Thursday, 26 June 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Bad Beginning, Chapter 13

And so we’ve reached the end of the first in the Series of Unfortunate Events. Tomorrow I’ll double post again to both introduce what I remember about the next book in the series, The Reptile Room and then on Monday I’ll share my first post on my thoughts of the first Chapter. I’m hoping to continue my afternoon posting schedule through this book so we’ll finish it before the end of July. If I’d stuck to my weekly schedule we’d only just be halfway through The Bad Beginning by now!

What Happens?

Count Olaf reveals that he and Violet are now legally married. Justice Strauss is very upset to learn that she has been tricked. Violet then explains that as she signed the marriage document with her left hand the marriage is actually null and void. Justice Strauss concurs with Violet, so Count Olaf’s plan has failed. Justice Strauss then offers to take on the care of the children. In the following series of unfortunate events Count Olaf and his crew escape and Mr Poe declares that the children must live with a relation, so they are taken away, uncertain of what the future will hold for them.

Thoughts as I read:

This chapter opens with a sketch in a circular frame showing a pair of hands holding a bouquet. Although it is not clear whether these hands are left- or right-handed, there is a ring on the ring finger of the left hand so I’m going to assume that they belong to Violet.

We pick up immediately where we left off. Count Olaf totally breaks the fourth wall, turning to the audience to tell them that he is now officially and legally married to Violet. Everyone is suitably shocked by this information. Count Olaf outlines the criteria to be legally married: she said ‘I do’ in front of Justice Strauss, there were witnesses, he was her legal guardian at the time and he gave consent for her to be married.

Olaf has thought this through quite well actually. When Justice Strauss tells him that the document Violet signed is just a prop he reveals that it’s the genuine article. Justice Strauss realises what has happened. The situation is hopeless, as Violet’s husband Olaf now has complete control of Violet’s money.

There’s a brilliant bit here where Mr Poe jumps up to object:

“This is dreadful nonsense.”
"I’m afraid this dreadful nonsense is the law,” Justice Strauss said.

That sentence could be applied to all manner of things relating to the law.

Justice Strauss is upset at having been used, telling the Baudelaires that she never would’ve done anything to hurt the children. Fat lot of use that is now, they did try to warn her not to follow the script exactly.

Then we get a little bit more of the Ew Factor:

“Now, if all of you will excuse me, my bride and I need to go home for our wedding night.”

Just no! That’s totally wrong! Olaf has basically just implied that he needs to consummate his marriage to Violet.

At least Olaf does stick to his word and releases Sunny, thankfully not straight down from the top of the tower. He needs her in one piece to help Klaus complete his chores. It’s going to take a bit longer to get everything done now he’s one child down. Well, that and the fact that despite being happy to announce to everyone that he’s married his underage ward, Olaf isn’t in any hurry to let anyone see him ‘take care of’ the two younger Baudelaires.

Mr Poe, thankfully, takes this new turn of events seriously. He’s not impressed by Olaf’s behaviour, particularly his declaration that the following day he intends to head to the bank and collect the entire Baudelaire fortune.

All hope looks lost until Violet pipes up suggesting that perhaps the marriage isn’t entirely legal. Remember all those little reminders about how Violet was right-handed, and then that little disarming line at the end of Chapter 11 when Violet signed with her left-hand. It’s not a typo at all. She did it on purpose!

It’s clever the way that it all hinges on the wording. Violet had to sign using her ‘own hand’ (I suppose ‘right hand’ would’ve been too obvious). Everyone present saw her signing and so is happy to accept that the terms have been fulfilled, however Violet interprets this as meaning her dominant hand. Olaf claims Violet is lying, but apparently Klaus is reading along with us (or maybe he was narrating the last chapter) because he spotted Violet’s left hand trembling as she signed.

Despite having plenty of witnesses, Olaf isn’t keen to believe what Violet says. First he says she can’t prove what she is claiming, then shooting her down by suggesting that it doesn’t matter which hand she used; the fact is, she signed it and that’s all he needed. It comes down to Justice Strauss to make the final decision. Of course she comes to the conclusion that the marriage is not legal. I can’t help but wonder if this is a valid interpretation of the law wherever this is set, or if she’s just saying that to save Violet.

The narrator takes this opportunity to point out how weird laws can be. Apparently there’s a law in a European country that states all bread must be sold at the same price (way to make competition that little bit harder), an island with a law that says its fruit must not be removed, and another town (which is apparently not far away from where I live) which bans Snicket from going within five miles of its borders. I love these little bits in these books. I’m sure that sometimes they give bits of information that link to future books.

