Sunday, November 6, 2022

The Disposition of the Child [COPP]

Reading "The Copper Beeches" on this Fall weekend made certain things stick out.  Every mention of the titular trees made me look around to appreciate how vibrant the leaves are in my neighborhood.  And Halloween being right around the corner made me think of werewolves every time Carlo was mentioned (If you're unfamiliar with that argument, I strongly recommend checking out Ray Betzner's essay "Whatever Happened to Baby Rucastle" in The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes.)  

But more importantly to this teacher's mind was another autumnal constant: Parent/Teacher Conferences.

Now, what do Parent/Teacher Conferences have to do with "The Copper Beeches" you might ask?  Let me quote Sherlock Holmes to explain that for you:

"My dear Watson, you as a medical man are continually gaining light as to the tendencies of a child by the study of the parents.  Don't you see that the converse is equally valid.  I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by studying their children.  This child's disposition is abnormally cruel, merely for cruelty's sake, and whether he derives this from his smiling father, as I should suspect, or from his mother, it bodes evil for the poor girl who is in their power."

Let me be clear, I'm not claiming that I have students who spend their lives alternating "between savage fits of passion and gloomy intervals of sulking" or that giving pains to any creatures weaker than themselves seems to be an idea of amusement.  

But Holmes's diagnoses of the apple not falling too far from the tree would ring true to any teacher.  The talkative kids in class?  Those are the conferences that I worry will run overtime with the parents.  The kids who want to please and are wonderfully behaved?  Those conferences will be with some delightful folks.  The intellectually curious kids will likely be repped by folks who have great questions of their own when we talk.  I could go on and on....

Other children in the Canon prove Holmes's point as well.  Jack Smith, the pilot Mordecai Smith's young son comes to mind.  He shows an entrepreneurial spirit in The Sign of Four, just like his father who is not opposed to working with some shady folks for the right price.

Early on in "The Copper Beeches," Jephro Rucastle describes his son as "a child who may some day play a considerable part in the history of the country" and a few paragraphs later laughed at how vicious Edward was toward cockroaches.  Do we see parallels in the father's own nature?  The way he speaks to Violet Hunter once she is in his employ, the way he treats his daughter, and how he speaks to Holmes at their meeting shows that the man feels that he is on a higher plane that some folks.  And it's very clear that Rucastle has a violent streak in him just like his boy.

Growing up, was Jephro Rucastle an "utterly spoiled and so ill-natured a little creature" as his own son is?  If Sherlock Holmes and Parent/Teacher Conference data have anything to say, it's pretty safe to say that both Rucastles follow similar paths.  But the traumatic closing events of "The Copper Beeches" may not have saved only Violet Hunter and Alice Rucastle.  That fateful night may have altered the trajectory of Edward Rucastle's life as well and kept him from turning into his father.  And for that, the mice, birds, and little insects of Hampshire should be glad.

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