bed in unwonted silence and lit their night-lights. They could hear Nana barking, and John whimpered, “It is because he is chaining her up in the yard,” but Wendy was cleverer, and she touched the fire poker, which had been hidden in her bedclothes (in case of robbers, you see) before the events of that horrible evening.

“That is not Nana’s unhappy bark,” she said, little guessing what was about to occur; “that is her bark when she senses danger.”

Danger! The word thrilled through Mrs. Darling with a cold shiver of dread.

“Are you sure, Wendy?”

“Yes.”

Mrs. Darling put a trembling hand to her mouth and went to the window. It was securely fastened. She looked out, and the unusually clear night sky was peppered with stars. They were crowding round the house, as if curious to see what was to take place there, but she did not notice this, nor that one or two of the smaller ones winked at her. Yet a nameless despair clutched at her heart and made her cry, “Oh, how I wish that I wasn’t going to a party tonight! I no longer have the heart for it.”

Even Michael, already half asleep, knew that she was perturbed, and he asked, “Can anything harm us, Mother, after the night-lights are lit?”

“Nothing, precious,” she said; “they are the eyes a mother leaves behind her to guard her children.”

She went from bed to bed singing over them, and little Michael flung his arms round her. “Mother,” he cried, “I’m glad of you.” They were the last words she was to hear from him for a long time.

Wendy would not lift her face for a kiss, but gave her the dangerous eyes of a wild cat. “You didn’t stand up for Nana,” she said, turning over to show one reproachful shoulder heaped in the comforter. Mrs. Darling bit her lip, and laid a hand on the cold shoulder for a moment.

The children heard her light step in the hall, and then she was gone from them, for much longer than any of them suspected.

No. 27 was only a few yards distant, but there had been a slight fall of snow, and Mr. and Mrs. Darling picked their way over it deftly so as not to soil their shoes. At that hour, they were the only persons in the street, and all the stars were watching them. Stars are beautiful, but they may not take an active part in anything, they are only able to observe. It is a punishment put on them for something they did so long ago that no one now knows what it was. As a result, many of the older ones have become glassy-eyed and seldom speak (winking is the star language), but the little ones still wonder and twinkle. They are not really friendly to Peter, who had a mischievous way of stealing up behind them and trying to blow them out; but they are so fond of witnessing mischief that they were on his side tonight, and anxious to see the grown-ups gotten out of the way. So as soon as the door of 27 closed on Mr. and Mrs. Darling, there was a commotion in the firmament, and the smallest of all the stars in the Milky Way screamed out with a brilliant flicker:

“Now, Peter!”

 

 

The Fall of Peter Pan is now available as an eBook!

Like reading? Like poetry? K.L. has recently published a collection of poems, along with a preview of her upcoming novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Find it here.

The Fall of Peter Pan – Chapter 1

I have been writing my own novel over the last three years, and it is going to be published in eBook format on Amazon.com this week! For your delectation and delight, I will be posting up the initial chapters of The Fall of Peter Pan here first

This novel is an adaptation of the original Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.

 

Chapter 1 PETER BREAKS THROUGH

Fall of PeterPan

“Nana, I’m going out for coffee. Make sure the children get to school on time after breakfast.”

Wendy stared dolefully at her mother’s retreating back, as Mrs. Darling sashayed out of the dining room. It was her birthday, but aside from a perfunctory word of congratulation from her parents at breakfast, before Mr. Darling left for the office, nothing special had occurred.

No presents had been given… except for the dress. She could feel its presence needling her, despite its absence from the room. All those stiff ruffles and delicate bits of lacework. Hideous.

“What kind of a stupid person gets me a present they know I’ll hate?” She demanded, poking at her toast, “I didn’t ask for a dress, I wanted a compass!”

Nana, her head barely reaching above the table, gave her a stern look that said little girls ought to be grateful for such nice presents as dresses, and her brother John only shrugged a little. “You are a girl. It’s what you do.”

“Why?” Wendy shouted, “Why do I have to? You got a pocket knife for your birthday, and even Michael got a train set—”

“I wanted a microscope,” John said dryly.

Wendy pushed back her chair and stormed out of the dining room, up the stairs to the nursery with what she considered an appropriate amount of stamping.

There the children were sequestered away to play and sleep, so as to keep the hallways clean and uncluttered. And there, in pride of place, was the loathsome gift. She stared at it, her eyes fairly sparking with anger.

“This is the most miserable birthday ever,” she muttered, pacing the room restlessly. She had objected to birthdays on principle, ever since Mrs. Darling told her she was going to grow up, as all children must.

Of course, Mrs. Darling had not meant to let this secret of the adult world slip out, but when two-year-old Wendy had innocently run to her with a freshly-picked flower as an offering, she had touched one hand to her heart and cried, “Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!”

Henceforth Wendy knew, with a horrible sinking sensation, that she was expected to grow up. You always know after you are two. Two, for most people, is the beginning of the end. But in Wendy’s heart, she began to mutiny against the idea, and it seemed to Wendy that Mrs. Darling, since that day, had had little time for her only daughter. Instead, she brushed off Wendy’s earnest, “But why must I grow up, Mother?” with an uneasy laugh, and turned her attentions and affection elsewhere, to younger children who did not ask such difficult questions.

Wendy always claimed that this is her earliest memory; and if memories direct a person’s footsteps in the great game of life, then it was. For it gave her the steely determination to avoid becoming boring and preoccupied and loving like her mother, and all the other adults she had met. Until she comes to Neverland, however, we are not to see her true strengths emerge. Instead, she will be introduced much as any other young girl, who has two littler brothers to contend with, and a pair of silly, distractible parents.

Wendy stamped the nursery, restless with disappointment.

It didn’t help that their mother, Mrs. Darling, had spared not more than a moment out of her day to give her daughter a pat on the head and say, “Happy birthday, my dear little darling,” (a kiss would have smudged her lipstick), before going out to a café with one of her friends, leaving the children to eat their breakfasts alone in the house, but for the dog. She had received even less from Mr. Darling, who had already calculated the cost of her wedding, and was deducting it from all her birthday and Christmas presents. He had muttered something congratulatory, checked his pocket watch, and marched out the door.

