F&H and Austen

Rowland, Jennifer A B jennifer.rowland at ic.ac.uk
Fri Jan 10 06:41:42 EST 2003


Hi Charles, welcome to non-lurkerdom :)
 
> I year or two ago I foisted F&H on a friend I thought would 
> enjoy it, but he came back to me with worries about the 'dodgy'
relationship 
> between Tom and Polly - was he some kind of paedophile? (Even Granny
seemed 
> to worry about that possibility, he pointed out.)
> In short, if Tom Lynn is dodgy, then so is Mr Knightley.
> 
> Is this a useful way of talking about books? I should add 
> that my friend was totally unconvinced.

I think what redeems it for me is the gap in the relationship. I don't think
Tom is a paedophile; when he meets the ten-year-old he isn't thinking about
sex. The hint later that he may be using her is, I think, that he's trying
to get away from Laurel in a different way, with Polly's truth-telling. I
think the last time they *meet* (as opposed to corresponding) is when she's
12 or 13? (Must read it again) And when she seems to get a crush on him (the
"muscles of his back" thing) he pretty firmly stops her. And then there's
the couple of years when she forgets. So there's a space between meeting as
adult mentor/child and older man/younger woman. The relationship with Seb,
bad as it is, also helps in that; she's grown up. (One thing in Tom's favour
is that it is Polly who decides to find Tom when she is a student- my guess
is that if he hadn't been so desperate about Laurel he might have tried to
put Polly off again, but that may just be because I like him. ;)
I hadn't thought about parallels with older books where the hero is older
and wiser than the heroine, but they certainly make sense. In the Austen, we
never see Emma as a child, though, so we don't know how much Knightley was
her mentor then. One book that I haven't read but I think was mentioned in
an intro to Northanger Abbey as one that Austen liked was a Fanny Burney?
where a man decides to mould a wife for himself, so adopts a child and
educates her (yuck) but it all goes wrong and she runs off with someone :)
Hell, even in Little Women Jo marries a much older German professor. DWJ
does have several books where people fall in love at nearly first sight,
including several older (more powerful) man/younger woman pairings (Hexwood,
Sudden Wild Magic, Eight Days of Luke, even Deep Secret); F&H is the extreme
of this, I think, but I guess it doesn't bother DWJ as much as it does me. 
I think this can be a useful way of looking at books- why does one portrayal
of a similar thing bother me more than another? I suppose I would expect a
book written in the 20th century to show relationships differently to the
19th, but knowing that there are precursors is helpful in thinking about it.
One thing, of course, is that in the ballad, Tam Lin really does act in a
dodgy way; he's been with the fairies for an unspecified length of time but
is certainly much older than all these maidens he seems to try to get
pregnant just to let him get free (Nae ane goes to Charter wood/And a maid
returns again). Tom is certainly more ethical, and I think more human, less
infected with the fairies' moral code, than that. 
Pamela Dean's Tam Lin, where Janet is a student when she falls in with the
fairies, is interesting to look at as an author who did it differently. It
worked very well, but I have read complaints that all the fantasy is tucked
in the last couple of chapters. Janet falls in love without *really* knowing
what is going on. I think the long flashback in F&H where the viewpoint
character is a child is very interesting, and lets us get lots of clues
earlier, with Polly not finding them odd while we (and the later Polly)
notice. The funeral gives so much background on the fairies that we just
never see in Tam Lin. Both books work better on the second reading, I think.
Oh dear, this started as a one-para thing and grew! Congratulations to
anyone who read all the way to the end :)
Jennifer
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