The following was inspired by events and characters in episodes four and five of the 2007 BBC miniseries Cranford, featuring Lisa Dillon (Mary Smith), Simon Woods (Dr. Harrison), Joe McFadden (Dr. Marshland), and Finty Williams (Clara Smith). Screenwriter Heidi Thomas adapted Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford and Mr. Harrison's Confessions for this part of the story. Of course I don't own any of it; I'm just putting the characters through their paces.
No offense towards anyone wearing corrective lenses is intended.
And as always, comments and reviews are most welcome.
Winged Cupid Painted Blind
Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.
- Dorothy Parker
"Oh, Mary, whatever are you about, wearing such a contraption!"
"Do you mean my spectacles, Mamma?" said Mary, peering through the same at her stepmother, who had by now returned her attention to the sewing in her lap, though her brow remained furrowed and her lips pursed.
"There is no need to feign astonishment," said she in reply. "Of course I meant your spectacles. Is this some strange new fashion you have learnt from your Cranford ladies?"
"By no means, Mamma," said Mary, unable to suppress a smile. "Indeed I know of no mania for spectacles in Cranford."
"I should think not," said Clara Smith, frowning. "Yet you never wore them before you went away."
"It is only recently that I have discovered the need for them."
"Need!" scoffed her stepmamma. "What need have you of such a thing?"
"There is some manner of defect in my eyes," began Mary.
"Defect?" said Clara. She laid her sewing aside and rose precipitately from her seat. "Come here, Mary."
Mary obeyed the command, and went to stand before her stepmamma.
"Now take off that dreadful thing." Mary complied, blinking as she removed her spectacles, and submitted to Clara's inspection.
"There is nothing wrong that I can see," announced Mrs. Smith, after she had satisfied herself that there was no sign of disfigurement. "Why, you have a perfectly lovely pair of eyes!"
At that her stepdaughter smiled again."There is no evidence of the defect that you or I might observe," she said. "Its discovery is owing entirely to the services of a physician."
The very mention of the term "physician" must produce in Clara's mind a host of particularly pleasing thoughts, as well as bring a smile to her lips. It proved, however, a short-lived expression, and vanished as Mrs. Smith observed, with unmistakable annoyance, "Whatever can Dr. Harrison have been thinking, giving a young lady spectacles!"
"You must not blame Dr. Harrison, Mamma -- though perhaps 'blame' is not a fitting word, as his advice was entirely correct," said Mary. "My appalling headaches were owing to a defect in my eyes, and Dr. Harrison summoned an expert who could help me."
"An expert? Mary, dear, your time at Miss Matty's has quite altered you. You come home talking of experts and of cows wearing flannel waistcoats and all manner of strange things."
Mary smiled again, and barely suppressed a giggle as she replied, "I had only thought to amuse you, Mamma, with the tale of Mrs. Forrester's Bessie. You can scarcely imagine how strange it is to see --"
"Now you have distracted me," said Mrs. Smith peevishly. "We were by no means talking of cows, but of your spectacles, and of this expert. What manner of expert?"
"Concerning ailments and defects of the eye, Mamma."
"I should rather have thought that Dr. Harrison was accomplished enough a physician that he might have helped you himself," said Clara, tugging at a thread. "Was there not some tonic or compress that he might have prescribed instead?"
"Indeed he said himself that he lacked the skill to produce a remedy."
"Hm. And so he sent you to some dusty consulting-room, to confer with an old gentleman in a wig, and you came away with those appalling spectacles." Clara looked up again from her sewing. "Why are you smiling?"
"It is not so simple as that, Mamma. One must test the glass first, to be certain one has properly corrected the defect. I was made to read from a page, while Dr. Marshland --"
"He is a physician at the Manchester Infirmary, Mamma."
"At Manchester? Well!" Clara snipped at another thread. "And so this old gentleman traveled the twenty miles to Cranford, that he might employ his tricks and stratagems, and persuade you that you needed spectacles."
"Mamma, there was no subterfuge involved," said Mary, at last allowing herself a mild display of indignation. "Indeed his methods were quite sound.
"And Dr. Marshland is by no means an 'old gentleman.' He learnt his profession at Guy's Hospital when Dr. Harrison did, and cannot be more than thirty, or perhaps eight-and-twenty."
"Whatever his age," said Clara tartly, "he evidently did not think that a woman may spoil her looks with spectacles."
"No, Mamma," said Mary, gracefully inclining her head for a moment, and smiling to herself. "I dare say he was more concerned that I do not spoil my eyes, and that I may read and write as much as I please." She had been writing a great deal since that appointment, and not just to her parents, or to good Major Gordon in India. Indeed it had been with Dr. Marshland that she had conducted her liveliest correspondence.
"Well," said Clara, examining her stitches. "I own I do not much care for spectacles. They seem more fitting for a clerk, or an old lady, than for a young woman. But if Dr. Harrison believes they are of some benefit -- "
"Indeed they are, Mamma. My headaches are quite gone."
" -- then I shall make no objection." Mrs. Smith dropped her work into her lap, and sighed. "But pray do not make too liberal use of them, Mary. I should not like for people to mistake you for a bluestocking."
"You have quite a pretty face, you know," continued Clara. "It should be a great pity to conceal it behind spectacles," she added, smiling at her stepdaughter.
Mary smiled too, not at the compliment but at the admonition. She remembered well sitting in a consulting-room lit by candlelight, and Dr. Marshland's expression as he gazed at her -- such merry eyes he had, and a ready smile -- and could almost feel the pressure of his hand upon hers, and hear the lilt of his voice. She should not require precious stones to make her spectacles, he said. "No need to gild the lily," he'd added, grinning, as Mary rolled her eyes.
Had the smile been for his own cleverness, or for her? Both?
Mamma's voice broke through her reverie.
"This Dr. Marshland -- is he married?"
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind...
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream