Saturday, April 14, 2012

Blackbird Pond IRL

Thanks to Constance for passing this article along.

The Boston Globe has a piece on literary places in New England to take kids during spring vacation. And one of them is Wethersfield, where the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum occupies the house that served as the inspiration for The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

And the library has a map (PDF warning) of places mentioned in the book, showing their contemporary locations.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Chapter 10: Guess Who's Back

Hannah, it turns out, is a Quaker. Which is just a bit outside the norm for Puritan New England. ("The Quakers are queer stubborn people.") "Just a bit" translates into "Hannah and her husband were branded and exiled from Massachusetts." There was just a wee bit of prejudice against the egalitarian sects in those days.

(This gives me a chance to plug an excellent-but-overlooked book, Ann Turnbull's No Shame, No Fear. Does not stint on the details of the early days of the Society of Friends.)

This is a detail Kit decides not to share with William, who's still showing up at the house and courting-without-actually-saying-so. In fact, she doesn't tell him about Hannah at all, because Miss Unobservant has started to notice the signs that reveal when she's scandalizing him:
"She could never be sure what thoughts were hidden behind that impassive face, but she had learned to recognize the sudden stiffening of his jaw muscles that meant she had said something shocking."
John Holbrook is also continuing to show up at the house, and is also not showing any actual interest in Judith, though everyone assumes he's after her. Unfortunately -- as far as Kit and Matthew are concerned -- he's also started subverting his own opinions to those of his teacher -- and we know Gershom Bulkeley is unpopular in the Wood house.

And while all the not-quite-romantic-intrigue is going on, Kit continues to visit Hannah. If it were up to her, she would probably just move in there, since it's the only place in Wethersfield she actually likes.

Oh, and remember the "seafaring friend" introduced in the last chapter? He makes an appearance here, only he's not the withered old man Kit imagined:
"There, unbelievably, was Nathaniel Eaton, the captain's son, leaning easily against the doorpost, with that well-remembered mocking smile in his blue eyes."
Here's what we learn about Nat in this chapter:
  • He's good with the elderly, particularly when they have occasional memory issues: "He seemed not to have noticed anything amiss, but very casually he reached out his hand and covered Hannah's worn fingers with his own."
  • He has blue eyes. Very blue: "She had forgotten the intense blue of his eyes, like the sea itself."
  • He has a softer side. Or at least he did when he was eight: "'Tis a strange thing, that the only friends I have I found in the same way, lying flat in the meadows, crying as though their hearts would break."
  • He can irk Kit without even trying: "She might have told him, but looking up she caught a hint of 'I told you so' in those blue eyes that silenced her."
  • He has layers. Like an onion: "What a contradictory person he was, she thought, hurrying along South Road. Always putting her at a disadvantage somehow, and yet, now and then, surprising her, letting her peek through a door that always seemed to slam shut again before she could actually see inside."
Odds we're going to be seeing more of Mr. Eaton? Pretty good, I'd say.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Chapter 9: A Tempest in the School Teapot

Yes, totally stealing from Anne of Green Gables here. This is what management gurus call "synergy."

Kit's got a real paid job now, helping Mercy teach Wethersfield's youngest kids how to read. And oh my is she glad Mercy is handling the hornbook-reading beginners. Kit may not think much of the primers her kids use, but at least she gets to skip phonics.

Ten days into the session, Kit feels like she's found her niche. And it's totally because of her fancy dresses:
"The children admired her pretty clothes, they brought her strawberries and daisies, they argued over who would sit next to her, and every day they waited with delighted anticipation to see what she would do and say next."
Again, Speare throws in a line here that makes me wonder how sheltered and/or unobservant Kit was back on Barbados. Because here's how she thinks of the students:
"Sober little adults they had appeared on that first day, dressed in fashions much like their parents'."
I don't claim to be an expert in seventeenth-century fashion, but dressing kids in miniature versions of adult clothing was a pretty standard practice (up into the twentieth century, in fact). Presumably all the other children Kit has encountered have been wearing "fashions much like their parents'," so is it just the fact that these kids are in more Puritan styles that jumps out at her?

Moving on: The other reason Kit finds herself enjoying teaching is that she's managed to incorporate stories into her day. Mercy is still a little reluctant ("Was it right, she questioned Kit, to bribe children into good behavior by these stories?"), but the kids love it.

However. Kit's next experiment, in which she decides to have her students act out the day's story, adds another point in the "Kit's totally unobservant" column.
"By chance she had chosen the three most obstreperous pupils in the school to be her thieves and robbers, and the hapless boy who represented the traveler was the priggish little scholar they most cordially disliked."
This, out of the half-dozen students she works with. Apparently she hasn't been paying much attention to their personalities.

Not surprising, then, that the experiment turns into a disaster. Not only does she demonstrate that she can't keep the students in line -- just as the superintendent walks in -- she does it via one of the Puritans' taboos, something she's already run into ("Play-acting!").

Kit's response is to run away. To the Meadow. Which is where the title character -- or at least a person who one would assume is the title character -- gets her first close-up. Hannah Tupper is "a woman with short-cropped white hair and faded, almost colorless eyes set deep in an incredibly wrinkled face," and she and Kit click straight off.

The way Speare phrases it, you really get the sense that it's the people not in positions of power that fall for Kit's charms:
"Like the school children, she had accepted Kit without a question or suspicion, and like a child she scuttled ahead now, confident that Kit would accept her in the same way."
Hannah gives Kit the doting she needs right then, and a cake and a kitten to go along with it. Suddenly Kit's feeling worlds better, to the extent that she's even able to imagine that there's a little something going on between Hannah and the sailor who brings her coral and other trinkets:
"Kit almost laughed. Of all the unlikely things -- a romance! She could imagine him, this seafaring friend, white-haired and weatherbeaten, coming shyly to the door with his small treasures from some distant shore."
Future chapters will show that that's not exactly the case. Hmm. How many sailors have been introduced in the text so far?