I’m still at LeakyCon, so have a pre-prepared, English Lit essay I have written considering the major themes and the personalities seeping through of Aidelle and Phillip in the first chapter of my novel.
An Essay on Chapter One
Every first chapter of every novel must have significance, in its literary magic and in its guidance of the characters ‘beginnings’ (in terms of the novel, of course), amongst very many other things. As such, these attributes make the first the one with the most pressure thrust upon it.
In When the Clock Broke’s first chapter, we, the reader, are first confronted by a doleful Aidelle, recovering from taunting women on the way to Grassland Close, the street on which her entire part of the novel takes place. These women she later suggests hate her because they were not chosen by her fiancé, Phillip, to marry him, despite being more ‘worthy’.
One might suggest that starting the novel here already throws weight on the theme of class and prejudice in the novel – it avoids a surplus scene, yes, but hearing about the events through only Aidelle’s internalisation allows (or rather, disallows through the veil of her words) the reader to make their own mind up about how unfairly the upper-class is acting in her time. Too, this gives the reader a negative portrayal of the society and times in The Continent already, though contaminated by Aidelle’s opinion.
“Bullying upper-class beauties had thwarted today’s sunshine with their cold glares” shows that she has already formed an opinion of these people without knowing them in their other capacities and ventures. Perhaps Aidelle suspects that they have no side but snide and cruel remarks. One could even go so far as to say that her negative emotions, complaints and moaning about the unmet socialites is, instead of a piece about them, a reflection on Aidelle’s own personality.
Having them as simply names projected onto paper gives the socialites a tougher, meaner exterior than if they had to be met. Indeed, whilst Phillip is involved directly in the culture she so despises, Aidelle has no direct dialogue with the upper-class in the novel, unless one is, of course, to count her fiancé.
In the phrase “he should have known better than to arrange a meeting where Aidelle’s least favourite women haunted”, Aidelle hints that the occurrences of social bullying have not been a one-off, as may be suggested at the genesis of the chapter. She hints that Phillip also knows of these occurrences – or, at least, he should, as it is part of her living, enough to avoid midmorning spots in the centre of the district where the more popular women may well be grabbing a taxicab to visit their friends or lovers.
Perhaps even the “should” in the above quote places intonation on the rift between them society has placed.
Indeed, this idea of repeated bullying is mimicked later in the chapter when she goes so far as to assume that Phillip has spotted slander against her family in the daily mail.
Although corruption is only a minor theme of the novel – exploited by Rion and his want to misuse the system to rise in societal fame himself – it could be said that Aidelle’s position of weakness in society, and her forthcoming marriage to Phillip, have highlighted the ‘corrupt’ nature of the press as run by the upper-class. Whilst independent presses exist in the world of The Continent, they are not read by the majority, thus their opinions leave less of a mark than those of the Society Pages and the two lead papers.
The themes of society and its barrier between the lovers are set up immediately. After all, the first sentence shows that Aidelle herself knows she may not be entirely ‘worthy’ of Phillip – or, perhaps, the upper-class links he is giving her (although she laments it, her mother has primed each daughter for a life of ‘good-blood-catching’ and this must have rubbed off on Aidelle) – because her beauty is not the polite, well-set beauty of the women after her fiancé’s heart. This, of course, will create anxiety in anyone, coupled by the stress of a wedding, even when Aidelle does little of the planning (it is expected, though never explicitly noted in the first novel, that Octavia Costello organises the wedding in the Costello Mansion grounds. However, the later-released Continental Almanac does point out that, in the event of war, “they are married in a small ceremony, with Octavia, Lucy, and the Masters alone attending”).
Of course, no protagonist can be written perfect. Aidelle’s “stubborn will” – later remarked upon by Zara – permeates chapter one in the way that she is constantly bringing back the situation in which she found herself simply because her fiancé’s cab was late. “Aidelle looked up from her distraction, a way of calming her rage at her physical inadequacy, and she watched Phillip. He teased a little too often…as if he couldn’t understand the ache piercing her heart.” She wants to comprehend why Phillip has a distant face with her at times, why he is not forever telling her that she is beautiful. In this chapter, he does, but Aidelle seems to take the compliment at only face value, as if he is speaking only for her sake. It is likely that she remembers that they were both pushed into the “arrangement” of marriage – and that they once agreed that if, after the initial attraction gave no fruition, they would call off the marriage.
