My reading group has chosen The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers. To the 12-year-old protagonist, the world is her oyster and she prepares for her entry into it by changing her name from Frankie to F.Jasmine. She also takes time out to sign herself F.Jasmine Esq. Why she uses the title Esq is unexplained by the writer which adds to the telling as we are left to work out for ourselves that F.Jasmine has probably seen letters addressed like this to her father who runs a jewellery business.
When I was 12, I wrote letters home from boarding school addressed to M.P.Russell Esq having observed that was how letters were addressed to my father. ( The Esq bit seemed fitting enough as he was a civil servant, a senior civil servant as my mother always corrected me.)
“Why do you put Esq on the envelope,” a girl at school asked. “Does he own land?”
I was non-plussed. People in Dublin didn’t own land. Not the ones I knew. They owned houses alright, if they had the money, But of course, if you came from out of Dublin, in that place called down the country which was everywhere except Dublin, you most likely did own land, fields and fields of it. But those people didn’t have Esq on the envelopes, just plain Mr and Mrs. Of course, with the Esq business, my mother was left out of the equation altogether.
I am now half way through The Member of the Wedding and things are hotting up for our twelve year old heroine. She was, she knew, going to be famous. For what, she didn’t know. Reading the news or participating in a dramatic event of some sort. But definitely famous.
I recognised that almost-famous feeling from when I was her age which was why I practised my signature in different ways: neat and careful, artistic with lots of curlicues,wildly adventurous with enormous flourishes. I worked away on them all during one particular exam when I had finished early and had nothing else to do. Mary Russell I wrote, over and over again. Mary Russell, Mary Russell Mary Russell. MARY RUSSELL!!!! Then, calming down: Mary Russell
And when the bell rang to indicate the exam was over. I bunched up the sheet of paper and threw it in the waste paper basket. Except that I had been observed.
“What is this,” asked the head nun, known to us as Quack, holding out the A4 page she had retrieved from the basket and smoothing it out so that my sin of pride ( was it one of the seven deadly sins?) was revealed over and over again.
“Who is it written for and why,” asked Quack and I stalled. How could I possibly explain I was practicing my signature for when I became famous.
Yep, F.Jasmine and I had a lot in common. Though while she actually chose the Jasmine bit of her name, I concealed from everyone that my confirmation name was Fatima.That would have ruined the whole famous thing. Mary was bad enough. As the song went:
For she was Mary, Mary,
Plain as any name can be.
Maybe that’s why I never became famous – though I’m still practicing.