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justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-07-15 03:27 am

Newbery Honor: Clearing Weather (Cornelia Meigs)

...312 pages, due on Friday. Or Thursday. The library website and the interlibrary loan notice on the front of the book disagree. :P *sigh* I might need to check this one out again.

* This'll be my LAST NEWBERY BOOK OF THE 1920S. Despite that, I'm going to try to do it justice. ;-)

* The frontispiece, two boys - no, three boys in a hayloft, is captioned, "It is not the money. It is the ships. I must build ships. But no one wants them now." Oooh...kay? I make a stab-in-the-dark guess that one of these boys has an Artistic Passion for shipbuilding, but he lives in a place and time where... the... uh, the ship market is completely saturated... no, I got nothin'. Is he a maker of toy ships? Easier to saturate a market with, but it's kind of weird to say "building" unless they're, like, ships-in-bottles. Which could be the case. Let's find out! ;P

* OH DEAR OH DEAR. There is a "List of Illustrations". Besides the frontispiece, there are two. One is captioned, "Here comes the wind," shouted Captain Douglas; while a seaman cried out, "Look, the Indians are on us!" The other is captioned, "The crew of the Jocasta wielded their cutlasses and muskets against the murderous Chinese pirates."

Cornelia Meigs - please, PLEASE stick to writing "girls'" books where people stay in one place and never meet anyone Exotically Dangerous. *sigh* She's so good at her best, and every book she's had on this list is so bad. :P

* Ah well. Onward. Even though it seems pretty obvious that our Passionate Artist Shipbuilder has gone and built a ship and it is going to rove around killing native peoples like a good white ship SHOULD do -- the book might be better than that. *dry grin*

* First page composed entirely of poetical landscape description. The first character we meet is Nicholas Drury. *whistles "Do you know the muffin man?"* He's looking out the back door of the Blackbird Inn on a frosty morning. This inn is near the sea - New England, I'll swear, by the feel of the place. Whatever else I say about Cornelia Meigs, she's got her sense of place. I don't think I could ever mistake one of her Old World books for a New World one.

* Nicholas seems to be our protagonist - at least, he's nineteen years old and flatteringly described, with scruffy hair for that adventurous look. He sees a trail of Mysterious! Footprints! leading up to the window of the room he was sitting in.

* It's right after the American Revolution and... yup, we're in Massachusetts, north of Boston. Branscomb, a harbor town, is our setting. It's not real, or at least it doesn't exist under that name on Google Maps. We're told it was well-known for its harbor and its shipbuilding, and has lost a lot of men and commerce in the Revolutionary War, so I'm saying it's based primarily on Marblehead, Massachusetts, a harbor town near Salem.

* An elderly husband/wife couple called Phoebe and Caleb Harmon are muttering mysteriously in the hall, being worried about someone - I'll just quote, Caleb says "He has passed safely through the night, but what is the day to bring?" and Phoebe says "Ah, what can save us now?" Nicholas calls them to the doorway to look at the footprints; Phoebe says good fortune has visited them, but Caleb says she's overoptimistic to think they'll ever have any good luck ever again. Nicholas glances Mysteriously up at the second-story window just above his head, then sadly agrees with Caleb, saying the footprints are probably those of a thief who didn't bother breaking in when he saw there was nothing to steal.

* Caleb does a little guesswork and tells Nicholas what the man at the window saw: Nicholas, depressed from bookkeeping that all says NO MONEY, taking a break and drawing a ship on some scrap paper. Nicholas gets all flustered, apparently feeling awkward that Caleb knows him so well. I'm going to say Nicholas is the boy with a Passion For Shipbuilding.

* Ah, Nicholas's... father? Thomas Drury, so probably his father - is sick unto death upstairs, just started getting well yesterday, and here's a guy from the shipyards come to visit. His name's John Ewing. He already knows Thomas is better, since the town crier said so, and John has been sent by everyone who works at the shipyards to ask if... ah, I see. Thomas owns the shipyard, therefore that's what Nicholas's math has been about. The Drurys can't afford to keep the shipyard open, so half of Branscomb will be laid off and starve. John Ewing wants to know officially if that's happening or not, because all that's known in the town is rumors.

