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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

Please use this thread to post your questions and comments for the first section of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, from the opening chapter, "A Handful of Leaves" through "Storm."

 

Please remember that if you haven't finished reading this section yet, you will come across spoilers here!

 

How would you describe the lives of the Sawtelle's? What is your sense of Almondine, and of watching Edgar through her eyes? What is your overall impression of the Sawtelle dogs?

 

What is your impression of Claude, and the confidential things he tells young Edgar about his father? Do these stories change your opinion of Gar at all?

 

Did you expect the death that strikes at the end of this section? Are you as shocked as Edgar when it happens?

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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

Okay, as described in the "Introduce yourself" thread, I'll be spending most of my time here for the next few days, concentrating on everything up through Part I (including the Preface).

 

Rachel's questions are great ones. I'll kick in a couple more, starting at the very beginning of the book, as a way to suggest some of my interests in writing this story:

 

 

  1. The epigraph for this novel is a quote from Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. Any thoughts on what it suggests about the nature of this story? I'm always curious about whether epigraphs make any impression on readers. I tend to glance at them and then forget them, but occasionally they stick with me (such as the one Harper Lee gave for Mockingbird: "Lawyers, I suppose, were children once" by Charles Lamb.) How about you? Did Edgar's epigraph make any lasting impression as you read?

  2. The title for Part I is "Forte's Children". Any thoughts on that choice? Why that, rather than, say, "Claude Comes Home" or "The End of Childhood" or any other more plot-related title?

  3. I happen to think that the first chapter, A Handful of Leaves, is one of the most important chapters in the story, but it is quite long and somewhat unusual compared to the rest of the book. For one thing, it begins long before Edgar was born, though Edgar appears in various flash-forwards. Did that throw anyone?

  4. Also in Chapter 1: What did you make of the wolf pup incident and what happened at the end of that chapter with the pup? Anyone wonder why that was in there if the pup was just going to die?

 

-David

 


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

Hi David, I suppose the epigraph didn't stick with me because I can't recall.  I did find the first chapter different in tone and often re-reading pages or paragraphs to get the history right, and to make certain I knew what time frame I was in.  I did notice, unless I missed it that as Edgar ages we are really unaware of how old he is until later on.  I presumed the section was called Forte's Children referring to the original Forte, who Gar had,  and his genetic role in creating the Sawtelle dogs in the story. 
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

Whoops, quick correction: the schedule I alluded to is in the Welcome From the Author thread!


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

I was very moved by the wolf pup, and as much as I hoped it would live, some how I knew it wouldn't.  I think it provided a great deal of insight into Trudy"s character, and a transition into healing and moving forward.
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

For completeness, I've included the epigraph here:

 

  There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having
  been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst
  this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from
  so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful
  have been, and are being, evolved.
            —Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

This is, by the way, the closing line of The Origin of Species, and in my opinion one of the most gorgeous sentences in all of science. It is also a statement about how large and generous the world is, how it is continually changing, regenerating. It talks about beauty and wonder and grandeur. It makes the human world, and its concerns, seem very small, and yet it is one of the most hopeful statements I can imagine. There is a literal connection here to the passage in the first chapter (John Saswtelle's reflection on Gregor Mendel, etc.) but also, more generally, the practice of breeding dogs and other animals, which takes the elemental genetic processes Darwin and Mendel investigated and puts them to human use.

 

Sort of like taming fire --

 

-David


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children


David_Wroblewski wrote:
  1. Also in Chapter 1: What did you make of the wolf pup incident and what happened at the end of that chapter with the pup? Anyone wonder why that was in there if the pup was just going to die?

 

-David

 


I think the story of the wolf pup was in there to make me cry. :-(

 

Seriously, I assumed when I read that that I would understand the story's meaning further along in the book.

 

Now I'll read what other's had to say. 

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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children


I think the story of the wolf pup was in there to make me cry. :-(

 

Seriously, I assumed when I read that that I would understand the story's meaning further along in the book.

 

Now I'll read what other's had to say. 


