The Beauty of Questioning

The Beauty of Questioning

I think I was in grade two when my mother stopped helping me with homework.  Perhaps it was because I was capable on my own.  Perhaps it was because I had a smart and diligent older sister who could help me.  Perhaps it was because Mom was busy with our home and the first of my three younger sisters. Or, perhaps, and quite likely, it was because I tried her patience.

I was a capable child.  My mind was quick, and thinking was something I loved to do.  However, this pondering often led me to ask why and what if — the kind of questions that don’t always have answers. I think this propensity to question was truly what led my mother to allow me to take charge of my homework. I clearly remember her telling me “because that is how it is done” on more than one occasion when I questioned why something had to be completed in a particular fashion.

I have not outgrown my questioning nature.  I still ask why and what if; however, what once frustrated my mother has become somewhat of an asset to me as an adult.  In addition to being a writer, I am a teacher, and questioning is something I get to do on a daily basis.  In class, we often ponder why things happen as they do and consider what might happen if things were done differently.  We don’t always find an answer, but then often, questioning isn’t as much about the answer as it is about the curiosity inspired and the thinking processes initiated by the question. It is about viewing things from various perspectives and gaining insights and understanding.

Questioning can help us see more clearly the motivation behind an action, which is helpful both when dealing with real life characters in a classroom and the imaginary characters in a story.  I constantly question characters both when I read and when I write.  Nobody, whether real or imaginary, acts without some source of motivation.  Examining motivations and questioning how a change in circumstances might alter a story is what I love about writing Jane Austen Fan Fiction.   I get to ponder and create possible answers to why and what if.

In my most recent book, Listen to Your Heart, I was not the only one questioning motivations. In this scene, Lady Matlock, Darcy, Richard, and Lady Catherine are discussing the topic of helping Anne finding a husband.

“I really do not understand why you are so set against your own brother, Catherine. Whatever did he do to lose your faith in him? As he tells it, you were very close when you were children.”

Richard watched a shadow of sadness pass across his aunt’s face before her features once again grew hard.

“That was long ago and many things have happened between then and now, some can never be undone, so it does not signify.” She looked sternly at Darcy and Richard. “I trust you both know a young lady is more than a mere pawn to be used and sacrificed in the play of a game?” She had risen and stood beside the game table. Purposefully, she moved a few pieces on the board. “I am trusting you — as I have been left no other option — to protect my daughter as if she were the most valuable piece on that board — no matter the cost.”

Richard studied the scene she had left. His king, the most valuable piece, stood in danger with merely a pawn for protection. He had two options; one offered him a move closer to capturing Darcy’s king while the other would allow him to protect his pawn and subsequently, his king. If he took the first option, his pawn would surely be taken and his king would be more difficult, though not impossible, to defend. Should he choose the second option, he would strengthen the defense around his king, but his queen, his most powerful piece of defense, would be lost.

He knew his skills as a player; to lose the pawn and place Darcy’s king closer to capture was the route he would have decided upon in normal play, but this was not normal play. He was to imagine that pawn as Anne and defend her as he would his king. Without a second thought, he left his queen to be captured.

Richard looked at the hand which lay on his shoulder and then to the face of his aunt. She smiled softly at him. It was a new expression. For a moment, a mere moment, he glimpsed the vulnerability within her. To say that this startled him would be owning only half the truth. He had never thought of her as anything but the epitome of strength and determination. So strong, so determined, that, at times, she was very like a dragon, hunting and slaying as it saw fit, ruling its domain with tenacity.

Richard’s eyes returned to the board as he watched Darcy capture his queen. He wondered if fear provoked her tenacity. He had seen battle. Even the most soft-spoken of soldiers became as a roaring lion in the face of peril. What had his aunt faced that had caused her to become as she now was? 

Richard is right, of course. Lady Catherine has good reason to be as cantankerous as she is.  Later, through his questioning, she comes to understand that her reasons are not completely sound, and she begins to consider things from a different perspective. And, that is the beauty of questioning.