* With the truly magnificent classism of a 1920s Newbery, Caleb tells off John Ewing for coming by so soon, and I quote, "prating of money and the building of ships, and of all your own small hopes and fears?" BLAAAAAAAAH. We're very clearly supposed to sympathize with Caleb here, not with John, and just -- what a jerk. This is life or death to half the town; it isn't a "small" hope and fear just because it's about poor people instead of AN UPPER-CLASS MERCHANT DUDE.

* I'm moving to full-chapter liveblogging already, before I get bogged down in yelling at Caleb.

* Oh, Thomas is Nicholas's uncle. So we know.

* There was a disaster right at the beginning of the Revolution, when a British fleet bombarded the town and destroyed the shipyards almost entirely. Thomas was not rich - I'll quote: "...he had not gathered a great surplus of money wealth. He was content to be master of a thriving industry, to be loved by all of those whom he employed and to be looked upon ... as the firm upholder of the prosperity of that whole community." By this characterization we know that he was a Good corporate master, as opposed to those Evil corporate masters who keep enough money in reserve to rebuild after something (e.g. a fire in the shipyard FULL OF WOOD AND PIPE-SMOKERS) takes out his only money-maker and the town's entire economic support. ;P But it's okay! He was loved! He was content! He's also, now, really worried; all through his delirium, he begged whoever was nearby to make sure Nicholas knew the shipyard had to stay open. WELL THANK YOU THOMAS. I like you a lot better than Caleb already.

* Of course it wasn't a normal British bombardment such as any IMPORTANT SHIPBUILDING TOWN might sustain in the early stages of a war that's going to involve a BLOCKADE. It was a special bombardment! Thomas had a supposed friend, one Darius Corland (a "darkly handsome" man because WHY NOT let's have some implied racism with our Special Evil Villain Dude), whom Nicholas saw on the night of the bombardment looking with "fierce and exulting triumph" at the burning shipyard! Clearly he arranged this in order to get Thomas and his Awesome Corporate Management Practices out of the way! Bad things don't just happen to good people when there are WARS, you know; there has to be a Villain, so you can fix things MAGICALLY at the end of the book! ;P

(Sorry, I might be up a bit late here. ;S)

* Ah, I see. Thomas had the money to rebuild if he'd stopped actual work at the shipyard for a while, but instead he spent all of it on building more ships for the nascent American Navy, and ran out of money before he could actually do the rebuilding part. Now they're going to have to close up the shipyard for lack of money. Thomas, honey, I can see I'm supposed to admire your patriotic selflessness, but what if you'd run out of money before the war ended? Would that have helped anybody? *sigh* You are not sensible, Thomas, and I can't admire fictional characters who do stupid things in order to get the plot rolling.

* Ah, and it was the realization that he had to shut the shipyard that broke Thomas down and sent him into the fever. And as of this very morning, Nicholas was writing the paper that says "we're bankrupt, the shipyard is closed, sorry everyone", but he Couldn't Finish. Because everyone knows that if you put off unpleasant duties long enough, you miraculously won't have to do them anymore! ;P

* And sure enough, as Nicholas is starting to pack up his papers and trying again to get the courage to notify the town that they're out of luck, a hue and cry comes up the street. The townsfolk are chasing a Frenchman, whom Nicholas hides in the hayloft of the inn's outbuilding. This wasn't immediately clear to me, but apparently Darius Villain Corland was leading the hue and cry, which is why Nicholas decided so promptly to hide our fugitive.

* The fugitive's name is Etienne Bardeau. If Nicholas turns him over to Corland, Corland's gratitude will be so great that Corland will instantly give up all his long-term plans to take down the Drury shipyard, and save Nicholas et alia from ruin. (Okay, if you say so, Etienne. I don't see why Corland wouldn't choose to have his Frenchman and his shipyard too, but whatever.) Nicholas, of course, says that he, Nicholas, would never, and Etienne says "I did not think you would, but now we understand each other." Because Nicholas is Our Hero, and so Etienne has decided to trust him purely on the basis of WE DON'T EVEN KNOW, before exchanging word one with him.