Mrs. Darling was a lovely woman, with a romantic mind and a sweet, mocking mouth. A hundred close acquaintances fancied themselves half in love with her, and she throve under the attention. Her romantic mind was perpetually a-flutter with the latest ideas and fashions. These fluttering trivialities were all most people ever saw of her, and any disagreeable personal opinions were boxed away from view, obscured even from Mrs. Darling herself amongst a jumble of silk prices and chinaware patterns in that colourful kaleidoscope of the senses. She was always pleasant to be with, a witty and agreeable conversationalist; and most tempting of all, her clever mouth had one kiss on it that no one ever got, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand corner. In short, she was as kind-hearted and butterfly-witted a product of good breeding as ever failed to amount to anything much. She loved her children dearly from a distance (when they were well-behaved), but had an unshakeable fondness for parties, and it was mere chance that she had been at home long enough for Mr. Darling to catch at her hand and propose.

We suppose it was sheer surprise that led her to say yes, and after that her fate was sealed. If Mrs. Darling didn’t love him to begin with, she found it rather more easy to learn to do so, than to make any changes later on.

The way Mr. Darling won her was this: the many men who had been boys when she was a girl discovered simultaneously that they loved her now that she was a woman, and they all ran to her house to propose. It was a grand dash, all the way from an unnameable club in the High Street to her Father’s home in Kensington. It is regrettable to say that in the ruckus, a great many enthusiastic men were rather poor sports, and took the opportunity to trip one another up as they sailed over shrubberies in their finest of fine suits. Still more were barged, rugby-style, into unassuming gardens (to the rage of the gardeners the next morning). It was a delightful mess, and a rather close race. They all stood to arrive sweaty and dishevelled, their clothes torn and dirty, and it is rather evenly balanced as to whether the future Mrs. Darling’s father would have approved a match to any of them, regardless of their yearly income.

All of them that is, except Mr. Darling. He did not join the stampede, but paid his tab, strolled out of the club, and cleverly hailed a cab. Thus he nipped in first, managing to arrive looking composed into the bargain, and so got her. She was on her way out at the time he caught her, so she looked rather good for being proposed to on the spot. When the other men panted their way up to the front door, it was all over but for the ceremony and champagne.

Mr. Darling got all of her, except the secret box of thoughts and the kiss. He never knew about the box, and in time he gave up trying for the kiss, and contented himself with normal, everyday kisses. Wendy thought Napoleon could have got it, if he were to stand on a chair, but I can picture him trying, failing, and then going off in a passion, slamming the door on his way to Elba. The unsurpassable lure of Mrs. Darling’s kiss could have sent Helen of Troy home in a snit, but she never used it on anyone. Possibly she was not fully aware that it was there, smiling in the corner of her mouth.

Mr. Darling used to boast to Wendy that her mother not only loved him but respected him. He was one of those deep ones who know all about the share market. Of course no one really knows, but he quite seemed to know, and he often said stocks were up and shares were down in such an impressive way that it would have made any woman respect him, if only to make him shut up for a little while.

Mr. Darling was frightfully clever (in his own mind), but rather a bore. He used Mrs. Darling in his life as much as a cook uses spice in the porridge to liven its flavour, and they got along very well in this manner.

Mrs. Darling was married all in white in a wedding that was a little beyond their means to afford, and at first she kept the domestic books perfectly, almost gleefully, as if it were a game she were determined to win. Not so much as a Brussels sprout was discovered missing (she could be rather insufferable); but by and by whole cauliflowers dropped out, and instead of them there were pictures of babies without faces, crawling about the page or holding their toes. She drew them when she should have been adding up. They were Mrs. Darling’s guesses, all tangled up with the prices of eggs, milk and sapphire Bombay gin.

Wendy came first, then John, then Michael. It is important to remember this, for like all children, they are aware of their order in the family to an almost painful degree, and they would be appalled if one were to forget.

In the beginning, before Wendy came it was doubtful whether they would be able to keep her, as she was another mouth to feed. Mr. Darling was frightfully proud that he might be a father, but he sat on the edge of Mrs. Darling’s bed, holding her hand and calculating expenses, while she looked at him and implored him to let her keep the little bundle. She wanted to risk it, come what may, hell or high water, but that was not his way; his way was with a pencil and a piece of paper, and if she confused him with suggestions he had to turn back and begin at the beginning again. This meant that it was an excruciatingly slow process, for Mrs. Darling could not hold back her urge to comment or make suggestions.

“Now don’t interrupt, Mrs. Darling,” he would beg of her when she interrupted his calculations.

There was the same excitement over John, and Michael had even a narrower squeak; but both were kept, and soon, if you lived at numbers 2 through to 12, you might have seen the three of them going in a row to Miss Fulsom’s Primary School, accompanied by their nurse. Of course, they were let out at lunchtime to go home and eat a sandwich with the crusts cut off, and drink a glass of milk.

While the children were young enough not to question their mother’s infrequent appearances, she lavished them at times with Turkish delight affection; but when they were old enough to say things like, “No,” and “Why?” she turned them over to the care of Nana, the Newfoundland dog, and quietly washed her hands of them. This allowed her more time for the theatre, and intriguing with her friends over coffee.

The Darlings lived at number 14, and until Wendy arrived, her mother was the centre of attention there; the arrival of children changed this but a little, and allowed them to talk to all sorts of people who, beforehand, had only orbited in the distant periphery of their social circles. “Oh, you have children? So do we, isn’t it jolly?” And so on.

Of course, their children’s actual friendships were never considered, except for their social merit, and they were variously encouraged and forbidden as a consequence. And so it was that John was friends with the son of the local chief banker, with whom he played rugby at lunchtimes, though he confided to Wendy, “He’s such a pig. I think he has a pork pie for a brain,” whilst Wendy was encouraged, pointedly, to socialise only with the horrible, spoilt daughters of society matrons.

Her sworn comradeship with poor Samantha Hawkins, who had insisted on being allowed to wear trousers at school, was very nearly banned outright for its oddness. Only her father’s position as Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at a notable university had stayed Mr. and Mrs. Darling’s hands.

This begrudging tolerance was not extended by the other children, and both Samantha and Wendy were the constant butt of teasing and unpleasant practical jokes, until one day Sam’s father whisked her back to America, forever. Ever since then, school had been an unhappy place. This was, in reality, Wendy’s first birthday without her companion. Wendy retrieved the letter, and unfolded it from around the plate photograph carefully, her throat aching with missing her friend.

Dearest Madcap,

Very happy here, but I miss you. Helping out on the ranch with Father and the men, everything perfect – no silly girly things! Wish you and Uncle Basil were here, you must come and live with me in America!

Your Sam Hawkins

The picture, slightly blurry and unfocussed, showed Sam and her father standing against a slip rail fence. The huge smile on Sam’s face helped to buoy Wendy’s spirits, and she smiled a little in spite of herself.