 

One of the things on my mind while writing and revising this book was the too-often binary distinction between the wild world and the domestic world. I at least tend to automatically associate the domestic world with tenderness and caretaking and the wild world with ruthlessness and ferocity. But of course, those aren't really exclusive categories. The boundary between those worlds is far more porous than that. Being "domestic" (in the sense of dwelling in a home) doesn't mean living without feral impulses, and living in the wild doesn't preclude the caretaking we associate with domesticity. 

 

So I happen to like that pup because it is wild, but Trudy treats it in a quintessentially domestic way -- exactly the way she would have treated a baby.  She's just suffered this terrible miscarriage, yet somehow the wild world has handed her -- for one night -- something that consoles her. 

 

The other thing going on there is that I wanted to connect Edgar to that wolf pup, because I wanted Edgar to have a wild side and a domestic side. Of course, he isn't *literally* that pup, but that pup was in Edgar's crib before Edgar was. The baby Edgar appears just moments afterward in the text. That juxtaposition, of Edgar and the wolf pup, in my mind at least, makes Edgar a little bit wilder than he might ordinarily be. Maybe that is why Edgar is so obsessed with Mowgli, who grows up around wolves. And maybe, when Forte appears, that is why Edgar becomes so obsessed with this dog that is a little too wild to ever come in and live with the Sawtelles. And maybe that's why Claude himself is so fascinating to Edgar, because Claude, like Forte, can't be entirely domesticated.

 

I'll have more to say about that pup and Forte when we get to Part IV and Part V.

 

Here's a side-note about the chapter called "The Stray": the whole time I was writing that chapter, I was privately imagining that it was really the story of the stray trying to lure Edgar into the wild, not the other way around. 

 

-David 

 


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

[ Edited ]

TJJD wrote:
Hi David, I suppose the epigraph didn't stick with me because I can't recall. I did find the first chapter different in tone and often re-reading pages or paragraphs to get the history right, and to make certain I knew what time frame I was in. I did notice, unless I missed it that as Edgar ages we are really unaware of how old he is until later on. I presumed the section was called Forte's Children referring to the original Forte, who Gar had, and his genetic role in creating the Sawtelle dogs in the story.

Hi TJJD, thanks for your response.

 

A couple reactions: First, you're right that chronology is scrambled in that first chapter. The idea was for Edgar to "exist before he was born" in various ways -- for this to be so totally Edgar's world that his presence projects all the way back to the moment that land was cleared.

 

Second, yes, Edgar's age is a little hard to pin down, and I think that is complicated by the fact that he's a prodigy of sorts, and precocious. In particular, he's a really great observer of the people around him, and of the dogs. Being mute is a factor here -- he's learned to compensate for his inability to (for example) ask questions by simply watching and answering his questions for himself. Or by turning to his own imagination for the answer, as in the case of Schultz: since there is no "evidence", the only way to know why Schultz packed up and left so abruptly is for Edgar to imagine Schultz as deeply as possible. Someone on this thread or elsewhere suggested that Schultz existed simply as backstory, but I don't think of Schultz that way. The Mystery of Schultz is the first "problem" Edgar has to solve in this story, and the way he solves it (by watching, slowly gathering evidence, putting it together, and then filling in the blanks with his imagination) is going to be very important later, in Part III.

 

Finally, you are right about the source of the meaning for Part I's title, but there's more: the difference between "Forte's Children" and any of the other titles is, for me, that calling it "Forte's Children" marks this part of the story as being about the dogs first, the people second. I often have described this novel's structure as a braid, composed of many strands representing distinct ideas, concerns, images, and so on. Each strand tends to surface for a while, play a role in the foreground, sometimes only for a paragraph or a few words, then submerge, only to surface again later in some other form. (I think this is true of many novels, by the way, and is the primary tool that writers use to make the unnaturally long stories we call "novels" hang together as a single experience.) One strand in the braid of TSOES is a "genesis story" for the Sawtelle dogs; what that story is, and why it matters, is mostly latent in the book until much later, so I won't elaborate here, except to say that the title "Forte's Children" is the first place where that strand surfaces.

