A-Z Challenge: Beezie Maddox, Abuse, and the Stories We Don’t Want to Hear

B

Meg thought of Mrs. O’Keefe waiting downstairs.

Yes. That was a victory for the enemy, indeed. That Beezie, the golden child, should have become the old hag with missing teeth and resentful eyes was unbearable.–A Swiftly Tilting PlanetMadeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle, who passed away just a few years ago, was one of the most prolific children’s literature writers of the 20th century. She always seemed to understand children, even in old age. Perhaps that is because, as she once said, “the great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” She was also a believer in the complexity of children–she’s also quoted as saying “you have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”  Now, we’ve discussed the complexity of children here at PTM in the past. We’ve also discussed children’s literature as a concept. L’Engle seems to get both of those things.

And one of her most profound but oft-neglected characters, Mrs. O’Keefe, is so because she comes to illustrate the ways that abuse and tragedy can change a person. When we meet Mrs. O’Keefe in the first book of the Time Quartet, A Wrinkle in Time, she is a sour old lady with the inability to understand her children. She’s rude, and she’s grumpy. But in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the last book of the series, we see her as a child–Meg, who has grown up and married Mrs. O’Keefe’s son Calvin, is amazed when she makes the connection: “Branwen Zillah Maddox. B.Z. Beezie. Mrs. O’Keefe. That golden child was Mrs. O’Keefe.” The names here are important. Not only do they tie together ancestry (which is a huge focus of the novel, which has a complex plot that spans centuries and uses multiple perspectives), but they represent the change that the girl Beezie goes through to become Mrs. O’Keefe.

When we first meet Beezie, she is blowing dandelions and making wishes with her grandmother and her younger brother, Chuck. She’s interested in story-telling, and she begs her grandmother to give her as much information as possible about her ancestors. She’s entranced by history. She loves her brother fiercely. She’s golden haired and bright eyed–a far cry from the old woman, toothless, wrinkled, and barely communicative, who we see in the present-day Murray’s kitchen during Thanksgiving dinner.

Working on a paper on STP several years ago--a mostly accurate timeline/genealogy of characters
Working on a paper on STP several years ago–a mostly accurate timeline/genealogy of characters

And then Beezie’s story takes a turn. Her father’s business is in trouble–and he soon dies from what is hinted to be a heart attack. Enter Duthbert Mortmain, who “offers” to marry Beezie’s mother and take over the store. And he does. Mortmain doesn’t want to hear the children laugh; in fact, he doesn’t want to hear them at all. As Chuck astutely observes, “he doesn’t like what doesn’t belong to him.” Eventually, his dislike turns to abuse. He boxes Chuck’s ears; he pinches Beezie, leaving her black and blue, and sexual abuse is hinted at in the text. And then he knocks Chuck down the stairs, fracturing his skull and leading the grandmother into a downward spiral ending in death. Chuck is institutionalized at the behest of Mortmain when Beezie’s mother becomes pregnant. Beezie is left to the protection of Paddy O’Keefe, a rough classmate who will protect her from Mortmain but is his own kind of dangerous–and she eventually marries O’Keefe, predominately for protection.

Beezie’s story is one that we don’t want to hear. But it’s one that we need to hear, and we need to take it into account. We must think of how girls become women, and why girls become the women they do. We must think of the ways that death, abuse, and sex affect the women we become and the women we meet. We must think about the golden children who become haggard women, and we must write their stories. Beezie Maddox is a cautionary tale because she’s all too real.

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14 Comments

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  1. Oh wow…I loved this series when I was a kid and, as some others have said, suspect my younger self only caught snatches of the true meaning. I’m thinking I should go back and reread!

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  2. I read these so long ago, I barely remember them. I may have to read them again, After reading this post, I am thinking I only scratched the surface (but of course . . . I was a teenager!)

    Here’s the link I promised. She started with Aragorn and Batgirl, writes stories in which damsels save themselves, tweets about YA lit, and answers when people comment. In other words, someone you want to visit tomorrow. Also, that is quite an awesome name for a blog.

    http://teaandkneesocks.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/b-is-for-batgirl-barbara-gordon

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    1. Those books will trick you. They’re short, and the language is pretty straightforward, so they don’t seem terribly complex, but they are quite complex.

      And thanks for the new link. Will give it a look-see in just a few.

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  3. I only knew Madeleine L’Engle by name, so reading more about her work and this specific story is very interesting. I have the feeling I’m going to discover a lot that I’m not familiar with from a French point of view in your series. Thank you!

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    1. You’re welcome! L’Engle is one of my favorite children’s authors, and the Time Quartet is probably her best work. She’s written lots of things, though–it’s hard to say where to start!

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  4. I loved these stories but was too young at the time to see what you are exposing here. So important to cultivate compassion and know that sometimes we don’t know everything when we are looking at someone and always to remember the many ways that abuse reverberates.

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    1. Yes, it is. I was too young to really understand Mortmain’s relationship with Beezie’s mother and the abuse the first time I read the book, but I’ve read it several times sense, and each time I find out more about Beezie, and I find myself more interested in her character. She’s a minor character, so we don’t really talk about her much, but her story is an important one.

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