For the past several years I’ve been interested in the fear of forgetting history. This was sparked by my father’s hoarding of newspapers, embodying the human hunger for knowledge and unwillingness to let go of history not yet acknowledged. Knowing the amount of information stacked in New York Times piles around our apartment aroused my interest in the hoarding of history, as well as the connection we feel to physically keeping remnants of our personal history and the history unknown.
When Ould Lowe said “I am your history and religion” I connected what Lowe was trying to evoke with the fear of forgotten history. Caleum had struggled with remembering his own history when he was dismissed from the war and settled in New York City. When Caleum finally recognizes Rennton, he describes the “peeling away of the hardened membrane around his memory,” which highlights the toughened skin needed to ignore one’s own past (323). It is also interesting to note that when Ould Lowe awakens and fights to get out of the frozen over lake, he has his own process of remembering his history: “As he dwelled then in the refracted light of his aquarium, his memory of the years before began to be restored, like some fearsome returned king, and he knew again his former life” (358).
Ould Lowe mentions how he was a silenced part of the Merian family’s history, “In the same manner they had taken over all that was his, he reasoned, surrounding his name and memory with silence, brought on by guilt fastened around their tongues when they thought of him” (360). In the following paragraph, he speaks all of their names out onto the valley while standing on the shores of the lake, which highlights the power of silence and of vocalization. Ould Lowe was trapped in silence; speak of him was nonexistant in the Merian family, and the memory of him slowly faded out amongst the residents of Stonehouses as well as in my own memory as a reader. When Ould Lowe was mentioned again in the last leg of the book I had an “oh yeah, that guy” moment. In the density of the novel and the thick of each of the characters’ lives, I had forgotten about the first challenge to the Merian family’s land.
Not only is Ould Lowe a challenge to Jasper Merian’s settlement, but Ould Lowe was the original owner of the land who haunts the land in an attempt to prevent its settlement by others. The Merian family’s and my own forgetting of Ould Lowe reminds me of autochthonous peoples’ diasporas, and how we live upon the land and history of people before us, and yet we forget about them.
Ould Lowe initially appears in the novel to defend his land, and challenge the strength of Jasper Merian’s will to build his new home as a freed man. Ould Lowe reappears a second time soon after, while Jasper’s wife Sanne is washing clothes in the lake. Sanne goes to Jasper, telling him their land is of the devil, and after Jasper insists that Ould Lowe is vanquished, Sanne retorts, “It is half done, like everything else around here” (25). The narrator notes that this is the first fight of their marriage, which is interesting because Sanne proceeds to return to the lake and defeats Ould Lowe, binding him to rest at the bottom of the lake, in the name of her house and land. While wading into the lake, Sanne called to Ould Lowe, “I don’t know what you are, but you’ll not haunt this house” (25).
Fighting Ould Lowe in the name of the house ties into our discussions of what it means to live in a house, asking us what makes one’s house a home worth fighting for. Parallels can also be drawn to some aspect of most of the other novels we have read in this course; however, this is a tangent that I may pursue in a follow up post, and I would recommend others to look into such parallels for their own posts.
The third time Ould Lowe appears is when Caleum returns from New York City to his family at Stonehouses, after, unbeknownst to him, the old house burned to the ground and the new house survived fire only due to the strength of the remaining Merian women in the house. When Ould Lowe was actually trapped inside the lake for 100 years, the fight that trapped him there was from Sanne’s fight and not from Jasper’s, and when Ould Lowe returns for the third time, he is preventing Caleum from returning to a house where all the men had passed away, the women do not know how to fight him off, and the house is in a damaged, incomplete state.
There is an interesting contrast here between the state of the Merians family in the first two fights and in the third fight with Ould Lowe: the strong man Jasper half-asses trapping Ould Lowe in the lake; his wife Sanne successfully fights and traps Ould Lowe in the lake for the next 100 years; and then 100 years later, the women are weak, not knowing how to defeat Ould Lowe, and Caleum comes back to Stonehouses, war-damaged and shown to be immensely strong in battle, and defeats Ould Lowe, trapping him in the lake again for the next 100 years.
With this dynamic tossing around in my head, the following quote on the penultimate page of the novel confirmed my thoughts: “the maidens of that country, as has long been told, were famous as wives, and the men of that land were all worthy, if sometimes fallible, husbands” (367). The women of the Merian family are consistent in their womanly perseverance and support of the family’s men, and the men of the Merian family are the protagonists of the novel, and so we see their occasional faults, especially notable in the fights with Ould Lowe, where the ‘sometimes fallible’ husband Jasper is outdone by the ‘famous’ and consistent wife Sanne.
The blurb on the back cover of the book (for the soft-cover copies at least) has an interesting subtle reference to Caleum and Ould Lowe, “… a thriving estate called Stonehouses […] will pass through three generations. When the threads binding Stonehouses together begin to unravel, it will be up to Jasper’s grandson to preserve the legacy his family has taken lifetimes to build.”
This unraveling and effort to preserve could be referencing the Revolutionary War, Caleum’s temporary settlement in New York City, the lightening’s damage to Stonehouses, but it seems most likely to refer to Caleum’s fight with Ould Lowe. I believe so because of the importance of the “three generations” in the blurb and the relevance of the 100 year gaps between Ould Lowe’s second and third, and implied third and fourth reappearances in the novel.
This blurb therefore implies that Ould Lowe is representative of a force tearing apart the threads of Stonehouses, and we can indeed see that the times he appears are in times of weakness of land and damage to the Merian family. By periodically defeating Ould Lowe, the Merians ensure a 100-year period of safety, prosperity, and good fortune. There are occasional references to how the Merian family is one of the richest and most respected families in Stonehouses after Ould Lowe is defeated by Sanne, and after Caleum defeats Ould Lowe the novel ends on a positive note, implying that prosperity would soon return to the Merian family with Caleum’s hard and motivated work.
Correlation does not determine causation, but there is definitely a correlation between Ould Lowe’s appearances in the novel and when the Merian family suffers damage, as well as a correlation between Ould Lowe’s vanquishment and a period of prosperity for the Merian family.
These correlations and the final line of the novel reiterating the century-long cycle of Olde Lowe’s reappearances implies a cyclical nature to the Merian family’s balance between prosperity and threats of serious damage to their accumulated progress.