 

-David

Message Edited by David_Wroblewski on 08-05-2008 05:51 PM


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

Regarding the epigraph, this was one of the few books that I can remember where the epigraph put a certain context throughout the entire book.  I mean that sincerly, there were a few times where I had finished a chapter or particular passage where the Darwin passage unlucked a meaning to me.  There of course is the literal view of the evolution of the dogs but (I will try not to jump ahead here) I felt as thought there were emotions, insight and of course evlolved senses that compensated for his disability. 

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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

Thanks David and I love the idea of "dogs first people second" I did get that sense. Additionally, I really did appreciate that sense of Edgar existing on the land even before he was born.  I did get that it was all very interconnected transcending time.  The Sawtelle dogs were the constant.
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

Mr.. Wroblewski,

The wolf pup episode was very interesting, however, there is an additional view to the scenes that you offered. You mention the dichotomy between the civilized and the wild worlds that the pup represents. I saw those scenes where Trudy is desperate to keep the pup alive, as the civilized world as represented  by the Sawtelle dogs refusing to feed the pup, as the domestic rejecting the "wild". The inability to feed the pup by Trudy as an impotence of the civilized in dealing with needs of the "wild".

You also mention that Trudy is treating the pup as a baby and this consoles her. I believe you write a passage where the pup and Trudy gaze into each others eyes, before the pup dies. Hunters tell of a similar gaze. Before the animal that is hunted dies he will sometimes gaze into the eyes of his killers before dying. The Indians believed that the spirit of the animal was passed on to the hunter at this time. There are several passages early in the book where a gaze plays a role. In this scene, in one where Almondine was said to be chosen for the way she looked at Gar and Trudy, but now the look was described as "pensive". Of course the gaze between Edgar and his uncle through the kitchen window. Is this a recurrent theme?

Finally, when Trudy buries the pup where her first baby was buried, my  first interpretation was that this was the death of innocence, and that this marked a turing point in the story.

 

Michael

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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

That staring at Claude through the window and Claude seeing him and then Edgar just does a strange smile, was the one time I felt creepy about Edgar and that he was going to do something terrible. I knew already that he wanted to kill Claude but this went beyond that. And perched in that tree staring at him and then that smile also made me think of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, sitting there on that branch, with all disappearing but that smile. Edgar almost became Claude's ghostly apparition to me in that moment and it was like by grabbing Trudy that he was trying to control the situation and dispel this ghost.

 

Trudy with the wild pup...this showed me two things about Trudy. She was very much business about training the dogs properly and was better at it than Gar. She loved them but there was no fooling around about what to do with them. She was good at it and knew it. Then there was the other side of Trudy, the woman, the one who had lost a baby, who wanted to feel that nurturing closeness of a mother, who could not see another baby die right now, human or wild dog and needed to hold it, take care of it. Sometimes grieving women will hold a baby animal and talk sweetly and low to it and in a sense, pour out all their grief and pent up love onto that baby animal, filling the gap that still holds their heart. She even put it in the crib. I didn't want to think of this in any Hamlet sense, just wanted to take it as it felt, the actions of a grieving human mother that let me know a bit more about Trudy.

 


brontyman wrote:

Mr.. Wroblewski,

The wolf pup episode was very interesting, however, there is an additional view to the scenes that you offered. You mention the dichotomy between the civilized and the wild worlds that the pup represents. I saw those scenes where Trudy is desperate to keep the pup alive, as the civilized world as represented by the Sawtelle dogs refusing to feed the pup, as the domestic rejecting the "wild". The inability to feed the pup by Trudy as an impotence of the civilized in dealing with needs of the "wild".

