This is the first in a series I’ve been planning to write that looks at some of the favourite Dunnett quotes that I suggested we collect, and analyses them in the context of the passages they appear in. I’m starting with one of the classics. Or maybe two…
“Kate, my dear? Haven’t your raspberries been marvellous this year? Come and be licked; I haven’t dined yet.”
This has to be one of my favourite quotes in all of Dunnettworld, because it isn’t just a delightful visual image – it tells us so much about the characters and their interaction that it’s almost a backstory in itself. This is something that Dorothy is so very good at; sometimes she will take considerable time describing a scene in great detail, layer upon layer, when the pace of the narrative makes it appropriate, but at other times when it might interfere she has this wonderful ability to encapsulate matters into a short passage, a sentence, or sometimes just a couple of words.
Let us set the scene. We are in the middle of major difficulties, Richard has barred Lymond from his door after the episode with Joleta in Dumbarton, Gabriel is trying to take over St Mary’s, and we have recently had the Hot Trodd and the tragedy of Will Scott’s death. In the midst of this Francis Crawford visits Flaw Valleys, where he hasn’t been since having had to knock out Philippa to save her from harm.
Dorothy then described Kate’s feelings as she sees him approach, and then, as she enters the music room, describes how she looks at him, observing his skin colour and fitness. He turns and delivers that wonderful line.
In this case Dorothy is telling us a number of things:
The brilliant strategist and political schemer, the highly strung athlete and swordsman, who seems constantly above mundane matters, actually has a simpler side to him as well. He observes nature and delights in it, he enjoys the flavours and colours of the countryside.
Despite worries and events that would crush a lesser man, and as we will shortly discover despite severe exhaustion, he still has time and wit to greet Kate with humour and consideration.
He and Kate enjoy a close friendship. He has been shown, or maybe just enters without being shown, straight into the innermost rooms of the house and is clearly trusted to be there by the servants. He is able to tease her lightheartedly with no fear that she will be offended. He understands the demands that running an estate make on her and is immediately aware that she will be embarrassed at not being at her best for his surprise visit. That he can deflect her embarrasment and put her at ease shows both his kindness and affection for her and his wider ability to be comfortable in a woman’s company.
What an amazing amount of information is packed into that one quote!
The prior thoughts we see from Kate also tell us a great deal about her. In Game of Kings we saw how she was able to confidently probe and engage Lymond in a way that few others could manage intellectually and fewer still could get away with without attracting his withering scorn. In some part that was assisted by her being thoroughly grounded in a solid marriage. Now of course Gideon is dead. We’d seen glimpses of what a perceptive man and a loving and engaging father and husband he was. Kate will have mourned him deeply and may have been assisted by her new friends in the Crawford family. Clearly she misses him. But now her relationship with Lymond has taken on new qualities. She is still a young woman and must be very conscious of his attractions while not wanting to risk their friendship. So we see the ever-practical, sensible, down-to-earth Kate, concerned about her daughter’s safety, nevertheless worrying that she isn’t looking her best for him. His presence confuses her and causes conflicts in her mind. While remaining a loyal and concerned friend she is showing signs of being ready to fall in love with him if he were to give the slightest encouragement.
All this of course presages a passage during which we see her appreciating his extreme tiredness (and having the temerity that few others would have of advising him to rest because it will affect his judgement and leadership), showing her intelligence in analysing a series of complex facts and drawing conclusions, and despite receiving a shock about how much danger Philippa is in she is able to appreciate that it is Gabriel who is the danger to Lymond’s leadership of St Mary’s (and maybe a few more things besides.) And at the end of this passage, as Lymond succumbs to fatigue and near despair when for a moment he is afraid that she thought he might strike her, there is another wonderful one-liner. Probably a favourite of most readers, this time spoken only in Kate’s mind, and which acts as a perfectly matched bookend to the first.
“My dear, my dear, I would give you my soul in a blackberry pie; and a knife to cut it with.”