Saskia picked up the birthday cake on its plate and pitched it against an apple tree. It shattered. Crumbs and candles scattered everywhere. Then she started to break the pots, throwing the dessert plates on the ground and stamping on them. Imogen, giggling in a febrile manner, laid about her smashing glasses with her ribboned crook, sparing nothing. When he saw his caterpillars reduced to pulp, Perry gave a piteous whimper. The Lady A., apprehending carnage among her heritage tableware, started to wring her hands and undulate while Saskia’s wails approached hysteria, whereupon Melchior smartly smacked her cheek, the way they do in the movies.
“Stop that, young lady!”
She shut up at once, put her hand to her cheek, stared at him incredulously with her blue Lynde eyes. Then, tears. He took her in his arms, murmuring, “Hush, hush, darling.” She shook him off and flounced into the house, slamming the door behind her, followed a minute or two later by Imogen, except that Imogen had to open the door her sister had just slammed before she could slam it herself. The rest of us were left staring at one another across the broken crockery and I never felt more spare in all my life and neither did Nora. We got up in unison.
“I’m going to call a bloody taxi,” I said. “I’ve had enough of this.”
“Don’t go before you’ve had coffee,” said the Lady A. heroically but our Perry was pushing back his wicker chair so peremptorily it fell over, briefly trapping beneath it a small, yapping dog, probably a Yorkshire terrier.
The above extract comes from Saskia and Imogen’s 21st birthday party, and just after Melchior’s announcement of his engagement to “his Cordelia” who also happens to be Saskia’s best friend, and fellow Drama school student. Saskia and Imogen represent the higher class in society throughout the novel, having a legitimate ‘Lady’ for a mother, and have been brought up having the very best of everything. It is possibly this upbringing that stems their twisted actions and thoughts. They have always had a family, in contrast to Dora and Nora; however, this is family is one of dark secrets, affairs and illegitimacy. It is their unawareness of their true father, and of all the other inter-marriage affairs, which has affected them from birth to make them the bitter twins that they have become. It is debated however, that this is not the case, and that a person’s mental state is not defined by their childhood, but is something they are born with – and thus, in this case, Saskia and Imogen are born to be the resentful, ungrateful humans that they are.
At this point in the novel, the ‘Darling Buds of May’ still believe that Melchior is their father, though there is some indication that they may suspect otherwise. For example, their red hair would indicate Perry as their legitimate father – which in fact he is. Later on in the novel, it is discovered that Saskia had had relations with Tristram – Melchior’s son by yet another wife, ‘My Lady Margarine.’ The reader is aware; as are Dora and Nora that Saskia is in fact related to Tristram, and that Saskia is in fact the same age as Tristram’s mother – as they went to Drama school together. It emerges that Saskia had incited this incestuous relationship, perhaps as a get-back for Melchior abandoning Imogen and herself on their birthdays, by cutting off their allowances. Saskia is portrayed as the revenge-seeking character throughout the entire novel, always feeling that the world is against her and that she has to prove herself. Her angry display of violence at the party is again just another attempt to bring the attention back to her.
The first mention of Saskia is right at the beginning of the novel, as Tristram bursts into Dora and Nora’s house, looking for Tiffany. “Aunts!” is his greeting as he enters, and Dora mentally questions why Tristram calls them ‘aunts’ …
“When Saskia told me that the legendary Chance sisters were my very own aunts, I was over the moon!”
It appears that Saskia, in an attempt to get revenge on Melchior, she has misled Tristram – because in fact, Dora, Nora, Tristram and Gareth are all half-brothers and sisters. And so, our first impression of Saskia becomes one of a scheming and conniving woman, which is reflected throughout the novel. She becomes the “wicked witch” of the whole story, always described in a fairy tale manner – a sort of ‘seductive mother’ role. She then seduces Tristram into this incestuous relationship – which she believes will hurt Melchior, because she thinks that they are half brother and sister, sharing the same father. She does this in an attempt to gain the attention of Melchior, because they (Imogen and herself) have been supplanted by Tristram and Gareth, Melchior’s legitimate children. This is ironic in itself, because the Darling Buds actually supplanted Dora and Nora in the first place, thus gained a taste of their own poisonous medicine.
