Monday, November 4, 2013

The puzzling Miss Julia

Ann B. Ross writes her Miss Julia novels, I would imagine, primarily for female readers, especially women who live in the southeastern United States and who can fully appreciate the characters and humor found in her books. I am a man who lives in the north, at least most of the year, yet I have read most of these novels with great pleasure. I recently read, or rather reread, Miss Julia Throws a Wedding (2002), which is not among the best novels in the series but worth a second read just the same.

Julia Springer, a conservative Southern matron, was married for more than 40 years to Wesley Lloyd Springer, a very successful businessman. When he dies suddenly, in the first book in the series (Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind), she is left with more wealth than she ever imagined, but no children and no idea of what to do with the rest of her life. Then an attractive young woman named Hazel Marie, with a little boy in tow, knocks on her door and explains that she was Wesley Lloyd's mistress and the boy, called Little Lloyd, is his son. They were left with nothing when the man died. Instead of slamming the door on Hazel Marie, Miss Julia's first impulse, she invites her and the boy inside, and that act provides the springboard for the other Miss Julia novels. Suddenly she has something to live for, something to do with all her money and, for the first time in her life, a child to care for.

Miss Julia makes a wonderful character, opinionated, set in her ways, yet impulsive and ready to take on anybody when she thinks something needs to be done or some wrong needs to be righted. Yet in every book, two things about Miss Julia bother me.

1. How is it possible that her personality changed so dramatically after Wesley Lloyd's death? By her own admission, she was a passive, stay-at-home wife. She entertained and she volunteered for church committees, but not much else. Yet suddenly, with her husband's death and a knock on her door, she becomes a whirlwind, forceful to the point of being obnoxious. Personalities do change, I suppose, but so dramatically, like the flip of a switch?

2. Why does everybody like Miss Julia so? I love her as a character, but I don't think I would want to be around her much. I certainly wouldn't want to pursue her romantically, as retired attorney Sam Murdock does in Miss Julia Throws a Wedding. (He marries her in a subsequent novel.) Virtually every character in the novels is devoted to her and willingly cooperates with her in her schemes, some of which seem like they could have been thought up by Lucy Ricardo. Even nice people don't attract that much devotion. She is rich, but Ross offers no suggestion that that is the reason she has so many friends. People just like her. I don't know why.

No comments:

Post a Comment