Buy It Firft and Avoid Furreptitious Copies

To the great Variety of Readers.

From the moſt able, to him that can but ſpell: There you are number’d. We had rather you were weighd. Eſpecially, when the fate of all Bookes depends vpon your capacities : and not of your heads alone, but of your purſes. Well! It is now publique, & you wil ſtand for your priuiledges wee know : to read, and cenſure. Do ſo, but buy it firſt.

from the Introduction to the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s Works, 1623.

Theatre in shakespeares time interior view
Beware the iniurious impoſtor!
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Seven Evil Uncles of Fiction

The Evil Uncle is a well-established and familiar form in fiction, and has been since – well, let’s take a look, shall we?

The classickest of evil uncles, to my mind, is Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius, who kills his brother (Hamlet Senior), steals his brother’s wife (in that order) and usurps the throne which was rightfully Hamlet Senior’s and is now rightfully Hamlet Junior’s. Confronted with this heaping pile of villainy, he feels a modicum of remorse (see Act III, Scene iii) – but not enough to actually try to put things right to the extent that he still can.

Claudius_at_Prayer_Hamlet_3-3_Delacroix_1844Slightly younger than Uncle Claudius is Uncle Richard, aka the Duke of Gloucester. (Only slightly younger – c. 1592 as opposed to c.1599-1602. Not 1485 – I am putting him in the fictional category as Shakespeare’s version doesn’t adhere all that closely to historical fact. Probably because he was writing under the rule of the grand-daughter of the man who killed (and replaced) Richard.) Shakespeare’s Richard orphans one niece and nephew, marries off the former to a nobody and imprisons the latter, has two other nephews murdered, and tries to marry another niece. That is a bad uncle.

Zipping on two or so centuries, to the late 1830s, we come to Kate and Nicholas Nickleby’s Uncle Ralph, a cold-hearted Scrooge of a man who uses his niece as bait for objectionable men and tries to ruin his nephew. He veers from the classic mould in not actually killing his brother (possibly because his brother doesn’t have a throne), but he doesn’t give a damn that he’s dead, either.

Nicholas Nickleby, (1875?)
C.S. Lewis furnished the world with two fine examples of the Evil Uncle genus. First (in 1951), Prince Caspian’s Uncle Miraz, who returns to the purity of the classics by killing his brother and pinching his crown – as well as planning to kill the rightful heir. Unlike Claudius, however, he does not pinch his brother’s widow, being already married to the hilariously named Prunaprismia.

Lewis’ second example is the magician who has the nephew in The Magician’s Nephew (1955) – Digory’s Uncle Andrew. A fool, perhaps, but an ambitious, meddling and arrogant fool, which to my mind qualifies him for the title of an Evil Uncle.

“Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”
As he said this he sighed and looked so grave and noble and mysterious that for a second Digory really thought he was saying something rather fine. But then he remembered the ugly look he had seen on his Uncle’s face… and all at once he saw through Uncle Andrew’s grand words. “All it means,” he thought to himself, “is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants.”

Carl Spitzweg 015
So far the list of Evil Uncles seems to be dominated by the fruitful minds of the male of the species: two of Shakespeare’s, two of Lewis’, and one of Dickens’. But now, at last, we come to an Evil Uncle from the mind of a woman.

The woman in question is Ellis Peters, creator of Brother Cadfael, and also of Iveta de Massard’s Evil Uncle Sir Godfrid Picard (from The Leper of Saint Giles, 1981). He may be further from the murdering, throne-stealing Claudian mould than many of the above, but he’s still prepared to force his niece to marry a rather nasty man who is older than her father, purely for his own financial gain. And to blackmail her into pretending to like it by threatening the life of a young man she cares for. In short, a rotter.

The final Evil Uncle of the list is due to make his appearance in January 2018. Also from the mind of a woman (mine, in fact), he follows the classic mould in killing his brother to seize the throne, and trying to kill the rightful heir as well. (Why mess with a winning combination?)

man-1519667_640It is perhaps worth noting that of the first six Evil Uncles on the list (spoilers!), five are dead by the time the tale is wound up. I decided to be boldly different, and as a result, the death of Princess Lily’s Evil Uncle Phelan is announced before Chapter One is wound up. But of course, that’s not the whole story…

What fictional Evil Uncles have I missed? Feel free to add entries to the list below!

Moving House: the Worst Case Scenario

What is the worst thing that could happen when you move house? Turn your mind to this for a moment. The moving truck getting lost? Or getting broadsided by a Hummer and exploding in fragments of your best china? Or your new house being destroyed by a meteorite, leaving nothing but smoking ruins to welcome you on your arrival? No – the worst thing that can happen is what happened to us.

meteorite-1060886_640Imagine: it is the morning after the epic move (which went surprisingly smoothly, actually). You drag your exhausted self out of bed and down the stairs to the kitchen, where you clamber over the piles of boxes to reach those life-giving essentials which you have had the foresight to unpack first: the kettle and the tea.

Only to find (insert horror chord here) that the kettle has sprung a leak in the night, and will no longer hold water. There will be No Cup of Tea.

Let me just give that its proper emphasis: there will be NO CUP OF TEA!

As Macduff so aptly put it, “Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.” The kettle was broke ope and the life of the building stole forth, by which I mean the water for my tea. Dire news indeed.

Vittorio Reggianini - A Shocking AnnouncementI was forcibly reminded of the morning of the first Canterbury quake, when after a rude and violent awakening at half past four in the morning, we had to wait until dawn to check the chimney was sound before we could fire up the log-burner, put a pot of water on top and wait for it to slowly inch its way toward boiling. (Some log-burners these days are designed for use as stoves in electricity-less emergencies. This was not one of them.) It was just starting to steam when the power mercifully came back on.

While we waited, however, I got a message from a friend on the other side of town who had a camp stove and who was, she informed me, sipping a hot cuppa as she texted. I may have considered trekking across miles of fractured streets and fording the Heathcote and Avon rivers in order to murder her in what would have been cold blood but for all the exercise – but I refrained. That would only delay the point in time at which tea and I would converge. Because while I might slaughter a friend for an ill-considered text, I wouldn’t dream of then drinking their tea over their cold dead body. I have my standards.

A Cup of Tea by Lilian Westcott HaleReturning, however, to the present. We were saved in our hour of need by the kindness of family who had a kettle going spare, which we went and snaffled as soon as we decently could, viz: after getting dressed and eating something, so as not to faint from inanition. And then we returned, rejoicing, to luxuriate in that historic beverage: the first ever cup of tea in our own home.

Or at least, I did. The Caped Gooseberry, despite my best attempts to convert him, remains what Don Pedro would call “an obstinate heretic in despite of tea” (if he had thought of it, or met him, or, in fact, existed).

When was the worst time you ever got caught without a cuppa?