The Declaration, Chapters 18-19

Mrs Sharpe has rescued Peter and Anna from the shed, and dressed them in some old clothes belonging to her and her husband. I’m somewhat imagining them being swamped in these ridiculously oversized garments.

Julia looked at them, their faces so serious, and she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

Mrs Sharpe sees just by looking at them that Peter is intense and serious and manly, but also protective of Anna.

Anna looked up to him too. That girl had always looked like she willingly carried the weight of the world on her shoulders and still thought it wasn’t enough of a burden. Julia didn’t know how he’d done it – she had tried hard enough herself and got nowhere – but somehow Peter seemed to have managed to take some of the load from her.”

Let’s take a moment to unpack this sentence. First off, we’re being encouraged to view Anna as some kind of pure and selfless ideal, striving hard to make the world a better place. Nothing we’ve actually seen Anna do in the book so far supports that conclusion. She was largely mean to the other girls and seemed to care little for anyone else. I’m not saying that Anna had any chance of being a saint, given her fucked up upbringing, but let’s not cast her as something she isn’t.

Then we have the statement that Mrs Sharpe had tried her best to lift the weight of the world from Anna’s shoulders. And again I say, really? Mrs Sharpe seemed like a reasonably sympathetic person who was quite nice to Anna in the past, but it didn’t feel like she’d gone above and beyond the call of duty to be especially kind to her. Even now that Mrs Sharpe is helping Anna and Peter, it feels like she’s doing it mostly because the plot demands it. But more on that in a moment.

In case we’d forgotten about the diary, Mrs Sharpe also notices that Anna looks worried, as if she’s lost something. Let’s milk this for all it’s worth.

Mr Sharpe phones up to check on the situation, and see if his wife is okay.

“’I don’t like knowing that my wife is in danger, and nor should you.’”

Concern for your nearest and dearest is normal and natural, but Mr Sharpe manages to sound like he’s telling off a child. This book certainly seems to like infantilising the non-evil women – just look how Anna already worships Peter.

Anna and Peter hide out in the summer house some more, whilst Mrs Sharpe avoids being part of the search party set up by her neighbours. Peter asks why she’s going to all this trouble to help them.

Mrs Sharpe bit her lip. ‘To tell the truth, I’m not sure,’ she said quietly.”

The author told me to!

Mrs Sharpe arranges to meet Peter and Anna at a petrol station that evening, where they sneak into her car. The rationale is that she wouldn’t want to be spotted by the neighbours, or anyone watching the house. Except anyone watching the house is surely going to notice two children sneaking out to walk down to the nearest petrol station. And the petrol station forecourt will likely have CCTV.

…the fresh air was intoxicating and the crunching sound of their feet on the frosty ground made her heart leap with exhilartion.”

I like this sentence. I like the feeling of Anna being free and out in the fresh air, when she’s been trapped in musty old Grange Hall since forever.

The two children climb into the boot of Mrs Sharpe’s car, so that she can drive them to London.

“’You can put your head on my shoulder if you want,’ Peter said softly.

Anna bit her lip, unsure what to say. She longed to put her head on his shoulder, to feel the warmth and security of having his arms around her. But she didn’t think she deserved it. Ever since she’d discovered that her journal was no longer in her overall pocket, she had barely been able to look at Peter, hadn’t been able to cope with his inevitable disappointment and anger.”

Oh, in case you’d forgotten, Anna has lost the diary that details all of their escape plans.

I actually feel a bit sorry for Anna here. She’s basically pulled along at Peter’s pace, but also she doesn’t even think she deserves love and affection. In a better book, more would be made of this – how she doesn’t feel she deserves love because it’s been drummed into her that she is worthless and shouldn’t exist. Instead, she’s worried that Peter will not only be angry with her, but also disappointment. And, given what we’ve seen of him so far, he surely will be. He’ll likely berate her and call her stupid, and tell her once again to leave all the thinking to him. To be fair, writing down all your plans was a stupid thing to do, but the prospect of Peter’s reaction just hits me in all the wrong places.

All the lorries going to London are being searched, and so Mrs Sharpe gets stuck in traffic. Peter decides that they should walk the rest of the way, and so they get out.

Anna was sure she didn’t deserve such kindness.”

Oh, Anna.

Mrs Sharpe drives away, her role as plot device complete. Will we ever see her again?

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