Saturday, 27 August 2011

‘If all girls are like that-’ said William. ‘Well, when you think of all the hundreds of girls in the world – well, it makes you feel sick.’

So, after tearing apart a character yesterday, and saying all the things that I DIDN’T like about her, I thought I’d do a reversal today, and talk about a character that I do love. Perhaps I should warn that there isn’t a great deal of (or any?) sarcasm in this post. I’m afraid there’s less to be sarcastic about when you’re not insulting something. Hopefully this piece can stand on its own without my brilliant attempts at wit, but if you feel sarcasm withdrawal, tell me off in the comments. 

 A great character brings a story to life, transforming even an average book into one to be re-read. You know you’ve experienced a great character when you finish the final page of a story and feel a pang of sadness at the thought of no longer reading about said character’s exploits. A great character lingers with you for days, staying in your mind, in the back of your thoughts. Almost like a friend you haven’t seen in a while, you want to be in their company again.  

Whenever I think about a favourite character, my mind instantly goes to lisping, six-year-old Violet Elizabeth Bott, from the Just William series.

Just William, by Richmal Crompton, was a children’s series that spanned five decades from the 1920s, to the author’s death in the 1970s. Nearly every book is a set of individual stories containing anti-hero William Brown’s misadventures.

I loved these books as a child, but in my opinion, they get better with age. Crompton narrates with a dry humour and a keen eye for humanity’s foibles that goes right over the head of child readers but is a pleasure for adults. Whilst I think every book is worth reading, the stories that I admit to enjoying the most are the ones that include Violet Elizabeth Bott.

Violet Elizabeth is the spoilt, cosseted, only child of the wealthy Botts: a pretty little thing that looks like a porcelain doll, with blonde hair that is curled every day, and lots of flouncing outfits. ‘Violet Elizabeth was so treasured and guarded and surrounded with every care that her small pink and white face had never been known to do anything else except shine with cleanliness.’

Below is her first meeting with the eleven-year-old William.  

‘D-don’t you like me?’ Quavered Violet Elizabeth in incredulous amazement. William looked at her. Her blue eyes filled slowly with tears, her lips quivered.
‘You’re making me cry,’ sobbed Violet Elizabeth. ‘You are. You’re making me cry, ’cause you won’t say you like me.’
‘I-I do like you,’ said William desperately. ‘Honest- I do. Don’t cry. I do like you. Honest!’ 
A smile broke through the tear-stained face.
‘I’m tho glad,’ she said simply. ‘You like all little girlth, don’t you?’ She smiled at him hopefully. ‘You, do don’t you?’
William, pirate and Red Indian and desperado, William, woman-hater and girl-despiser, looked round wildly for escape and found none.
Violet Elizabeth’s eyes filled with tears again.
Strangely enough, the sight of Violet Elizabeth with tear-filled eyes and trembling lips made him feel that he must have been brutal indeed. Beneath his horror he felt bewildered.
‘Yes I do,’ he said hastily, ‘I do. Honest I do.’  
She smiled again, radiantly through her tears. ‘You with you wath a little girl, don’t you?’
‘Er-yes. Honest I do,’ said the unhappy William.
‘Kith me,’ she said, raising her glowing face.
William was broken.

As well as being the queen of manipulation, Violet Elizabeth is up for anything. She is so laid back that she will happily laugh at herself when teased, enjoy becoming filthy with mud and ruining her fancy clothes, and keep up with the boys’ rougher games. For a six year old she is inordinately clever, and is easily able to outwit William and his friends and even her own parents. Anyone who knows this series at all will probably recognise her most famous line, where she convinces someone to do something because if they don’t she will ‘thcweam and thcweam ’til I’m sick.’

At the same time she is loveable and endearing, with her upbeat, sunny disposition, her loyalty to William, and because you can’t (or at least I can’t) read anything she says without laughing. I think my favourite episode of hers is where she tries to leave a ghost a ‘thauther’ of milk.

Violet Elizabeth may not be the most rounded character, but Crompton deliberately writes caricatures for humorous effect, and in my humble opinion, it works.  

I don’t know that these books are for everyone- the humour is the subtle kind, and some people might find them too old-fashioned, or even too English- but if you’re intrigued then definitely check them out. If you’ve ever read them or are now inspired to read them, let me know in the comments!   

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