27 Responses to The Beauty of Questioning

  1. I greatly enjoyed the excerpt and discovering Lady Catherine’s less public side.Thank you!
    I’m puzzled by the concept of “helping” with homework. I think what I did was more enabling. When one son thought homework was boring, I livened it up by pretending he was a the driver of a race car & i was the announcer. As he worked, I kept up a fast patter “He’s far in the lead and has rounded the corner already! Oh,that’s amazing! Now he is moving on to Question 4. Can he do it? The spectators are all holding their breath.” Etc, Another son liked rewards, so I made up a list. He could choose one reward each time he completed an assignment. But the rewards were all things we both knew he could have anyway – a walk around the block, a glass of water, a hug. The most expensive one was “a penny” – even then not worth the material it was made out of. That said, I did race out and buy a sewing machine the night my daughter (then in Grade 7) announced she had a sewing project due the next day.

  2. Welcome! As a mother I don’t know how I feel about inquisitive children that never stop asking questions, but as a reader I’m very thankful for your curious side! You keep writing and I’ll keep reading! 😀 Love the excerpt and what you do with Lady Catherine in the book.

    • Thanks, Rose! Totally understand the feelings about inquisitive children. God decided I needed one of my own so He gave me my eldest. His most frustrating question was not why. He was/is my negotiator….”But what if we did it this way…” often started his sentences after being told no…and this started as soon as he could talk well…which…sigh…was at a young age. 🙂

    • Many times when I asked a question my father’s reply was, “to make little girls ask questions” and then when I got older “Are you writing a book…then you are going to have to leave that chapter out.” Needless to say I did NOT have a good relationship with my father. AND I never used those replies with my children. One my son asked as a toddler was, “Mommy, when is GOD’S birthday?” Answer that.

      • Oh I am guilty of beginning the answer with some horrible reply such as your father’s. 🙂 “Well, the only reason you really need is that I am your mother and asked you to do it, but…..” or “To make you ask a question and talk to me….see how well that worked (followed by the real response)” and then I did get in a habit of answering my son, who needed precise answers about how long something would be and for whome the I don’t know response was not good enough, with “five hours or less” or “about two hours short of forever.” To which he would reply with a huff “you don’t know do you?” No, but if I had given you that answer you would not have heard me, child. 🙂 The good thing is that it has not harmed our relationship…he is just as frustrating when answering me, and he does it with a laugh. 🙂

    • You know, my children have given up on asking me for homework help unless absolutely necessary because they did not want to hear the reasons why something works. 🙂

  3. Thanks for this beautiful post and the ever so moving excerpt, Leenie! It was lovely to learn a little about you, and I absolutely loved the way you humanised the she-dragon that is Lady Catherine 🙂 Welcome at Austen Authors, it’s great to have you here. All the best,

  4. Leenie, I’m sorry for getting to the party a bit late. One of those days!

    Welcome to Austen Authors!!! We are THRILLED to have you on board. What fun we shall have!

    Thanks for this lovely “get to know you” blog. LOVE the excerpt too!

  5. That excerpt touched me. We always think of Lady C. as so selfish and as not really seeing Anne as anything more than a pawn. Marry her off so she moves to Pemberley and Lady C. can stay in command of Rosings. Here I read a hint of true caring.

    Thank you.

    • You’re welcome, Sheila. I agree. Lady C is often thought of that way. I know I have thought of her that way, but as I approached this story, I decided to ask myself why she was that way. What was it that made her be so fierce? Had she always been that way? And I think I came up with an interesting answer to those questions. Her backstory is a sad one that she has to finally put behind her before she can have her happily ever after. And yes…she does get one. 🙂

  6. Interesting except from your new book Eileen! I wish we had been allowed to question more when I was a child. My parents did not encourage that and it was not until much later that I broke out of that cage. Nice to know that you have always been a questioner. 🙂

    • Oh, there were definitely times I was not allowed to question! For example, if Mom said no, you did not ask why. Her no was a no and that was it. Not that I did not think the question. LOL

  7. Eileen! Congratulations on becoming an Austen Author and publishing your latest book. Questioning is one of the best traits a teacher not to mention writer can have. Thanks for your first post today. Jen Red

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