You also mention that Trudy is treating the pup as a baby and this consoles her. I believe you write a passage where the pup and Trudy gaze into each others eyes, before the pup dies. Hunters tell of a similar gaze. Before the animal that is hunted dies he will sometimes gaze into the eyes of his killers before dying. The Indians believed that the spirit of the animal was passed on to the hunter at this time. There are several passages early in the book where a gaze plays a role. In this scene, in one where Almondine was said to be chosen for the way she looked at Gar and Trudy, but now the look was described as "pensive". Of course the gaze between Edgar and his uncle through the kitchen window. Is this a recurrent theme?

Finally, when Trudy buries the pup where her first baby was buried, my first interpretation was that this was the death of innocence, and that this marked a turing point in the story.

 


 

 


 

Vivian
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children


brontyman wrote:

Mr.. Wroblewski,

The wolf pup episode was very interesting, however, there is an additional view to the scenes that you offered. You mention the dichotomy between the civilized and the wild worlds that the pup represents. I saw those scenes where Trudy is desperate to keep the pup alive, as the civilized world as represented  by the Sawtelle dogs refusing to feed the pup, as the domestic rejecting the "wild". The inability to feed the pup by Trudy as an impotence of the civilized in dealing with needs of the "wild".

  

You also mention that Trudy is treating the pup as a baby and this consoles her. I believe you write a passage where the pup and Trudy gaze into each others eyes, before the pup dies. Hunters tell of a similar gaze. Before the animal that is hunted dies he will sometimes gaze into the eyes of his killers before dying. The Indians believed that the spirit of the animal was passed on to the hunter at this time. There are several passages early in the book where a gaze plays a role. In this scene, in one where Almondine was said to be chosen for the way she looked at Gar and Trudy, but now the look was described as "pensive". Of course the gaze between Edgar and his uncle through the kitchen window. Is this a recurrent theme?

 

Finally, when Trudy buries the pup where her first baby was buried, my  first interpretation was that this was the death of innocence, and that this marked a turing point in the story.

 


Hi Michael, great read on wolf pup episode -- I agree that you can look at it as the "impotence" of the domestic world to respond to the needs of the wild. Nice choice of words. That wasn't in my mind as I wrote it, but I see your point.

 

As for gazing, etc as a recurrent element -- it is recurrent, though again, until you pointed it out I'm not sure I would have said that. Edgar reads people's faces quite intently, as a necessity, so I think that led to a lot of descriptions of gaze. 

 

The pup's burial -- yes I see what you are saying. But also, the pup is being treated like a human, being buried in exactly the same way as the baby, etc. And of course there is much foreshadowing going on here, since those graves will be important later. So from a rather practical writer's point of view, it is no coincidence that we see early that death is an element in this story. More on that later, of course, in the Part II-V threads. But this is why I so often talk about "braiding" in a novel. I think most of us were forced in lit classes to focus on either "plot" or "symbolism", both of which are secondary from a writer's perspective. What often matters more, to a writer, is this technique of interconnected imagery, because (to repeat myself) the problem with a novel is that it is such an unnaturally long story.

 

Speaking of braiding, did anyone cue on how it is raining during the episode with the wolf pup? How Trudy seeings figures dancing in the rain while in the truck on the way to the hospital? And how it is raining during the prologue?

 

-David 


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

[ Edited ]

Mr. Wroblewski,

Thank you for the "braiding" of the scenes with the rain. I think it an effective literary device as rain is a common shared experience, that evokes an emotional as well as a physical response. In fact I can now understand what you were doing with your description of the"pop" of Edgar's wet clothes as he stands up from a rain soaking.

A question I have is if you gave us a clue by the pattern that John Sawtelle walked while looking for the shop in the prologue? I believe that the pattern he was walking is a training pattern, ie a square, for leash training puppies to follow a lead.

