Mr Hope is finally starting to realize that things may not be going great for him, career-wise, in the village of Deerbrook. The culmination of his string of bad decisions — marrying the wrong Ibbotson sister through moral bullying; voting for the wrong candidate when he didn’t really have to vote at all; thinking the final season of “Lost” was finally going to answer all of his questions (okay; maybe that one’s just me)* — is the scene where, once again, Hope is hit in the head with a rock thrown from somewhere secret. Or almost hit; the rock (sadly) misses him, as does the next rock, and finally Hope leaps off of his horse and tries to track down the guy with the bum arm who can’t seem to hit the target. He finds no one, just some guy in a field who looks pretty guilty, but doesn’t have a conspicuous pile of stone around his feet to be the nail that seals the case. By now, though, Hope knows that he’s not liked or trusted in the village. He’s also pretty sure that the recent spate of new doctors coming to Deerbrook are probably competition for him.
[* Of the two legitimate “bad decisions” I listed between the dashes above, I think Martineau only sees one as a truly bad decision: marrying Hester when Hope’s heart really belonged to Margaret. I believe that Martineau would argue that Hope should have stood his ground and not have been cajoled or shamed into an action that wasn’t true — that wasn’t, in fact, moral. This is the only flaw that I suspect Martineau believes she gave to Hope, whereas maybe the rest of us see a few more things a little wrong or irritating about Hope. As one of the participants commented on a previous post, “I think [Hope] *wants* to be a Job character. He strikes me as that guy who likes to choose the harder path, then make it even worse, then spend the rest of the time showing everyone how he overcame such hardship.” And as far as the voting goes, Martineau sees that as the morally exemplary thing for Hope to have done. Voting after the 1832 Reform Act, which enfranchised more Englishmen than before, was a moral duty, in Martineau’s eyes.]
Hope is on his way to visit some of the sick poor and working-class members of Deerbrook. I’m still a little frustrated at this development. With the introduction of the poor and the working-class, the tenor of the village changes. I don’t mean to sound all Marie Antoinettey; it’s not the poor that I object to. When Martineau first introduces Deerbrook, there’s no sense that there’s this teeming underbelly of stupidity and superstition. It sounds like an awful place to live, what with everyone up in everyone else’s business. But Martineau needs the village to be different now, and she introduces this new element. And my irritation at the revelation that the whole village thinks Hope is a grave robber — even though that doesn’t come up at all during the plot about who Hope should marry — is still fresh. I don’t doubt that a village like Deerbrook could be both things; I just don’t think Martineau is necessarily skilled at presenting a fully rounded village in a seamless and organic way.
But anyway. Hope’s being pelted with rocks on his way to comfort the poor. And it’s going to take a lot to comfort these poor because they’re also completely consumed with folk wisdom and superstitions. My grandma remained convinced that biting flies signaled rain; that wet heads lead to pneumonia; and that bad spirits could be tricked by colored bottles hanging from tree limbs — so I know from folk wisdom, and hold no romance for it. Hope has to deal with an equal amount of irritating folksiness. One woman won’t let Hope near her because of the rumors she has heard, and because she “had heard her deceased husband’s shoes dance of their own accord in the closet; and this was a sign that something was going to happen to somebody.” This reminds me of a story that Tina Fey tells about being convinced to drink an awful fermented tea (“It smells horrible…but it tastes horrible”): “Women read something on the label and they just don’t question it. And she gave me the weird drink and said, ‘Oh, a guy invented it when his mother was sick with cancer.’ And I said, ‘Did she…get better?’ ‘I don’t know.'” You can watch her tell the story here. Fast forward to the 4:00 mark.
At another home, Hope tries to treat a young girl with smallpox. This is going to be difficult, since Hope’s plan, which involves medicine of some kind and fresh air and rationality, isn’t in line with the family’s current treatment, which is “a slice of fat bacon, folded in flannel, tied about her throat.” Hope removes the disgusting treatment, not winning any points with the family, and, “Almost before he was out of the house, another slice of fat bacon was cut, and the flannels put to the fire to heat again.”
Warm fat bacon. I need to lie down for a moment.
