F&H and Austen

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Mon Jan 13 14:28:38 EST 2003

On Fri, 10 Jan 2003 09:34:02 -0000, Charles Butler wrote:

>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 the book's defence, I was forced to
>make comparisons with Austen. A man in his twenties becomes friends with a
>young girl; he takes on the role of elder brother-cum-surrogate parent (her
>own parents being absent or self-absorbed); he advises her, forms her taste,
>administers the occasional salutary rebuke. As the years pass and she grows
>up his friendship turns gradually to romantic love, which is reciprocated.
>In short, if Tom Lynn is dodgy, then so is Mr Knightley.

For me, in both these cases (F&H and _Emma_) I was put off on my first
reading by the fact that the young girl ends up with the older guy.  The
reason for this was that I was deceived by the nature of their relationships
at the start.  Tom's conversations with Polly about their imaginary world
struck me as the sort of thing grownups do when they're humoring kids, for
example.  So it never occurred to me that there was even the possibility of
a romance; I still saw Polly as more or less a child, despite her being at
university and so forth.  I figured there was no way Emma would want to
marry someone who was sixteen years older than her.

Reading both books a second time, I knew what to expect.  And then it all
made sense.  F&H is clearly a more complex book than it appears, and the
second time I realized that both Polly and Tom were moving toward that
resolution the whole time.  Emma was an adult who had been relating to
Knightley as an adult for some time.

Again, though, it wasn't so much that Polly was, what, 19?  I got married
when *I* was nineteen, so I know that it's possible to be mature enough to
handle a long-term relationship at a relatively young age.  Despite this, I
still have the gut assumption that most people of a particular age are all
at the same stage in life, emotionally, mentally, financially, socially.  I
do think it's true in general, but I know the exceptions are there.  And I
think, at least for Tom and Polly, this is one of those exceptions.  Tom's
ensorcellment by Laurel has, I think, stunted him in ways that make him more
a peer to Polly than Seb is--despite the fact that Seb is much closer in age
to her.  And I agree with whoever pointed out that Tom isn't sexually
interested in Polly at first, which to me would make him a pedophile.  So,
basically, I read the relationship differently later on.

(Hey, Hallie, what about Robin McKinley's _Beauty_?  There's another older
man/younger woman thing, and he's about two hundred years older than she is.

Melissa Proffitt

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