When Sam’s letter had arrived in the post a week before Wendy’s birthday, she had wanted to reply immediately, but Mrs. Darling, aware of the wider scandal surrounding Professor Hawkins’ separation from his wife, and his subsequent disappearance from both the university staff and polite society, forbade her doing so in no uncertain terms.

Which, of course, Wendy had ignored, stealing the envelope, paper and stamps from Mr. Darling’s study. She had poured out her heart in the letter, finishing the missive with a stern warning not to reply. And then, she had posted it. The illicit message sent, Wendy had to be satisfied.

Now that Sam was gone, however, school had lost what last little particle of appeal it had once possessed. Wendy would have been happy to never go to school again. She leant against the window and sighed.

“Nana says we have to go now,” said John, poking his nose around the door warily. Wendy huffed another sigh. A dog for a nurse! How many other ridiculous torments must their parents put them through?

Mrs. Darling loved to have everything just so, and Mr. Darling had a passion for being exactly like his neighbours; so, of course, they had a nurse, to take care of the raising of the children. After their excesses they were poorer than they had been, though they explained this as being due to the amount of milk the children drank and the clothes they were always outgrowing. As a consequence however, the nurse they retained was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana (she was paid in biscuits and bones). She was quite a treasure, and of course her kennel was in the nursery (to attend to the children at all hours), cunningly disguised as a children’s play-fort so that visitors would not know she was allowed to sleep in the house. She had a genius for knowing when a complaint is a thing to have no patience with and when it needs hot tea with honey and lemon in it. She believed to her last day in folk remedies, and made sounds of contempt over all this new-fangled talk of germs. It was a lesson in good conduct to see her escorting the children to school, walking sedately by their side when they behaved, and butting them back into line rather sternly if they strayed. On John’s football days she never once forgot his sweater, and she usually carried an umbrella in her mouth in case of rain; the hooked handle was also useful for retrieving children who might be inclined to wander.

Being only a dog, Nana had to endure all sorts of social injustices from the other nurses, who affected to ignore her as inferior to themselves. In turn, she despised their light talk of pictures and beaus, and sneaking out after the children were abed. Nana can be reasonably assumed to dislike any sort of frivolity at all, unless it came from the children. She especially resented visits to the nursery from Mrs. Darling and her friends, between cafe lunches and evenings out at the pictures, but if they did come she first whipped off Michael’s messy play clothes for some a little smarter, smoothed out Wendy (she was perpetually rumpled) and made a dash at John’s hair.

No nursery could possibly have been conducted more correctly, and Mr. Darling knew it, yet he sometimes wondered uneasily whether the neighbours talked, behind their imposing closed doors.

He had his position in the city to consider, and that in his firm. One day, he planned to be a card-carrying, respectable senior partner, with his own car and chauffeur. This would never happen if rumours leaked out about his unconventional living arrangements. A dog as nanny! He could only imagine what might be said, and it very often gave him a headache.

Nana also troubled him in another way. He had sometimes a feeling that she did not admire him (this was true). “I know in my heart that she admires you tremendously, George,” Mrs. Darling would assure him, and then she would signal subtly to the children to be especially nice to their father. Nana would retire at these times, stiff and dignified, to her little castle kennel.

Lovely dances followed, in which the only other servant, Liza, was sometimes allowed to join, if she had completed her myriad of duties. Such a midget she looked in her long skirt and maid’s cap, though she had sworn, when engaged, that she would never see fifteen again (in fact she was twelve, little older than Wendy herself, of an impoverished family. Mr. Darling had hired her because he was certain she would be too timid to ever ask for an increase in her wage). The gaiety of those romps! And most dashing of all was Mrs. Darling, who would pirouette so wildly to the music of the wireless that all you could see of her was the kiss, and then if you dashed at her you might have got it. Wendy attempted to despise these falsely jolly occasions, for she could smell out her father’s insecurity as a rat smells ripe cheese, but the laughter would eventually bubble out of her, and she would join in as wildly as her mother in the dancing.

She always dreaded the moment that the play would end, for then the adults would forget them again, and go away about their own affairs, leaving them with the dog. On the whole though, they all muddled along well enough, until the coming of Peter Pan, a little after Wendy’s birthday, and well before Michael’s.

Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children’s minds. It was her custom, when she was not out dancing with Mr. Darling, or being seen, gaily decorated, promenading with friends, to rummage in the childrens’ minds and belongings and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that had wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you might see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is less like tidying up drawers, and even more like breaking into someone’s diary. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of the contents of your open mind, making discoveries sweet and less so. When you wake in the morning, the naughtinesses with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your brain and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready to be put on until you begin to choose them yourself, out of habit.

Now Wendy knew about this practice, though how she came by the knowledge we cannot say. Perhaps her toy monkey whispered it to her, for monkeys are devious, and those with button eyes more so than most. So she schooled herself in making and creating a secret mind, where she could hide all her deep thoughts in a puzzle-box that only she could open, and view the world with wide hazel eyes of liquid innocence.

She would have been surprised to learn that Mrs. Darling also had a secret box in her mind; accurately, she would point out to us that it had been so little utilized since girlhood that even Mrs. Darling had forgotten about it. For Mrs. Darling had stopped having secret thoughts, and had instead become only what she appeared to be, the poor, pretty thing.

So, when she was not out doing adult things, Mrs. Darling rummaged and poked through her children’s minds, which each resembled maps of little islands, overlaid with coral reefs and sturdy canoes, and elves who can be friendly or very cruel, and caves through which a river runs, and one tiny old lady with a hooked nose, who is just like the grandmother you never had. Sometimes secrets would be buried under the coral reefs, and guarded by mermaids, or disguised as trees in the landscape, just to show that children are not entirely defenceless. Even a poking, prying adult would not uncover all their child’s secrets, though they might guess at some of them.

It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also your first day at school, fathers, the round pond where you tossed a rock, pinkie-swears, murders, rhymes, times tables, chocolates, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing ever stands still. Mountains one day are volcanic calderas the next.

Of course the children’s Neverlands varied a good deal. John’s, for instance, had a lagoon with flamingos flying over it at which John was shooting with a gun that fired marshmallows, while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it. John lived in a boat turned upside down on the sands, Michael in a hide yurt, Wendy in a house of leaves alone in the high mountains. John had no friends at all, Michael had friends at night, Wendy had a pet wolf forsaken by its parents, but on the whole the Darlings’ Neverlands possessed a family resemblance, and if they were made to line up in a row one might see this. On these magic shores children at play are forever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more. This is not to say that there are no Neverlands for grownups; but they are separate places, with their own adventures and accompanying maps.

