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. 2

Okay, now, the other line of thought I had from this came from Louisa May Alcott. I saw the Edgeworth story title "Lazy Laurence" and recognized it right away as a chapter title from Little Women. This didn't surprise me, because the Alcotts were all about educating kids to be virtuous. Reading Edgeworth stories would have been right up their alley. But then, in looking up Maria Edgeworth, I saw that she'd also written a story called "The Purple Jar,"* which Wikipedia says was in The Parent's Assistant, but wasn't in the version I saw online. Wikipedia also said that Purple Jar got a mention in Eight Cousins, and I was like, Oh!--it's that reference I never understood. (I think it might be the scene where Rose is opening all the boxes her uncle brought her from his travels, but I don't feel like checking right now.)

The interesting thing to me is that in Eight Cousins, Rose complains about the mother in "Purple Jar"'s methods of moral instruction. So I finally read the story for myself, and the mom is clearly all about teaching her daughter a lesson, and to me it seems very much along the lines of an Alcott-type lesson. The little girl wants to buy a purple jar she sees in an apothecary window. Her shoes are falling apart, though, and mom and daughter are on their way to a cobblers to get her some new ones. The mom, rather than telling the kid to quit nagging because they're not buying anything except what they came for, tells her daughter she can choose: the purple jar, or new shoes. If the little girl chooses the purple jar, there will be no new shoes till next month. Well, the kid wants the jar. Mom warns the little girl that she ought to at least look at the purple jar first, to make sure it's a good choice. The kid says no, I know I want that jar. So they buy it and have it wrapped up and sent to their house.

It turns out the jar is really clear glass, and what makes it purple is this stinky apothecary goo inside, that must be poured out. The little girl's shoes fall to shreds and her dad won't let her go cool places with him because her shoes are ugly and poor-looking. The lesson is...well, I'm not sure if it's look carefully before you buy, or buy necessities before purple jars. Anyway, the point is that the whole story was about the mom letting her child learn this lesson for herself in a very Alcott-ish way (to be more specific, a very Bronson Alcott-ish way, from what I can see).

So, in Eight Cousins, Rose says she doesn't like that mom. Immediately I thought of two things, both from Little Men, both with an Alcott-ish tinge to them. One was where the professor punishes a boy for lying. the professor punishes the boy by handing the kid a ruler and telling him to hit the professor with it, because the professor has failed at teaching the kid not to be a liar. Basically, he says, "You punish me as you see fit." Luckily, the kid is not the type to take advantage. He does the minimum only when forced, then bursts into tears. (Can you see doing this in schools today? Good g*d.)

The other thing was the story the professor tells the liar before he "punishes" him. He recounts a fond, loving memory of the time his grandmother caught him lying (when he was a boy), and cut off the tip of his tongue with scissors. This made him speak very slowly till his tongue healed, thus allowing him time to consider his words carefully, as well as the truth behind them. The professor is profoundly grateful to his sainted grandmother for doing this.

So the lady that wrote all this is also the one whose character doesn't care for the way the mom in "Purple Jar" teaches kids lessons.

What boggles my mind about all this is the idea of trying to write a truly historical novel for kids or for YA, as far as characterization and attitudes. Nobody would believe it. And what do you think would happen if your ms had positive-role-model parent-figure characters who acted in any of the above ways?

*You can read this online, too, but I'm tired of messing with links. Just google to find it, if you're interested.

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