This happens on many occasions throughout the novel – where Imogen and Saskia upstage, almost, Dora and Nora. The mere time of their birth for example, could not have come at a worse moment – just as Dora and Nora are having their first period – the arrival of puberty. Perhaps this is meant to symbolise that, just like menstruation, Saskia and Imogen are something that the Cockney twins will have to deal with for the majority of the rest of their lives. They are upstaged once again in America, for the final night of The Dream, this time by their own father.
“Two lovely young Englishwomen, nymphs, roses,
almost as precious as my own daughters… my nieces.”
When Melchior announces this, Dora and Nora are distraught, and once again, without even doing anything, Saskia and Imogen have gained the upper hand – a mental victory. It also confirms that Saskia and Imogen have gained what Dora and Nora have always dreamed of – becoming recognised publicly as Melchior’s children. This also tells us something about the character of Melchior – in denial about the paternity of his own children. Saskia and Imogen begin to take advantage of this lead over Dora and Nora. When they go to visit the Darling Buds, Nora takes along a bunch of carnations, to save the Lady A. any trouble digging about in the garden. Saskia quotes a line from Winter’s Tale, “…which some call nature’s bastards” as a dig at the twins being of illegitimate fatherhood. This arrogant comment however, is rather hypocritical, though Saskia does not know that her biological father is actually Peregrine. It is this type of sneering attitude that sums Saskia up. “So rich. So well connected. So legitimate” as Dora comments sarcastically earlier in the novel.
The twins’ ungratefulness towards gifts is repeated later on, at the 21st birthday party. Perry arrives and gives Saskia and Imogen a small box each containing a caterpillar – his latest interest. He says that he has named them after the twins, and this is obviously very heartfelt. However, this is crushed, and then later physically crushed, when Imogen turns around and says, “Is that all?” This was a huge emotional blow to Perry and this inconsiderate attitude made him “all at once look his age. More. He looked a hundred. He looked a hundred and ten.” The way that the pair treats people, not only members of their family, is quite sickening. Strangely, this is Imogen’s first main appearance of the novel. Because of her brash and spiteful nature, Saskia has always been centre-stage, and Imogen has always been rather passive. For example, at Dora and Nora’s first stage performance, the proactive Saskia bawls her eyes out – once again upstaging the twins – whereas Imogen just falls asleep.
However the reaction to the gifts is not the most explosive of the afternoon as shown by the extract. Melchior chooses this time, “such timing”, to announce his engagement to yet another wife. Except this time, it is Saskia’s best friend – ‘his Cordelia’. Saskia’s fiery personality, to match her red hair, comes out once again as the cake is thrown “against an apple tree.” Although she does have good reason, for a 21 year-old to have such a tantrum in front of the majority of her family, is a little selfish and unnecessary. Saskia likes to make a big spectacle and does this by slamming the door as she storms into the house. As a contrast Imogen is left in her wake – and almost ruins the effect – by having to go after her in a similar style. However she is dressed as a shepherdess, which makes the whole scene have a comic effect, mixing anger with humour, the realistic with the ludicrous. This is characteristic of the way that Carter has written the whole novel, a sort of carnivalesque approach to an absurd yet startlingly real world. This ridiculous way of dressing is repeated by Imogen at Melchior’s 100th birthday party, when she puts on a costume (another of the novels themes) which includes a real goldfish bowl on her head – complete with living goldfish. .
Yet after this action filled birthday ‘party’ there is more to come. Saskia and Imogen, once having forced their mother to sign over the house and remaining money to them, find that she has a rather ‘unfortunate accident’. Although it is never confirmed, and “not a whisper upon the subject ever wormed its way through the Lady A.’s stiff upper lip” it is highly suspected that the bitter twins pushed their mother down the stairs in order to gain the estate and her last sum of wealth. This twisted hatred adds to our perception that Saskia and Imogen have no capacity to love whatsoever.