Of all delectable islands Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly with tedious distances between one adventure and another like Middle Earth, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and tablecloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very real. That is why there are night-lights, for the Fear which slumbers during the day in deep, still pools on the island awakes in the darkness, and it can span the universe in a thought.

Occasionally in her travels through her children’s minds Mrs. Darling found things she could not understand, and of these quite the most perplexing was the word Peter. She knew of no friend of theirs called Peter, and yet he was here and there in John and Michael’s minds, while Wendy’s began to be scrawled all over with him. The name stood out in bolder letters than any of the other words, and as Mrs. Darling gazed she felt that it had an oddly cocky appearance.

“Yes, he is rather cocky,” Wendy admitted, thinking with regret of her secret mind. She was not yet so good at hiding all her thoughts away in it, and Mrs. Darling had been questioning her.

“But who is he, my pet? Please, have a mind for your stitches, you are making them all crooked.”

“He is Peter Pan, you know, Mother,” and, presently, “please, let me do it. I can do it!”

At first Mrs. Darling did not know, but after thinking back into her childhood she just remembered talk of a Peter Pan who was said to live with the fairies. There were odd stories about him, such as that when children died he went part of the way with them, so that they should not be frightened; or perhaps he was a dead boy himself? No one ever knew for certain. She had believed in him at the time, but now that she was married and full of common sense she quite doubted whether there was any such person. Presumably some unhappy child had invented him to salve a loss; or even a bereaved parent could have made him up.

“Besides,” she said to Wendy, “he would be grown up by this time.”

“Oh no, he isn’t grown up,” Wendy assured her confidently, “he is just my size.” She meant that he was her size in both mind and body; she just knew it, the same as she knew that her stomach was about half-empty, and that Liza would not allow her a biscuit if she went down to the kitchen.

Mrs. Darling consulted Mr. Darling, but he smiled pooh-pooh. “Mark my words,” he said, “It is just some nonsense Nana has been putting into their heads; just the sort of silly idea a dog would have. Leave it alone, and it will blow over soon enough. Don’t encourage them by talking more about it.”

But it would not blow over and soon the troublesome boy gave Mrs. Darling quite a shock.

Children have the strangest adventures without being troubled by them; it is a chief strength of theirs that they are not so limited by causality and a varying grasp of physics as adults are. It was due to this that Mrs. Darling one morning made a disquieting revelation. Some leaves of a tree had been found on the nursery floor, which certainly were not there when the children went to bed. Mrs. Darling was puzzling over who had put them there when Wendy said casually, smiling:

“I do believe it has been Peter again!”

“Whatever do you mean, Wendy?”

“It is so naughty of him not to wipe his feet,” Wendy said, sighing, “He should know that we will be blamed for his mess, but he is so capricious. I can’t tell him anything.”

She explained in quite a matter-of-fact way, as she pulled on her shoes, that she thought Peter sometimes came to the nursery in the night and sat on the foot of her bed and played on his pipes to her. The sound led her into strange, wonderful dreams, but she always knew that he was sitting there, looking over her shoulder into the dream and piping the song. Unfortunately she never woke, so she didn’t know how she knew, she just knew. Sometimes, if she awoke early enough, she would find the warm patch from where he had sat, or dirt where there had been none before.

“What nonsense you talk, precious. No one can get into the house without knocking.” Absently, she untied and retied Wendy’s sash, for it was untidily done.

“I think he comes in by the window,” Wendy said, wriggling away from the hand of maternal control.

“My love, it is three floors up. Let me fix your hair. You’re big enough now to do it properly yourself.”

“Ouch! Be careful Mother, you’re pulling! Were not the leaves at the foot of the window?”

It was quite true; the leaves had been found very near to the open casement.

Mrs. Darling did not know what to think, for Wendy spoke of it all so naturally that it could not be dismissed by saying she had been dreaming.

“My child,” the mother cried, “why did you not tell me of this before?”

“I forgot,” said Wendy lightly, waving the question away. She was in a hurry to get her breakfast, for it was fresh bread day.

Oh, surely she must have been dreaming. She was such an odd child.

But, on the other hand, there were the leaves. Mrs. Darling examined them very carefully; they were skeleton leaves, all decayed except for the fine tracery of veins holding them together, but she was sure they did not come from any tree that grew in England. She delayed a stroll in the park with a bosom friend, and instead crawled about the nursery floor once the children had gone to school, peering at it with a candle for marks of a strange foot. She rattled the poker up the chimney and tapped the walls. She let down a tape from the window to the pavement, and it was a sheer drop of thirty feet, without so much as a spout to climb up by.

Wendy must have been dreaming.

But Wendy had not, as the very next night showed.

On the night we speak of all the children were once more in bed. It happened to be Nana’s evening off, Mr. Darling was at his club, and Mrs. Darling had tucked the children into bed and sung to them till one by one they had let go her hand and slid away into the realms of Morpheus. She sang beautifully; some evenings it was quite a long time before the children could be convinced to sleep, for they enjoyed listening to her far too much to miss it by slumbering.

All were looking so safe and cosy that she smiled at her fears now and sat down tranquilly by the fire to read through a magazine, for even ladies as socially active as she desired a quiet night at home on occasion.

The fire was warm, however, and the nursery dimly lit by night-lights, and presently the paper lay on Mrs. Darling’s lap. Then her head nodded, and she was also asleep, one of four peacefully slumbering in the warm nursery.

While she slept she had a dream. She dreamt that the Neverland had come too near to the adult, everyday world, and that a strange boy had broken through from it, coming down from a sort of highroad near the stars. In her dream he had rent the film that obscures the Neverland, and she saw Wendy and John and Michael peeping through the gap. Wendy, she noticed, was leaning most of the way through it, in the most unbecoming fashion.

I must tell her not to do that, she thought to herself, it is a quite unladylike thing to do.

This would have been nothing more than an odd dream, but that whilst it occurred, the window of the nursery opened, and a little boy dropped lightly to the floor, accompanied by a tiny, glowing, yellow light. The orb darted about the living room like a living creature, and it was the chaos of shadows it cast which woke Mrs. Darling from her nap.

She started up with an arrested cry of surprise, and saw the boy, Somehow she knew at once that he was Peter Pan, whom she had told stories about as a little girl herself. If anyone else had been there, they would have observed that he was very like Mrs. Darling’s unattainable kiss. He was a lovely boy, clad in skeleton leaves all glued together with tree sap, and was so little that he still had all his first teeth. When he saw a grown-up, he gnashed the little pearls at her and snarled.

 

The Fall of Peter Pan is now available as an eBook!

