Chapter 13 is titled “Coming to an Understanding” — and it’s about Enderby and Mrs Rowland and I can barely contain myself because it’s going to be RIDICULOUSLY awesome. This is going to be the chapter where Enderby breaks it to Mrs Rowland (whose name, by the way, is Priscilla — but I can’t call her that without thinking of this) that actually, no, he’s not engaged to Mary Bruce and yes, he is actually going to marry Margaret Ibbotson. (At least, in this chapter he’s going to marry Margaret Ibbotson. Spoiler alert for later chapters: dude is super wishy-washy when it comes to wanting to, and following through with, marrying Margaret Ibbotson.) Let’s get to it, shall we? We’ve waited a loooong time for this.
We’re still supposed to believe that Mrs Rowland is responsible for the bulk of the ill-will against Hope, so that when Enderby returns to his sister’s house after the evening’s mob scene, he’s too angry to talk to her. And again, I’ll reiterate that yes, Mrs Rowland has said some nasty things about Hope, and Hester, and Margaret — but she’s not the one spreading rumors about his digging up corpses and fixing bones backwards or any other crazy bit of medical science that’s being spread about Hope. Mrs Rowland’s bag is that Hester and Hope are deeply unhappy together, and that her brother is settled on marrying Mary Bruce. She could not care less about corpses, dug or undug.
After a night’s sleep, Enderby invites his sister to sit down (in her own home, no less, so there’s another reason to really dislike Enderby) and asks after her health. This seems an odd question, since he’s been staying with her while visiting Deerbrook, and one would think he would have a front row seat to the health concerns of his sister and her family — but then I remember that the Rowlands have been away for this last part of the novel, and this is probably the first time they’ve had a chance to talk to each other. (I think they arrived home during the thick of the mobbing, which must have been like a “Welcome Home!” from Jesus to Mrs Rowland, wrapped in a teddy bear and served with a mug of cocoa). Anyway, asking that question allows Mrs Rowland to say that her family is actually much better healthwise, thankyouverymuch, thanks to the kind ministrations of some guy named Walcot whom they picked up on their travels and brought back to be the family’s personal physician. And if Walcot just happens to become the personal physician of the rest of the village, over Mr Hope? Then so much the better. (“It’s called being a good neighbor,” I imagine Mrs Rowland explaining.)
Enderby tries to use logic on Mrs Rowland, saying that either Mr Walcot is not an honorable man, or he has not been told the entire story of the village of Deerbrook. (“Don’t ask!” I want to tell Walcot, for fear he’ll be forced to read this novel and while parts of it are very good, parts of it are very bad and there are so many other books one could read.) Mrs Rowland isn’t having it, and again says, “My first duty is to take care of the health of my parent and my children; and if, by the same means, Deerbrook is provided with a medical man worthy of its confidence, all Deerbrook will thank me.”
Enderby’s response seems proof that he’s only a visitor to Deerbrook, and also the kind of narcissist that never pays attention to his surroundings unless those surroundings are also somehow all about him: “Ignorant and stupid as Deerbrook is about many things, Priscilla, it is not so wicked as to thank any one for waging a cowardly war against the good, for disparaging the able and accomplished, and fabricating and circulating injurious stories against people too magnanimous for the slanderer to understand.” And yet, we’ve just been through two scenes where Deerbrook has done exactly what Enderby says it shouldn’t. And the fact that Enderby ends up marrying Margaret at the end of this novel just makes all of these scenes with him even more painful to deal with. Seriously: the guy’s just a stupid a-hole.
Enderby then moves on to challenging Mrs Rowland about other wrong things she’s responsible, including what Enderby is calling the rumor that Hope and his wife aren’t happy. But, again, this isn’t a rumor: it’s truth. It’s gossip only in the sense that it’s not a story Hope or Hester are telling about themselves; but I don’t think, at this point in the novel, if you were compiling a list of happily married fictional characters, you’d put the Hopes anywhere on the list. They might even be outranked by any of the married ladies on that “Real Housewives of New York” TV show that I’m ashamed to admit I watch. (And yes, I count those ladies as fictional because I refuse to believe that they exist anywhere but on the television. Nature abhors a vacuum, right? Right?)
