If you're a member of Epic Reads (HarperTeen's website), you know that each month they have a Book Club pick. And for August, they picked one of my *favorites,* the absolutely amazing Something Strange and Deadly. The author, Susan Dennard, has made this book club even MORE awesome by adding in prizes (including free books, signed stuff, etc.) to the mix, so you should really hop on over to her website to sign up.
This week's Discussion Q is all about Mama Fitt:
Eleanor’s mother expects a lot from poor El. She wants Eleanor to marry and save the family from financial ruin (despite the fact that Eleanor is only 16), she wants Eleanor to become friends with the rich “cool” kids (like Allison or the Virtue Sisters), and she wastes money the Fitt family doesn’t have on new gowns and fancy house decor. She demands Eleanor behave according to “proper etiquette” and squeeze into a corset that deforms her ribs.Do you think, given the time period, Mrs. Fitt is justified in her demands on Eleanor? Why or why not?
Mrs. Fitt is a complicated lady. On one hand, she is constantly nagging Eleanor and putting an impossible amount of pressure on her. She is so deeply involved in superficial things such as societal appearance that she is angry at Eleanor for (allegedly) fainting from heatstroke.
But is it fair to just write Mrs. Fitt off like that?
THAT WOULD BE A NO.
Let's look back on Mrs. Fitt's life in the past few years, shall we? She's lost her husband to what seems to be madness and her son has been galavanting around other continents while the Fitts fall into financial ruin, leaving her as a single mother with very few prospects.
Like all mothers, Mrs. Fitt wants the best for her daughter, and that means that they have to maintain their social standing. And, well, that reputation is crumbling all around them. What kind of future can Eleanor have if they are destitute? No wonder Mrs. Fitt is so worried- if Eleanor doesn't marry someone wealthy, they will not just lose their reputation. They'll lose everything.
BUT, WELL, THAT'S NOT ENTIRELY TRUE EITHER.
Of course, if Mrs. Fitt was a bit more practical when it came to expenses, Eleanor wouldn't have to marry so young. Eleanor does her best to manage the finances, but when her mother insists on throwing lavish parties and maintaining appearances, it's more than a bit difficult. Come up with a financial budget and then come up with a plan. But Mrs. Fitt doesn't even entertain these ideas.
Ultimately, that's not fair to Eleanor.
OF COURSE, MAMA FITT DOESN'T HAVE A TON OF OPTIONS.
What jobs were available for women in 1876? More to the point, what jobs were available for women of high standing in 1876? Getting a job would be admitting that the Fitts had fallen, so not only would Mrs. Fitt have lost her husband and her son, but she'd also lose her good reputation and all of her social connections. And while it's easy for someone in 2013 to say, "Oh well, they obviously weren't real friends anyway," it's a lot harder when these people are your only friends.
So when one's options are...
A.) Lose your social status, probably move into a smaller house in a less well-to-do neighborhood, sell your belongings, and lose your friends (plus your servant, Mary, who you are fairly close with) or
B.) Have your daughter learn the acceptable etiquette of the time so that she can marry a rich gentleman and have a comfortable, respectable future while also caring for her mother who doesn't have to give up anything
...B definitely seems like the more appealing choice, at least from Mrs. Fitt's perspective.
SO IS MRS. FITT OFF THE HOOK?
Well, she's still selfish and she most certainly isn't thinking about Eleanor's feelings in all of this. Mrs. Fitt is also being impractical in many aspects. But considering her grief, the time period, and her desperation, I don't think it's fair of Eleanor to call her mother "an empty shell of a woman." Despite everything, Mrs. Fitt really does care about her daughter and is just doing her best in a world that isn't doing anything to help her.