Like reading? Like poetry? K.L. has recently published a collection of poems, along with a preview of her upcoming novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Find it here.

 

The Fall of Peter Pan – Prologue

I have been writing my own novel over the last three years, and it is going to be published in eBook format this week! For your delectation and delight, I will be posting up the first chapters of The Fall of Peter Pan here first

This novel is an adaptation of the original Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.

Prologue: ONCE THERE WAS A BOY

Fall of PeterPan

There is a woman, telling her young son a story, and like many adults, she is using the story to say something else.

In this case, goodbye.

He is the bastard, unacknowledged, unrecognised son of a great man – the public scandal, were his name known! They would disrupt the very foundations of the government! This heritage is evident in his aquiline nose and strong jaw; his hair, eyes and skin belong irrevocably to his mother.

Their eyes are summer-sky blue; and their matching inky hair, which in the boy’s case is neatly clipped for school (he starts tomorrow), falls in wild tresses down the woman’s back to tangle at her waist.

She shakes it back over one milky shoulder as she leans down to kiss him goodnight for one last time. Soon it will be tied back, and tucked beneath the collar of her men’s greatcoat.

“Where are you going, Mother?” asks the boy.

“To seek out the Ocean, my sweet James.”

He clutches at her arm.

“Please, please don’t leave me!”

She bends, kissing his brow again. “Everyone leaves, my little love, you will have to get used to it sometime. Now don’t cry, you must be brave without me, and strong enough to stand on your own two feet in all the worlds.”

“But why do you have to go?”

“Because it was a part of the bargain, my love. You shall be raised and educated a fine gentleman, whilst I obtain the wherewithal to depart these meagre shores. When you grow up, prove yourself and seek me out on the Ocean that stands between all things. You will find me taking back the land I ruled as Queen, when I was a girl. Come to me there, with men for conquering, and I will make of you a god. You shall stand beside my throne.” Her lips are the colour of crushed berries, and fire dances in her eyes as she smiles. There are flecks of blue paint in the edge of her hairline, and the imperious arch of her eyebrows.

One hand cradling his face, she whispers many secrets to him, on that last night; of the truths of dreams, and a strange sea where all the stars are smeared in one vast nebula, and how those burning lights whispered, in the great dark reaches of the night, before they were chained to silence. The Lady Niamh tells her son how to command and manipulate men, and bequeaths to him the rules of her own, merciless philosophies throughout the darkest hours of their last night together.

 

The following morning, a beautiful, serious-faced boy named James Hook presented himself at the gates of learning beside a disapproving secretary (who had turned out to see the potential embarrassment of Lady Niamh’s person departed, and faith kept), his steamer trunk in tow.

“Now study hard,” said the bespectacled fellow, “and you may come to something yet, despite your unfortunate beginnings.”

James turned the blue flames of his eyes upon the virtuous man, until he shifted with discomfort, thinking of the father he so resembled.

“Yes. I shall.”

 

 

The Fall of Peter Pan is now available as an eBook!

Like reading? Like poetry? K.L. has recently published a collection of poems, along with a preview of her upcoming novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Find it here.

The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall

WellofLoneliness

Banned on charges of pornography when it was first published (it depicted a lesbian and her relationships), Radclyffe Hall’s epic tale of courage and despair is an invitation to grief, moving as it does from hardship to ostracism and back again.

Born to a loving pair of country gentry, Stephen Gordon is born a girl, instead of the son they expected. It very quickly becomes apparent that she is in no way like other ‘proper little girls’: she prefers to ride astride than sidesaddle, climb trees, and stamp about the manor pretending to be Lord Nelson.

Her mother does not love her (she feels an instinctive revulsion towards Stephen), the other children tease her, and her only friends are her pony (named after a housemaid she developed a crush on, and who was subsequently dismissed from her post), and her Father, who keeps his daughter’s homosexuality hidden from both his wife and daughter herself, and who raises Stephen as though she were a boy, all the while telling her that she is completely normal. I’m not judging his actions here; his character is that of a truly lovely person, who loves his daughter deeply and who becomes her dearest friend, but his denial, until his deathbed, of anything being abnormal about Stephen does not help to prepare her for the world, nor for self-knowledge.

It is a very sad novel, and never has a title been more appropriate. As Stephen matures, she becomes more obviously odd and isolated in the narrow-minded Worcestershire town of her birth. This is no tale of slowly growing acceptance. It is a striking portrait of the harm done to children through social isolation (she is schooled at home by a succession of governesses of varying competence, visiting only occasionally with the neighbours’ bullying brats) and restrictive cultural norms designed to punish a person for simply being oneself.

It is also a striking depiction of the pre-WW1 era, where the wealthy purchased entire lifetimes of servitude from their social and economic inferiors, able to use and discard them without consideration for their well-being, be it mental, emotional or financial. I felt particularly sorry for Puddle, Stephen’s long-time governess and companion, who spends the better years of her life educating and watching over the young woman, at the cost to any personal life of her own.

The Well of Loneliness describes a litany of misfortunes and suffering one would only usually expect to see in a traditional Blues song – Stephen is the cause of her parents relationship horribly failing; her father dies unexpectedly; her mother grows ever more distant and disapproving; the one friend she makes (a young man) eventually falls in love with her and then leaves when she rejects him in horror; she falls in love with a bored married woman who uses her for relief from the ennui of country life, before throwing her under the bus that is her vindictive husband; her mother, discovering her homosexuality, says she would rather have a dead child at her feet than a living “unnatural” daughter and exiles her from her home; her beloved horse goes lame and she has to shoot it, she becomes a hermit in London, World War One starts…and the trauma does not stop.

Finally completing this wrenchingly sad novel was a pyrrhic victory (I had to wade through it first), and I look forward to never reading it again. I do not mean that it is badly written; rather, it is a incredibly beautifully written shout against the injustices of being a queer person trying to live in that era, burdened with that era’s religiosity, heavy stress upon gender roles (which Stephen internalises in her own life, and describes in those of her queer friends’), and ultimate invalidation of any lifestyle fulfilment which doesn’t involve eventually marrying and having children. Hall intended to write the novel this way; deeming it the most important work she would ever complete, she sought to use her existing literary fame to bring the outcast status of sexual and gender minorities into the public view, and to create conversation about it. The character of Stephen portrays a person who, with all her advantages – strength, intelligence, independence, literary success – is hopelessly doomed to fail, tilting her lance as she does up against a windmill of hatred and intolerance from the entire world of “God’s good people.”

