Even if they weren’t natural foes, White Fang and Black Beauty would seem to make an unlikely match. But are they so very unalike? Both know what it means to be broken. Tethered then caged, White Fang was made over into a blood-sport champion and repeatedly beaten to the brink of death. Black Beauty bore the weight of hateful riders and the misery of a filthy stall; reduced to a beast of burden, he worked under the lash to the point of total collapse. Even when they found happy-ending homes, both remained the property of their owners, at risk of being bought and sold.
It’s not the stars that cross the bravest of our lovers, it’s us – humanity at its lowest, concerned not with love but with control. So to hell with the masters, be they cruel or relatively kind. Let our improbable valentines live. Let the grey bruiser gnaw through his leash while the dark-eyed gent kicks down his stable door. Let them meet up by moonlight in the back paddock, leap the last fence and run.
Alissa York’s most recent novel is Fauna, in which the characters tend to be either animals or animal-lovers.
Sebastian Flyte, from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, should marry Lily Bart, the doomed heroine of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth – the place, according to Ecclesiastes, where dwell the hearts of fools. Lily is no fool, really, just a too-beautiful and not-rich girl approaching 30, overfond of nice clothes, gambling and male attention, and bored silly by the eligible, wealthy, Americana-collecting bachelor-dullard who looks like her best bet for social respectability. Her intellectual match, the young lawyer Lawrence Selden, is too poor himself and, frankly, too feckless to bust a real romantic move on her, until it is (just) too late. Dolt. Lily dies with her financial ledger balanced but her heart’s vault empty.
I know what you’re thinking: But Sebastian is a tortured alcoholic gay Catholic, a sinner in love with misery. Yet, when the two meet at a society party in London, he is not too drunk to see that smart, lovely Lily will be the perfect beard for the mariage blanc of his dreams, where the country-house parties will always include new gowns for her and gin and Germans for him. They will both get exactly what they want out of life, and their performance of conjugal conformity will satisfy even Lady Marchmain, Sebastian’s passive-aggressive mother. Eventually, they will inherit Brideshead itself. Yes, that will entail the early, heirless death of Sebastian’s priggish older brother, Bridey, but nobody is likely to consider that any great loss.
Mark Kingwell’s latest book is the essay collection Unruly Voices : Essays on Democracy, Civility and the Human Imagination. He teaches philosophy at the University of Toronto.
Cathy Marie Buchanan
Wouldn’t Little Women’s Jo March make an ideal partner for To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch? She’d like his stillness and courage and sense of fairness, his quiet pondering. Their politics are aligned. She shows a clear preference for men in middle age. And doesn’t Atticus deserve a break? He’s widowed. Half of Maycomb is against him. He’s got two kids under the age of 12. He works awfully hard. Jo could bring the bit of frivolity missing from his life. Sombre Atticus’s face would regularly break into a smile, and the ladies of Maycomb would get some badly needed Virginia Woolf, and Scout would get a tomboy mother, a kindred spirit. Haven’t we all had enough of Aunt Alexandra and her frilly-dress aspirations for her coverall-loving niece?
Most of all, though, at the close of Little Women, when Jo weds a German professor, something is terribly amiss. Hadn’t she professed aspirations to be a writer all along? Hadn’t she moved to New York and taken up the quill with enough verve to support herself, and to send Beth and Marmee to the seashore? In Chapter 42, we learn Jo has long last found her writerly style! Why, then, does she end up with a German professor, turning an old house into a school? She should be in Maycomb, living her dream, with Atticus Finch.