Ruth Moore purposefully assigns meaning to the Ellis house, which she locates in the fictional Maine town of her novel by the same name, Candlemas Bay. Here, Moore creates an opportunity for the gathering together of loved ones in a season of struggle that forces the resolve of deep conflict concerning tradition and order among significant members of an old New England family. In the characters of Candace Ellis and her father, Jebron Ellis, Moore crafts tensions between matriarchal and patriarchal powers which ultimately reveal the very different concerns that each feels about the meaningful location they have come to regard as home. In this, it is Moore’s intention to communicate the relevance of the Ellis house in Candlemas Bay as a place which is the catalyst for the necessary growth and development in the lives of each of the Ellis family members that causes a change in their meaningful location.
Moore addresses matriarchal and patriarchal powers early in her novel through an event that disrupts the family, which is the death of Guy Ellis. The anxiety that Jebron feels over the repayment of his son’s debts, the household bills, and an impending property tax on the Ellis house is juxtaposed with the hoarding by Candace of a seemingly undeserved financial family inheritance. She believes that saving the money that was entrusted to her by her grandmother is all that prevents the Ellis family from the loss of the family home; the meaningful location which binds its members together in conflict. Moore shapes her plot in such a way as to reveal that the relationship which Candace forges with the Ellis house is in stark contrast to Jebron’s. Candace assumes the role of family matriarch since the death of her grandmother for reasons that are entirely self serving, even as Jebron’s role as family patriarch evolved for reasons that are central to the best interests of each individual residing in the Ellis house.
Moore devises a parameter for the climactic confrontation between Jebron and Candace through Guy’s widow, Jen Ellis’s, decision to take boarders into the Ellis house to earn money. As Jen reflects on Candace’s values concerning the Ellis house, she concludes that they were learned from her grandmother, who raised Jebron’s children. Moore contrasts this with Jebron’s patriarchal concerns for future generations of the Ellis house through Jen’s musing as she writes, “She thought suddenly of the men behind Grampie, the men like him, going back through the generations to the time when people first came to Candlemas Bay. You saw their tracks all over a town like this. The schoolhouse. The church, The town hall. This house. They built big and they built strong. Some of their buildings had lasted two hundred years.” Moore’s readers are to understand that Jebron’s meaningful location is his place in the Ellis house, from among those in the past who gave something to Candlemas Bay, for those in the future.
Moore contrasts this with Candace’s matriarchal imperative to make important decisions concerning the preservation of the Ellis house entirely for herself. In her economy, her brother’s debts, the household bills, and the property taxes are not her concern, rather, they are her father’s responsibility. It is incomprehensible to Candace, that anyone should trespass upon the Ellis house as a paying customer and so, she refuses to support Jen in her plan to take summer boarders into the house, even if it means that the financial security of the family homestead should be jeopardized. Moore reveals her primary concern, “For who had she, Candace Ellis, to look to, now that all the menfolks were gone except Pa? She thought of the old, strong men, Gramp Malcolm, Uncle Eben, Uncle William, Uncle John. They had looked after things, seen their womenfolks had enough.” Her familial position and inheritance empower Candace to pay the family debts, and yet, she views herself as a privileged dependent upon the Ellis family men, who will leave her all alone when the last of them is gone.
Her matriarchal identity, which Candace understood from her grandmother at an early age, is as a descendant in the Ellis family of Candlemas Bay founding fathers. This, together with her grandmother’s appointment of her as the sole financial heir, becomes the place that Candace chooses to preserve with a fierce determination. It is this elevated position in the Ellis family, Ellis house, and Candlemas Bay that is her priority and the location in which Candace thrives most. It is where she finds meaning within the place of the Ellis house, within the place of Candlemas Bay. Interestingly, Dorothy Tall describes a sense of place that originates from ancestral identity, in her essay, “Wherof,” from Landscapes with Figures. In it, Tall writes that, “I have been thinking about how places we’ve never been somehow might influence us their topography, politics, wars, hunger, weather how I might have inherited something from my unknown grandparents and the places they were from.” Indeed, and more the occasion to do so, if a known grandparent dispenses that powerful influence throughout childhood.
Moore constructs the pivotal moment between Jebron and Candace that includes the suggestion by Jebron’s grandson, Jeb, of the possibility that a mortgage might be secured for the consolidation and repayment of family debts. Moore assembles the Ellis generations representing the past, present, and future in the kitchen of the Ellis home, where each is connected to the Ellis family, Ellis house, and Candlemas Bay for individual purposes and meanings. As an argument takes shape between Candace and Jebron, the horror of the shame that is associated with the borrowing of funds from a lending institution is fully realized by Candace and she openly states her coveted familial sentiments to defend the edict that her grandmother bestowed upon her during childhood. So arresting are the ideals to her growth and development, as well as, to that of the rest of the Ellis family, that they are exposed as the mythical construct which drives the strife within the Ellis house. This is necessary for Moore’s establishing a change in meaningful location which the entire Ellis family soon embraces.