Stephen’s sexuality becomes the sole defining influence upon her life, as it must when people are so swift to polarisation and fanaticism about a single characteristic. At the cost of being herself and being an honourable person, she loses her community, her family, her home, and, eventually, the woman she loves.

It was a narrow squeak between finishing The Well of Loneliness and it finishing me – for the love of puppies, don’t read this novel if you are an unhappy person, because it will make you terribly sad.

K.L gives The Well of Loneliness 2 out of 5 tragic Englishwomen-in-exile. Sorry, Well lovers – it is simply too depressing to give a higher score to!

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

Some noteworthily awful quotes:

“No woman’s complete until she is married. After all, no woman can really stand alone, she always needs a man to protect her.”

“It is you who are unnatural, not I. And this thing that you are is a sin against creation. Above all is this thing a sin against the father who bred you, the father whom you dare to resemble. You dare to look like your father, and your face is a living insult to his memory, Stephen. I will never be able to look at you now without thinking of the deadly insult of your face and your body to the memory of the man who bred you. I can only thank God that your father died before he was asked to endure this great shame. As for you, I would rather see you dead at my feet than standing before me—this unspeakable outrage that you call love in that letter which you don’t deny having written.”

 

And finally, as a reward for making it so far, here is a portrait of the striking Radclyffe Hall herself.

Radclyffe Hall

 

Like reading? Like poetry? K.L. has recently published a collection of poems, along with a preview of her upcoming novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Find it here.

The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

Moonstone

The Moonstone: Amusing. Infuriating. Entertaining. Largely recognised as a precursor to the mystery and thriller genres, it is appropriately dramatic and suspenseful, displaying elements of classic detective fiction, from various locked room mysteries to incompetent local constabulary outfaced by a professional investigator (albeit one with a passion for horticulture). The Moonstone unfolds over a breadth of time and geography unusual in the genre, traveling from an genteel country estate to the social thickets of London and the beaches of Frizinghall.

The Moonstone is narrated in an epistolary style; several different characters recount the events that they were privy to surrounding the mysterious affair of the Moonstone, their personal opinions colouring the occurrences. The first stage of the narrative is taken up by fussy, misogynistic, intensely loyal house steward to the Verinder family, Gabriel Betteridge, at the request of a Mr. Franklin Blake, some time after the conclusion of the events of The Moonstone, the better to understand the sequence of unfortunate events surrounding the titular jewel. The setting is the eve of the young Miss Rachel Verinder’s 18th birthday, and her cousin Mr. Franklin Blake seeks out the advice of Betteridge as to a certain stone and letter that he has been instructed to give to Miss Rachel Verinder as part of a will. The stone is the Moonstone, a fabulously valuable diamond stolen from a temple in India by her mother’s disreputable elder brother, the wicked Colonel Herncastle.

Herncastle, youngest of three sons, entered the army and was bounced from regiment to regiment before returning home with heat stroke and a reputation black enough to make all members of his family close their doors against him, Lady Julia Verinder (his younger sister) leading the charge; “(i)t was said he had got possession of his Indian jewel by means which, bold as he was, he didn’t dare acknowledge.”

Misgivings aside, it is Miss Rachel Verinder’s legal inheritance. On Betteridge’s advice, the stone is duly presented to Miss Rachel Verinder, who wears it for one brief night during her birthday party, before it disappears the next morning. Who did it? How? The disappearance of the stone is followed by a mysterious absence of one of the household staff, and a series of inexplicable actions taken by Miss Rachel Verinder herself.

There is an array of potential perpetrators of the crime – the maid Rosanna Spearman, a reformed criminal; Mr. Franklin Blake, a slapdash, money-burning cousin; Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite, a suitor; the vast array of household servants, and a trio of disguised Brahmins seeking to reclaim their stolen property – are examined throughout the novel.

 

The tale is riveting, particularly due to the depth and breadth of characterisation which Collins was able to channel into the narrative voice of each character. You know them, when you read their words; and largely they are flawed, complex, interesting, amusing people. Not that one would like a Betteridge of one’s own acquaintance (he is a misogynistic bore), nor a Miss Clack (she is a tireless, fanatical proselytizer); but they each add a brilliant sense of personhood to the stories that they tell.

Betteridge is a favourite of mine, despite his misogynistic attitudes towards all women barring his mistress and her daughter; a kind of Madonna/Whore dichotomy without the lasciviousness of sex. He recounts early on in the novel with a sense of satisfaction of marrying his housecleaner so that he would no longer have to pay her. “Selina, being a single woman, made me pay so much a week for her board and services. Selina, being my wife, couldn’t charge for her board, and would have to give me her services for nothing.” He comes out with many such gems, as does the reprehensible, pitiable Miss Clack, though she is censuring of her richer cousin’s wilfulness, indicative as it is of her fallen, heathen nature (jealousy would have nothing to do with it, nor a desire to meddle and control, if one is to trust her words). She believes that, “knowing Rachel’s spirit to have been essentially unregenerate from her childhood upwards, I was prepared for whatever my aunt could tell me on the subject of her daughter…Here surely was a case for a clergyman, if ever there was one yet!”

 

I would have liked to hear the story unfolded from Miss Rachel Verinder’s point of view. Throughout much of the novel she is talked about and around; but when she is quoted and observed directly, the personality communicated is one of a forthright, intelligent person pursuing her own course despite public opinion or attempts to influence her. The interfering cousin Miss Clack communicates this as she observes old Mr. Ablewhite trying to genteelly (and then not) bully Miss Rachel Verinder into agreeing to marry his son, thus securing her fortune. Miss Verinder responds to him:

“ “Mr. Ablewhite, I have either expressed myself very badly, or you are purposefully mistaking me. Once and for all, it is a settled thing between your son and myself that we remain, for the rest of our lives, cousins and nothing more. Is that plain enough?” …preserving her composure in a manner which (having regard to her age and her sex) was simply awful to see.”

 

The slower evolution of the story, unfolding over a couple of years as it does, allows the reader to observe the effects of the theft of the Moonstone, and the machinations of people in and around the Verinder family. It is an admirable work in many ways, not least of which is the humanity Collins sought to show in his characters, and which they saw in each other – exceptions existing in Betteridge’s attitudes towards women, and Miss Clack’s disregard for the servants. Even in the personage of Miss Rachel Verinder, her lack of a first-person narrative does not prevent her personality from being fully realised.

 

Unfortunately, The Moonstone falls prey to the casual racism of the day, alternatively portraying the three Indian gentlemen trying to reclaim their stolen religious relic as examples of the superstitious savage, then as cold-blooded cutthroats completely willing to stalk the possessors of the Moonstone patiently for years, waiting for their chance to strike, and finally as well-dressed and well-spoken sorts who, aside of their skin-colour, could hardly be told apart from a “normal” person.

