Names and their Importance in Literature
So, why is a name important in literature? Because, I think, the name given defines the character. For example, would it come as any surprise to learn that Elsie Scraggit was born in a workhouse to a gin-sodden mother and a violent father? No? Then perhaps it would be equally unsurprising to learn that Elsie was a tall, painfully thin, but deceptively strong child with rough, red skin and a thick mop of curly, brown hair. In literature, the thick hair is of paramount importance because, without it, this ugly duckling could never turn into a swan. Heroines, particularly poor ones, invariably start off as being exceedingly thin but always seem to possess a thick head of hair: these are the foundations upon which swans are made. Our heroine, poor Elsie, must go through several chapters dressed in rough calico dresses with her feet pushed into cold, stiff, shiny boots: a gift from the generous benefactors who have kindly taken her in to skivvy for them for at least half a book. She will spend many of those pages on her knees with her rough hands getting rougher by the page as she rasps a scrubbing brush over endless floors. She will never, never, be praised, only ever ridiculed but after two hundred pages or more her inherent goodness and dignity will start to shine through.
Eventually, some kind visitor to the ‘big house’ will notice how she proclaims her dignity by blacking the grate to perfection, scrubbing the floors white, and by turning out plain but wholesome meals by the dozen. He notices too that she is much loved by the children of the generous benefactors and indeed all the inhabitants of the ‘big house’ now look to Elsie for advice and guidance. Though I do so hope that when they seek her advice and guidance she is not still on her knees scrubbing as that would not be at all conducive to her giving of her best attention to their problems. Indeed, such inattention to their troubles would be an irritation that could not be tolerated by the master or his mistress and would be completely unacceptable if Elsie wished to remain in their employ. After all, if it were a matter of the heart, for example, it is best not to listen to someone whose knees are killing them. Though I think, in such circumstances, Elsie could be forgiven if she told the young mistress that the titled young buck with the large fortune and kindly disposition was a wastrel who would treat her badly and bring shame on the family. I for one wouldn’t blame her if she did after all a girl must look after her knees and if the generous benefactors won’t give them the consideration they deserve then she must take remedial action and they must take the consequences. Nevertheless, the kind visitor will still reward the uncomplaining Elsie by teaching her to read. Many happy pages will now be spent with our heroine up in the attic reading by candlelight. She will not be allowed to fritter away her time with ‘The Cat Sat On the Mat.’ No, certainly not, she will start with Shakespeare, who, of course, will present no problems.
By now, our Elsie has started to round out quite nicely and her hair has taken on a lustre which, it should have been obvious from the start, would take at least half a book of constant brushing to arrive at. Elsie can now suddenly play the piano better than a concert pianist, and all without a single lesson it seems, delighting guests at the manor, with Mozart and a host of other composers, some, not even yet born! For these musical soirées Elsie’s rough calico dresses have, we learn, been replaced with beautiful, but simple, gowns. The gowns must be simple as our heroine cannot be allowed, at this stage, to outshine the master’s feeble daughter, an insipid looking specimen even when clothed in the finest silk. Writers seem to make no mention of the footwear at this stage but I do so hope the boots have been replaced with something more suitable otherwise the simple gown could look a little odd when accessorized with footwear that looks as if it might have been supplied by Doc Marten and Mozart played with big boots hitting the pedals could have been a quite surprising auditory experience!
All the while this transformation has been taking place the kind visitor has been slowly but inexorably falling in love with our Elsie. The silly girl meanwhile, would you believe, has fallen for a tall, dark and handsome reprobate with an aquiline nose and a sardonic smile who, it is obvious to us readers, is never going to treat her well. We know him to be a rogue of the highest order who has had every advantage and a fortune to boot but he has recklessly squandered his inheritance and his good name in pursuit of hedonistic pleasures and we know he will lead our Elsie astray and then ruthlessly abandon her.
Besides, we know the kind visitor has a huge country pile tucked away in the Staffordshire countryside so couldn’t she, at least, try to love him? Surely, she owes us that much? After all, haven’t we stuck with her for half a book? We shouldn’t have worried, though, because our Elsie might be passive but she’s not stupid. All of the reprobate’s protestations of love butter no parsnips with our Elsie. She knows a silk purse from a sow’s ear and she has no intention of allowing herself to be disgraced and abandoned in Brighton…Why is it all heroines in danger of being disgraced end up at the seaside and why is it always Brighton? Anyway, although our Elsie has indeed gone to Brighton we, the readers, are left with the hope that she is there only as a day tripper!
We now lose Elsie for several chapters and find ourselves at the turn of the century where our attention has been caught by an elegant female who uses a cigarette holder and is frightfully avant-garde. This illustrious personage is none other than the celebrated novelist Delores Du Pre. Delores is witty, extremely bitchy and, somewhat surprisingly, uncommonly popular. Delores is a woman of the modern age who is knee-deep in lovers, all of whom shower her with roses and bombard her with chocolates. What I want to know, however, is, if , as we are led to believe, Delores consumes all these chocs, how is it she remains sylphlike in silk while we, the readers, bloat up to fifteen stone on half a box of Milk Tray?
Nonetheless, we have stuck with Delores through nine or ten chapters and we now thoroughly detest her but then, when we reach the final chapter, the denouement, we learn, much to our surprise, that the dreadful Delores Du Pre is the pseudonym for none other than Elsie Scraggit! Why oh why did the kind visitor ever take the trouble to teach her to read. He has a lot to answer for but he seems to be ecstatically happy with the master’s insipid daughter whom he has married and installed in his huge country pile and she is positively glowing with health now that she is breathing in the fine Staffordshire air and has kindly taken in a thin little waif who was born in a workhouse to a gin-sodden mother and a violent father…
In literature, if a writer wants a character to use a cigarette holder there is no way that the likes of Elsie Scraggit could be allowed to use such a thing. No, indeed! Elsie might just pass muster but Scraggit…Never! It is obvious then, that something had to be done.