by Mary Norton
Okay, okay. There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting the best for your family. And while we totally applaud Homily's hard work to ensure a better future for her daughter, we also can't help but point out that her weird fixation on material wealth is a major source of conflict in The Borrowers. As in, half the trouble they get into is all thanks to Mama Clock's penchant for shiny things.
She Says She's Not House-proud (But Totally Is)
"No one could call me house-proud […] "You couldn't be, not with my kind of family, but I do like […] to keep nice things nice." (12.3)
You know when people say they're definitely not something, but you know they actually are? Like, "No one would call me a mean person—I'm a total sweetheart—but…" or "I don't want to be rude but…" and then they go on to do something mean or rude? That's Homily in a nutshell.
Sure, she may say she's not house-proud, and that she just likes "to keep nice things nice." But whatever she may say, her fondness for keeping nice things nice lands her family in a whole lot of hot water. Sounds like pride to Shmoop.
Just take, for example, the scene in which we first meet Homily. At the beginning of the novel, she's worried about her husband, Pod, who went out borrowing a long time ago, but has not yet returned. Homily is especially worried because she didn't really need the thing she sent Pod to get:
"But I went on about it so. What's a tea cup! Your Uncle Hendreary never drank a thing that wasn't out of a common acorn cup, and he's lived to a ripe old age and had the strength to emigrate. My mother's family never had nothing but a little bone thimble which they shared around. But it's once you've had a tea cup, if you know what I mean…" (3.13)
When Homily sends her husband into danger to get something as unnecessary as fine china, she feels awful about it. But she still did it. That's because, she admits, that once one has tasted fine things, it's hard to go back to your run-of-the-mill beverage containers.
But putting her husband at risk early on isn't the only time Homily's thirst for fine things causes conflict for her family. Trouble strikes again when the boy starts to bring the family elegant furniture from the dollhouse and other rooms. Homily is not content until she has it all, and the longer this borrowing goes on, the more her family is at risk.
Even Pod's a bit concerned:
"Pod was a little irked by his riches; he had never visualized, not in his wildest dreams, borrowing such as this. Homily, he felt, should call a halt; surely, now, their home was grand enough; these jeweled snuffboxes and diamond-encrusted miniatures, these filigree vanity cases and Dresden figurines—all, as he knew, from the drawing-room cabinet—were not really necessary. what was the good of a shepherdess nearly as tall as Arrietty or an outsize candle-snuffer?" (16.9)
Homily's pride and desire for all sorts of finery that are "not really necessary" makes her pull an Icarus and fly too close to the sun. As a result, she and her family get burned. How? Well, Mrs. Driver notices all the fine things from the drawing-room cabinet are going missing (just as Pod feared), and her suspicion leads her right to the borrowers' dwelling. From then on, the borrower family is running for its life, away from rat-catchers, cats, dogs, and policemen.
She Calls Other People Snobs, But She's One Herself
"Your Aunt Lupy, who married your Uncle Hendreary, was a Harpsichord by marriage and we all know the airs she gave herself […] well, she'd no right to. She was only a Rain-Pipe from the stables before she married Harpsichord." (5.38, 40).
That's Homily's take on her snooty relatives who put on airs (that's just an old-timey way of saying they're snobs). But if you thought that was bad, well, she's just getting started:
"Oh, you must've heard me talk of the Overmantels, […] that stuck-up lot who lived in the wall high up—among the lath and plaster behind the mantelpiece in the morning room. And a queer lot they were. The men smoked all the time because the tobacco jars were kept there […] The women were a conceited lot too, always admiring themselves in all those bits of overmantel looking glass. They never asked anyone up there and I, for one, never wanted to go." (5.30)
She really lays it on thick when it comes to looking down her nose at her snobby fellows. But that's just it—she's looking down her nose at them. So who's the real snob here?
Plus, when you factor in the fact that Homily seems overly concerned with having nice, pretty things for her house and family, you can't help but wonder if she's the one who's really stuck up.
She's a Loving Mom
Sure, we've been kind of hard on Homily—calling her a materialist snob and all. But we give the gal props for being a pretty good mom to Arrietty when the chips are down. She helps convince overbearing Pod to let Arrietty in on some fun, and this opens the door to some cross-cultural bonding between Arrietty and the human boy. So, thanks Mom.