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Ambition and Rejection
The lovely, crimson leaves flew to the window. Positioned at her desk, Charlotte Whister gazed in astonishment, knowing that autumn had begun. The typewriter and journal waited patiently for stories to be inscribed. The wind blew across the town of Surein, Prince Edward Island. The cease of the nineteenth century was approaching. Charlotte stared at her writing and glared back up at the sky. Getting the story published was another task altogether. How arduous it seemed. The crescent moon gradually became more visible to her eye. Miss Montgomery’s footsteps became more and more clear, her body silhouetted into the room. With a jubilant smile, she exclaimed, “Good Evening. Your parents are not willing to admit you to college. However, I believe that if your cousin, Alexander can acquire a bachelor’s degree, so can you. Our families are privileged and educated. I never went to college. I am now in remorse.”
“Patricia, I am still expecting my parcel. I question your arrival here,” Charlotte remarked.
Miss Montgomery pointed to her rusty, old bag. She threw the contents of it on the floor. In the mess, lay the parcel. In it, was a letter. It was from Mrs. Emily Whister. Charlotte glared at it with scorching, red eyes. Her mother’s hostile behavior vexed her greatly. “You are such a disappointing daughter. I fulfilled my duty as your mother’s sister to send you the letter she wrote”, exclaimed Miss Montgomery. Charlotte, completely ignorant of her aunt’s words, threw the letter across the room. Charlotte squinted at the letter from her mother. She was waiting for an acceptance letter from her publisher.
The gloomy night entered the room. Thinking was hopeless. Black, grey, stormy clouds were the mere vision.
“Charlotte, I don’t like ambitious girls.”, Miss Montgomery grumbled. In dismay, she stormed out the door. She could not countenance Charlotte’s vanity.
Jane Austen did not have a college degree, yet she became a successful classic author. She started writing short stories at the age of twelve and published eight novels, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The History of England, Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion.
If Charlotte chose not to further her education, she would be left with inadequate career opportunities. She was not yet able to make a satisfactory living from a writing income. Furthermore, English Literature was a subject she invariably wanted to specialize in. Alongside English Literature, she could study Creative Writing and Education. In addition to these three subjects, Charlotte intended to study French, Greek, History, Biology, and Sociology. With this BA degree and teacher’s training, the opportunity to work as a teacher for a few years was open to her. She planned to eventually take up writing as a full-time career. She had applied to Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown. There would be an entrance exam administered the following June after her completion of twelfth grade. She had plans to pursue her MA at Dalhousie University in Halifax, a city in the nearby province of Nova Scotia.
However, this was not yet a decision made. Charlotte read the aforesaid letter from her mother once more. She was then transported to a day six months earlier. The birds sang a melodious tune that morning. Charlotte awoke to broad sunlight with eyes full of tears.
“Charlotte, why are you crying again?”, her mother inquired.
“I miss father terribly. My heart aches with sadness. I yearn for him to be back with us. Whenever I see his name, William Whister, I get overly emotional.”, her daughter explained.
“Don’t speak of your father as if he is dead. You are very well aware that he is out at work down in Boston. He left a year ago. He will not be back for another two years. You need to get yourself acquainted with that. I was orphaned at six months of age. I spent the first ten years of my life at orphanages. I was adopted by Hattie Gordon, a professor at Oxford University. Have some gratitude. Don’t be so selfish and obstinate. I am not in favor of ambitious and pensive girls,” her mother said with eyes of utter annoyance.
Charlotte’s mother was against the education of women, despite her very educated adoptive parents. Her husband, William was a successful lawyer. He had a special endearment for his daughter. Out of the two parents, Charlotte’s father was the only one that showed unconditional love for her. Her father always reminded her that her mother loved her too, but was undemonstrative and would never understand the vivacious world of literature.
That night as the full moon radiated over the brook, Charlotte’s mother left for Wiltshire, England to visit her beloved Hattie Gordon, who was aging. Charlotte was left in the care of her unmarried aunt, Patricia Montgomery, a notable public speaker both in Montreal and Toronto.
There Charlotte was sitting in her bedroom in the middle of October, reflecting and pondering on her relationship with her mother.
Waiting for the letter caused unease and nervousness. That week, she had continuously asked Miss Montgomery and the postman if the letter arrived. The letter was her pathway to her dream. Her literary ambitions were to be fulfilled.
Charlotte constantly told herself, I will succeed and arrive someday into the sublime world of authors, journalists, novelists, short story writers, and poets. She kept copious notes in her journals. She was driven by her goals, dreams, and ambitions. However, she was not writing for the world yet. She was writing out passion and love from her heart. Her insatiable love for reading caused her to become a prolific writer.
When she was four years old, she was known for her frivolous scribbling. That week, she had devoured Alhambra by Washington Irving. She would spend the next few months studying for her entrance exams. Unfortunately, there would be tests in math and science, subjects she could never find herself to like. Her schoolteacher, Miss Campbell was preparing the young scholar for the entrance exams. Amidst her hectic studying schedule and class assignments, she continued to write short stories, poems, essays, and journal entries. Her work had been previously published under a pen name, Gloria Selitsky.
