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Re: Least Favourite Character & Mr Farland!

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Posted by Robin Selby on August 29, 2018 at 05:52:24 user RobinSelby.

In Reply to: Re: Least Favourite Character & Mr Farland! posted by John Wilson on August 29, 2018 at 05:04:29:

Contemplation of the least favourite character leads ineluctably to the grim figure of the Great Aunt. Ransome makes clear that she has a suffocating effect upon everyone around her. This extends well beyond her immediate circle: ‘Mrs Jackson at Holly Howe wanted to start cleaning the whole farm up as soon as she heard that Miss Turner was coming’. (Swallowdale, p37, Jonathan Cape 2004).

Yet Ransome also makes passing reference to the fact that the GA brought up James and Molly Turner after they were orphaned at an early age (eg Nancy ‘You see, she brought them up’ – p52). It is clear that she brought them up at Beckfoot – ‘“I wonder how mother and Uncle Jim escaped from the great-aunt to come up here”, said Peggy. “She was looking after them, you know.”’ (p335). It is important that James and Molly stayed at their own house; my father was orphaned at the age of 15, and it was a great wrench to be shipped from England to his aunt and uncle in Vancouver. Of course, we do not know how much of a sacrifice this entailed for the GA; not much if she was still living with her brother at Beckfoot (assuming, that is, that Beckfoot belonged to the Turner family rather than the Blackett family), but quite a lot if she had already set up her own establishment in the bright lights of Harrogate. James and Molly do not seem to have enjoyed the experience, but the point is that the GA rose to the challenge, doubtless according to her own lights and the standards of the time. If we wanted to get sentimental we might speculate that the GA sacrificed the prospect of marriage by looking after the two children. It meant living in a place with a narrower social circle, and the existence of James and Molly might deter prospective suitors. So three cheers for the GA.

Next let us focus on the interesting and surprising insight offered by Timothy towards the end of The Picts and the Martyrs, when he points out the similarities between the characters of the GA and Nancy. This makes us view the GA in quite a different light. If she is like Nancy in forcefulness of character, perhaps she is like her in other ways. Perhaps she was not always grim. Perhaps she and her brother enjoyed Lakeland pursuits together when they were young. It was probably the GA who sent the hotpot down to the group of skaters on the lake, which Mrs Blackett recalled in Winter Holiday.

Ransome never gives any credit to the GA for bringing up James and Molly (eg Mrs Blackett ‘…how much better it was now that children could be the friends of their elders instead of their terrified subjects’ – p432). Nor does he give her any credit for going to Beckfoot to look after Nancy and Peggy, exactly as she had looked after James and Molly – the GA must have had a sense that history was repeating itself.

I personally think that Ransome is a bit harsh on the GA. True, he endows her with a touch of nobility when she is at bay on the Beckfoot lawn, though the abiding recollection is of the maid dancing in the kitchen. But of course Ransome was writing for children, and a good uncomplicated villain like Black Jake, George Owdon or Mr Jemmerling drives the plot merrily along.

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