[DWJ] Black Maria

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Tue Dec 12 15:24:08 EST 2017

On Mon, 11 Dec 2017 20:28:48 -0600
Martha Hixon <martha.hixon at mtsu.edu> wrote:

> hi, everyone,
> I was reading *The Hanged Man *by P.N. Elrod, and ran across the term
> a Black Maria, meaning a police van. I immediately thought of Diana's
> book by that name, and was wondering whether anyone knows whether she
> was making conscious connections when she used that term, or of
> course if anyone else has made that connection, or has another
> insight on that title--?
> it's *Aunt Maria *here in the U.S., so I'm more familiar with that
> title--and I confess, I was unfamiliar with that term as a reference
> to a "real" thing, so "aunt" has always made more sense to me.

I can slightly answer the question, because I heard all about this when
the title of the US edition had to be altered to avoid a possible
racist slur -- which had not occurred to Diana as a problem when she
wrote it, for some reason: it was 1991, and she should really have
realised.  The term Black Maria would have been associated with a
police van by most British readers at the time, at a guess; certainly I
did instantly. The card game was a surprise to me, because I had always
called it either "hearts" or "Slippery Anne, the Queen of Spades". (But
Anne doesn't have a paddy-wagon named after her.)

Diana was quite upset that the title had to be changed, and a part of
the play on words lost (she was always keen on layers of meaning, not
to say terrible puns), but bowed to the inevitable and just felt cross
with herself for not having thought of it. When she wrote the book she
was well aware of the card game and the fact that nobody wants to be
left with Black Maria in their hand/on their hands, and as was quite
usual with her, pulled in the other possible meaning as well and wove
it into the strand; but she simply didn't think of "black" as an insult.

The original title, Black Maria, is sideways reference to being hustled
into a van and taken away at someone else's behest, constrained; the
Awful Aunt is called Maria because that is how she behaves, taking
people in (and taking them in) and then hijacking them to places they
don't necessarily want to go.  She is a vehicle of oppression; a sort of
small-scale juggernaut in people's lives, driving them in the direction
she chooses.

(Incidentally, Katherine Kurtz must have thought that a Black Maria was
a police car not a paddy-wagon, because one of her heroes impresses
people about how well he gets on with the police when they drop him off
in a black Maria -- nobody would be impressed by your being dropped off
in a prison van!)


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