Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy: Children and Innocence
This is one of the series of reviews on Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy.
Read on to find out how childhood and innocence is tackled in the book.
- A stone in the snowball and a premature birth
- A mad hatter's party: getting the best of Netty
- A pat in the back: the path to Sodom
- In the words of Ramsay
- The innocence of the critic and of children
- Do you have a book to review?
A stone in the snowball and a premature birth
Boy Staunton wrapped a stone with snow and threw it towards his friend, Dunstable Ramsay. Dunny ducked in front of Reverend Amasa Dempster and his pregnant wife, Mary, who were walking in front of him, and the stone in the snowball hit the back of the frail Mrs. Dempster.
This triggered the premature birth of Paul Dempster in the rural Canada of 1908.
Dunny was burdened with guilt.
Boy was quickly putting it behind him.
Both of them never said a word.
A mad hatter's party: getting the best of Netty
A generation later, Boy's wife Leola died of a chill when her window was left open one cold night. She had been frail and had poor respiratory health and she could not have opened the window herself, could she? After all she did try to kill herself before.
No one offered any explanation, but to Boy and Leola's children, there was someone they can wring answers from: Netty, their nanny, who they thought was in love with their father and could have opened the window that night their mother died.
Caroline arranged for the dinner table to be set so that Netty could sit at their mother's place. Caroline asked for sherry to be served. Caroline overtook the simple and straightforward Netty with her roundabout and rich manner of crafting questions so that any answer would have incriminated Netty anyway. It was a wonder why David became the lawyer and not Caroline.
Netty ran out of the dining room with tears in her eyes.
A pat in the back: the path to Sodom
Paul Dempster, born premature to parents who were more a disgrace to him as he was to them, ran with the travelling show one day.
Ramsay had been teaching him sleight of hand tricks with cards and coins. Paul ran off to watch the circus, he saw Willard the Wizard perform so much better than Ramsay ever had and he was enraptured.
Paul performed for Willard after the crowd had moved on to the next spectacle. And, when Willard placed a warm meaning hand on Paul's behind, young Paul smiled to Willard's face.
Paul had never had any previous experience with sexual caress before, he had no knowledge of sex. He was a parson's and a mad woman's son. And yet, how could he have reacted that way to Willard?
In the words of Ramsay
“A boy is a man in miniature, and though he may sometimes exhibit notable virtue, as well as characteristics that seem to be charming because they are childlike, he is also a schemer, self-seeker, traitor, Judas, crook, and villain - in short, a man.”
The innocence of the critic and of children
Never assume that any book review ever made is impersonal.
A book can never be reviewed in any other manner but that which is personal. Fiction is meant to strike a chord in the heart before the mind. The literary allusions are treasures to be discovered by the intellectual reader, but there is no stopping anyone to understand and be fully be affected by the conflicts within the pages of the book.
So, it is as important to know the critic in relation to the object of criticism.
As a child I was never under any assumption that I was to be taken innocent for any actions I made. I was left alone with a baby not far from my age, she started crying and I couldn't quiet her, how could I have known what to do. All I knew was that when we cried someone put something in our mouths and we quieted down. So I grabbed the bottle closest to us and poured the contents down her throat. She turned red, stopped screaming and went to sleep. I gave her a bottle of mentholated oil.
Years later I was in grade school and was tasked to take care of one of my cousins, then a one year old fat boy. He was easy to take care of, if he cries, just sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm and he's stop and smile like someone flipped a switch in his head. Knowing that trick I made him cry all the time by biting his fat arms and legs until his mom worried why her son had so many bruises.
Some books deal with childhood as something idyllic, a time and place of love and abundance. It is nice to read a book that deals with the evil of children because it makes our childhood whole and real.
It is hard to grow up and keep up with the charge of innocence on our heads. Children are not little angels and they have their faults too, sometimes as grave as the faults adults commit.
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