Hope appeals to Sir William Hunter, the local aristocrat, to try and talk some sense into the girl’s family. Hunter is already not a fan of Hope, since Hope voted against Hunter’s man in the elections. Because of this, Hunter is willing to believe the worst about Hope even with no facts to back those beliefs up. Maybe even because there are no facts to back them up. However, Hunter says he’ll do what he can, but that Hope shouldn’t expect much.
In a turn that should surprise no one (except, of course, for everyone in the village of Deerbrook, who also apparently can’t see that Hope carries a torch for his sister-in-law) — the young girl with smallpox dies a fortnight later. “A few of the neighbouring cottagers agreed to watch the grave for ten nights, to save the body from the designs of evil surgeons.” Or, rather, just the one surgeon: Hope. The village still believes that he haunts the graveyards at night, looking for corpses to dig up and experiment on. And for a society that believes in the concept of Bodily Resurrection — that the body that’s buried is the body that will rise up to be with Jesus, only a little better and wearing white robes — having a corpse dug up and molested, even for science, is a terrible sin.
The villagers, while superstitious and closed-minded, are not entirely crazy in their fears about grave robbing. Hope certainly isn’t going to; however, 1832 saw the passage of the Anatomy Act, which opened a whole new supply of cadavers to medical professionals. The Anatomy Act overturned the prior Murder Act of 1752, which stipulated that only the corpses of executed murderers could be used for dissection. You’d think that a society and an age where public executions were regularly listed among the “Fodor’s Guides of Things to Do in London…” would be perfectly fine with the Murder Act, and that there would be little, if any, compunction in using the corpses of murderers to advance science. But you’d be wrong — and not for the reason you’d expect to be wrong (i.e., no human should suffer the indignity of being dissected in the name of science). English pamphleteer, farmer, and journalist William Cobbett (9 March 1763 – 18 June 1835) wrote, “They tell us it was necessary for the purposes of science. Science? Why, who is science for? Not for poor people. Then if it be necessary for the purposes of science, let them have the bodies of the rich, for whose benefit science is cultivated.” Anyway, with the passage of the Anatomy Act, physicians, students, and surgeons had legal access to any corpses that were unclaimed after death. The act also provided free burials (after the requisite cuttings and fussings) at the expense of the donee.
The Anatomy Act of 1832 was repealed by the Anatomy Act of 1984, which tightened controls on corpses and put the distribution of cadavers for medical study under the purview of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Anatomy. In a creepy modern twist on all of this (“this” being corpses and the 1832 Anatomy Act), a German doctor named Gunther von Hagens* performed the first public autopsy in the UK in 170 years. Van Hagens received a letter from Her Majesty’s Inspector of Anatomy stating that performing this public autopsy would be considered criminal under section 11 of the Anatomy Act. This did not dissuade van Hagens at all, who performed the autopsy to a sell-out crowd, and then also broadcast the autopsy on Channel 4.
[* This wasn’t the first creepy thing von Hagens had been involved with. It’s through Gunther that the world now has that vile and revolting traveling exhibition of plastinated corpses called “BODIES!” One of the more troubling aspects of this exhibit is the fact that the origins of many of the bodies on display remain cloudy. A New York Times article suggested that many of the bodies shown were gathered through ethically borderline methods, and that none of the people who now find themselves, though dead, permanently on display, never agreed to that kind of stardom while living. BODIES! tried to mitigate this creepiness factor with this message on their website: “This exhibit displays human remains of Chinese citizens or residents which were originally received by the Chinese Bureau of Police. The Chinese Bureau of Police may receive bodies from Chinese prisons. Premier cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons.” The whole thing makes me very itchy, and a little nauseated.]
I’ll try to get us back to the story.
The village sets up a watch over the grave of the dead girl, and everyone has a story about how they almost caught Hope in the act of entering the graveyard to dig her up. None of these are true, of course, which is why they disseminate so easily through the village.
Several weeks go by, and Hope is again sent for by the residents of the area around the alms house. The man who requests the treatment of Hope is looked at askance by his neighbors, who can’t understand why he would gamble with his body and soul when there’s so much bacon and cloth strips to cure any number of illnesses even though yeah, that one girl died. Hope’s arrival is communicated to the denizens of the area, and they start to mutter darkly about how much damage a man like Hope can do.
Hope, on his way to the alms house, meets up with Sir William Hunter:
“So you lost your patient down there, I find,” said Sir William, rudely. “The girl slipped through your fingers, after all. However, I did my duty by you. I told the people they ought to allow you a fair chance.”