“He was carefully dressed in European costume. But his swarthy complexion, his long lithe figure, and his grave and graceful politeness of manner were enough to betray his Oriental origin to any intelligent eyes that looked at him.” It is an awful set of assumptions to unpack in a paragraph. After all, the foreign gentleman could not naturally nor comfortably dress in tweeds; he has to wear it as a costume, a part which he is playing. But clever white men, if they look closely, will see that he is still a “Hindoo” in disguise, despite his “excellent selection of English words” and ability to interact politely and normally in a social context. His mysterious Otherness is too exotic to be concealed, and every aspect of his being betrays him, from his skin (too dark) to his figure (too long and slender), to his composure and his very language. He is unable to simply sit in an office and speak to someone about business; he must move with a dancer’s grace, and act out his part with an obviousness that salves the assumed male, European reader’s ego – no foreigners will fool him. He will be able to pick them out, if he looks carefully. The white male will keep Europe safe from infiltration.

Ugh. And – despite knowing who the three Indian gentlemen are throughout the entire novel, and knowing exactly what they are after – there is no suggestion made by any members of the supporting cast to, maybe…give them back their stolen property? Naive of me to suggest, possibly. But only if the reader denies the agency and moral rights of the non-white characters, as surely as Collins did.

 

If you can move past the sexism and racism explicit in Collins’ work, then I strongly recommend reading The Moonstone. I enjoyed it, even though it made me fume regularly, and would read it again.

 

K.L gives The Moonstone 5 out of 5 interfering busybodies hiding religious tracts in other peoples’ houses.

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

 

One more dose of Betteridge, who doesn’t approve of anything:

“Gentlefolks in general have a very awkward rock ahead in life—the rock ahead of their own idleness. Their lives being, for the most part, passed in looking about them for something to do, it is curious to see—especially when their tastes are of what is called the intellectual sort—how often they drift blindfold into some nasty pursuit. Nine times out of ten they take to torturing something, or to spoiling something—and they firmly believe they are improving their minds, when the plain truth is, they are only making a mess in the house.”

 

 

Like K.L.’s writing? They’ve recently published their first eBook, The Loaded Brush, a collection of poems.

Sample or buy it here!: http://www.amazon.com/Loaded-Brush-Collected-Poetry-ebook/dp/B00LP3UKDI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1405144342&sr=1-1&keywords=the+loaded+brush

 

Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë

 

Agnes Grey, my first book by one of the inimitable Brontë sisters, did not exactly fill me with enthusiasm to read more. 

An interesting exploration of the hardships (both emotional and professional) endured by young governesses when they were hired to educate the children of geographically isolated members of the gentry.

The titular character, Agnes, is raised as a kind of invalid of leisure by her parents and elder sister. The happy family is reduced in circumstances when their father loses the (limited) family fortune in a poorly chosen investment. Agnes undertakes to become a governess in the aftermath of this disaster, seconded as it is by her father’s illness and decline, and thus be able to contribute directly to her impoverished family.

Agnes Grey is a sobering examination of the difficulties experienced in finding and keeping employment by then-marginalised members of society; limited to less desirable prospects, Agnes faces challenges in each of her positions in the form of strict limits of authority placed upon her by the parents, and the disrespect of her students. One cannot help but feel that this is not aided by her lack of any formal training as a teacher, a commonality amongst governesses of the period.  

Contrary to her hopes when seeking employment, the children themselves are often more awful than the parents. In her first placement, the spoilt children (particularly the young master) find great enjoyment in snaring and torturing animals; when Agnes is forced to crush a nest full of fledglings under a large stone to stop the boy from torturing them to death, his uncle objects, claiming the activities of the boy to be simple unrestrained exuberance of spirit: “Damme, but the lad has some spunk in him, too. Curse me, if ever I saw a nobler little scoundrel than that. He’s beyond petticoat government already: by God! He defies mother, granny, governess and all! Ha, Ha, Ha!” – and promises to find the boy another nest of young birds to dismember. Agnes promises to destroy them first, if such a thing should occur.

Her subsequent placement is not much better; put in charge of four children, all of whom have been allowed from birth to terrorise their servants and carers, she is forbidden from visiting any discipline upon them, or from bothering their parents with issues, and subsequently finds them difficult to impart any knowledge to.

One of the young boys, John Murray, is finally packed off to boarding school, having been a person “boisterous, unruly, unprincipled, untaught, unteachable—at least, for a governess under his mother’s eye.” His lack of schooling quickly becomes obvious. “…(A)nd this, doubtless, would all be laid to the account of his education having been entrusted to an ignorant female teacher, who had presumed to take in hand what she was wholly incompetent to perform.” It is a little difficult to disagree with this sentiment; while well-read and motivated, Agnes is not much older than her students, and has limited practical experience.

His younger brother is not much better a personality, and the two girls, Misses Rosalie and Matilda, are just as difficult in their own ways. Rosalie, being attractive, has been groomed by her mother to make as good a marriage as possible, as early as possible. Personality and emotional attachment do not merit consideration to the girl; she seeks only titles and wealth, and the opportunity to break the hearts of poorer suitors along the way: “Oh, it provokes me so! To think that I could be such a fool as to fall in love! It is quite beneath the dignity of a woman to do such a thing. Love! I detest the word! As applied to one of our sex, I think it a perfect insult.” She obtains all her wishes, and ends up unhappily married to a rich older man whom she cannot stand, at war with her mother-in-law, and confined to the country estate, so that she cannot cause her husband a scandal.

The other Murray girl, Matilda, is described as a “veritable hoyden, of whom little need be said.” Preoccupied with horses, dogs swearing and running about with the boys, it is apparent that her undesirability in any sense was derived from her lack of interest in ladylike manners and modesty. “‘Tilly, though she would have made  fine lad, was not quite what a young lady ought to be.” A large amount of Agnes’ teaching in the Murray family appears to comprise of unpleasant rote lessons (Matilda), completing the bulk of their endeavours for them (Rosalie) and enduring the lectures of their mother as to how a governess should properly act.

Agnes accompanies the young Murray ladies when they pay visits to the poor farmers’ homes, to disseminate limited largesse amidst a spray of patronisation; their real opinions on the peasants? Rosalie “wondered why the stupid people couldn’t keep in their houses; she was sure she didn’t want to see their ugly faces, and dirty, vulgar clothes.”

