Sunday, May 9, 2010

Fictional Mother #3

Amelia Peabody Emerson.

There she is, my ideal fictional mother. I adore her. Intelligence, ambition, spunk, a lover of useful parasols and crimson dresses, Egyptologist in the late 1800s and early 1900s--all wrapped up in the package of a Victorian gentlewoman. A not-so-typical gentlewoman, granted, but that's why she has her own mystery series.

Elizabeth Peters introduced Amelia to the world in 1975's Crocodile on the Sandbank in which Amelia travels to Egypt and meets a dashing British Egyptologist. By the second book, she had acquired a husband and the most precocious, endearing, infuriating child (who grew up into the most clever, loyal, and somewhat dangerous man one can imagine) that I've ever encountered. And Amelia tells all (for nearly twenty books now) in her very own straightforward, no-nonsense, Mother-I-Might-Have-Been-If-I'd-Been-Born-Victorian and Rich, voice.

Did I mention I adore her? On this Mother's Day, let me give you a few of Amelia's comments about her son Ramses (so nicknamed because of his dark coloring and imperious attitude):

1. "Emerson stood by me staring, with a singularly hangdog look. The infant released its stranglehold, glanced at its father, and--with what I can only regard, in the light of later experience, as cold-blooded calculation--tore itself from my arms and launched itself through the air toward my husband."

2. "I left the child more reluctantly than I had expected to be the case, but after all he had not been around long enough to make much of an impression . . . It was a most productive season and I will candidly admit that the thought of my abandoned child seldom passed through my mind."

3. "The voyage from Brindisi to Alexandria was without incident. (I do not consider the halting of the ship, at Emerson's frenzied insistence, as truly an incident in Ramses' career; as I told Emerson at the time, there was almost no possibility that the boy could have fallen overboard. Indeed he was soon found, in the hold, examining the cargo--for reasons which I did not care then, or at a later time, to inquire into.)

4. "Ramses had never been a normal little boy, but there had been times (usually when he was asleep) when he had appeared normal. The sleeping cherub with his mop of sable curls and his little bare feet protruding innocently from under the hem of his white nightgown had become this--this male person with a mustache!"

But in spite of the difficulty of getting Rames through his childhood without being maimed by a lion or kidnapped by more than one or two enemies of his father or his constant ability to linguistically outmaneuver his mother's strict list of Do-Nots, Amelia adores her son and she sometimes even shows it. Like the time when Ramses' kidnappers threaten to send her the boy's ear if she does not comply with their demands. Amelia admits that she cannot remember the five minutes that followed that statement. But when she came to herself again, the kidnappers were in retreat and the sharp point of her parasol was somewhat bloody.

Or my favorite example, when Amelia comes upon Ramses with a young woman he has long known and Amelia realizes that Ramses is in love. Furious with herself at having missed all the signs, Amelia is also furious with the young lady in question. "I knew I had to conquer it before I saw [her] again, or I would take her by the shoulders and shake her, and demand that she love my son . . . Another challenge! I was up to it! I would see those two wed if I had to lock [her] up on bread and water until she agreed. But first there was the little matter of making certain Ramses lived long enough to marry her."

If you have not yet encountered Amelia Peabody Emerson, let me urge you to remedy that oversight. Humor, dead bodies ("Every year another dead body!" their Egyptian reis laments), history, Egyptology, and characters I would give almost anything to meet in real life . . . Peters' series has it all.

Especially Amelia.

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