writers

The facts

Vivian Strange had taken a furnished house in the village in order to enjoy the calm and quiet which were so essential to his literary calling. Instead of calm and quiet he had found William.

  • Number: 3.13
  • Published: 1923 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William Again
  • Synopsis: William endeavours to provide source material for a writer staying in the village.

Verdict

The young man to whom William and Ginger provided the slaves in William Sells the Twins turned out to be a writer in search of solace.

Unfortunately, William attaches himself to him, popping round at all hours to play (imperfectly) on his mouth-organ, show him (unwelcome) pond creatures and demonstrate (tunelessly) his “new whistle”.

William drew his brows together in deep thought. “I think the villain oughter say, ‘Ha! villain! Never shalt thou worst me’ – or something like that.”
“People don’t talk like that in real life.”
“Oh, reel life!” said William scornfully. “I thought we was talkin’ about books.”

When Mr Strange, the writer, gets stuck for a piece of dialogue in his crime novel, William immediately knows what to do.

He recreates the scene – an innocent man imprisoned – as best he can – by imprisoning an arbitrary innocent man in Mr Strange’s coal-shed.

Eventually William drives the poor writer to distraction and into exile, but, completely oblivious to his role in the departure, sadly remarks, “I shall miss you quite a lot an’ I ’speck you’ll miss me,” – and blissfully remembers all the new words he learnt from the angrily imprisoned man.

I really love William’s cheery lack of self-awareness in this one.

The facts

“It’s a beautiful book, William,” Aunt Ellen said. “It might prove the turning-point in your life. I’m sure you’ll wish you knew Peter and his dear mother.”
William, after reading a few pages, began, as she had predicted, to wish he knew Peter. He wished he knew Peter in order to take the curl out of that butter-coloured hair and the fatuous smile from the complacent little mouth that stared at him from every illustration. Driven at last to fury, he dropped Peter down the well, and began to look for more congenial occupations.

  • Number: 3.9
  • Published: 1923 (1922 in magazine form) – not to be confused with the 1948 William novel of the same name
  • Book: William Again
  • Synopsis: An author persuades William to impersonate one of their creations.

Verdict

Another interesting variation on the ‘insufferably virtuous child’ theme.

In this coincidence-packed story, William accompanies his mother to Aunt Ellen’s house where Aunt Ellen insists he read the true story of a lovely little boy called Peter, written by Peter’s own mother.

But, roaming round the neighbourhood, William comes across the author of Peter, a childless man who considers Peter’s non-existence to be his deepest secret. Terrified that it is about to emerge because a fan is on her way to visit him, he bribes William to be Peter for the afternoon.

“He must have taken a fancy to William,” said William’s mother. “SOME people do…”

William does not, it must be admitted, put much (or any) effort into his role, at first. “That curly hair wot I had,” he explains to the visitor, “all came off – got clawed off by a monkey, at the Zoo.”

But then, when he gets into it, he goes at the drama of the situation with a crusader’s zeal. His mother, he explains, is upstairs dying. The real author, hiding under a table in the living room, is a burglar.

Somehow William manages to come out on top of the situation even though literally nobody else does…

The facts

William began quietly to remodel his life. He would not be an explorer, after all, nor an engine-driver nor chimney-sweep. He would be a man of mystery, a murderer, fighter, forger. He glanced with utter contempt at his father who had just come in. His father’s life of blameless respectability seemed to him at that minute utterly despicable.

  • Number: 2.3
  • Published: 1922 (1919 in magazine form)
  • Book: More William
  • Synopsis: William befriends “Mr Blank”, who claims to be a war veteran but may, actually, have slightly different professional interests.

Verdict

This story consists of a number of William tropes – his attachment to anyone looking curious, unkempt or tramp-like; and his deep generosity (albeit with other people’s property).

William expressed his surprise. “Oh, ‘ell!” he ejaculated, with a slightly self-conscious air.
Mr. Brown turned round and looked at his son. “May I ask,” he said politely, “where you picked up that expression?”
“I got it off one of my fren’s,” said William with quiet pride.
“Then I’d take it as a personal favour,” went on Mr. Brown, “if you’d kindly refrain from airing your friends’ vocabularies in this house.”
“He means you’re never to say it again, William,” translated Mrs. Brown sternly. “Never.”
“All right,” said William. “I won’t. See? Strike me pink. See?”

Also a welcome cameo return by Mrs de Vere Carter (“Willie! Dear child! Sweet little soul!”): see William Joins the Band of Hope, 1.7.

She was at the Browns’ for tea and desperate showing-off to Robert’s (purportedly) celebrity friend Mr Lewes, “editor of Fiddle Strings: Mrs de Vere Carter’s greatest ambition was to see her name in print”.

Of course, one more William trope came to the forefront in this story. For how many other 11-year-old boys could invite a burglar into their family home, allow said burglar to help themselves to all sorts of objects from all sorts of rooms, then finish the day by, unintentionally, publicly recovering the loot and getting all the credit?

William has a knack for accidentally foiling crimes, hence this story’s categorisation as William comes out on top. As Ralph Stewart has written, “An important part of his appeal seems to be that he can combine misunderstandings, which all children experience, with a high success rate.”