A final post discussing Joan Aiken’s Cold Shoulder Road in the Wolves Chronicles, and the second part of a Who’s Who which was headed by Arun and Is Twite.
In this prosopography I list personages located principally in Dover, Calais, Womenswold and the fictional hamlet of Seagate.
As in the first part of the Who’s Who of Aiken’s saga — set in an alternative 19th century — I shall be looking at the principal facts about individuals before discussing possible origins or significances connected with their names. All is of course prefaced by the customary * SPOILER ALERT! *
A hamlet east of Dover, running parallel to a shingle bank. Fifteen miles from Folkestone, and supposedly forty miles from Blackheath near London (though in fact nearer seventy miles).
Micah Swannett. A carter, delivering hop manure to Sandy Smeedon and who gives a lift to Is and Arun from outside Folkestone. Married to Window Swannett, née Wyatt, with whom the youngsters are able to talk in mind-speech. The couple’s sons Enoch and Hiram died in a gale after being ordered to sea by Dominic de la Twite; Is and Arun are offered the deceased’s clothes to wear. Micah is later abandoned at sea by the Gentry. The Swannetts are part of the community of the Silent Folk and speak only by signs; as previously mentioned the sect are largely distinguished by bearing Old Testament forenames.
Tom Braeburn. Landlord of The King’s Head on the main street, and the spitting image of King Charles I. Married to Susan. They have one daughter named Jen (who befriends Is, but is later shot) and another seven-year-old called Fenny who has been abducted by the smugglers — the Merry Gentry — as a Handsel Child.
• A handsel, which can often mean a gift for good luck, is here used in the sense of hostage, as an earnest of good faith. The Old English word ‘handselen’ meant delivery into the hand, and is related to Old Norse ‘handsal’, a promise sealed with a handshake, and to Swedish ‘handsöl’, meaning a gratuity.
Tom is given the surname of a New Zealand apple cultivar; perhaps the author was influenced by the name of the King Charles Pearman, a russet apple with a strong nutty taste which originated in Worcestershire in 1876, itself inspired by the story of the future Charles II, after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, hiding in an oak tree, the outgrowth of which — the gall — is sometimes called an oak-apple.
Rena Sloop. Cousin to Tom Braeburn, and owner of a clothes shop in Seagate which Is visits. The 17th-century surname derived from the Dutch sloepe, originally a sailboat with a single mast.
Will Fobbing. Big red-haired and wooden-faced bodyguard who drives Dominic de la Twite’s carriage for him.
• Fobbing is an Essex placename.
Denzil Fishskin. Welsh dentist, using smuggled mammoth ivory as replacement teeth for his clients, putting them to sleep with a blend of ether and nitrous oxide. Cousin of Admiral Perceval Fishskin and in league with the Merry Gentry under Dominic de la Twite and Admiral Fishskin.
• Perhaps the Cornish name Denzil, also popular in Wales, was chosen because because it’s a close homophone of ‘dental’.
Ether and nitrous oxide were first used as anaesthetics in the 1840s in America. Dr Crawford Williamson Long, a physician and pharmacist, removed a tumour from the neck of a patient who was under the effects of ether in March 1842, though the first demonstration of the anaesthetic qualities of ether was in October 1846 by a Boston dentist called William Moreton. Nitrous oxide was first demonstrated in Connecticut as an anaesthetic drug by dentist Horace Wells with a tooth extraction in December 1844, after first having his own tooth extracted by an assistant.
Merlwyn Twijt. Dominic de la Twite’s sister. A large, strong muscular Dutchwoman. In league with Perceval Fishskin, without her brother’s knowledge, planning to emigrate to New England but, like the Admiral, destined for a literal downfall.
• Prefers to be addressed as Mevrouw Twijt, literally Madam Twig in Dutch, though ‘twijt’ (pronounced ‘with a click’) is intended to remind us of the name Twite. Merlwyn is an unusual women’s name, once popular in Australia, with an ending that looks like the Welsh for white, ‘[g]wyn’ or for copse, ‘llwyn’. Perhaps hers is another bird name, related to Latin ‘merula’, a blackbird, then becoming ‘merle’ in French; in Welsh a blackbird is ‘mwyalchen’.
The principal port in Kent which has given its name to the Straits separating the island from France, dominated by Dover Castle.
Sir David ‘Podge’ Greenaway. Lord-Lieutenant of Dover Castle, he’s described as “a tall, plump, cheerful man in white breeches and a green velvet jacket.” Friend of Is and her sister Dido, he has been promoted to this post by the new king, Simon Battersea. A former art student at Rivière’s Art Academy in Chelsea (where he became friends with Simon, he is in love with Sophie, Simon’s twin sister.
• The Greenaway family, who appeared in Dido and Pa and in Is Underground, may have derived their name from the Victorian artist Kate Greenaway, after whom an annual medal was named in 1955, awarded by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) to outstanding illustrators of children’s books. In 1971 this was won by Jan Pieńkowski for the illustrations to Joan Aiken’s The Kingdom under the Sea.
Cold harbour or shelter a few miles from Blackheath, a megalithic cove somewhat like Kit’s Coty in Kent.
