Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Magic of Aunts

In the beloved musical "The Wizard of Oz", the main character Dorothy, lives with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Why? I have no idea, but the Oz books indicate that this was a good home for Dorothy.
When the young girl first comes to live with her aunt and uncle, Aunt Em screams and presses her hand upon her heart. But Dorothy is wildly and ferociously taken away from the Kansas farm as she is swept up in a large tornado bringing her to the fairytale land of Oz.
All the time in Oz, Dorothy's biggest wish is to go home - home to her aunt and uncle in Kansas. When she finally clicks the heels of her ruby slippers towards the end of the story, she is magically brought home by the words, "There's no place like home!"
As Dorothy returns, aunt Em cries out, "My darling child!" and covers her with kisses.

In Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice. there are two aunts who stand out. Elizabeth's aunt Gardiner is sensible and understanding. On the other hand, Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh is  almost feudal, representing an old aristocracy where pride and traditional values are more important than people. Darcy needs to go out on his own, and change the old ways of the family to win Elizabeth's heart.

Charlotte Brontë give aunts a bad reputation in Jane Eyre. Jane's aunt Mrs. Reed favors her own children and treats Jane terribly.

Charles Dicken's aunts and uncles are colorful examples of both good and bad in Victorian England.

In David Copperfield, Betsey Trotwood (his great-aunt) is not happy that David's mother has a son. Because of abuse and abandonement in her life, she does not favor men and boys. She storms out of the house when she hears about the birth. When young Davis, then motherless and alone, appears at her doorstep, she carries a knife and yells, "Go along! No boys here!" David is ragged, starving and exhausted. "If you please, aunt, I am your nephew."
Betsey is a complex charactoer. Her heart is soft, although years of bad experiences and trials have built a tough wall around her. She takes care of the boy
and eventually helps him with both education and employment.
"Never," said my aunt, "be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you." (David Copperfield)

Dicken's Oliver Twist has a different kind of aunt. His maternal aunt, Rose, is portrayed as pure, innocent and beautiful. She helps rescue the young boy.

Why do aunts have a more significant role in novels from the 1800s? Where are the mothers? One answer somes from:

Ruth Perry's book The Transformation of Kinship in English Literature 1748-1818
...mothers in novels of the period are notoriously absent – dead or otherwise missing. Just when motherhood was becoming central to the definition of femininity, when the modern conception of the all-nurturing, tender, soothing, ministering mother was being consolidated in English culture, she was being represented in fiction as a memory rather than as an active present reality.

Irish Novelist Colm Tóibín explains the important of aunts:
The novel in English during the 19th century is full of parents whose influence must be evaded or erased, to be replaced by figures who operate either literally or figuratively as aunts, both kind and mean, both well-intentioned and duplicitous, both rescuing and destroying.
But 19th century aunts may not be so different from today's aunts. The aunts of  2016 also come wearing different hats. Some aunts have great influence on their nieces and nephews, love them as if they were their own children and rejoice when they succeed. But there are also those who are too busy, not interested, or not present.

One of the things that make my heart smile, is when I see my children carrying each others children. They truly love their little nieces and nephews. They want them to be safe and happy.
In my book, that is love. That is family.

Photo: My daughter with her nephew and daughter.

Sources. wikipedia, Literary aunts by Charlotte Higgins