“I requested your interference on the girl’s account, and not on my own,” said Hope. “But as you allude to my position among these people, you will allow me to ask, as I have for some time intended, whether you are aware of the treatment to which I am subjected, in your neighbourhood, and among your dependants?”
“I find you are not very popular hereabouts, indeed, sir,” replied the baronet, with a half-smile.
Hope tries to appeal to the rational side of Hunter, explaining that if Hunter would only be the better example for the poor in the neighborhood by not believing in, or sharing, the bad gossip in Deerbrook, Hope might be able to continue treating the ailing with some measure of success. “That can’t be done, you see,” Hunter explains. “If the people do not like you, why then the only thing is for you to stay away.”
Hope doesn’t take the hint that he should turn back now from his trip to the alms house. He bids Hunter good day and continues on his way.
Later, back at the house with Margaret and Hester, there’s some concern because everyone was expecting Hope home several hours earlier, and there’s no sign of him at all. Philip stops by to try and reassure everyone that Hope is in no danger from the old people at the alms house; and that the laborers have enough of their own lives to contend with. Hope should be safe as houses. Which, of course, is Morris’s cue to arrive on the scene, begging Enderby to overtake Hope and convince him to come home a different way. Apparently all of those laborers who should have better things to contend with found some room in their schedules to hang out by the side of the road and mob Hope as he passes by. Oh, and they have pitchforks.
Mr Rowland stops by, wondering if there is anything he can do to be of help to the ladies against the growing mob. For instance, he suggests that closing the shutters against the fear of flying rocks might actually encourage people to throw rocks in the first place. After giving that little Hint from Heloise, Rowland feels he has done his duty and is about to leave when Hester says,
“You can be of service to us, if my husband outlives this day. You ought to pray that he may; for if not, it is your wife who has murdered him.”
Mr Rowland turned as pale as ashes.
“We know well that you have no share in all this injury: we believe that you respect my husband, and have friendly feelings towards us all. I will spare you what I might say—what Mrs Rowland should sink to the earth to hear, if she were standing where you stand. I look upon you as no enemy—”
“You do me only justice,” said Mr Rowland, leaning upon the chair which Hester had brought for herself.
“I wish to do you justice; and therefore I warn you that if you do not procure complete protection for my husband—not only for this day—but for the future;—if you do not cause your wife to retract her slanders—”
“Stop, Mrs Hope! this is going too far,” said Mr Rowland, drawing himself up, and putting on an air of offended dignity.
“It is not going too far. You cannot, you dare not, pretend to be offended with what I say, when you know that my noble husband has been injured in his character and his prospects, attacked in his domestic peace, and now exposed to peril of his life, by the falsehoods your wife has told. I tell you that we do not impute her crimes to you. If this is justice, you will prove it by doing your full duty to my husband. If you decline any part of this duty—if you countenance her slanders—if you shrink from my husband’s side in whatever we may have to go through—if you do not either compel your wife to do us right, or do it yourself in opposition to her—you are her partner in guilt, as well as in life and lot.”
I quoted so extensively from this section because I spent probably 10 minutes after reading it high-fiving the air because finally Hester justified herself as a character. Hester is definitely the woman you want with you in a crisis. She’s calm and collected and rational. It’s when things are calm, cool, and rational around her that she starts to freak out a little. Her mind starts over-working and she finds herself succumbing to petty fears and jealousies. But this Hester here is a thing to behold.
(However, I will say that Mrs Rowland is being blamed a little too much here. I don’t think she is the one who spread the rumor about Hope being a Resurrection Man, for instance. As awful as she is — and it pains me to admit how awful she is — I don’t think she would allude to something that distasteful. I think she would see it as a breach of her social class.)
Enderby is not successful in convincing Hope to come home secretly, and by a different way. Hope fights his way through a crowd of people who keep trying to pull him off of his horse. And here, again, Hester is completely amazing, and completely worthy of being the wife of a medical man who votes his conscience: “Morris supposed her mistress would softly let down the chain, open the door just wide enough for Hope to slip in, and shut, bolt, and chain it again. This was what Hester had intended; but her mood was changed. She bade the servants all step out of sight, and then threw the door wide open, going forth herself upon the steps.” Hiding and scurrying would only exacerbate the rabbles’ ill thoughts about the Hopes. Hester striding out the front door to greet her husband, however, is unexpected by everyone. And while it only has a momentary mollifying effect (we’ve still got a couple hundred pages to go, guys; there’s going to be a lot more drama), it’s a welcomed flood of Awesome Hester after 300+ pages of a women who was very difficult to read about.