Moore shares family folklore through Candace writing, “ ‘Our people were people of distinction,’ she said. The line goes back, if you follow it far enough to royalty, to the best blood in the world. Those people are all dead now. This house -.’ ” But this revisionist history is exposed when Jebron responds by saying, “ ‘This house was built by a man who worked with his hands, Dan Ellis. His greatgrandfather, Joe, was an Essex fisherman. I don’t say we ain’t got reason to be proud of what they done. They was smart men, good men, most of them.’ ” Here, Moore entertains her audience with the spectacle of comic relief, so justly deserved after pages of familial tension, but in doing so, she alters Candace’s sense of place. This also threatens her coveted identity, which causes a lethal shift in Candace’s sensibilities. Moore isn’t finished, though, and neither is Jebron who continues, “ ‘But they wasn’t descended from the dukes and lords and crowned heads of Europe, by God. Your grandmother made that up of whole cloth, the time it come up in the D.A.R. that one of the early Ellises was hung. He was, too. For stealing a sheep.’ ” Readers can almost hear the unwritten gasp in the room.
This example of the concept of multiple infinities of place that might be found in Moore’s writing of the Ellis house in Candlemas Bay is referenced from Kent Ryden’s writing on the nature of place translated into the language of Mathematics, from his book Sum of Parts: The Mathematics and Politics of Region, Place, and Writing, and which may be demonstrated in both the characters of Candace and Jebron. In addition to the places of future and past that are explored through these characters, there is another dimension, which is memory. This resides in Moore’s notion of both the complexities and the subsequent possibilities that she addresses in the context of family, family house, and family community. Candlemas Bay cradles these places in its imagined geographic coordinates, or as Tall suggests, “geographical genealogy” that reaches backward and forward through time, but also through present memory and the myriad forms of recollection that it shapes in different individuals, relative to the same place.
The moral lesson in Moore’s text is found in the concluding remarks that Jebron makes during the argument in the kitchen of the Ellis house, where Jen, Jeb, Candace, and Jebron are witnesses to the truth about the Ellis family descendents. Jebron makes clear to Candace, something which she is incapable of grasping, when he questions her saying, “ ‘Have you grown up in this house, with all there is back of it, and all there is to come, without finding out that things like a house ain’t important, it’s the people in it?’ ” Candace’s memories confine her sense of place to consider only herself and her position in the house. Through this, Moore skillfully shapes a madness in Candace by descriptions of remembered conversations that seem to shift to the present. The voice of Candace’s deceased grandmother may not merely echo in Candace’s memory, but might well whisper aloud in her very presence. Readers are left to their own conclusions until Candace nearly inadvertently burns down the Ellis house in an attempt to drive away trespassing houseguests and preserve the dignity of her grandmother’s home.
It is Candace’s sister Evelyn, holding a metaphoric key to her place of privacy inside an unused heirloom in her bedroom at the Ellis family house, who understands best why she and her sister Lynnie should not reveal the dark nature of Candace’s character at the end of Candlemas Bay. Here, Moore makes plain her understanding of the attachment to meaningful location that perhaps resides within the confines of a shared place called “home.” She allows for the sentimental disclosure of sisterly empathy that simultaneously preserves a relationship to place for Candace. She writes, “Yet to Evelyn, who knew her so well, the pattern seemed simple. Keep the Ellis house as a mausoleum for the Ellis pride, with nothing changed from the days when young Candy, eldest daughter of a town’s first family, lived there; so that now, in changed and changing times, she might walk from room to room, knowing that Grammie’s table was there, as always; that Grammie’s chair was there; and Candy stood the same as she had been when she was important to someone, when she was loved.”
Finally, Candace is left alone in the Ellis house; the place where she finds meaning, “when she was loved” in her familial position. Jebron joins his son in death upon, but not beneath, the place of the sea that surrounds Candlemas Bay. Jen finds new meaning in the place of a home with Russ, who will love her six children as his own. Candace’s sisters Lynnie and Evelynn both share their lives with a new loved one, each of whom will take them from Candlemas Bay to find meaningful places together, far from the Ellis house. In the character of young Jeb, Moore leaves her readers some hope for the future of the place known as the “Ellis House,” as she writes that Jeb leaves for the education necessary to bring back a contribution that will cause his sense of place to thrive with new meaning. The Ellis house nurtures the growth and development that is necessary for the changed meaning of place that each of the members of the Ellis family experiences. For some, it requires relocation. For others, it demands that they remain. For one, it promises a departure and a return. This is the nature of place that most every reader can know and understand, relative to their own home and family experience, through Moore’s fictional account of a place within a place called Candlemas Bay.
Moore, Ruth. Candlemas Bay, 1952.
About Candlemas Bay: Inside Rith Moore’s Meaningful Location, Copyright, Wise Welsh Witch, 2021. All references, citations, sources, and bibliographies are available upon request.
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