* Sorry, Etienne reminds me forcibly of Ahnold Lamont from waaay back in The Great Quest - both in his own Suddenly, A Mysterious Frenchman! status, and because they both remind me in their tones and attitudes of Alan Breck Stewart, the mighty savior of Kidnapped from boringness once he turns up in chapter nine. ;-) (Although the most French things about Alan were his fancy coat and his French military commission. ...we might be in for another JT Really Likes Kidnapped post. XD)

* Nicholas hiding Etienne ends chapter 1, anyway. On to chapter 2!

* Chapter 2 is called "A Chaise and Four". Nicholas goes out to the front of the inn and joins the hue and cry. We are assured that Caleb and all the GOOD STEADY FULL-TIME WORKERS are hard at work by this time of the morning, so it's "only the men of lesser employment or of none" who are bothering to chase down a "suspicious-looking stranger" that a highly respected citizen of the town yelled "Stop him!" about. I make a guess that Nicholas is going to sabotage the search, and clearly nobody who has only a part-time job or *shock horror* NO JOB AT ALL is going to be Smart Enough to catch him at it. Because if you don't work from sun-up to sun-down at hard manual labor, and are also not a beloved upperclass father-figure, you're a lazy idler and have neither brains nor morals!!! ...okay, I may be overreacting. A bit. ;P (I might mention that I'm job-hunting myself right now. o_O) There are a lot of loaded words in this paragraph, though.

* Yeah, Darius Corland is egging the mob on from his Evil Rich Man's chaise-and-four which can't come down the inn lane, presumably because he's Too Dishonest to walk on his own two feet (is the man physically fit? We don't know), so Nicholas has only the idlers' mob to deal with. He grabs a sailor by the collar; the sailor, unable to get free because he's a little guy, tells Nicholas there's a hundred pounds REWARD! to whoever catches the Frenchman. Darius Corland is who told them about the reward. "Red-armed Molly Green", possibly the town washerwoman, is chucking random stones about, which punctuates the whole conversation and also gives us another little example of how Nicholas is so much cooler than these other people; Nicholas ignores a stone that grazes his cheek, but the sailor stops talking for a minute when one hits his shin. ;P

* Anyway, the Frenchman was shopping in the marketplace - the sailor thinks he was stocking a ship - when Darius came up yelling to catch him and that there was a reward. The Frenchman escaped, and Nicholas's next really, really weird question is "Whose hundred pounds was Mr Darius Corland offering? Do you think for a moment he would offer his own?" Because, you know, Darius was saying "There's money offered" for Etienne's capture, which would imply to ANYONE BUT NICHOLAS that it was some kind of official bounty, like the ones you see on Wild West posters. But Nicholas, who admittedly does have special knowledge, is apparently torn between assuming that Darius himself has offered the money as a trumped-up way to get Etienne caught -- because Etienne CAN'T have done anything that would ever cause anyone at all to put a bounty on his head, like being a French spy against England maybe! -- and assuming that Darius is too GREEDY and SELFISH and SKINFLINT to offer a hundred pounds of his own money on any provocation whatsover, even for such an important capture that he'd drop all his plans against the Drurys stat! O_O

*sigh* I'm torn, myself, here. Part of me opines that I'm maybe being too harsh and reading into turns of phrase. The other part... has read all the 1920s Newberys except this one. ;P

Anyway. So Nicholas assumes Darius is fronting for someone else who has offered a bounty on Etienne. The mob has calmed down by this time and decided Etienne isn't anywhere around, so they take it in turns to tell the rest of the story. Red-armed Molly Green takes up the tale: everyone assumed when Darius shouted that Etienne had stolen something in the marketplace, snatched a purse or picked a pocket. Maybe the sailor's purse? But the sailor hastens to assert that Etienne didn't "have the look, somehow, of a man who would snatch silver." I don't know if this look of Etienne's is because he's well-dressed and paid the ship-chandler with a "good louis d'or" just before the hue and cry started, or because he's A GOOD PERSON and we're supposed to TRUST HIS OPEN FACE. ;P ...if Cornelia Meigs had actually said "open face" I would have started calling Etienne "Monsieur Sandwich" and not stopped. I'm so tired of open-faced people whom our heroes trust instantly and accurately. She didn't, but I'm still on the lookout. :-(

* Now Darius comes walking up. People call him "King" Corland behind his back, we're told, because he's suspected of Tory sympathies and of course "Tory Corland" would not be offensive enough to a modern reader's ears. (We're told that "King" is a common nickname for people suspected of anti-Revolution sentiment; "Tory" is not mentioned at all. I've never heard anywhere else of any Tory being called "King" himself. *frowns* I'm not sure how to look this one up.)