Finally, Martineau takes the final plunge with Mrs Rowland, giving her the following line and casting her irrevocably as an evil villain, rather than as just an unpleasant village busybody: “I mean to get rid of these Hopes; and, perhaps, you may be surprised to see how soon I succeed.” As a reader who finds himself frequently tired of the Hopes, I have to say that I’m 100% behind Mrs Rowland’s plan, and would gladly subscribe to her newsletter.
Enderby, seeing that he can make no headway in changing his sister’s mind about Dr Walcot, and hearing her state baldly her plans for the Hopes (“Please let it involve elaborate lasers and sharks” I wrote in the margins of my copy), finally gets to the meat of his disagreement with his sister, and says what we’ve all been waiting to hear him say, if only to hear how Mrs Rowland will handle it: “I desire to know what you mean by telling everybody that I am engaged to Miss Mary Bruce.”
From the beginning of this chapter, I was trying to figure out exactly how I wanted this moment to play out. Did I want her to flip out gorgeously like Joan Crawford suddenly confronted with dirt and wire hangers? Did I want her to puddle in a pool of regret and shame? And while I was trying to figure out the best way for her to take the information that Enderby isn’t engaged to Mary Bruce, Mrs Rowland quietly exceeded all of my expectations. In answer to Enderby’s question of what could Mrs Rowland mean by telling everybody he was engaged to Miss Mary Bruce, Mrs Rowland simply answers,
“I said so, because it is true.”
And that breathtaking defiance of all that is logical and honest — would I be exaggerating at all if I said that I wept with gratitude for the brilliance of Mrs Rowland? Well, yeah. But still. It was pretty impressive. Mrs Rowland goes on:
“If not precisely true when I said it, it was sure to be so soon; which is just the same thing. I mean that it shall be true. I have set my heart upon your marrying, and upon your marrying Mary Bruce.”
Her response is so baldly given, and so simply understood: Reality, for Mrs Rowland, is what she chooses to make of it. And not just for herself, but for everyone. It’s a terrific responsibility; Mrs Rowland, though, is definitely up for the job. Her response to her brother is almost exactly what is meant by the word “truthiness.” If not true now, it will be true later. And if not true later? That’s not the fault of the original prevaricator. It’s the fault of all who stood in the way of allowing the original lie to find its way to the truth.
When you guys want to know why I love Mrs Rowland, this might be Exhibit A. She’s just an amazingly powerful character, especially in this novel of mostly milquetoasty unrequited lovers.
Enderby stupidly tries to use logic on Mrs Rowland; tries to explain to her how no, actually, he isn’t married to Miss Bruce — hasn’t even really met Miss Bruce — probably couldn’t pick Miss Bruce out of a line-up of Bruces, both Miss and otherwise, even if that line-up included men named Bruce. That’s how little connection Enderby has to Miss Bruce. Enderby ends this attempt at a rationalization with, “And now for the plain fact. I am engaged elsewhere.”
And Mrs Rowland gets even more awesome:
“No; you are not.”
Did you see that? Not even an exclamation point, as if she’s arguing back. She says it calmly. Methodically. She’s explaining the way the world works to a very intellectually compromised eight-year-old. “No; you are not.”
And, stupidly, Enderby continues to try to use logic and reason with his sister. Maybe it’s because she’s so logical-seeming and reasonable-sounding with him when she says outrageous things like “If not precisely true, it’s soon to be so” and “no; you are not.” Instead of ending the conversation and running damage control throughout the village, Enderby seems to be hoping that something, anything, will convince his sister otherwise. And it’s just not going to happen. Because she’s Mrs Rowland and you aren’t.
