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Apr 25, 2006



Here are the paragraphs, from pages 105-107. Ticknor is describing the scene of Prescott's injury, which occurred when they were at school at Pepperell:

"That the calamity befell him in the freshness of youth cannot be overlooked. The bread roll went straight into the open eye and the force of it toppled him so he lay flat and bleeding while everyone crowded around, a whole dining hall of boys in blue pants and blazers peering into his face, and after he was carried off we still stood about. I stood there the longest. No you did not. You returned, like the others, to your lunch. It had been the usual gaity only moments before, and the bread had certainly been launched at random. It had come from the hand of any one of the dozens of boys who were jumping about and throwing things in the eruption at the end of the hour, once the older boys had already left. It punctured the eye, they told us as we sat at our desks ...

... And although the blow had certainly been given by accident, the one who had thrown the bread roll never expressed any sympathy for Prescott's terrible loss. At least the sufferer, to whom, if anyone, he should have expressed it, never knew that he regretted what he had done."


It's a provocative thought, Sam, but I can honestly say it never occurred to me that Ticknor might be the notorious roll-flinger.


Thanks, Mark. I don't think it's entirely clear, but here are some things that suggest he is:

* Ticknor says "I alone, perhaps, am best able to chart the progression, from the start of his infirmity when he was still young and we were boyhood friends."

* Ticknor is present when it happens ("I had been in the hall when it struck the open eye").

* Prescott is hit in the eye because he hears someone call his name and "quickly turned to acknowledge it. Ticknor says "any one of the hundreds of boys on dozens of benches" could have called Prescott's name, and that the roll "had come from the hands of any one of the dozens of boys who were jumping about and throwing things in the eruption at the end of the hour." Ticknor protests too much here. In a hall with hundreds of boys, is it so impossible that someone would have seen the boy throw the roll? I think the perpetrator might want to believe it's impossible to know who did it.

* Ticknor says "the bread roll was not aimed at [Prescott]." How does he know?

* Ticknor says the one who had thrown the bread roll "regretted what he had done." How does he know?

Ticknor as roll-flinger would also answer the question I wondered about thoughout the book: why did Ticknor go to Europe? It's never explained. We know what brought him back - his father's death. But we don't what what sent him out. Maybe he fled to Europe in embarrassment. Maybe his father sent him to Europe because of it.

Makes me wonder, anyway.


An interesting take, Sam. Of course, there are alternate readings for each case but it's a fascinating bit of forensics.

For me, the key passage is this one:

"I stood there the longest. No you did not. You returned, like the others, to your lunch."

I think Ticknor's residual guilt has to do with being ineffective, feckless, once again he envisions himself in a role of importance whereas in truth he haunts the periphery. Having him chucking the roll places him in the center of things in a way that seems inimical to the Ticknorian State of Being.


It occurred to me, too. I ultimately came down more where Mark seems to have: that it makes him too central.

I think making him a witness, though, is nearly as good: it does that thing that so grates at Ticknor the character--making him seem to be a protagonist (I was there) at the same time as it makes clear that he's not even really a player (I neither caused the event nor suffered from it).

I do find, since these are real historical figures and the *real* Prescott was nearly blinded by a crust of bread, that I want to know what *really* happened.

I am still ambivalent about the relationship between the character and the man. That's another topic, but it's one that keeps intruding on my thoughts about the book, if that makes sense.


>Having him chucking the roll places him in
>the center of things in a way that seems >inimical to the Ticknorian State of Being.

You guys have me there. That's probably the strongest argument against.

It's a little more likely that he's the boy who called out Prescott's name. "Had his name not been called" sounds an awful lot like "Had I left the house one minute earlier" or "had I not made a pie at all."

You'll never get me to abandon my theories.:-)

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