But how she wants him for himself!
“He always had the option,” she says to herself on page seven. In their freely-joined, mixed-classed union, freedom is essential, and this is sometimes shown through their back-and-forths in the first chapter.
It is also likely that Aidelle underestimates the intensity of Phillip’s passion for her.
Perhaps this is where the sympathy and empathy is drawn from Aidelle during chapter one; she may act like a child, but this is because she is putting up a regressive defence instead of admitting that she is afraid of the bullying and its impact on their relationship. We are all weak at times, and under unwanted pressure, and bullied. We don’t always understand the people we love or why they act the way they have done. One could argue that, as with many books, this is a theme throughout the novel.
On the other hand, if no sympathy is elicited from Phillip in the first chapter, such a lack of interest is deliberate. In his character is portrayed the male stereotype for a moment – he cannot show his emotions. Indeed, in the conclusion of the novel, Aidelle finally gathers the strength to tell him that his pride has been putting a wedge between them.
However, this does not negate the fact that Phillip does have pride for his name and gratuitous fame in the Pages. He may be ‘lowering’ himself, though he does not see it that way, but he still asks Aidelle to make a concession for him at the wedding: not to talk about her interest in Physics and Maths. It is unlikely that Phillip is ashamed at her mental processes, as, throughout the novel, he makes comparisons between his own, philosophic logic and Aidelle’s practical logic, yet he is prepared to make her feel uncomfortable to please his family.
Although the reader has no way of knowing this in chapter one alone, Phillip’s distant emotions may well be because he has already read Rion’s letter, and bears the worry of meeting his brother.
Perhaps Phillip is simply trying to make both parties happy. After all, he did agree, at first, to the act of marrying purely for his father’s sake, but his choice of Aidelle was not out of rebellion, but love. He repeatedly asks her not to talk about society, whilst at the same time making choice remarks that are more specific to the Aidelle-versus-society situation. However, he is already showing his pacifist side when he rebukes a few of her verbal furies; the two characters of Aidelle and Phillip appear polar opposites in the first chapter. This is deliberate and affected by the lives they have previously lived; whilst Phillip knows the pain of war from his family’s involvement with the ongoing battles, Aidelle has had to raise her voice to get attention her entire life, being the youngest of five, and the least successful in any manner.
There are times where Phillip almost scolds Aidelle – but is he not actually scolding himself? He is trying to bring her into shape for being a Mrs. Costello, at the same time as making himself into the husband of which she must be proud. Nevertheless, this chapter shows much of his love for her: “Although his body was angled into the living area of the new house, his eyes lingered on her alone,” and even the material cannot break that bond. Where it may appear that Phillip is being sharp, he is, in fact, drawn very thinly between the woman he adores and the family to which he knows he should be faithful. This theme is also mimicked through Peter’s eyes later in the novel.
The Costello-Masters union is, of course, a huge part of the set-up in chapter one because the whole novel, regardless of its speculative fiction dress, is a love-story with love at its ends. Thus, marriage is talked about extensively in the first chapter. Both characters are focused on their upcoming nuptials, though both for their own different reasons. It is unlikely that either is getting cold feet, though chapters two and three suggest that the pressure of his choice is becoming too much for Phillip.
Other essays in plan or discussion questions: Is Phillip a Rebel? Is Aidelle? Or are they, in fact, True Victims of Situation?
Messiness, Neatness and Aidelle as Home-Maker
Phillip as Artist and Subversion of Roles/Roles in General as Portrayed
In What Way is the Important Theme of Marriage Portrayed Through the Various Couples in the Novel?
2 thoughts on “An Essay on Chapter One”
Great stuff to give your story depth. Knowing all this and having written it down will only help to enrich. Nicely done!
Thank you, Jae. That’s what I’ve been trying to do lately. 🙂