Saturday, 11 October 2014

Pondering on Prudence

Prudence, a noun and a name, a virtuous one at that. Supposedly for good judgement. The first time I saw this name was when I read Enid Blyton's "Summer Term at Saint Clare's."

Prudence at Saint Clare's.
Unfortunately, the Prudence who features there is a hypocrite and a spiteful sort. Pretty much the opposite of good judgement. First of all, Prudence Arnold makes nasty remarks on almost everyone, and constantly tries to get her opinion heard.

Her first line of dialogue is a mean remark about Sadie "being a bad influence" on the class, simply because Sadie is an American. Later, she complains that playing cards will lead to gambling, and tries to get the others to debate on feminist issues. The other students blow her off as being uptight.

It is mentioned by Blyton that Prudence was brought up in a vicarage, under the strict eye of her parents. This may be part of the reason Prudence thinks she is better than the other students at school. She is portrayed by Blyton as a manipulative person, only befriending those who could help her and ignoring everyone else. She befriends Pamela because of her great intelligence, and tries to strike a friendship with Sadie after learning that Sadie will inherit a fortune as an adult.

Prudence is also unwilling to help the other students due to her mix of loner and self-righteousness. When Janet (a trickster) accidentally spills some water on Prudence, the latter starts complaining and saying that Jane meant to do so on purpose. Janet tries to get Prudence to tell the form teacher to let her off, but Prudence refuses because Janet and Bobby (Roberta) constantly play "silly" tricks in class.

Prudence did not even consider that Janet needed to go to watch a film in order to complete her history assignment, but continued to push her serious attitude in this case. Adding insult to injury, she mocks Janet for having to write out Prudence's homework notes. Bobby tried to help Janet out by imitating her writing, but Prudence, bearing a grudge, makes a fuss out of this. This causes even more trouble to the class and the other students start to notice her spiteful nature.

Throughout the novel, Prudence also sneers at Carlotta and tries to smear her reputation by finding out about the latter's background. Prudence is under the impression that if the other girls know that Carlotta isn't from a noble background, they will snub her. This backfires because the other girls happen to like circuses and aren't so particular about good backgrounds.

Another incident in the book brings Prudence's hypocritical nature to light. Bobby's second trick with a squealing biscuit irritates the French teacher into threatening the class with a test the next day. Prudence, fearing a scolding from the headmistress if she fails the test, thinks that it would be a good idea to look up the questions and answers for the test, then get top marks.

Prudence tries to explain Bobby's joke to the French teacher, hoping to sneak a look at the test as it is prepared. The French teacher becomes irritated with Prudence and sends her away. That night, Prudence decides to sneak into the teacher's room and look up the test that way. She is caught by Bobby and Carlotta. When Bobby tells Prudence off for being a hypocrite, she cries and causes the headmistress to come and investigate the situation.

It would have been better for Prudence if she studied for the test the honest way even if she didn't get good marks, in my opinion. For some reason, the French teacher decides not to hold the test after all, rendering Prudence's attempt to cheat worthless.

Near the end of the novel, Prudence becomes an accessory to kidnapping completely by mistake, thinking that a letter from a shady character was meant for Carlotta. Spite clouded her mind and made her irrational, so she went along with the shady guy's plan despite being warned by Pamela.

Personally, I believe that Prudence was expelled mainly for attempted cheating, and her part in Sadie's kidnapping was the last straw. If her serious attitude had been tempered by a kindly or just nature, she might have been able to stay on at Saint Clare's.

Why the name, if its bearer was the opposite?
I was struck mainly by the sound of it, and thought it would make a good pseudonym for someone who has completed her journeyman years. The unusual sound and virtuous meaning is why Purpure adopted Prudence as her time-traveling name, despite its rarity.

As for Prudence Trenton (alias Purpure), she is just as serious as Prudence Arnold, but Miss Trenton's serious nature is tempered by a love of jokes and the occasional trick. Miss Trenton is also very forthright and honest about everything except where she really comes from. As far as anyone can get out of Miss Trenton, she's from England.

Purpure might not be from a good background, as she's a bastard child, but she stepped beyond it to leave a legacy of an intelligent traveler with a sense of justice.

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