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Bless This House > Jon Borage --murderer?

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message 1: by Werner (new)

Werner | 709 comments Re the interesting discussion, over on the Winter Harvest thread, about whether Jon Borage in Bless This House pushed over the ladder (and so caused Francis Shepley's death) intentionally or accidentally, it was pointed out that it's off-topic there. So I thought I'd start a thread in this folder for it. For myself, when I read the book years ago, I never even entertained the possibility that the incident was accidental; I was as certain that it was murder as I was that the sky is blue, and (if anyone had questioned it) would have said that it's equally obvious. :-) And now, having read the quoted passage again, I find myself of exactly the same mind!

message 2: by Susan (new)

Susan | 179 comments I think so too, hence my quotes from Bless This House on the other thread!

Good idea to get a new one started Werner.

message 3: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Ahhh, so we're trying to stay on topic! On Winter Harvest I said I thought he was guilty, but I have changed my mind about his reason for haunting. As Barbara suggested, the feeling was of utter misery, not guilt. I look upon his action at the ladder as, not murder, but killing in self-defense.

message 4: by Werner (last edited Feb 15, 2010 02:42PM) (new)

Werner | 709 comments Well... I'm not so forgiving, and I don't think any jury would have been. Obviously, Jon's uncle had a position of economic power over him, which he used in accordance with ideas that Jon considered antiquated and oppressive. But he "didn't hold with" physical abuse of the boy, and my impression was that he felt that everything he did was in Jon's best interest. To me, applying a "self-defense" rubric to a killing inflicted just to get out of a domestic/economic situation one doesn't like, when the victim poses no physical danger at all and has no malevolent intent, stretches the concept beyond any legitimate meaning. Anyone with a basic lack of respect for other people's lives would be quite likely, in that state of affairs, to engage in quite a LOT of "self-defense" whenever it proved financially and socially convenient. No doubt Jon considered himself aggrieved and victimized; quite a few murderers do (like the biology prof who's in the news for shooting six colleagues), and some of them actually ARE aggrieved and victimized. But the right way to handle that isn't to decide that my right to be happy trumps your right to live.

message 5: by Barbara (last edited Feb 15, 2010 10:56PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2258 comments Hmmm, yes..I;m still not entirely sure he absolutely and deliberately intended to pull away the ladder and kill his uncle. I do think he was guilty in the sense that he knew it MIGHT do so. I think in the US you have a charge called 'reckless endangerment'? That seems to me the thing, rather than full-on murder.

But I still think the feelinng that haunted the house was misery and despair , not guilt

message 6: by Werner (new)

Werner | 709 comments Barbara, I agree with you about the haunting. I don't think guilt ever entered into Jon's feelings, in life or as a "ghostly" presence; what dominated his consciousness at the end was just that all-consuming "misery and despair."

message 7: by Susan (last edited Feb 16, 2010 06:58AM) (new)

Susan | 179 comments I am just reading this part about Charlotte at Merravay and it says that she experiences, utter dread and terror on attempting to cross the Hall, and had to pretend she needed her Uncle's arm on the stairs (remember, she thought she was in a decline and about to die from unrequited love! (this notion was very much a part of Victoria drama and love stories!

It was in the window seat that she felt "like lowering oneself into a well of icy water. It wasn't just the dealthly cold, it was the awful feeling of misery and despair. (There was this same feeling outside near the porch also wasn't there?)

Also Susan the maid that felt it, and she also told Charlotte that her grandmother (I believe that would have been Olivia, ) once SAW something!

"quote:- A boy, just about to be taken with a fit. In the hall!" She said he looked so real , that she went to help him and found that he wasn't there at all!

I can't quite work out about the two distinct "feelings" One, the misery and despair, and Two the terror and dread (where did this event come from?"

There are so many little side lines and occurences in all of NLs books, that you could spend your lifetime searching and unravelling them! (If only we could have asked NL whether Jon did intend to kill his uncle, or was it accidental, or was it that he thought "It might happen" (Or maybe she left that to her reader's imagination!

