SMC: #womeninfiction – a tale of two Katys

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I first read ‘What Katy Did’ when I was in primary school. The last time I read it was about two years ago, shortly before I got married. It’ been one of the books that I can go back to and back to again and again, along with the sequels, in particular ‘What Katy Did At School’ and ‘Clover’.

Katy Carr was my namesake. A bright girl, intelligent and fond of books, full of energy. An ungainly and uncoordinated miss, more concerned with fun that her appearance and liable to leave breakages, ripped frocks and destruction in her wake. A writer, a fairy tale enthusiast, a leader to her siblings and friends. She was filled with plans to do something great and worthy in her life.

It all comes to a shuddering halt once she is injured in an horrific accident, and it takes her four years to recover her health and the use of her legs. Katy learned a lot of lessons in those years – about patience and hope and the value of the love people around you bear for you. They were all lessons I needed to learn in my own youth. I’m still learning them now.

I read ‘What Katy Did At School’ in my teens, and then again in my University years, and then again as an adult. And each time I found another lesson in it, something new that influenced my life. I admired Katy’s sense of propriety and decorum, about having self respect and dignity. Not just in her establishment of the SSUC though, but in her dealing with an unjust accusation and the negative opinions of the people around her when she has done nothing to deserve them.

“I can’t bear it,” sighed Clover, with tears in her eyes. “It is so cruel that they should say such things about you.”

“I mean that they shall say something quite different before we go away,” replied Katie, stroking her hair.

Once you lose someone’s respect and good opinion, even if it is through unjust or inaccurate means, it is very difficult to get it back. It’s not like a prize in a war. You can’t go to war for it, or fight for it. The act of doing so often lends weight to the false assumption. All you can do is to live things down. To carry on being the best that you can be and to hope that people will realise their mistakes, that they were wrong about you and that they should view you differently.

One of Katy’s friends writes in her book ‘The better part of valour is discretion’. That was a phrase which it took me a long time to understand the meaning of. The better part of bravery and honour is sometimes the silence with which you greet it. The refusal to say ‘I told you so’ or ‘see, I was right!’. The grace with which you accept people’s apologies and move forward. The grace with which you carry on living even without those apologies.

None of us can control how we will be treated in this world. But we can control how we react to those treatments, whether just or unjust, and how we move forward.

By the end of the story, Katy has managed to live down her false accusations:

“We had ‘lived it down,’ just as I hope we should. That is much better than having it contradicted.”

Just before I married, I discovered the ‘Clover’ and ‘In The High Valley’ books and enjoyed making the acquaintance of Katy Carr, just before she became Katy Worthington. To re-encounter Katy, just before her wedding and just as I was getting married, felt a little like fate. In the end a large chunk of Katy’s discussion with her sister Clover about her hopes for her wedding formed part of my own wedding speech:

” ‘Please not be vexed Clover; but I always have hated the ordinary kind of wedding, with its fuss and worry and so much of everything, and just like all the other weddings, and the bride looking tired to death, and nobody enjoying it a bit. I’d like mine to be different, and more —more— real. I don’t want any show or processing about, but just to have things nice and pretty, and all the people I love and who love me to come to it, and nothing cut and dried , and nobody tired, and to make it a dear, loving occasion with leisure to realise how dear it is, and what it all means. Don’t you think it would really be nicer in that way? ‘

‘Well, yes, as you put it, and ‘viewed from a higher standard’ perhaps it would. Still, fuss and all that is very pretty to look at; and folks will be surprised if you don’t have it.

‘Never mind folks,’ remarked the irreverent Katy. ‘I don’t care a button for that argument. Yes; bridesmaids and going up the aisle in a long procession and all the rest are pretty to look at, or were before they got to be so hackneyed. …I would like my little wedding to be something especially my own. There was a poetical meaning in those old customs; but now that the custom has swallowed up so much of the meaning, it would please me better to retain the meaning and drop the custom.‘ “

Once again, I felt like Katy had gotten straight to the heart of the matter, understanding that what is felt and KNOWN is more important than what is seen. My wedding was beautiful but it was the people there who made it so, both by their help and by their presence and the knowledge that they loved both me and Mr Shandy, and had been willing to travel such long distances to be there for our one chosen day of celebration.

We made it ours, with our own choice of music, readings, our speeches and the help of so many people that we truly loved. We dropped a lot of the old customs because they had swallowed up so much of the meaning. We invented our own, which retained our meanings and expressed our love for each other so much more clearly.

I despair of reading ‘chick lit’ at times, especially the wedding-themed variety. Because so much of the story seems to have gotten caught up in the customs of a wedding and dropped all the meaning behind it. This was the first book I read in the run up to the wedding, alongside my other old favourite Little Women, where the real meaning of what a wedding and indeed a *marriage* should be formed the bigger part of the story rather than the trappings and trimmings. What message are we giving to young women through the fiction market? That your vintage dress and trimmings and keeping your bridesmaids happy are more important than the person you are choosing to bind yourself to legally and in love? What truly makes a wedding, and afterwards a marriage, are the people involved, first and foremost the people getting married. In the days of the Kardashian wedding debacles and tabloid fodder stories of on-again-off-again engagements and online articles about the size/value of people’s engagement rings, it’s easy to lose sight of that.

‘Clover’ offered a nice and timely reminder of what’s important in all this stuff, a back to earth bump of the pleasant variety.

So if I am to recommend someone for the #womeninfiction hastag, then of course it has to be Katy Carr. For her grace and patience during her childhood, her quiet strength of character in her adolescence and her sense of perspective in her early adult life. Not bad aims for any little Katy to keep in mind as she grows up. I know they did me some good, and will continue to do so. After all – I am still growing up.

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