In the middle of all this, there’s Sir William Hunt and his wife, Lady Sir William Hunt (I don’t think she’s ever given her own name). We’ve not seen much of them throughout the novel, until now, and they’re sort of out-of-the-blue evil in an unexpected way. For instance, Lady Sir William Hunt drives in her carriage slowly by the Hopes’ house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the terrified faces of the ladies within. She then stops at the local hat shop to try and get more details about how awesome the unruly crowd was, and how close to succeeding in dispatching Hope the rabble had come.
It’s while Lady Sir William Hunt is hanging out at the bootseller/haberdashery that she hears a curious bit of village gossip: that a lantern and a charred stick had been found in the churchyard. “No one wondered about the lantern, knowing what practices went on in the churchyard when quiet people were asleep; but that the charred stick was too alarming.” From this cryptic bit of information, Lady Sir William Hunt decides that Hope must have been trying to burn down the church after an unsuccessful night of grave digging. Lady Sir William passes the story along to a man named Tucker, “without any immediate sting of conscience for telling a lie.” Tucker, however, hears the story with a different kind of unease, “as it seemed to him a very simple matter to account for. Several of the boys of the village—his own son John for one—had lately taken to the old sport of whirling round a lighted stick at the end of a string, to make a circle of fire in the dark. Sometimes it happened that a spark caught the string; and then the stick was apt to fly off, nobody knew where. It was an unsafe sport, certainly; and as such he had forbidden it to his son John: but there was no doubt in his mind (without defending the sport), that the stick in question had jerked itself over the churchyard wall, and had not been put there by anybody.”
Other stories start to spread throughout the village about Mr Hope as a medical man, including my favorite one:
“Mrs Russell Taylor’s nursemaid was crossing the court, with the baby in her arms, when she tripped over the string of Master Hampden Taylor’s kite. Well, my lady, she fell; and her first thought, you know, was to save the baby; so she let all her weight go on the other arm—the right—and, as you may suppose, broke it. It snapped below the elbow. The gentleman in the corner-house was sent for immediately, to set it. Now they say (you, my lady, know all about it, of course,) that there are two bones in that part of one’s arm, below the elbow. The gentleman in question did set the bones; but he set them across, you see,—as it might be so. The consequence was, my lady, that the poor girl’s hand was found, when she had got well, to be turned completely round: and, in fact, it is all but useless. When she beckons the children with that hand, they think she means them to go further off. She was got rid of—sent away—to save the credit of the gentleman in the corner-house. But these things will come out, my lady.”
The chapter — and this very long recap of the chapter — closes with a late-night attack on the Hopes’ house. Villagers throw rocks and sticks and all manner of things through windows and into the yard. They completely destroy the surgery — site of the bulk of their ire, since as simply country folk they refuse to believe in Hope’s science and rationality. In fact, Hope’s science is almost no different to them than the blackest of magic. Things reach a fevered pitch when an effigy of Hope is paraded through the streets to be burned in front of his house. Finally, in a brilliant move, Enderby finally proves useful and attaches several candles to one of Hope’s skeletons (and where did he get that skeleton, one wonders…?) and uses it to frighten off the mob. It works because the mob is stupid, the way mobs tend to be stupid (‘member that time in the ’80s when people mobbed stores to buy ugly Cabbage Patch Kids?). However, before things completely settle down for good, it’s learned that Maria, hobbling her way to the Hopes’ house to see if she could be of any assistance, had been knocked down by the crowd, breaking her leg — again — in the process. Hope sets her leg, and Margaret stays the rest of the night with Maria, helping her through the pain…somehow. Having been in considerable pain myself, I’ve gotta say that the last thing I’ve wanted at those moments was some woman, who was in the process of stealing my old boyfriend, hanging out at my house and trying to talk me through the pain.
But that’s just me.
I’ve got seven more sections to recap after this one. It’s Monday, 26 April. Let’s see if I can knock the whole thing out in one day.