She was not yet earning a salary from her writing. She was dependent on her aunt’s income and the money her father sent her. At this busy time of her life, she was reading every book she could lay her hands on. Her volume of writing was impressive, though she never thought of it as astounding or superior to Charles Dickens or the Bronte sisters.
On Charlotte’s rusty clock, it read two-thirty. It was past midnight and she was not yet asleep. She fell asleep with eyes that were tired and worn out. She had woken up the next morning at five-thirty. The weather was worsening briskly each day.
“Charlotte, this is the last time I am making your breakfast. From tomorrow, I will teach you to cook. You are on the brink of adulthood and you will be leaving for college in a few months,” Miss Montgomery informed. Charlotte had this childhood habit of addressing her aunt as Miss Montgomery. Charlotte glared at her aunt contritely. She promised to make an effort to learn one of the basic skills of life, cooking. She had some cooking experience from when she was younger. However, they were failed experiences. Later that day, Charlotte went out for a walk. The gust of wind blew over her brunette hair. Surein was a rather isolated place. It was not as lively and full as Cavendish, the town where she spent the first eleven years of her life. She spent a few years in Avonlea and Carlisle. She had been living in Surein for the past two years.
In the mail was a letter. Charlotte’s eyes beamed with a joy that could not be surpassed. There was something in the envelope. Both Charlotte and Miss Montgomery presumed it to be a letter. The question was whether it was an acceptance letter or another one of those icy little rejection slips. It had to be something related to publishing, for the envelope stated it was from the MacMillan Co. Charlotte, indecisive, had chosen not to open the envelope until later. She did not want an answer to her question just yet. While kept in suspense, there would more scope for imagination. Miss Montgomery told herself very quietly, what a queer girl. I quite like her ambitions. It’s her mother who is disturbed by them. By the time her mother is back, Charlotte will be in Charlottetown for college.
That would have been encouraging to Charlotte. She did not think of her mother even once that day. She was dauntless and ready to overcome anything. She returned home from her school classes that day and wrote an essay for her English class.
Miss Montgomery saw how hesitant her niece was and decided to read her writing. Miss Montgomery valued education and even parts of literature, though not as ardent as Charlotte. She would have furthered her education and had a college degree if not for her adoptive mother, Gracie Nesbit, and her elder sister, Emily. Miss Montgomery was often bombarded with questions related to her marital status. She was the outlier in her family, the woman that chose not to marry.
From Charlotte’s journal entries, it was evident that she praised her own writing, but also berated it. Her short stories and poems covered powerful and obscure themes. Miss Montgomery actuated Charlotte to someday write and publish a novel. That minute, Charlotte had a presentiment that her letter would not be an acceptance letter nor rejection letter. She colored slightly and spoke, “Will I rank well on the entrance exams in June?”, she asked plaintively.
Miss Montgomery looked deep into Charlotte’s eyes. “You will absolutely crack the entrance exams. I have no doubt. Your retentive memory will enable you to study everything once and remember it forever, even years after you take the exams and graduate college. You have the ability to do anything with perseverance, tenacity, love, desire, toil, and endeavor. You will become a successful and famous author too. Fame and glory may even intimidate you. Your literary works will become classics. A hundred years from now, there will probably be many inventions with technology that we fail to even imagine. However, you will be iconic, idolized, and remembered even then,” Miss Montgomery explained quite like a wise mentor.
She motioned for Charlotte to open her letter now and see what it was. Miss Montgomery promised she would pay any submission fees even after paying for Charlotte’s college education. Charlotte still refused to open her letter. She would open it in precisely an hour. Charlotte and Miss Montgomery were absorbing the literary pabulum in the newspaper’s new issue. There was an article about Queen Victoria, a role model of many.
Charlotte’s one hour was over. Quite reluctant at first, she pulled open the envelope and read the letter. “I cannot read more than one sentence of this”, she faltered.
Miss Montgomery said with an enormous smile, “We are both dying of anticipation. You love reading, be it books, short fiction, or letters. Go on without anymore pauses.”
Charlotte continued reading the letter. When she finished, Miss Montgomery applauded. Charlotte had read William Shakespeare’s plays and Alfred Tennyson’s poetry. She had read biographies and memoirs of authors. She knew what it meant to be considered for publication. Words and stories were not just meant to be written. They were meant to be shared and read. Charlotte’s presentiment turned out to be true in the sense that the letter neither accepted nor rejected her. The head publishers and editors of the MacMillan Co. had considered publishing an anthology of short stories and invited Charlotte to a literary conference a fortnight later. Charlotte would have to write a cover letter with her submissions of short stories for the collection. Her works would be read and analyzed by the publishing company. By the end of the conference, it would be decided if she was accepted or rejected.
Charlotte and Miss Montgomery were in awe. While their question’s answer would be confirmed nearly two weeks later, they did not worry. It was more than likely Charlotte would be accepted. She had received enough rejections already. There was a bouncing hope and confidence in Charlotte’s conversation with Miss Montgomery. The moon shimmered over the brook like it had the day before when Charlotte read her mother’s letter. The difference was that the light was shining in, covering all possible sources from the night’s darkness. Charlotte hugged Miss Montgomery and the sky kissed them. There was no future, only present with conundrums, laughter, and happiness to a greater and more idyllic level.