The Famous Five in LoveFebruary 13, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Posted in Anne, Dick | 8 Comments
Tags: Geoffry Chaucer, Ragmuffin Jo, Valentine's Day
“For this was on Seynt Volantynys day
Whan every foul comyth there to chese his make”
[“For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]
– Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls, c. 1382
Valentine’s Day traditionally marks the time of year when birds begin to look for mates for the spring. With love (or at least lots of kitsch hearts and puppies) in the air and in the shops, it is perhaps time to muse on the Famous Five in love.
I’ve previously noted Wilfred’s liking for Anne in Five Have a Mystery to Solve. The obnoxious animal-lover teases the youngest Kirrin mercilessly with spiders and other creepy crawlies until poor Anne finally has enough and tips a bucket of cold water over his head (this scene is beautifully realised in the 1964 Children’s Film Foundation adaptation). Far from making Wilfred angry, the drenching actually ignites some rather soppy feelings on his part. “You’re nice” he says – “and your nose is like that baby rabbit’s – it’s – it’s a bit woffly!”
Love-hate relationships such as this abound for our juvenile protagonists. A slightly darker manifestation of the pigtail-pulling variety of courtship occurs between Dick and Ragamuffin Jo in Five Fall Into Adventure. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a series in which one of the main characters is a girl who wants to be a boy, a healthy dose of gender confusion also plays a part in this fledgling romance. Dick and Jo’s first meeting takes place on the beach when a scruffy looking urchin ‘steals’ George’s hole in the sand while the Kirrins are taking a swim. Fiery George prepares to fight the dirty-looking boy but Dick manfully steps in (as you can from the illustration to the right, he has the physique to back up his tough words):
‘“Now George, if there’s any fighting to be done, I’ll do it,” he said. He turned to the scowling boy. “Clear off! We don’t want you here!”
The boy hit out with his right fist and caught Dick unexpectedly on the jawbone. Dick looked astounded. He hit out, too, and sent the tousle-headed boy flying.’
Unfortunately it turns out that the ‘boy’ is actually a girl. The Kirrin moral code is strongly against hitting girls and Dick feels bad for what he’s done. At the same time he’s quite impressed by Jo’s spirit and pluck. “That ragamuffin girl gave me a good bang,” he said, half-admiringly, “Little demon, isn’t she! A bit of a live wire!”
Jo appears on the beach again the next day, and the courtship ritual takes an unusual turn – a damson stone spitting competition. Jo wins easily, managing to spit her stones at least three feet further than Dick. This arouses his admiration – clearly food is not the only way to Dick’s heart. Jo becomes devoted to Dick although their relationship is heavily predicated on physical violence. The following chapters feature much spitting, scratching, kicking and wriggling before Jo is finally tamed (‘Jo looked at him as a slave might look at a king’). It’s quite messed up really. Having said that, Dick never means to hurt her and it’s his kindness, rather than his violence, that she responds to. Jo is involved in a plot to kidnap George but switches sides, not because she feels any sympathy for George but because she likes Dick. “He was nice to me, so I wanted to be nice back”, she tells the children. She eventually plays a key part in George’s rescue and becomes one of the few recurring secondary child characters in the series. She and Dick maintain their special relationship throughout. In Five Have Plenty of Fun we are told that Dick ‘really loved the little gypsy girl’ and even when she steals his bicycle this serves only to increase his affection for her.
It must be love.