Throughout the novel, Agnes finds consolation in her faith. She is deeply religious, but seeks to live by example, and is not loudly demonstrative in her beliefs, an intriguing contrast to Miss Clacks, the proselytizing terror of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. Similar to The Moonstone, the patronising attitudes of those better off towards their social and economic inferiors is marked. In her position as governess to the Murrays, Agnes accompanies them on their visits to poor farmers’ homes to disseminate limited material aid amidst a spray of patronising advice. Despite this,  she makes friends with an unwell farmer’s widow named Nancy Brown, who is prone to deep fits of depression and crises of faith. The unfortunate woman’s application to Mr. Hatfield the Rector for help is met with a brief, brusque order to go to church more frequently, and to take solace in her cleaning duties.

 

The novel is often dreary, treading regularly on the themes of loneliness and moral dissipation. Agnes’ store of happiness in the end is limited to the appropriate-for-young-ladies trope of ‘Fall in love and get married to a parish priest that Mother approves of. Also, God and Modesty.’

 

“…I was lonely. Never, from month to month, form year to year, except during my brief intervals of rest and home, did I see one creature to whom I could open my heart, or freely speak my thoughts with any hope of sympathy, or even comprehension.”

 

 

K.L gives Agnes Grey 2.5 out of 5 terriers romping on the seashore. Well, imagine two of them romping. Try not to imagine half a terrier romping, on the seashore or anywhere else. It will make you feel just as sad as if you’d read Agnes Grey

 

“Already, I seemed to feel my intellect deteriorating, my heart petrifying, my soul contracting; and I trembled lest my very moral perceptions should become deadened, and all my better faculties be sunk, at last, beneath the baneful influence of such a mode of life.”

 

The Female Man – Joanna Russ

The Female Man – Joanna Russ

The Female Man

A brilliant novel, in the sink-or-swim school of storytelling (a lack of exposition akin to Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series), which I find invigorating. Don’t let that description daunt you: the explanations will come, in time, unfolding organically from the subject matter of character interactions. The Female Man stretches across four parallel worlds, and the lives of four women living within them. When Janet Evason, ambassador of Whileaway, begins crossing between the worlds, comparing the varying gender roles and experiences of the different women cause them each to reevaluate their own lives, and their implicit notions of what it means to be a “woman” (a person, really).

A Quick Primer on the Four J’s:

  1. Joanna – lives in a world similar to that of the 1970’s Western culture.
  2. Jeannine Dadier – lives in a world where the Great Depression never ended.
  3. Janet Evason – lives in Whileaway, a high-tech utopian-agrarian society of the far future, where all men have been dead for nearly a millennia following a devastating plague. The inhabitants have mastered parthenogenesis.
  4. Jael – an employee of the Bureau of Comparative Ethnology, which studies parallel universes and people’s counterparts throughout them.

The novel opens as Janet suddenly arrives in Jeannine Dadier’s world – a grim place where the Second World War never took place, and the Great Depression is still ongoing. Janet takes Jeannine with her to Joanna’s 70’s-era Earth type world; they are all a little in awe of Janet, who is as capable and forthright as the men they have been taught to admire, but not to emulate. She also distresses them, by behaving in outlandish ways, and failing to adhere to the social niceties of their cultures.

Eventually we discover that the three women have been brought together by Jael, who declares that the four J’s are the same woman, but in differing universes. Jael’s world is in the midst of a 40-year-long war between male and female societies; it becomes apparent that she is an assassin, and her chief aim in uniting the women is to create power bases in each of their worlds to continue the fight between genders across the universes.

 

The novel is a confusing mish-mash of the four characters’ stories, some occurring while in company with the other J’s, others taking place in the past, or whilst alone in their worlds. The reader is whirled from one place to another, with the suffocating dysphoria of Jeannine’s Great Depression society a threatening undertone which maintains suspense.

The idyllic life on Whileaway – spent in hard agrarian labour in a high-tech world, pausing for five years after turning thirty in which to give birth and pursue one’s own interests for the first time since childhood – becomes a paradise the reader longs to read more of, if only to escape from Jeannine’s dreariness, Jael’s ruthless cynicism and Joanna’s personal conflict. Whileaway is not only interesting as a vignette: the existence of a successful and highly functional female society addressed Russ’ desire to create a world where the female human being exists as the measure of humanity itself, as opposed to being the exception (as expressed by Simone de Beavoir, the female is often the insufficient and mysterious Other in a masculine-centered universe).

 

Overall, I believe The Female Man to be an examination of how people deal with conflict, and the manipulation that societies and cultures use to force obedience. It is also incredibly entertaining, and an invaluable read for anyone who has been told that they cannot act a certain way, or be a certain person, because of who they are. It is infuriating, invigorating and cathartic, and I cannot recommend it highly enough – just stick to it, through the initial confusion. You will be rewarded.

“If Jack succeeds in forgetting something, this is of little use if Jill continues to remind him of it. He must induce her not to do so. The safest way would be not just to make her keep quiet about it, but to induce her to forget it also.

Jack may act upon Jill in many ways. He may make her feel guilty for ‘bringing it up’. He may invalidate her experience. This can be done more or less radically. He can indicate merely that it is unimportant or trivial, whereas it is important and significant to her. Going further, he can shift the modality of her experience from memory to imagination: ‘It’s all in your imagination.’ Further still, he can invalidate the content: ‘It never happened that way.’ Finally, he can invalidate not only the significance, modality, and content, but her very capacity to remember at all, and make her feel guilty for doing so into the bargain.

This is not unusual.”

R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience

 

K.L gives The Female Man 5 out of 5 dimension-hopping genius farmers.

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

“When Laura tried to find out who she was, they told her she was ‘different’ and that’s a hell of a description on which to base your life; it comes down to either ‘Not-me’ or ‘Convenient-for me’ and what is one supposed to do with that?”

I was sitting in the lunchroom at work, reading The Female Man: specifically, the section about Laura’s inexpert seduction of Janet Evason (who sees it coming and really, really tries to be good, the age difference being a taboo on her planet, but not enough of one to stop her), after the running dialogue/recollections of her life, all the social injustice of it, the man-centric, Depression Era rot, where woman is an appendage, not a person…

…And this phrase grew like a soap-bubble and burst, setting my brain spinning while I sat at the table, trying not to stare light-headedly at my coworker Sue, who was by chance sitting opposite and would not understand if I were to try and explain it to her. The phrase was:

We all deserve to be people.

What inspired this soap bubble of thought? In answer, I must paraphrase a character’s declaration in The Female Man, which reads, “When I act like a person, people ask me, ‘Why are you being so emotional?’ ”