Half a dozen unnamed folk are resting here when Is and Arun visit it: a tall gypsy woman, two sailors paid off at Dover and now en route to the Port of London, a travelling salesman or bagman heading north, a tinker, and a travelling preacher.
It’s a few hours journey away from Pook’s Pantry to Birketland, a clearing among birch trees with a spring emerging from a steep rockface. Adjacent is a small thatched cottage by the side of the bank, with chickens and ducks. Here is where the Silent Folk children from Seagate go to have their secret Talkfest. Old English ‘bircet’ simply means a birch copse.
Mrs Dryhurst. Offers food to Is and Arun in return for some chores. The Merry Gentry later take horrible revenge on her, her surname perhaps an indication of her fate (hurst is from a Saxon word meaning a wooded hill, if dry then likely to catch fire).
A little village with no more than two half-timbered brick farmhouses, thatched barns and a bridge over a stream, largely surrounded by forest. A mile or so west over the Dover Road is a grove of oak and chestnut trees, in one of which sits the wrecked frigate Throstle, blown inland by the gale in January of that year; Is catches a glimpse of the vessel from Dominic de la Twite’s carriage as they drive past on the Dover road.
Figgin. Is’s cat which she’d hadn’t seen since she’d left home on Blackheath Edge, now brought to the Throstle by Is’s half-sister Penny, but not very happy about being abandoned by Is.
• ‘Figging Law’ was thieves cant for the art of picking pockets, according to ‘The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’.
Penny Twite. Is (and Dido’s) half-sister, described as a skinny, freckled, fair-headed woman standing no nonsense. First appearing in Black Hearts in Battersea, Penny had escaped from the family home to Blackheath where she’d made a living making dolls and selling them around the southeast. She accompanies Ruth Twite and Pye when they escape to Womenswold.
• Penny (sometimes referred to as ‘Pen’ or ‘Penny-lope’) was, like Dido, so called after a narrowboat or barge which their father had liked the name of.
Ruth Twite. Is and Penny’s aunt, the widow of Uncle Hosiah Twite whom they’d rescued from wolves though he’d died from his injuries. Described as thin with straight iron-grey hair caught back in a knot at the nape of her neck, with ‘witch-like’ features. She had gone on the run from Folkestone after rescuing the abused Handsel Child from Dominic de la Twite and his sister Merlwyn’s house in Folkestone’s Cold Shoulder Road; as she was known to have painted portraits from memory of smugglers’ faces, she is further sought by the Merry Gentry. She has yearnings to emigrate to New England.
Pye. When Is sees Pye properly she notes a goblin-like, thickset, solid child of about four or five “with a round face, a blob of a pink nose, and round, staring squinting pale-coloured eyes.” Is has to work hard to gain the trust and cooperation of the monosyllabic child after her traumatic experiences.
• Pye’s name derives, ironically, from the chattering magpie, but her real name is Abandella Fishskin, the granddaughter of Admiral Fishskin, though he is unaware of that till it’s too late.
Mrs Nefertiti Lee is one of a number of women at Womenswold farmhouse. A ‘monumental’ woman dressed in black, with a black headscarf and gold earrings framing a pale, massive face, she is Pharaoh Lee’s widow. She is blind but like Arun and Is uses thought speech as well as normal speech; she also has the gift of prescience, though it’s of an enigmatic kind.
• Lee is a common Romany surname. Some Lee families with links to Kent were seasonal agricultural workers, and marriage to second cousins was apparently not unusual.
Mrs Hannah Lee. Nefertiti’s daughter, with three daughters of her own. In addition there are two Mrs Warrens and two Warren daughters — in other words there are five females called Lee and four called Warren at Womenswold, which thus lived up to its apparent name. Window Swanett and JenBraeburn have also found their way here.
• Individuals in this area have names which suggest the countryside, a wooded hillock (birket) or moorland (wold): Warren (burrows), Dryhurst (a wooded hillock is a hurst), Lee (a sheltered area or lee, or perhaps a clearing or lea.
The train from Folkestone through the Channel Tunnel comes out near here.
Niland. A grizzle-bearded, grey-haired accomplice of Dominic Twite, who is sympathetic to Arun and secretly loosens his bonds when the train arrives in France: Ruth had nursed his daughter through measles.
• Niland was first found in Devon as a surname, and is related to the names Newland and Newlyn.
Annette du Puy. The daughter of the bewigged Conte du Puy, who has a château near the French railway station. She is able to communicate in thought speech with Arun. She and her father have been bullied and cheated by the domineering Dominic.
• ‘Puy’ in French mean a volcanic hill, a geological feature common in the French Midi but not in the Pas de Calais region; however, as volcanoes feature in several other of the Wolves Chronicles as instrumental in the downfall of villains, it’s entirely apt that Dominic de la Twite meets his doom at the castle owned by this noble family.
This officially concludes my extended look at Joan Aiken’s novel Cold Shoulder Road before I move on to the final Wolves Chronicle, The Witch of Clatteringshaws. There is so much else I could discuss, of course, but I fear I’ve already strained the patience of readers of this blog.
Nevertheless, two areas I shall at some stage be looking at in a general post or two about the Chronicles will be about how the author peppers her novels with songs and ditties, and how much food and drink loom large in these children’s fantasies.