Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

I N T E R P R E T I V E   R E A D I N G
r e a d i n g   a n g e l a   c a r t e r ' s   W I S E   C H I L D R E N


A N   I N V E N T O R Y
O F   T W I N S


THESE TWINS are the faces of tragedy and comedy in the theatre. They are of impeccable theatrical lineage, even if their actual legitimacy might be open to question. Dora claims that they owe their existences to an exceptionally long run of Hamlet in New York: their father, Cassius Booth ["Yes," says she. "One of those Booths. His parents had a nerve, to call him Cassius." (13)] played Horatio to their mother Estella's Hamlet. But, the boys were, of course, the acknowledged offspring of Estella's husband, Ranulph. With these two, the differences are sufficient to merit separate descriptions.

Dark, serious and mournful. Prestige, legitimacy and acclaim are important to him and he is one of the most eminent Shakespearean actors in Britain. He is the typical tragic hero -- prominent, highly regarded citizen with much to lose and more than his share of hubris. But, it might be added, his life is also charmed in many respects and he lives without the tragic fall that would make him aware of the heights from which he could plummet. Like his father, Melchior has a "gift of gravitas" (23).

His hair is bright red and he is full of laughter and life. Although he does not have the patience to pursue stage acting, he is a spontaneous performer extraordinaire -- a storyteller whose recollections are full of mischief, fun and laughter. He is a consummate conjurer -- a magician who can pull birds out of pockets and make dirty dishes disappear into thin air. As peregrinatory as is name implies, his attention span is too short to allow him to stay in any one place for any length of time. But, as Dora says: "Melchior it was who did the biologically necessary, it's true, but Peregrine passed as our father -- that is, he was the one who publically acknowledged us when Melchior would not" (17).


This pair is "like as two peas" (5), and the only way you could tell them apart in years past was by the perfume each wore. Unlike their fathers (the biological and the ostensible), these two, dubbed the Lucky Chances during their heyday in theatre and film, are closer to representing notions of postmodernity -- a movement characterized by self-awareness, sometimes to the point of conscious replication -- than of comedy and tragedy. And what better a way of demonstrating self-reflection than by presenting two protagonists who are asymmetrical reflections of each other -- just as one might find in the mirror? Dora acknowledges this link between them by speaking of the asymmetries between them in the same terms as she speaks of the body itself, implying that in her mind, she and Nora are fundamentally connected: "identical we may be, but symmetrical -- never. For the body itself isn't symmetrical. One of your feet is bound to be bigger than the other, one ear will leak more wax. Nora is fluxy; me, constipated" (5). And of course, Dora continues along those lines in more detail than some might require, ultimately pointing out that, on all levels, Nora is impulsive, emotive and gushing, while Dora is cautious, thoughtful and reserved: "She said: 'Yes!' to life and I said, 'Maybe...' "(5).


These two, also identical, are in many ways the inversions of the Lucky Chances: while Dora and Nora grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, Saskia and Imogen were indisputably raised on the right side. Their mother is a lady in her own right and their adoring father, Melchior, has no notion of the fact that he, too has been cuckolded -- by Peregrine himself. They have also inherited their father's red hair. But while Peregrine has a warm, encompassing presence, Saskia rivals the worst of Shakespeare's evil seductresses in her villainy, and Imogen, unlike her lively cousins, has a perpetual tendency to drop off to sleep with her mouth hanging open.

So, are you confused yet? Which father has which children and who is acknowleging whom? As Peregrine says: " 'It's a wise child that knows it's own father... but wiser yet the father who knows his own child' " (73). Suffice it to say that Dora is the wisest of children, for not only does she chronicle her own tangled lineage, but also the equally knotted parentages of her unacknowleged siblings and cousins.

Our inventory is not quite complete as yet. There are a few more twins to investigate.


They emerged from Melchior's third marriage, and like their uncle and father, they are anything but alike. Tristram has red hair and high spirits. He is the host of a money-oriented game show, while Gareth is like his father -- except that instead of going into acting, he became a missionary priest -- a Jesuit, in fact. "Both of them in show business," Dora reflects, on the subject of the brothers. "Both, in their different ways, carrying on the great tradition of the Hazard family -- the willing suspension of disbelief. Both of them promise you a free gift if you play the game" (36). So, perhaps they do, in fact, have a few things in common.


Gareth's babies. In a family of twins, these two are the first boy-girl combination. As Dora puts it: "To add to the hypothetical, disputed, absent father that was such a feature of our history, now you could add a holy father, too. Put it down to liberation theology" (227).

So, now I have finally listed the twins of the family. What is the significance? Return to DUALITIES or move forward to . . . AND DUPLICITY

PART 3 ~ LIFE AS A CARNIVAL -- Manifestations of the carnivalesque

PART 4 ~ ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE -- Shakespeare is inevitable in this book, and the allusions explicated here are only a sampling



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Rev'd 2003/03/27