However, just as in every story – the good overcomes the bad, and Saskia and Imogen finally get their comeuppance. After dealing out so many put-downs, at long some are handed back in true style. The first is by Tiffany, of all people, and is rather indirect for she is talking to Tristram after magically appearing out of a box that Perry has produced. The blow comes with the line,
“Marry your auntie instead.”
This is an obvious taunt at the interactions between Tristram and Saskia, and the reaction is the start of Saskia’s downfalls of the evening. “A palpable hit. Saskia turned white and dropped her glass.” The reader will be happy to see the demise of the Hazard twins, as they will have sided with the narrator, because of the biased narrative. However it is clear to see that the rising of the Hazard sisters is aptly timed with the collapse of the careers of the Chance twins, and this may also have led to some hatred between the sets of twins. Some of the Chances lowest times have come when the Hazed girls are at their best – for example Saskia’s cooking program has just taken off. This produces envy, especially within Dora, because of the blatant use of sex appeal to sell the show. It may also be reminiscent of Dora, as she wishes she ‘still had it in her’ to be as Saskia is. Though strangely it is Saskia’s cooking which leads to another large event. As has happened many times before, Saskia’s intense jealousy has gotten the better of her and she has attempted to poison members of her own family. This time it backfires on her.
The poison inserted in the cake seemed to be meant for Melchior, though after Tiffany turns down Tristram’s proposal, Lady Margarine suggests he eat something to calm him down a little. She picks up a bit of cake and the distraught Tristram is about to take a mouthful when “there was a piercing screech and crumbs everywhere because Saskia dashed the cake from Tristram’s lips and collapsed in the arms of her sister.” Imogen yet again stands by unable to do anything of any particular use, “commenced her celebrated goldfish imitation again, her lips opened, her lips closed.” Perhaps the goldfish is symbolic of her character, with opening and closing mouth – nothing useful to say, or do, rather forgetful and rather futile when it comes down to it!
As ever Perry rescues the situation by throwing the contents of the goldfish bowl over Saskia, which immediately made her come to, and confess all about the poison in the cake. But as we have seen time and time again, there is more to add to this. After letting out the real reason why she had slipped something into her cooking, “You never loved us!” – aimed at Melchior – Dora finally tells her that, ” ‘e’s not your father!” Saskia reacts rather violently and started punching Peregrine – which to be fair, is rather harsh considering he is 1) her father and 2) just turned 100 years of age. This sort of behaviour is typical of her character however, doing things without thinking. Typical of Imogen however, is to go for the more passive approach, following her mother around asking for details.
This time it is the Lady A.’s turn to make a stand. As the true story of the Darling Buds descent is unveiled “all eyes now swivelled towards Saskia and Imogen, who flinched and quailed.” It seems now they cannot hide behind their rich upbringing, their possessions and the things that they have, whilst others have not. This speech has brought them down to the same level as everyone else and it seems that they do not like this one bit. However, even with this truth telling, the girls are still feeling sorry for themselves. “The darling buds clung to one another, pictures of shame and grief.” Suddenly we again see the real Saskia and Imogen… “Saskia and Imogen each seized hold of a piece of the Lady A.’s skirt, kissed it and begged her to forgive and forget.” The Hazard twins know that Peregrine will once again take off after this episode, and so, now that Melchior has abandoned them, they will have no-one to depend on, and hence they try to make amends – for their own benefit.
Unfortunately it is this attitude throughout the whole of the novel that has led to the Darling Buds failure in the end. Whereas the Chance sisters had learnt to make something out of nothing, the Hazard girls had everything and made nothing. Saskia and Imogen needed nothing but love, and in contrast, Dora and Nora had nothing but love. If the story teaches us nothing else, it is that love, and a family – no matter how makeshift it is – can produce success.