* ...ugh. :P Darius is physically "a tremendous figure, so tall that it was scarcely noticeable how heavily he was made". So he's Fat = Distrustworthy, but Tall = Trustworthy, and most people notice only the latter while we're supposed to notice only the former, got it. :P

* Darius says there are two rewards offered for Etienne, by the English and French governments. The sailor, Timothy Tripp, coming down on Nicholas's side, says this is a reason not to catch him, because they should only care about their own government, they're good Americans! ;P and also the other governments would not pay, whereas the American government merely has no money. ;P (Timothy doesn't mention the financial state of the U.S. That's all me. *dry grin*) And then Darius insists that Etienne is BAD and goes around trying to overthrow governments! -- which even Darius reads as being the very stupid line of "he's anti- the English and French governments", and shuts up, rather than the PERFECTLY LEGITIMATE INTERPRETATION which I would take were I anybody in this mob, which is: this guy is a known insurrectionist in two other countries, maaaybe he's trying to overthrow our baby government too? so let's find him and ask him his business, and THEN we can decide whether we think trading him to a local British or French government representative for a hundred pounds is worth our time. :P

* BUT NOBODY IN THIS BOOK THINKS IMPARTIALLY. We have Good people and we have Bad people, and nobody is allowed to think except along the lines laid down by one or the other branch. Instead, Timothy Tripp, who is now unequivocally one of the Good People, tells Darius that insurrectionists are welcome in America (basically) and also shut up. And Molly mutters that Darius has made fools of them all! And they all look very bashful and slink away, leaving Nicholas and Darius to have out their Upperclass Rich Men's Conversation alone and decide the fates of all the poor pawns who exist only to be herded around in this mess and support one or the other side as needed.

* Okay, Newberying has definitely done bad things to my ability to take a book fairly on its merits. ;P

* If this book has any. ;P Darius makes threatening noises; he will send the town constable to search the premises! (Nicholas says okay, because the constable is FAT and out-of-shape and will certainly not climb into the hayloft.) In a few days, Thomas will no longer own the inn! ...Thomas apparently owns the inn as well as half the rest of the town. Darius asserts that Thomas has faked his illness in order to avoid declaring bankruptcy and closing the shipyard! Then Darius flounces off.

* Nicholas goes indoors. He has a sister, Dolly Drury, who is very very pretty with an indescribable but unforgettable expression; she's polishing the brass, because Darius is going to be staying at the inn tonight and everything has to look AWESOME so that Darius can't talk bad about that thing the Drurys own, anyway.

* Nicholas goes in to talk to Thomas. He doesn't say much, just that everything is going well; the author assures us Thomas knows what he means, which is that everything is going horribly but the two of them have a "trust and regard, loyalty and belief" between them that makes it all good. Therefore Nicholas did not exactly lie. ;P Anyway, Nicholas goes and looks out the window; he's assuming Etienne has a ship waiting for him that he just needs to be smuggled out to.

* The author says, "To wonder what the man had done to be hunted down by the long-armed power of two countries, what crime he might have committed, was a matter which never entered the mind of Nicholas Drury as he stood at the window staring out into the wet, gray morning." I honestly can't tell if this is supposed to indicate what a good person Nicholas is, that he immediately knew to trust Etienne and will never start to mistrust him no matter what lies or trumped-up charges anyone has about him; or whether it's the beginning of a hint that Etienne is not quite as cool as he seems, that he may have actually done something. But I kind of lean toward the former. :P Etienne was written as so very YOU SHOULD LIKE HIM, HE'S FRIENDLESS in his first appearance, and all the Good People of the town have been consistently supporting him against Darius; it would be complex if he turned out not to be a total angel! ;P

