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Literature / A Tangled Web

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A Tangled Web is one of the few books published by L. M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables) that was written mainly for adults. It centers around a community consisting mainly of two families, the Penhallows and the Darks, who have intermarried frequently amongst one another.

When the clan matriarch, Aunty Becky Dark, dies, she leaves instructions for a treasured family heirloom, the old Dark jug, to be left in the care of a trustee, with the true heir to be revealed in a year's time. Family feuds intensify, as clan members work to acquire the heirloom, and many other events spawn off from it.

This work includes examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Brian is raised by his neglectful aunt and uncle.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Aunt Becky's dying confession is that she loved her married friend Crosby all her life; Roger loves Gay, who is engaged to Noel; Joscelyn and Hugh each believe that the other hates them; Murray pines for Thora, an abused wife; Naomi longs for her amnesiac husband to remember her ... plus several more examples that would take too long to write.
  • Alpha Bitch: Nan who has gone out her way to hurt her cousin Gay since childhood.
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  • Betty and Veronica: Gay and Nan.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Darks and Penhallows.
  • The Clan
  • Courtly Love: Murray for Thora. Mercilessly parodied with Joscelyn, who left her husband on her wedding night because she fell in Love at First Sight with his best man Frank. She stayed faithful to Frank's memory for ten years without ever seeing him, but when they meet again, guess what? He's fat, bald, sleazy and broke. Joscelyn comes to her senses with a vengeance, goes back to Hugh, and lives happily ever after.
  • Curtains Match the Window: Gay Penhallow has golden-brown hair and golden-brown eyes.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Donna and Peter, who belongs to a rival branch of the family.
    Drowned John: You shall never speak to Peter Penhallow again!
    Donna: But I'll have to speak to him sometimes, Daddy. One can't live on terms of absolute silence with one's husband, you know.
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  • Domestic Abuse: Chris Dark is an abusive husband to his wife Thora.
  • Ensemble Cast: There is no one main character.
  • Game Between Heirs: Aunt Becky willed that the name of the heir of a priceless heirloom will only be disclosed a year after her death. Because she said that the heir may or may not be chosen in the year between her death and the day the heir is announced, the family members spend the rest of the year trying their best to live up to what Aunt Becky would have wanted in an attempt to win the heirloom.
  • Greek Chorus: Pippin and Stanton Grundy.
  • Gossipy Hens
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Poor, poor Gay Penhallow. (It's actually short for "Gabrielle".)
  • Her Heart Will Go On: Virginia Powell, a sentimental war widow, parodies this trope.
  • In the Blood: Gay's mother questions the suitability of her daughter's fiance based upon his "Gibson blood". A certain branch of the Penhallow family, including Peter and Joscelyn, are known for mood swings and impulsiveness because they're descended from a Spanish woman.
  • Ironic Nickname: Big Sam, Little Sam — though not intentionally.
  • Jerkass: Plenty, but Aunt Becky would be the more prominent example.
  • Kick the Dog: Brian's uncle who kills Cricket, a stray cat who is Brian's only companion, by breaking its neck.
  • Kissing Cousins: The Darks and Penhallows continue to intermarry very frequently.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Lawson Dark, due to an injury in the war, can't remember his wife.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Love at First Sight: Donna and Peter, Joscelyn and Frank (on her side anyway).
  • Love Triangle: Buckets of them.
  • MacGuffin: The jug.
  • Make-Up Is Evil: Aunt Becky's wearing rouge shocks her companion, and she makes Nan wash hers off.
  • Male Gaze: Several times, but special mention goes to Murray, who's describes as "devouring" Thora with his eyes.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Brian. His mother never told, and so no one knows who his father is.
  • May–December Romance: Roger and Gay.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Drowned John, "by asterisk and by asterisk".
  • Old Flame Fizzle: Used twice, with Joscelyn and Gay.
  • Once Acceptable Targets: The last line in the book is highly questionable from a modern perspective for this very reason.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Aunt Becky knows dozens of embarrassing stories to needle her relatives with.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Gay (Gabrielle); Nan (Hannah); Drowned John; Pippin (Alexander); Dandy (Robert); Penny (Pennycuik); the Moon Man (Oswald); Big Sam and Little Sam; Aunt Becky.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Brian.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: Without the objections. The narrator points out they are not so petty as to want her money; they want the family heirlooms.
  • Paranoia Gambit: Aunt Becky runs a very successful one, post-mortem. She says that the inheritor of her jug might be named in the envelope, or the envelope might contain a list of instructions and behaviors that Aunt Becky approves of, and Dandy (the keeper of the envelope) is to choose who will inherit the jug based on who has best fulfilled Aunt Becky's wishes. Then, the whole clan spends the rest of the year trying hard to behave in such a way as will guarantee their getting the jug.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Gay gives this speech to Nan when Nan comes to gloat about dumping the fiance she had originally stolen from Gay.
  • Runaway Bride: Joscelyn leaves her husband to return to her mother's house on the night of her wedding, still wearing her wedding dress. He won't take her back until she returns to him in that same gown.
  • Secret Keeper: Dandy Dark, chosen because Aunt Becky said he's the only person in the whole family that she's known to be able to keep a secret. He keeps it so well, in fact, that even he never opens the envelope to read her will. And then the letter is lost, so this trope is Subverted.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Donna and Peter.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Penny.
  • Thicker Than Water: The Darks and Penhallows fight quite a bit against themselves, but present an unbroken front to outsiders.
  • The Unreveal: Dandy loses Aunt Becky's letter and we never get to find out who was chosen as the rightful owner of the jug.
  • The Vamp: Nan.


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