Message Edited by brontyman on 08-06-2008 07:34 AM
Michael

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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

David, I was wondering about your take on foreshadowing and about to write it in the questions to you link when i saw you mention it briefly here so will just ask here lol. Some writers really hate the idea of foreshadowing and get upset if you even say they use it. Others use it extensively as a device. You seem to do a lot of it in this book. What do you think of foreshadowing in general? As a reader, for me it depends on the book. Well even for example in reading the bible, the old testament, all the stories are basically foreshadowings of the Christ to come, they are a "type" of Christ, that often go unnoticed as the special lesson they were meant to teach, always looking towards the Savior to come, in the New Testament, not just stories of the past. Anyway, like I say, as a reader for me, it depends on the book and the extent it is used. We had one club where people got so caught up in what this or that may symbolize in the book or this was a foreshadowing of that, that the whole discussion then became one of looking for hidden meanings before the author even got there! There was some in that book, but not everything was, nor was it meant to be and this unfortunate turn of events took most of the conversation off the book's real story line onto a hunt for clues to something more, when most things were just what they were.

I remember at one point, there was a box these kids used to like to hide things in, and it was described of course. It was a pretty box with chinese figures on it and such and everyone went nuts on what these figures and things might mean. I finally had to say something, and said, maybe its just a pretty box that the kids use because its a pretty box! By the time the author arrived, she found herself unfortunately going through too much stuff saying, yes this was symbolic of this that was to come but not everything means something more. As for the box, she said, I did not mean for it to be more than a pretty box that the children would find fascinating because their father had brought it from China, it has no other meaning. So, altho I do like the use of it, I think foreshadowing can become too much and take on a life of its own, or the reader can put more into it than what is meant to be, as in that one club. I think there is a fine balance in how much of it can be used and still keep a story moving at a good pace and interesting even when you don't catch all the nuances of the foreshadowing at first. Just wondering your thoughts on it.

 


David_Wroblewski wrote:

And of course there is much foreshadowing going on here, since those graves will be important later. So from a rather practical writer's point of view, it is no coincidence that we see early that death is an element in this story. More on that later, of course, in the Part II-V threads. But this is why I so often talk about "braiding" in a novel. I think most of us were forced in lit classes to focus on either "plot" or "symbolism", both of which are secondary from a writer's perspective. What often matters more, to a writer, is this technique of interconnected imagery, because (to repeat myself) the problem with a novel is that it is such an unnaturally long story.

 

-David


 

 

Vivian
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

Hi Michael, nothing intentional in that reference to the "pattern" being walked in the prologue

beyond simply that the man was searching, methodically, for the herbalist he'd been told about.

 

-David 

 


brontyman wrote:

Mr. Wroblewski,

...

A question I have is if you gave us a clue by the pattern that John Sawtelle walked while looking for the shop in the prologue? I believe that the pattern he was walking is a training pattern, ie a square, for leash training puppies to follow a lead.

... 


 

 


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

Mr Wroblewski,

Thank you for the info on John Sawatelle's search. Can you also tell me if the envelope that has a postmark Portsmouth, VA and a letter from Claude , is the intent for the reader to know Claude was in the Navy, because of the Navy base there, or possibly that Claude was in the Naval prison at Portsmouth?

I have also tried to tie in your Darwin quote with the story with no more than superficial success. I understand the ties to the Mendalian genetics that appears, but will the quote mean more to the reader in the later chapters?

Michael

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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

Hi Michael, yes the reference for Portsmouth is meant to suggest, very

indirectly, both those things.  As for the Darwin quote, see my previous

post in this thread. You won't find a specific textual connection, only the

thematic connection as I described.

 

-David 


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Part I: Forte's Children

I want to make a stab at the question of "Forte's Children" and the question about the wolf pup. At the end of the chapter "A Handful of Leaves," Edgar is told about the deaths of the Sawtelles' newborn and that of the pup, and thinks that "maybe there had been a certain compensation, though harsh...." Could that be related thematically to events of the section? Claude claims that the original Forte was shot as a kind of compensation for the shooting of the mastiff (though Claude is probably lying about how the event occurred), and then, after Claude kills the deer, he manipulates a "deal" with Edgar which Edgar hopes will spare the life of the stray, the "second" Forte. As the herbalist noted in the Prologue, "Here we trade one life for one life."  Could that be what is suggested by the section title "Forte's Children," the trading of one life for another,or the harsh compensations life may offer?