* I'm liveblogging slowly again, aren't I. :S

* I just don't know. The whole thing is giving me a really bad taste in my mouth. There's this very strong reek of classism I've been noticing in all Cornelia Meigs's books lately that I never consciously saw before. :P

* We hear that none of the common people like Darius - the given reason being, that he is Selfish does not enrich the local economy, whereas Thomas puts all his money back into local business. (Too much money, I observe, since he couldn't recover from the shipyard bombardment. But of course, that was all Darius's fault and could never have happened in the ordinary course of events! ;P)

* Darius has brought the fat constable with him. It's now raining coldly and heavily outside, just to make the constable even less inclined to search the outdoors thoroughly; and we see for sure that the constable's "search" of Etienne's particular shed consists entirely of sitting on a milking stool for twenty minutes taking a rest. It's only after this happens that we're assured the constable has a good heart and is "honest and loyal" - to whom, we aren't told. He's just A GOOD PERSON, DASH IT ALL, and the proof is that he leaves Etienne in peace. ;P

* After supper, the postman turns up and tells Nicholas that a lumberman in the back-country has four good tree-trunks that will make an awesome keel for a ship, and shall he send them along? Nicholas can't quite say no.

* Cornelia Meigs takes this opportunity to inform us at length that EVERYBODY has a Passion that they must follow in order to have a Good Working Life, and that UNLUCKY people never find their passion and so they do "indifferent" work forever, and some people WASTE MANY YEARS before finding their Passion, but Nicholas is LUCKY! He was born to build ships and he knows it! He's also ridiculously lucky that he was born into a rich shipbuilding family, but she doesn't mention that at all. o_O

* (I may have a certain amount of bitterness about that myth that EVERYONE HAS A SOLE PASSION and they can't be productive till they find it! Me, I have about three million passions. I am what Cornelia Meigs and her entire century would call a dilettante, an amateur in the bad sense, an indifferent wastrel who can't commit to use my massive brain and heart for any particular MISSION IN LIFE. :P Nicer people would call me a polymath, but they always add that there's no place for polymaths in the modern world, isn't it sad? o_O)

* ...yeah, enough about me and my grasshoppering job-search, though. Back to Nicholas and his GRAND PASSION. He tells the postman to let him talk to his uncle and he'll send a message about the tree-trunks later, because he doesn't have the nerve to say "No, we can't start another ship, we're about to declare bankruptcy". COWARDLINESS IS A GOOD THING, OKAY, BOYS AND GIRLS? BUT ONLY WHEN THE PLOT SAYS IT'S GOOD! ;P

* Nicholas overhears Darius talking with his lawyer, Joseph Ryall, about Etienne, and figures out that Darius is scared of Etienne. This seems weird to him. It tells me that Etienne has the evidence to prove Darius is trying to put the Drurys out of business, and will at the proper moment put everything right. Because once Darius is out of the way, of course all the money that Thomas spent on building ships instead of fixing the shipyard will come rushing back, won't it? ;P OF COURSE IT WILL, boys and girls! Nothing bad ever happens to good people that can't be fixed by getting rid of a saboteur somewhere!

* The lawyer is a Bad Man, in cahoots with Darius. We know because the lawyer's "lean fingers were itching to pick the Drury fortunes"; Nicholas intuits so.

* Anyway, Darius and the lawyer talk to Nicholas about Drury finances for a bit, without much result except that Darius is further expressed to be a HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE PERSON, because he talked Thomas into agreeing to sell the house Thomas's father built just before Thomas fell ill, and now Darius won't pay the same amount that was agreed upon! And Darius only wants the house because he thinks it will make the townspeople respect him like they respect Thomas? ...I seem to recall exactly the same kind of story in The Windy Hill, where a guy who (we were informed) had NO INHERENT WORTH was determined to seize the property of Our Heroes because he thought that was what would give him WORTH AND RESPECT. Huh. I'm going to be watching for that in all Ms Meigs's books now. ;P

* So then Nicholas nips out to see if he can get Etienne out of the barn; he claims to be fetching more firewood. We get further confirmation that the lawyer is a Bad Man when the lawyer actually says "Tee-hee!" about how Nicholas brought firewood into their parlor and also tried to act like a dignified human being once they started talking business at him! Tee-hee, what a stupid boy! :P