Enderby shares that he hasn’t had a chance to tell very many people, yet, that he’s actually engaged to Margaret, rather than Mary Bruce. Mrs Enderby says, “I am glad you have told so few people of your entanglement. It makes it an easier matter to help you. I shall deny the engagement everywhere.” SHE THINKS SHE’S HELPING HIM!!! When Enderby says that her denying will “hardly avail against my testimony,” Mrs Rowland makes this very compelling and creepy point:
“It will, when you are gone. The Deerbrook people always attend to the last speaker.”
Do you guys know that John McCain is trying to distance himself from the term “Maverick”? I’m picking on McCain only because he’s the most recent example of governmental amnesia, though the phenomenon is rife throughout all the parties — probably even the party of that lady simply named ‘Faith’ who blows a bugle and is always running for President. What makes this “attend to the last speaker” even more corrosive is how true it is: even today, we have an alarming habit of allowing the last statement made on a topic to be the only statement about a topic. Our shortsightedness keeps us a victim to past crimes, because we don’t want to show any bad manners by saying, “Well, but didn’t you used to believe this…?”
Defeated, but weirdly undaunted, Enderby leaves his sister’s without changing her mind about anything. He also foolishly thinks, though, that maybe he made a little bit of a difference, and that she can’t possibly carry on forever being as wrong as she is. “It cannot last,” he thinks; and then later says (ironically, as it turns out): “I will watch and struggle to ward off from her every evil word and thought.” Because later, he’s going to learn some more gossip from his sister, and he’ll have forgotten this pledge he has made to “ward off from her every evil word and thought.”
Chapter 14 finds folks at the Hope house cleaning up after all the ruckus. While the household is sweeping up glass and picking up pieces of fence and surgery (“whatever was least seemly of the scattered contents of the professional apartment” — the mind reels and shudders), a letter from Sir William Hunter is delivered, telling Hope that his services are no longer required at the alms house; there’s a new doctor in town, and he’ll be working with the superstitious poor from now on. I guess because so much of Hope’s livelihood is wrapped up in caring for the entire village, not just the worried (and wealthy) well, this is a bit of a financial crunch, so he’s not able to see this as the godsend it is. I mean, those are the people that tried to kill him the night before. I’d leave them to their fat-bacon-wrapped small pox cures and start speculating in real estate instead. That area around the alms house could probably do with some gentrifying — especially once the homosexuals know there’s some country property that needs developing.
Also, since the rest of the village isn’t cleaning up after the rabble, others have time to send letters to Hope as well, including Mr Rowland, who writes a lengthy apology about how he can’t actually talk to his wife about the rumors she’s spreading because, as it turns out, Mr Rowland isn’t necessarily the pants-wearer in the family and Mrs Rowland won’t give Mr Rowland permission to correct her. He tries to be helpful, though, saying, “Some other place of residence would, I should hope, yield you and your family the consideration and comfort of which you have here been most unjustly deprived. Elsewhere you might ensure the due reward of that professional ability and humanity which we have shown ourselves unworthy to appreciate. If you could reconcile yourself to removing, with your family, I believe that the peace of our society would be promoted, that unpleasant collisions of opinions and interests would be avoided, and that that reparation would be made to you which I fear would be impracticable here.” In other words, Mr Rowland just wants to throw money at the problem and be done with it.
In fact, Hope says as much later, when he’s explaining the contents of the letter to his family. Margaret says that it appears that Mr Rowland at least means well, and Hope replies: “I hardly know what you would consider meaning well. Rowland would buy himself out of an affair which he has not the courage to manage by nobler means.” During the discussion, one or two of you talked about how you felt that Mr Hope is being a bit of a martyr — and that it was a reprehensible sort of martyrdom, since it affected more than just Hope, but Hope’s wife and sister-in-law, too. I have certainly been accused, and rightly so, of being too cynical about literary characters, so I understand the impulse. However, in this case I don’t know if it’s entirely justified. I agree with Hope: it would be demeaning to accept hush money from Mr Rowland and quietly leave Deerbrook. Not only would news like that follow the Hopes (and Margaret) everywhere they tried to go in England, Hope would also have to live with the fact that his honor has a price tag, and honor shouldn’t have a price tag. Accepting help, especially in a place like Deerbrook, is a very expensive proposition. All Hope has is his good name, even if no one else believes in it at the moment. Once he accepts any sort of pay-off, though, it compromises everything moral about Hope. And he can never get that back once it happens.
