Challenge 741 Response:
Bewildering Stories discusses...
Bastards, Dastards and Matrimony
The Challenge appears in issue 741.
Jim Krehbiel’s Pure in Their Own Eyes presents a legal case and matrimonial history in which the facts are sometimes difficult to determine. The Bewildering Stories Review Board has engaged in extensive debate and reached some conclusions. The following deals with the questions in Challenge 741.
“Readers assume everything is normal — from their perspective — unless told otherwise.” — BwS motto. Joseph has two children: Daniel, with Maria, and Sarah, with Anna. Has Joseph been married to both Maria and Anna? To either one? To neither?
When was Joseph’s first wife, Maria, sent to a mental institution? And when did Joseph marry Anna?
The story opens in 1997, when Daniel is 17. Sarah, his half-sister, is 16. Maria was institutionalized not long after Daniel was born. Sarah was born probably in 1981. One presumes that Joseph and Anna were married although no wedding is mentioned.
What does Anna know about Maria? Does anyone else in town know about her? If not, how long have Joseph and his family been living in Pretty Prairie?
Anna remembers Maria as being incapacitated shortly after Daniel’s birth. Joseph has kept Maria a secret from Daniel and, especially, the townspeople. Since the town is small and is said to have no secrets, Joseph, Anna and Daniel could have come to live in Pretty Prairie only after Daniel was born in 1980.
Who is listed as the mother on Daniel’s birth certificate? If “Maria,” why is the name not common knowledge? If “Anna,” how did Joseph persuade a government official to lie or commit forgery?
Daniel’s birth certificate plays no role in the story. In any event, Joseph may not have needed to corrupt a physician or clerk. If he had the skill, he might have committed the forgery himself by substituting Anna’s name for Maria’s on his copy of the document.
A birth certificate might have been needed to enroll Daniel in the local school but, in such a small community, the school officials would have most likely taken Joseph’s or Anna’s word for Daniel’s age.
Divorce is never mentioned. Could Maria have been declared legally dead at any point?
Maria’s case does not meet even the most lenient requirements in the U.S. for death in absentia. She was alive and her whereabouts were known as late as 1994, which is the date on one of her letters that Sarah discovers in the attic.
Joseph could have prepared a counterfeit death certificate himself in order to obtain a license to marry Anna. However, there is no indication he ever possessed such skills, and the document could have easily been exposed as false.
Even if such a determination were possible, it would come too late. Was Joseph ever married to Maria? If so, why has Joseph not been exposed as a bigamist?
If Joseph had ever married Maria and subsequently married Anna under false pretenses, he would have been married to two women until at least 1994.
If Anna is aware of such a double marriage, she makes no reference to it. Perhaps she and Joseph have been pretending to be married, and Sarah is illegitimate. If Joseph and Anna share the religious nature of the community, that option seems questionable.
The likeliest conclusion: Joseph and Maria were never married, and Daniel is illegitimate. Joseph’s and Anna’s marriage — assuming it actually took place — could have proceeded unimpeded in 1980 or even earlier.
[Editor’s note] Historically, “bastard” was a legal term only; the term of opprobrium was “dastard.” The words are so close in pronunciation that they were easily confused. That may explain why William II, Duke of Normandy (a.k.a. the Conqueror, 1028?-1087), took offence at being addressed accurately as “William the Bastard” by some citizens of a town he was besieging and, in a fit of pique, catapulted the remains of captives into the town. Perhaps he misheard.
More likely, the catapulting was a normal function of medieval artillery. In any event, “dastard” had many different equivalents in Old French as well as in Anglo-Saxon. William most likely took “bastard” as questioning not his character but his authority, hence his substituting captives for the customary dead and decomposing farm animals. Today, “bastard” remains a technical term in genealogy and, in the lingua vulgari, has acquired the meaning of “dastard,” which has fallen into disuse.