* Etienne confirms that both the lawyer and Darius are Tories and mischief-makers in the land. Nicholas has brought Etienne bread and ale, but Etienne doesn't like the ale! He announces that any "man of French blood... will choke upon your [English-y] strong drink." A BLAH BLAH BLOO BLOO. Drink your ale, Etienne. The water isn't safe, you don't know about germs yet. And shut up about your French blood. I'm a good Scot myself by descent, but whisky tastes foul to me - all alcohol does. So tastes in strong drink aren't inherited. Own your preferences. ;-)

* GRAAAAAAARH I'm trying to decide whether to give up on this book right here. I'm only on page 43, but Etienne and Nicholas are talking about (among other things) prejudice against Frenchmen, and... ugh ugh ugh. Etienne tells us about an incident in New Orleans. He was talking with a "Negro longshoreman" in French, and a British officer took offense and tried to knock him down. Etienne knocked the Brit down instead, and the Brit's men closed in to give him a drubbing. "My one-time friend, the black, being a fellow of no very bold heart, made off across the docks, his voice uplifted in terror." A ginger-haired American white boy saved Etienne, so Etienne thinks well of Americans now.

BECAUSE OF COURSE NO BLACK MAN ASSAULTING A WHITE IN THAT PLACE AND TIME WAS IN DANGER OF BEING LYNCHED. Because of course Etienne's survival is more important than anybody else's! He has a name! Because of course there's nothing wrong at all with a funny story about a cowardly black man running away to leave Our Awesome Hero to be saved by a heroic white boy. :PPPPPPPPPPPPPP

* After which the author attempts to get my attention once again with Plot - Etienne hasn't been eating because one of the rocks somebody threw at him cut his head and he's been bleeding freely ever since, and now he faints from loss of blood after explaining all this gracefully. Just as Nicholas gets up to see to him, somebody hits Nicholas over the head from behind and knocks him unconscious! End chapter! IT'S A CLIFFHANGER, SEE? the author all but dances up and down to tell me. TURN THE PAGE.

Nope. I'm done. This book just tastes wrong. :PPPPPPPPP

I will flip to the end, though, and see what happens. Okay, it's two years later, and a ship called the Jocasta is just coming home; apparently Nicholas did build the new ship, and the whole town took shares in the venture, especially the young ladies. Everyone gets Awesome Stuff back except one skinflint who Gets His Just Desserts for not Trusting Nicholas's Judgment like the rest of this sheep-brained town. The Jocasta sailed all round the world, and had Adventures. News of the French Revolution's start is just arriving, and Etienne, who was an anti-monarchist (that's why England and France wanted him captured), is terribly excited to get back home and join in. Good luck, Etienne; you'll most likely get your head chopped off. I can't say I care. Darius Corland and his lawyer Joseph Ryall have left abruptly for England, claiming business matters -- which is apparently a lie. As I predicted, Darius got his comeuppance for BEING THE VILLAIN of the story, but not in this chapter, and I'm not flipping further back to get the exact details.

* Etienne is going on about how "Darius brought about his own banishment" and how all of Europe is going to be full of wars! and revolutions! while the old order falls! This is a perfectly accurate attitude for a young French revolutionary of the time, but I don't think I like that he's a sympathetic character in a book where Sympathetic and Unsympathetic are so strictly defined. :P

* Dolly has a boyfriend, a local sailor-boy named Michael. I get the impression he was our POV hero on the Jocasta.

* Oh, and now we get a Dramatic Concluding Declaration about the importance of the historical era and all that. She's talking about how the ships that Nicholas will build and Michael will sail are going to carry from American ports "more than the mere cargoes in their holds, to bring back more than mere wealth in gold and silver." I know she's trying to say, in the second part, that they will bring back IDEAS and BROTHERHOOD OF MEN, but I can't help thinking about the slave trade; and as to the first part, obviously they'll be carrying AMERICAN IDEALS AND AWESOMENESS to the world! Because Manifest Destiny!

Sorry, Cornelia Meigs. I think I may have outgrown you. :P

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