by Elizabeth Enright
Missing parents are staples of storytelling for children since, apparently, people began telling stories. To a great extent, this reflected reality. An article in the August 2011 issue of Scientific American, for instance, estimates that for most of human prehistory, few of us lived past the age of thirty. But honestly, I didn’t realize at first that all the young people in this month’s Adventure classics blogs were missing at least one parent.
Today’s is no exception. The mother of the four Melendy children in author-illustrator Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays, died at the birth of the youngest child. The children’s father is often away lecturing. And despite having a live-in housekeeper, the Melendys live through most of the book without adult supervision.
Not that they spend any time worrying about that. Most of the book follows their adventures after they pool their allowances to let each Melendy have a solo Saturday outing. And what outings they were -- to art galleries and operas (brother Rush is fascinated by the mechanical dragon Fafner at the Metropolitan Opera),beauty salons and circuses.
Although Mr. Melendy cautions his children that “the first and most important rule” is “don’t get run over," the children are otherwise on their own in 1940’s era New York until the youngest, six-year-old Oliver takes an unauthorized trip to the circus that gets him brought home by a mounted police officer.
In last Friday’s post, I commented on possible links between the orphaned status of the hero and the family problems of author Robert Louis Stevenson. This week, I have to wonder whether author Enright’s experiences influenced the Melendys’ situation. Enright’s parents divorced while she was a young child. Her mother Maginel Wright Enright, sister of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, remarried, but her second husband died while Elizabeth was in her teens. Maginel was an accomplished illustrator of children’s books (a career her daughter initially followed). But Elizabeth noted in a magazine article watching her mother “through to glass doors of the little room she used as a studio, my nose snubbed resentfully against the pane, for I was forbidden to enter while she was at work.”
Perhaps her way of making peace with the abandonment she felt as a child was to displace it onto Miranda (Randy) Melendy, the chief and best-loved character of The Saturdays, with the dark, curly hair of Maginel, and the same propensity for art and creative untidiness. A girl like her mother, only present with her.
(Next Friday -- Adventure classics starts a month of Halloween horror with Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Gold Bug.)