The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Maria Edgeworth pt. 1

Yesterday I started in on the first of the two scenes I had been working on, intending to get through it. Instead I went to google something, and got sidetracked into looking through Maria Edgeworth's The Parent's Assistant.* I read "Simple Susan," which is about the evil family of a greedy lawyer who are mean to an poor, loyal, obedient, unselfish, patient, hardworking girl. They try to take her chicken, her lamb, her money, her father's land, and get her father sent off in the military, thus nearly killing her poor sick mother. But Susan is so good that everyone loves her, and her virtues not only save all her animals, land, and her family, they get her even more than she had to begin with.

I skimmed this story, and another one called "Lazy Laurence" (lazy boy ends up stealing and is sent to reform school, while industrious boy gets everything he ever wanted and more), and thought I had the whole book pegged. But then I read "Waste Not, Want Not," and "The Barring-Out." Both are also moral tales, but the difference is that the bad guy MCs aren't as evil as they were in the Susan and Lazy stories. It's almost as if Maria Edgeworth had a secret sympathy for these bad boys. For example, in WNWN, which is about not wasting things and being economical, the bad guy MC is a kid who is too impatient to untie the string around a package and cuts it instead, thus making it unusable. His morally upright cousin takes the time to untie his own package-string, and saves it for later. Other stuff happens--it was sort of like watching an anime series for the first time, because something happens out of left field and you're like, WTF?--for example, there's a one-eyed boy whose mother has limbs missing but somehow makes bouncey balls out of worsted and meanwhile the impatient kid gets in an archery contest, blah blah blah. But all the time, I was totally in sympathy with the impatient kid. Edgeworth seemed to like him, too, because she made a point of showing over and over again that he wasn't bad or really all that selfish. He kept wanting to help people, but after he'd already spent his money on himself. But the stuff he wanted to buy made utter sense to me. Like he was pining for a green-and-white uniform for the archery contest, so he chose not to spend money on an overcoat, but to get the uniform instead, and hope he could get his mom to send him some more money later for a coat. And he saw some kind of sweet buns that looked good, so he got a bunch and ate them till he was nearly sick, and was going to throw the rest away, but his annoyingly frugal cousin put them in his pocket.

I guess he sounds selfish and bad, but I liked the kid. He was so proud, marching in a parade with the other archers in their green-and-white uniforms, but then various things happened because he hadn't saved his package-string earlier, and he ended up falling in the mud and ruining the uniform. Did he let this ruin his day, as well? Hell no! He brushed the mud off as best he could and was still excited and happy about getting to shoot in the contest. You know his poncey cousin would have skulked off in shame about having a dirty uniform. Except that kid was so perfect he would never have fallen in the mud in the first place.

I thought maybe my liking for the bad kid was just me not caring for the author's message, but then the same thing happened in "The Barring-Out." There was a morally upright hero MC, and then a "bad" MC who the story was really about, and he turned out to be likable and to have some depth to him. In both these stories the out-and-out-villain was a minor character; in the waste-not story, it was a family of stupid rich people, and in the barring-out story it was, I kid you not, a "dunce":

"...there was a great tall dunce of the name of Fisher, who never could be taught how to look out a word in the dictionary. He used to torment everybody with--'Do pray help me! I can't make out this one word.'"

His duncery wasn't what made him bad, though. That was just a clue to the reader that he was rotten to the core. Heh.

I saw that Maria Edgeworth's father edited some of her stories/books--not sure which ones. Why is there such a difference among these stories as far as depth of character? In the first two I read, the MC is the heroic moral good guy--but in the next two I read, the MC turns out to be a human being, with the moral hero sort of falling to the wayside in terms of storyline, and certainly in terms of reader interest.

Hey! I know what it feels like! It feels like Jane Austen and Henry Crawford from Mansfield Park! It feels like Maria Edgeworth liked these bad boys and they took off from her pen and came to life on their own--just like Henry Crawford. Jane Austen manhandled Henry Crawford into submission (she had to do it off-camera, because he surely would not have cooperated in person), but Maria Edgeworth was lucky enough to be writing short stories, so she could just cut the story off with a lesson learned.


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