Not many names begin with a double F. It’s a Welsh thing, or a Cornish thing, or an old, old English thing. And as we all know, English, she is not always pronounced as she is spelled.
“In general, modern English spelling, much of which was devised originally for the phonetic spelling of Middle English, does not reflect the sound changes that have occurred since the late fifteenth century (such as the Great Vowel Shift),” note the know-it-alls at Wikipedia. (The Great Vowel Shift, for those of you frowning in confusion, apparently took place between 1350 and 1700, and is explained in perfect circularity as the time “all Middle English long vowels changed their pronunciation. Because English spelling was becoming standardized in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Great Vowel Shift is responsible for many of the peculiarities of English spelling.”)
But enough about vowels. This column is all about the Ff. In general, “The doubling is used to indicate that the preceding vowel is (historically) short…. Very rarely, may be found word-initially in English, such as in proper names (e.g. Rose ffrench, Jasper Fforde).”
Rose ffrench was the first Baroness ffrench, and died in 1805. Jasper Fforde is alive and writing, a delightful novelist with humour to spare. He’s one of two authors, both UK ffolk, who can be ffound on the Lennoxville Library’s ffiction shelves under F and… f. And in this case, the double-F is pronounced like… a single F.
Check out 2005’s The Big Over Easy, in which the Reading police department’s Nursery Crime Division is called in to investigate the death of Mr. Humperdinck van Dumpty, a small-time crook and entrepreneur whose latest get-rich-quick scheme was about to lay an egg.
Or was it?
Dumpty was a rascal, a serial adulterer with a stash of cash and a taste for booze. Often pickled, he had a hard time with Easter and the cookery programs on the telly. Eggs benedict would crack his calm demeanour.
But is his death an accident? Or… murder?
The investigation falls to Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, a remarried widower (his first wife died of her bad eating habits). Spratt is on the edge of losing his commission, saddled with a new assistant, Sgt. Mary Mary, who wants nothing to do with him, and a departmental rival, Friedland Chymes, who seeks to sink him.
Nursery rhyme characters – anthropomorphized animals, and one egg – were granted equal citizenship in the year 1962. And Spratt’s division is charged with investigating their special kind of crime. “[B]ecause we cover well-established situations, patterns do begin to emerge…. There’s usually a rule-of-three somewhere. Either quantitative as in bears, billy goats, blind mice, little pigs, fiddlers, bags of wool or what have you, or qualitative such as small, medium, large , stupid, stupider, stupidest. If you come across any stepmothers they’re usually evil, woodcutters always come into fame and fortune, orphans are ten a penny.”
Witty and smart, The Big Over Easy also sends up some of the most famous murder mystery detectives, and the genre itself.
Filed right next to Jasper is Katie Fforde, a chick-lit novelist who writes charming romances in which women help each other first, then discover supportive men who fall for them.
In The Rose Revived (1995/2003), Harriet, Sally and May are all hard-luck gals who need a break. They meet at a job interview for a “high end” cleaning service, hoping to rake in the dough and save their unlucky selves from homelessness.
One is about to end a relationship with a live-in boyfriend (and it’s his apartment), one is a new arrival to the big city who knows no one, one is about to have her houseboat repossessed for debt. The three become fast friends, and end up learning how to start to make some of their own luck.
What’s needed for a good romance? According to Rose Fforde, “A good hero is absolutely key, and then a heroine who the reader can recognize – not too perfect, but likeable. Plot is very important, so then it’s a case of creating a few really romantic scenes. Not necessarily hearts-and-flowers romantic but unexpected romance in surprising places.”
Romance fans will also be interested to know that a filmmaker has made a documentary about the women who write and read romance novels, called Love Between The Covers. It was, Laurie Kahn told Maclean’s magazine this month, “a story about snobs.”
“I can’t tell you how many I interviewed,” says Kahn, “who told me that people will walk up to them on the beach and say, ‘Why do you read that trash?’” Romance novels are contemptuous, apparently, perhaps because they are seen as “female” reading. Other genres, Kahn says – mystery, horror, sci-fi – although just as filled by at-times ridiculous or repetitive plots, are not seen as “female”, and are therefore magically worthy of respect.
Kahn’s documentary opens this month in Toronto. And, a thoughtful Kahn notes, romance authors get to laugh at the snobs all the way to the bank. Their novels often outsell mysteries.
– Eleanor Brown, May 22, 2015