Bethany is a certified Special Education and Elementary teacher with 11 years experience teaching Special Education from grades PK through 5. She has a Bachelor's degree in Special Education, Elementary Education, and English from Gordon College and a Master’s degree in Special Education from Salem State University.
The Beginning of the Story
''All children mythologize their birth. . . You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story'' (page 26).
In The Thirteenth Tale, author Diane Setterfield allows her characters to tell their birth stories, showcasing the life story of an aging author as told to the reclusive bookseller Margaret Lea. Margaret's whole life revolves around her father's antique bookshop. She looks after the books, reading and repairing them. At the heart of Margaret's consciousness is always her secret loss—her twin sister, who died just after their birth.
Famous author Vida Winters has spent her prolific writing career retreating behind ''. . . the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie'' (page 5). Every time a reporter interviews her, she tells a different version of her life story. Aging and ravaged by disease, she makes the decision to finally tell the truth, and summons Margaret Lea to her mansion, Harrogate.
As Miss Winter begins to unfold her epic tale, Margaret is drawn in by the line, ''Once upon a time there were twins. . . '' (page 48).
Miss Winter's Tale
Miss Winter weaves the tale of Angelfield, her childhood home, and of the March twins, Adeline and Emmeline. The tale begins with the birth of the twins' mother, Isabelle, an event that precipitates Isabelle's mother Mathilde's death in childbirth, her father George's decline, and Isabelle's unorthodox relationship with her abusive brother Charlie. Young Isabelle runs away and returns to Angelfield widowed and the mother of twins. Isabelle, whom everyone agrees is not quite right, relinquishes her twins to the care of the aging housekeeper, known as the Missus, and of the gardener, John-the-Dig.
The Missus attempts to bring order to the twins' lives, but she is thwarted by their wild nature and by her own physical limitations. The twins ''had no sense of boundaries, no understanding of property, and so they went where they wished'' (page 90). Their mischief includes pilfering food and trinkets from local families, and in one memorable incident, they stole a baby in its perambulator. Adeline has a cruel streak, often hurting her sister. Emmeline is calm, more empathetic, and not very intelligent.
In time Isabelle is taken away to an insane asylum and a governess, Hester Barrow, is brought to Angelfield. Hester finds a decaying mansion and unruly charges. At thirteen, Adeline and Emmeline are ungoverned, almost feral, unwilling to communicate with the outside world, and utterly devoted to each other. Hester undertakes to civilize them. She makes some progress with Emmeline, but Adeline resists her strongly. Hester and the local doctor decide on a psychological experiment - separating the twins to push them to develop independently. The plan is a dismal failure, and is brought to an abrupt end when the doctor's wife catches the doctor and Hester in a compromising position.
With Hester's departure the twins are left to their own devices. News of Isabelle's death drives Charlie to suicide; then the Missus dies, then John-the-Dig. One of the twins discovers a surprising competence in dealing with the household's affairs. For a brief time they manage, until unimaginable tragedy strikes.
The revelation of Miss Winter's tale is interspersed with Margaret's experience at Harrogate. Knowing Miss Winter's penchant for telling tales, Margaret wonders if Miss Winter is going to tell the truth this time. She is given three facts to check in order to verify the story. The third fact is the end of the story—there was a horrible fire at Angelfield, resulting in the loss of Emmeline. Between the sessions where Miss Winter tells her story, Margaret processes the information, seeks for verification, and ponders how the wild and violent Adeline March transformed into the competent Vida Winter. Margaret takes multiple trips to the ruins of Angelfield, where she meets Aurelius, a man who is looking for his family. Still, she is at a loss to the truth of the tale.
Suddenly, as Miss Winter nears death and her story nears a close, Margaret makes a startling realization—Miss Winter was not one of the twins. Rather, she was the ghost of the story—a cousin, living in the mansion unacknowledged and in the shadows. Margaret notes, ''I thought, when I realized there were not two girls at Angelfield but three, that I had the key to the whole story in my hand. At the end of my cogitations I realized that until I knew what happened on the night of the fire, I knew nothing'' (page 352).
Margaret sits with Miss Winter for a final revelation. Miss Winter was, indeed, a third child, found by John-the-Dig, presumed to be an illegitimate daughter of Charlie. After the death of the Missus and John-the-Dig, Emmeline ended up having a son. Adeline, deeply jealous of the baby, attempted to set the baby on fire. Miss Winter was able to rescue the baby—who was Margaret's new friend Aurelius—but one of the twins was lost in the fire. Rescuers assumed Miss Winter to be Adeline. Miss Winter changed her name from Adeline March to Vida Winter, and cared for the twin she referred to as Emmeline for the rest of their lives.
In Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, reclusive author Vida Winter breaks her lifelong silence regarding her past and commissions bookseller Margaret Lea to write her biography. Miss Winter's story is a tragic tale of twins Adeline and Emmeline March, the slow loss of their family and decline of their home, and the devastating fire that ended their lives at Angelfield. Margaret spends the novel unlocking the mystery of Miss Winter's tale and learning the secret of the third girl in the story.
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