Kids, reading, and "good" lit...

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Wed Aug 11 13:48:47 EDT 1999

>    No one was exactly telling her she was untalented or worthless, but Fanny 
>did seem to feel a little uncomfortable with Sophie's talents, and seemed to 
>take great pains not to disillusion Sophie (if that's what you can call not 
>paying someone what they're worth??)  

I don't think Fanny did this deliberately.  That part at the end, where
Fanny arrives at the "mansion" to call on her guests, was a real surprise to
me.  Sophie starts out believing that Fanny is playing along with the same
Eldest-of-Three story that Sophie is living:

"Sophie...felt that Fanny had worked everything out just as it should be.
Lettie, as the second daughter, was never likely to come to much, so Fanny
had put her where she might meet a handsome apprentice and live happily ever
after.  Martha, who was bound to strike out and make her fortune, would have
witchcraft and rich friends to help her....It did not surprise her when
Fanny said, 'Now, Sophie dear, it seems only right and just that you should
inherit the hat shop when I retire, being the eldest as you are.'" (p. 4 in
the hideous cover edition)

Fanny's interpretation is probably just based in primogeniture, but it feeds
into Sophie's notion of How Things Are.  When Sophie's life in the hat shop
starts getting hard, it's just what she expected; Fanny's seeming
indifference fits with the story of the Wicked Stepmother, which was
dismissed on the first page, but it's obvious Sophie doesn't like to let go
of her preconceived ideas.

But then we get Martha and Letty's picture of Fanny's behavior (as relayed
by Martha):

"'Well, it wasn't much good going on about [wanting a family] when you were
so busy backing Mother up about me making my fortune,' Martha said.  'You
thought Mother meant it.  I did too, until Father died and I saw she was
just trying to get rid of us--putting Lettie where she was bound to meet a
lot of men and get married off, and sending me as far away as she
could!....Mother knows you don't have to be unkind to someone in order to
exploit them.  She knows how dutiful you are....I bet she doesn't even pay
you.'" (p.13-14)

Martha's opinion sounds like The Truth, and it's sincerely what she
believes.  The trouble is, it's not true either; it's just Martha's version
of the story SHE'S living.  But it's believable enough that you can think
very nasty things about Fanny until almost the very end of the story:

"[Sophie] had taken Martha's view of Fanny, whole and entire, when she
should have known Fanny better....Sophie watched her as she talked.  Being
old gave her an entirely new view of Fanny.  She was a lady who was still
young and pretty, and she had found the hat shop as boring as Sophie did.
But she had stuck with it and done her best...." (p. 189-90)

All the mistakes Fanny made with Sophie's apprenticeship, which Martha
attributes to spite, are actually youth, inexperience and distraction.  But
even though it's Martha who calls it wicked behavior, it's Sophie who
latches on to this explanation.  Sophie's magical gift is so subtle that
it's easy to miss it, especially if you're not looking for magic in the
first place.  Working in the hat shop, Sophie had no reason to believe that
she had any magical talent at all; and Fanny certainly had no reason to see
it herself, since spellcasting isn't exactly a required skill for
haberdashery.  If Fanny did anything wrong, it was in being so wrapped up in
her own concerns that she didn't notice Sophie's boredom and loneliness.

>>I'm still flumoxed as to why I didn't notice what now seems so glaringly
>>obvious.  Could it perhaps be because I didn't believe there was any message
>>in this for me, as I have no gifts ?????

Isn't that exactly what Sophie thought about herself?

Melissa Proffitt
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