The Fates

Do you have one, and can it be changed?

There is no way to change the past, but is a person’s future bound by the same inflexible law? Philosophers and theologians have pondered this for ages and have come to different conclusions. In the realm of the literary imagination, writers have often speculated on the same question resulting in more lively to read if not necessarily more optimistic conclusions. Consider these three novels. Hanging over the characters in each is a brooding sense of destiny.

Case Histories      Case Histories / by Kate Atkinson

Retired Cambridge police inspector Jackson Brodie has set up as a private detective. Unfortunately, his business is experiencing a downturn. There are only a few errant spouses to trail and his one steady customer is the eccentric and wealthy old cat lady, who keeps him busy tracking down stray cats. Then suddenly he has three new clients with three old cases. Theo wants him to find the murderer of his beloved daughter. The case is ten years old and he thinks the police have given up. The Land sisters, back in Cambridge for their father’s funeral, want to know what happened to their sister who disappeared thirty years ago when she was three. Then the sister of a the woman convicted of axe murdering her husband wants him to track down her runaway niece, the niece she’d promised her sister to care for like her own. It’s not a very hopeful caseload, and to add to these annoyances, someone is trying to kill Brodie.

A Prayer for Owen Meany      A Prayer for Owen Meany: a Novel / John Irving
"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice--not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God…" thus John Wheelwright begins his reminiscence of his friend Owen Meany who died twenty years ago. The death of John’s mother was the result of a foul ball hit by Owen in a Little League game. It was so clearly an accident and a source of pain and grief to both boys that John never blames or resents Owen.

John’s conversion experience comes after Owen dies protecting a group of orphans in Arizona. When he returns to their hometown in New Hampshire, he discovers that Owen had already carved his own tombstone including his date of death. Years before in the Presbyterian Church’s production of “A Christmas Carol, “ Owen, who was playing the part of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, sees it on stage complete with dates.  Although Owen long ago confided to John that he was sure this was a prophetic sign, John did not then believe him.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles      Tess of the d’Urbervilles: a Pure Woman / faithfully depicted by Thomas Hardy

Tess Durbeyfield is descendant of “Sir Pagan d’Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror.” That was in the eleventh century, and for some centuries the d’Urbervilles were powerful, some say cruel, overlords in the concurred realm. But by the nineteenth century the only remnants of the family are the impoverished Durbeyfield family of which Tess is a member. She’s happy to get a job as a housemaid with Alec Stoke-D’Urberville, the son of a deceased merchant, “some say money-lender,” who “decided to settle as a country man in the South of England, out of hail of his business district; and in doing this he felt the necessity of recommencing with a name not quite so well remembered there.” Having spent an hour or so doing research in the library looking for “extinct, half-extinct, obscured, and ruined families appertaining to the quarter of England in which he proposed to settle, he considered that D’Urberville looked and sounded as well as any of them: and D’Urberville accordingly was annexed to his own name for himself and his heirs.” However, the job as housemaid, turns into a nightmare for Tess and she leaves the Stoke-D’Urberville household in disgrace.

Years later, she’s happy to get a job working on a dairy farm. All of the dairymaids have fallen in love with a young man working there with them. He’s reputed to be a gentleman. While all desire him, Angel Clare, falls in love with Tess and chooses her. But Tess is not sure that she can reveal her past to him. What if her past misdeeds, what if the past deeds of the ancient d’Urbervilles are held against her. She waits until her wedding night to confess hoping that her husband, the youngest son of the evangelical clergyman, will forgive.