Olaf decides to give up all pretence of being a nice guy putting on an entertaining play. He attempts to threaten Sunny using the walkie-talkie and we hear Sunny saying ‘Neepo!’ (no definition given, but I’m guessing it’s something like ‘I’m here!’) as she heads onto the stage. Luckily she’s been set free. I love that when Violet asks for something for her little sister to eat Sunny says ‘Cake!’ which I think is the second time she’s come out with a relevant word for the situation. Also, if I’d spent the last day dangling in a birdcage from the top of a tall tower I’d want cake too!

Count Olaf decides thinks that despite his behaviour he’s still going to be allowed to remain the guardian of the Baudelaires but thankfully Mr Poe is on the ball this time. Olaf argues that there’s nothing illegal about trying to marry someone (though his behaviour in coercing the girl into marrying him does call this statement into question). Thankfully Justice Strauss steps in to point out that hanging small children out of windows is somewhat illegal (Klaus could also use this as an opportunity to revisit the bruise that Mr Poe ignored last time he brought it up). Justice Strauss also wants to take on responsibility for the children. Aww.

Various people call out from the audience, including some comment about wanting money back because the play wasn’t very good. Hehe. We don’t get to hear any more about this though because Mr Poe decides to engage in a citizen’s arrest.

Everything seems to be looking up at last. Justice Strauss is serious about adopting the children. Klaus asks if they can use the library every day, Violet asks to work in the garden, Sunny calls out ‘Cake!’ which makes everyone laugh. It seems like everything is going to be sunshine and roses from here on out.

But we know that’s not going to be the case.

At this point we get an interjection from the narrator to crush all our hopes, after all, we’ve got another twelve books to go so to give the children a happy ending at this point probably wouldn’t help sales much. The narrator suggests that if you want to believe that the children do in fact live happily ever after, you should stop reading now. But I’m dedicated to this little blog challenge I’ve set myself, so I’m going to keep on going, no matter how depressing things are going to get.

While we’re all distracted, someone has sneaked to the light controls for the theatre and turned them all off. As people are wont to do when all the lights go out, they start screaming and tripping over things. Violet keeps her head and goes to switch the lights back on, but not before being threatened by a sinister voice which presumably belongs to Count Olaf. In the confusion Mr Poe has grabbed his wife, thinking she’s Olaf, inadvertently letting the bad guy get away.

Oh, and along with Olaf, all his henchmen (and women) have gone too. I’m guessing this was a bit of a backup plan for them, so they knew they could escape if everything went pear-shaped. Then again, Olaf’s pretty arrogant and probably didn’t expect his plan to fail so perhaps this just lucky chance, or rather an unfortunate event for the children, which allowed him to get away. Whatever happened, they’ve all gone, and even with the police after them, the kids don’t have much hope for them being caught.

And then things get just a little bit worse.

Justice Strauss isn’t allowed to take the children in because she isn’t a relative. Honestly, Mr Poe is hopeless. Someone is right there, willing to love, care for and support three children who have had a pretty crappy time of things recently, and doesn’t even care about getting her hands on their fortune, but she’s no good because she’s not related to them. Never mind the fact that a) No other relatives have come forward for the children since their parents died, and b) Mr Poe’s first choice for a guardian wasn’t exactly stellar based on his interpretation of the rules for guardianship left by the Baudelaire parents. As a result of this the children are forced to say goodbye to the one person who has actually shown any sign of caring about them in over 160 pages.

I’m slightly irrationally angry about this.

They didn’t understand is, but like so many unfortunate events in life, just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

And so the book ends as the children are whisked away from Justice Strauss, a scene which is pictured in a little sketch on the following page, as they head for some new and unknown future relative. Oh, and the picture includes a little clue to the next book; wrapped around a lamppost is a snake, watching the children leave. Like so much of this series, it’s delightfully random.

The book doesn’t quite end there though. We have the little cryptic biography piece about Lemony Snicket as well as one about illustrator Brett Helquist. Then there’s a page I’d completely forgotten about, until I picked up the book and flicked through the final pages ready to return it to the bookshelf.

The final page is a letter to the editor from Snicket, writing from the ‘London branch of the Herpetological Society’. It provides a little bit more information about what we can expect in the next book, without actually giving anything away, aside from the fact that something tragic will happen to Dr. Montgomery Montgomery while he cares for the Baudelaires.

I remember studying these final bits of the books each time a new one was due to come out (or while I waited for the next unread one to arrive). Obviously, now we know that the next one is going to be The Reptile Room but I can still remember the excitement and anticipation of wondering what was to come next.

Luckily we don’t need to wait long!

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