nocowardsoul: ([btws] kids)
Caddy ([personal profile] nocowardsoul) wrote in [community profile] historicalyafen2011-03-25 06:17 pm

Siblings and foils in Beyond the Western Sea

Meta! Historical CYA needs more meta, I think. Okay, Laurence and Patrick are the most obvious point of comparison. They have opposite backgrounds: wealth and poverty, English and Irish, Protestant and Catholic, urban and rural, functional siblings and dysfunctional siblings. Yet they're similar in personality. Both are impulsive, adventurous, and trust people they shouldn't as a result of their own honesty (though both will lie when they need it). Both are truly brave, and they subvert gender stereotypes - Patrick by not wishing to fight Jeb and Laurence by repeatedly shamelessly crying. (Does Patrick ever cry? I know Maura and Fred do.)

Contrasting sibling relationships! Maura and Patrick support and protect each other, always. They disagree on occasion, but their friendship is never in danger. Maura thinks she'll die if she loses Patrick. Whereas Albert doesn't care at all if Laurence lives. Really, he's one of the worst brothers in fiction.

The Kirkles have a foil in the O'Connells as well as a parallel in the Lime Street Runners. Sergeant Rumpkin and Lord Kirkle both play favorites, the older Toggs and the younger Laurence. "Fred and Toggs Have a Race" is a repeat of "In London, England." Lord Kirkle and Sgt. Rumpkin suspect the older boys are lying, but chose to pretend to believe them in order to manipulate the younger boys. But Fred and Laurence are so angry that they run away, leaving their families and later cooperating in a way they don't with their "brothers." However, the father figures make the same mistake for different reasons. Despite his preference for Toggs, his decision is based on the fact that Toggs is literally worth more money than Fred.

Lord Kirkle truly cares about Laurence; his scenes in the second book are IMO among the most emotionally effective in the books. The beating, I think, is and attempt to demonstrate to Laurence what Lord Kirkle tells him later. He needs to accept his lot as a second son. I think Lord Kirkle underestimated the hatred and jealousy between his sons, and he expected Albert to whip Laurence properly. I don't want to defend the beating, it was a stupid thing to do, but I want to defend Lord Kirkle's intentions. He does what he does out of concern for his children, rather than Sergeant's greed.

Fred and Toggs are more alike than the Kirkles - brash, cocky, competent, independent, hard, deceptive, same kind of cheerful. Hell, if it weren't for their age difference and their leader setting them up as competition, they might be friends! They're favorites of mine because Avi plays such a neat trick with their morality. We're inclined to hate Toggss because he deceives the O'Connells and to like Fred because he helps Laurence. Fred helps Laurence partly out of kindness and partly for revenge. When Fred leaves Laurence on the Seahawk (more on that later), the text points out that "nobody could on the hulks - or off." With Toggs, when he returns to Mrs. Sonderbye's and offers to take Maura somewhere better, I believe he's being sincere. What kind of professional liar expects a person to fall for the same lie twice? So Fred's a bit worse than Laurence knows and Toggs is a bit better than the characters assume. Fred cleverly never tells Laurence he was a runner.

(Maura, Toggs, and Albert are all 15; Sgt. and Lord Kirkle are 60. )

One possible reason for Lord Kirkle's preference may be Laurence's resemblance to himself. When Albert looks like his father, Laurence loses his temper at Albert and Mr. Grout, like Lord Kirkle does during the beating scene and Mr. Pickler's report. The word fierce is used for both - granted, BTWS likes that word and uses it for Maura, Mr. Grout, Mrs. Faherty, and maybe Patrick and Fred. When Mr. Pickler asks why Laurence left, Lord Kirkle fingers the family motto, then lies about what happened. When the reverend asks about his welt, Laurence thinks of the family motto and refuses to speak. While he hates Albert, he never says he hates or dislikes his father. Patrick explains the state of Kilonny, and Laurence defends Lord Kirkle by saying, "But maybe he didn't know."

There are other foils in the book, like Pickler and Clemspool, and Drabble and Grout, but I'll save those for another day.