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Literature / Brat Farrar

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Brat Farrar is a mystery novel by Josephine Tey, written in 1949.

Brat Farrar is an orphan who has been persuaded to pretend to be Patrick Ashby, the missing heir to the Ashby family, who was presumed to have committed suicide years before. While living with the Ashbys — Patrick's siblings Simon, Eleanor, Jane, and Ruth, and their Aunt Bee — Brat develops suspicions regarding Patrick's disappearance, and begins trying to solve the mystery of what happened to him.

In 1986 the novel was adapted by The BBC as a TV miniseries, which was shown under the Mystery! banner in the US; Mark Greenstreet played both Simon and Brat. It was also the inspiration for the 1963 Hammer Horror film Paranoiac.

This work provides examples of:

  • Always Identical Twins: Actually averted — Patrick and Simon were twins, but not identical. Several people remark on the fact that the returned "Patrick" looks much more like Simon than the young Patrick ever did. The younger twins, Jane and Ruth, are identical (at least physically).
  • Amateur Sleuth: Brat decides to look into Patrick's suicide after he decides that Simon knows he isn't Patrick but for some reason is keeping his secret anyway.
  • Becoming the Mask: Brat finds himself becoming a lot more comfortable as part of the family the longer he keeps up the pretence, but this also comes with an increase in both guilt for taking advantage of them and discomfort as he begins to develop (reciprocated) feelings for his "sister" Eleanor.
  • Black Sheep:
    • Alec Loding is the black sheep of the Ledingham family, who gave up all his responsibilities to live a life of dissipation in London (and yet, his sister says, resents his family for no longer being rich enough to mooch off).
    • In the Ashby family, mention is made of Cousin Walter, who was brought low by drink and died a pauper. Walter turns out to be Brat's father.
  • Breaking Bad News Gently: Mr Sandal, the lawyer, makes sure Bee is sitting down before breaking the news that someone has turned up claiming to be Patrick.
    "Ah, Miss Ashby," Mr. Sandal said. "This is a shocking dilemma. A most unprecedented—- Do sit down. you must be exhausted. A dreadful ordeal for you. Sit down, sit down. Mercer, some tea for Miss Ashby."
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Doesn't actually happen, but Eleanor is appropriately horrified when she realises she's falling in love with "Patrick". In the end they turn out to be cousins, and Eleanor has no problem with marrying him - Brat is the illegitimate son of a cousin of Eleanor's mother.
    "You're not my brother!" she said. "I couldn't feel the way I—-" She stopped, horrified.
  • Character Overlap: The lawyer Kevin Macdermott also appears in The Franchise Affair. The Toselli family had previously appeared in A Shilling for Candles, which is also set in Westover and surrounding areas.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Brat impersonates Patrick Ashby, who the family assumed committed suicide years earlier. Patrick really is dead, but it's murder, not suicide.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: George Peck, The Vicar, smokes one.
  • Doorstop Baby: Brat was left on the doorstep of an orphanage as a baby.
  • Fake Identity Baggage: Brat's attempt to impersonate Patrick goes well at first, partly because Alec Loding warned him in advance about nearly all the baggage Patrick had that might cause trouble. The problem comes with the one piece baggage even Alec didn't know about — the truth about Patrick's disappearance.
  • Finally Found the Body: The plot revolves around the disappearance of Patrick Ashby, who left a suicide note but his body was not found. Brat finds the body of Patrick near the end of the novel, at which point it's only a skeleton and a few shreds of cloth, buried under three feet of leaf mould.
  • Genuine Imposter: The explanation for Brat's close resemblance to Patrick is that his unknown father was the black sheep of the Ashby family. At the end of the novel, the Ashbys accept him into the family on his own account.
  • Gossipy Hens: The village has one running the newsagent/sweetshop, and another in the post office; when Bee is trying to figure out how to announce the return of Patrick, her friend Nancy suggests mentioning it in one of those places and letting nature take its course.
  • High-Class Glass: Great-Uncle Charles wears one, "in either eye, according to which hand Charles had free at the moment".
  • Identical Stranger: Brat's Dead Person Impersonation is inspired by the discovery that he bears a remarkable resemblance to Simon Ashby, Patrick's surviving twin. The orphan Brat discovers at the end of the novel that he's a lost relative, the son of the black sheep of the Ashby family.
  • Identification by Dental Records: Discussed but averted. Brat doesn't have to deal with matching Patrick's dental history, as the dentist who could have recognized him was killed, and his records destroyed, during the Blitz.
  • Imaginary Love Triangle: Brat becomes jealous of Eleanor's friend Roger Clint after Ruth tells Brat he and Eleanor are going to be married; it turns out she was just romancing, and not only is there nothing going on between them, Roger is already married to someone else.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Brat is pretending to be the returned Patrick Ashby. It's revealed at the end that Brat actually is a previously-unknown illegitimate member of the Ashby family.
  • Orphanage of Love: Brat spent his childhood in one.
    It was a very good orphanage; a great deal happier than many a home he had seen in passing since. The children had loved it. They had wept when they left and had come back for visits; they had sent contributions to the funds; they had invited the staff to their marriages, and brought their subsequent children for the matron's approval. There was never a day when some old girl or boy was not cluttering up the front door.
  • Present-Day Past: Brat Farrar was published in 1949, and mentions British characters going on holiday to France eight years earlier — which, if the novel is also set in 1949, would be very bad timing.
  • Proof Dare: After Brat figures out the truth behind Patrick's disappearance he impulsively reveals as much to the culprit, who calmly responds that he has no proof and furthermore that he can't even share his suspicions with anyone without admitting that he's been lying about being Patrick.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Twin sisters Jane and Ruth are described as being opposites in pretty much every way except physical appearance.
  • Stage Names: Alec Loding, né Ledingham.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Twin sisters Jane and Ruth.
  • You Can See That, Right?:
    Astride the farther lion was a small boy clad in a leopard-skin rug with green baize edging, a seaside pail worn helmet-wise, and nothing else that was visible. A very long brass poker stood up lance-wise from its rest on his bare foot.
    'It's all right,' Eleanor said. 'You did see it.'
    'That comforts me quite a bit.'

The 1986 TV adaptation provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: Alec Loding is more positively malicious than in the book, and plays more of an active hand in events. The major dramatic purpose served is to let the script externalize Brat's struggles with his conscience by turning them into arguments with Loding.
  • Composite Character:
    • The plot functions, dialogue, and family history of George Peck and Nancy Ledingham are combined into a single character, George Ledingham, with Nancy reduced to a photograph and a line of dialogue mentioning that she died at some point before the opening of the story.
    • Dr. Spence and Roger Clint, the two men whose attentions to Eleanor inspire Brat's Green-Eyed Epiphany, are combined into a single character, Dr. Roger Spence.
  • Double Vision: After Brat arrives at Latchetts, the series uses a combination of split screen and over-the-double's-shoulder shots to show Brat and Simon together.
  • Identical Twin ID Tag: To help the audience distinguish them, Simon has a pencil mustache and Brat has a distinctly '80s hairdo.
  • No Smoking: As a consequence of the Setting Update, none of the characters smoke except George, who retains his Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe. Brat, who in the book carried an engraved cigarette case full of his preferred brand, explicitly states that he doesn't smoke and disapproves of the habit. (The only significant effect on the plot is that a different way is needed to introduce the information that was conveyed by the engraving on the cigarette case, and this is smoothly managed.)
  • Setting Update: To the 1980s.