I just had a thought! Could the feeling of terror and dread come from another era? Remember when Alice had the Parliament soldier's come and she said she needed to go to the kitchen, and then stole back and listened outside the door, and knew that they had found out that a delivery of boots for the King was imminent and that her husband Rawley and the team were in deadly danger?

message 8: by MaryC (new)

MaryC Clawsey | 712 comments I supposed that the terror and dread that people felt in the hall were their reaction to the haunting presence, not the remnants of what Jon felt. But as to whether a jury would have acquitted Joh, I'm almost sure that none would have--but when NL's "good" characters get away with murder, it's almost always what's called "justifiable homicide." So in Michael and All Angels, Harriet poisons (can't think of his name) to protect the father she loves--and has just learend ISN'T her biological father. And in Bless this house, Francis has done nothing less than ruin Jon life. Yes, he "didn't hold with" physical violence, but he stifled Jon's intellect and thwarted his love for Elizabeth. Do those of you on the other side of the Atlantic know the slogan of the United Negro College Fund: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste"?

message 9: by Barbara (last edited Oct 28, 2012 10:26PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2258 comments Those are two good points I think- that Merravey might have had more than one source of hauntings, and/or that the dread was the present day person's response, rather than the original emanation.

I feel less sorry for Jon than for some others - even though I agree it is absolutely true what Mary says, that Uncle Francis ruined Jon's life, thwarting his intellect and love. But that was pretty routine for so many of the girls and woman of the era ( and is so still for many everywhere). And they - or at least NL's girls and women seemed less self dramatising and more philosophical.

message 10: by Werner (new)

Werner | 709 comments Mary, I haven't read Michael and All Angels, so can't comment on it one way or the other. I agree that there are cases of justifiable homicide that occur, both in fiction and real life. (For instance, a few years ago, a local woman shot her husband to death in his sleep with his own gun; she'd been subjected to physical abuse for years and thwarted in repeated attempts to escape, and the authorities never even saw fit to charge her with anything.) But I'm in favor of considerable caution and strictness in judging "justification" when we're dealing with things as precious and irreplaceable as a human life --and yes, even the lives of unlikeable and obnoxious people have a degree of preciousness. Thwarting "intellect" and "love" just doesn't qualify, IMO, as a grounds for me to shove a ladder out from under you --and in fact, it wasn't Francis Shepley that really "thwarted" Jon's love; it was the fact that the woman he wanted happened to want to marry somebody else. And I'm not so sure that Lofts herself viewed Jon unambiguously as one of her "good" characters!

message 11: by MaryC (new)

MaryC Clawsey | 712 comments But remember when Jon wanted to marry Elizabeth befoe Tom cameinto the picture, and Francis wouldn't hear of it? (He didn't hold with married apprentices.) And remember Jon's reflections as he walks alone through the house while Francis is out cutting the fir tree?

" . . . I saw what was left for me. Nothing. Norhing fo rmy mind, because Uncle francy didn't hold with book learning; nothing for my heart because he didn't hold with apprentices marrying. . . . . My uncle had taken me, spoled and deformed me as surely as though he had sawn off my head, cut out my heart, and used my dead hands for hammers. . . . . I stood there and I died."

No, of course I don't really justify or condone murder for such reasons, but then we're lucky enough to live long after "the old way of apprenticing boys so that their master's will was law, the old way of making girls marry the man their father chose . . . ."

message 12: by Werner (new)

Werner | 709 comments Yes, we're lucky enough not to live with indentured servitude and forced marriage --but we still live under a system that puts lots of people's necks under other people's feet, and effectively keeps them there. The system needed to change then, and it still does. Random acts of violence don't contribute to changing it. (And then, too, it's been a while since I read Bless This House; but as I recall, indentures for apprenticeship were not permanent. Jon was not --unlike, say, blacks in the antebellum South-- enslaved for life. Murder is a very permanent "solution" for a temporary problem.)

message 13: by Barbara (last edited Feb 17, 2010 05:39PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2258 comments Harriet killed the obnoxious blackmailing Jonathon(?) Smail in Michael and All Angels. Which is one of NL's most detailed moral/ethical dilemma novels Werner, you should get it if you can. Almost every character has some serious moral thicket to traverse.

Smail was probably one of NL most despicable characters, along with Dave Glenny in R to R. Denny was the more obviously violent and had, perhaps less cause for his awfulness ( Smail had been a slave )but Smail's behaviour and attitude and willingness to ruin lives makes him someone whose death you kind of cheer at .

I think, for myself , I would like to have a clear position ( ie killing is always wrong) but in reality, the deaths , even killings, of say, child rapists and torturers leave me unmoved - even pleased. And I have enormous difficulties with the 'honour killings' of girls and women in some cultures . I cannot honestly say I would not like to see the perpetrators dead too.

I do think NL was a master at this stuff, and never actually melodramatic about it either .

message 14: by Werner (last edited Feb 18, 2010 06:33AM) (new)

Werner | 709 comments Thanks for that recommendation, Barbara; it sounds like the sort of book I would really like! Right now, I'm not adding much to my TBR pile (since it already looks like Mt. Everest :-)), but I'll keep that one in mind. I agree that NL excelled at depicting characters in these types of dilemmas.

