Friday, March 27, 2009

Grace and Judgement (by Nicole)

I'm intrigued by the character Grace and the part she plays in the novel. Her name must surely be something more than a co-incidence. Is it intended ironically? Or do you think McCall Smith is suggesting that there is some sort of hidden grace within or behind her sharp judgements? And what do you think we can learn (positively or negatively) from her example?

Here are a few quotes to get you started:
Grace had gone, but had left a note on the kitchen table. Somebody
phoned. He would not say who he was. I told him you were
asleep. He said that he would phone again. I did not like the sound
of him.
She was used to notes like that from Grace: messages would be
conveyed with a gloss on the character of those involved. That plumber I
never trusted called and said that he would come tomorrow. He would not
give a time.
Or: While you were out, that woman returned that book she
borrowed. At last.
She was usually bemused by Grace's comments, but over the years she had come to see that Grace's insights were useful. Grace was rarely wrong
about character, and her judgements were devastating. (p.28)

Grace was direct, which came, she imagined, from being brought up in a small flat off the Cowgate, a home in which there was no time for much except work, and where people spoke their minds. Isabel was conscious how far Grace's experience had been from her own; she had enjoyed all the privileges; she had had every chance educationally, while Grace had been obliged to make do with what was available at an indifferent and crowded school. It sometimes seemed to Isabel as if her education had brought her doubt and uncertainty, while Grace had been confirmed in the values of traditional Edinburgh. There was no room for doubt there; which had made Isabel wonder, who is happier, those who are aware, and doubt, or those who are sure of what they believe in, and have never doubted or questioned it. The answer, she had concluded, was that this had nothing to do with happiness, which came upon you like the weather, determined by your personality. (p. 54)

Isabel smiled. Grace was her greatest ally. Whatever disagreements they might have, in the final analysis she knew that Grace had her interests firmly at heart. This was loyalty of a sort that was rare in an age of self-indulgence. It was an old-fashioned virtue of the type which her philosophical colleagues extolled but could never themselves match. And Grace, in spite of her tendency to disapprove of certain people, had many other virtues. She believed in a God who would ultimately do justice to those to whom injustice had been done; she believed in work, and the importance of never being late or missing a day through 'so-called illness', and she believed in never ignoring a request for help from anybody, no matter what their condition no matter what the fault that lay behind their plight. This was true generosity of spirit, concealed behind a sometimes brusque exterior. 'You're wonderful, Grace,' Isabel said. 'Where would any of us be without you?' (p. 186)


Hannah Blake said...

I've been thinking about that too! I really don't think her name can be coincidental - it's pretty clear that McCall Smith chooses his characters' names carefully.

It seems to me that Grace is only really gracious (in a sacrificial way) towards Isabel. One example would be the fact that Grace works really hard for Isabel, who doesn't even really need a housekeeper - she definitely has the time and is able to look after herself. Yet Grace actively and constantly encourages Isabel to take time for herself and not to be at everybody's beck and call (although I don't think Isabel really is!), while Grace herself continues to work tirelessly on Isabel's behalf. It seems really odd to me!

At the same time as she is being gracious and generous towards Isabel, Grace is so occupied with her own works! The second and last quotes you posted illustrate this. The standards to which Grace holds herself and others don't seem to apply to Isabel.

Maybe Grace is not so much concerned with grace as with works. She loves the act of working and feeling like she has something very substantial to contribute, and when she is gracious towards Isabel she has even more opportunity for works on Isabel's behalf. So I guess what I'm saying is that she's quite judgemental and legalistic at heart, but can appear gracious in an attempt to gain for herself some extra works.

Hmmm, I'm not quite sure! The more I think about it the more unclear it seems!

Nicole said...

Hi Hannah,

Glad someone else noticed it too!

Yes, for someone with the name 'Grace', she makes a lot of judgements, doesn't she?

What do others think?