As the chapter closes, we get a nice dose of Mrs Grey, who has some gossip she would like to share about the new doctor, Mr Walcot: “Mrs Grey had half-a-dozen faults or oddities of Mr Walcot’s to tell of already; but she was quietly checked in the middle of her list by Mr Hope, who observed that he was bound to exercise the same justice towards Mr Walcot that he hoped to receive from him.” However, if Mrs Grey holds in all the gossip she has, she will surely die — literally. So out squeaks this tidbit: “To go no deeper than his looks, then, nobody can pretend to admire them. He is extremely short. Have you heard how short he is?”
Chapter 15 opens with Enderby waiting outside of the church, hoping to catch a moment with Mr Walcot in order to give him the true story of what’s going on in the village of Deerbrook. “You mean ‘gossip,’ right?” I wrote in the margin. Because that’s essentially what Enderby wants: to convince Mr Walcot to leave Deerbrook to Mr Hope by sharing with Walcot a selection of village gossip that will convince Walcot that Deerbrook isn’t the place for him.
Mr Walcot has already heard the story, though, from Mrs Rowland; and, since Mrs Rowland is the one who basically covers his salary, it makes sense that Mr Walcot would give more credence to Mrs Rowland’s versions of things rather than Mr Enderby’s versions of things. And anyway, Walcot is a young man still somewhat ruled by his parents — and his parents have said that everything sounds, so far, on the up-and-up, and Walcot should feel free to stay in Deerbrook to pursue his profession. (“I repeated all [Mrs Rowland] said to my parents. They strongly advised my coming; and I am sure they would never recommend me to do anything that was not right.”) “Then, if I tell you what I know to be the true state of the case here, will you represent it fully to your parents, and see what they will say then?” Enderby asks. Walcot says, sure.
Enderby thinks that maybe if he explained, though, what a state Mr Hope now finds himself in, and how Mr Walcot’s presence might exacerbate the issue, maybe he might save Walcot some postage. “Pray have you been told of a Mr Hope who lives here?” Enderby asks. “Oh, yes; we saw the people breaking his windows as we drove past, yesterday evening.” This sounds akin, to me, to driving by a gang shootout and deciding to stay at the Ramada Inn on Burnside anyway. I don’t know how I feel about Mr Walcot. I’m always leery of people who have a too-good relationship with their parents in the first place.
Later, Enderby runs into Mr Grey, and tells Grey that Margaret has agreed to be engaged to Enderby. Grey says that he never really believed any of the stories about Mary Bruce in the first place, but that his wife was angry enough for everyone. Grey goes on to say that Margaret didn’t seem to buy into the stories, either; at least, she didn’t publically. Enderby doesn’t say anything about this, which is kind of a dick move, seeing as how he almost broke things off with her when he couldn’t understand how she could believe what his sister had to say about anything. I would hope that Enderby, confronted with someone who presents a different story of Margaret, and one that is flattering both to Margaret’s constancy and to Enderby, that Enderby would think, “Maybe I was a little wrong to be so hard on Margaret earlier.” But then, of course, this is Enderby we’re talking about and I’m running out of bad things to write about him anyway.
The chapter closes with a visit of Mr Walcot and Mrs Rowland to the Greys. Mrs Rowland wants to show off her new doctor. Mrs Grey wants to talk up the Hopes as much as she can. A shouting match ensues between Mrs Rowland and Mrs Grey that’s pretty wonderful to behold. Those ladies need swimsuits and a mud pit, is all I’m saying. In the middle of fighting with Mrs Grey, Mrs Rowland overhears Sophia mention something about Enderby’s engagement to Margaret, and Mrs Rowland takes a time-out to tell Sophia that she was misinformed; that what she was saying was actually a mistake: “she did not deny that there was some present entanglement; but that she warned Margaret’s connections not to suppose that her brother would ever be married to Miss Ibbotson.”