Like you, I'm not as much of an absolutist in this area as I might have appeared to be above. As a Christian, I oppose murder and believe in (and try to practice) the ethic of hating the sin but loving the sinner; but I'm also human, and I can't say that the killing of a rapist or sadist evokes any tears from me, either. (When Barb and I lived in Indiana back in the 80s, that state sent a young woman to prison for killing a guy who had raped her; my comment at the time was that they should have pinned a medal on her.) And confronted with the monstrous inversion of moral order represented by the legal systems in some societies, such as the so-called "honor killings," I would agree that justice for the perpetrators ought to trump legality. So like the rest of us in this flawed world, I live with some moral ambiguity, too!

message 15: by Susan (new)

Susan | 179 comments A agree with the comments here about Jon, and other characters who have killed, and it is a very difficult subject to be absolutely positive about as regards punishment for killers. I also am a Christian and we are told that we should forgive 70 x 7! But then in the Old Testament it was "an eye for an eye" and a tooth for a tooth"! |I think we would not be human if we did not get incensed over murder, specially those of children, and rape victims, and honour killings. (We have had these here in the UK recently) How can they do this, and kill their own daughters? In this modern world, things like this should never happen. Slavery was outlawed many years ago, but we are still surrounded by this in so many forms! Opression and persecution are rife in the world!

NL did indeed deal with situations like this in a very good way, and there was no unneccesary violence and sensationalism in her writings. In was just in the right way that she gave us the incentive and good reason to debate and mull over the issues of the day and those characters that have given us all food for thought!

I can recall more than one instance, when I felt the hurt that they felt, and the bitterness and anger, and joy too! Her characters were so varied and yet there were similarities in some of them, that gave us the link between the books from different eras, so we know that mankind has not really changed in all those hundreds of years!

message 16: by Werner (new)

Werner | 709 comments Great post, Susan --you encapsulated in just a few sentences the effect that Lofts' writing can have on a reader, and you did it so eloquently! It's a shame that her literary genius isn't appreciated more widely.

message 17: by Susan (new)

Susan | 179 comments Thanks Werner, we can only hope that with the latest reprints of her books, she might indeed gain more people as likeminded as us!

I was so pleased to see that Amazon here in the UK were republishing them. I don't know if Amazon in the US are doing the same, but I am sure there must be more people out there ready to be amazed and thrilled by her writings!

message 18: by Barbara (last edited Sep 10, 2013 11:39PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2258 comments I have just re-read BTH. One of my all-time favourites, in fact I thought, I must do a genealogy and then I see from this thread that I already have! Getting very forgetful.....

I used to think that Jon Borage did not deliberately kill his uncle, ( I wanted to think so I believe) but have come to see that yes he did, it is that crucial word "but " as in "but at the same time, I laid my right hand on the ladder....." Then again, might it have meant , 'but unfortunately at the same time I ....

Oooh I do love NL!

Have we ever done a group read of it ?

message 19: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2258 comments Syb, see my post other thread.

message 20: by Werner (new)

Werner | 709 comments No, Barbara, we've never done a group read of Bless This House. I read it back in (I believe) 1970; but I've since realized, from discussions in this group or others, that I've forgotten crucial parts of it. If we do it as a group read, I'd want to take that occasion to reread it. My reading plans are pretty well set for the rest of this year, and I'm expecting to be involved in common reads in other groups in February and March; but I'd be game to do it in January.

message 21: by Robert (new)

Robert | 104 comments Just finished reading Bless This House, it has been many years since my first reading. I did not want it to end.

message 22: by Barbara (last edited Sep 11, 2013 11:28PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2258 comments Yay , looks like two more takers! Though I was hoping for earlier than January Werner, maybe in a couple of months so even...

message 23: by Barbara (last edited Sep 12, 2013 09:26PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2258 comments Robert wrote: "Just finished reading Bless This House, it has been many years since my first reading. I did not want it to end."
Do you want copy of my ( admittedly rather amateurish) Rowhedge genealogy Robert? Email me at if so .

message 24: by Robert (new)

Robert | 104 comments Yes Barbara! I will email you. I have often thought of doing something like that with the different families in the Town House trilogy.

message 25: by Werner (new)

Werner | 709 comments Barbara, I actually could do it in December (and read Mockingjay in January) --if you think people in the group wouldn't be too distracted by Christmas and other holidays in December to do a read? (Personally, I read all the time, in holiday seasons as well as non-holiday times!)

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