This is the big one, it is one of the best and most infuriating Buffy episodes ever and, let’s face it, most of my stuff is based on a character that we see for about five minutes.
Let me begin by stating that I first saw Fool for Love in July 2001, so everything I wrote before that can be said to be based on non-poet Spike. Which is not to say I didn’t think he was from a middle-class background, because since that accent is evidently fake the obvious interpretation was that William was putting it on; but poet – no!
Good as it is though, there are numerous questions raised by FFL. The first is: Just what background was William actually from?
Now, to the American eye, I am told, those people at the party were aristocrats. Unfortunately to the British eye that is far from the case. That party was at twenty-to-ten at night, according to the clock on the wall, and yet out of the guests only Cecily and one other woman were in evening dress. That takes the rest of them straight out of the upper-middle-class and down into the lower-middle-class, at best. Simply from their clothes, William was indeed ‘beneath’ her.
Then at least one of the women used the B-word. Now, nice girls just didn’t. Never mind that it was as common then as the F-word is now, any girl with a hope to marry, which was ninety-nine percent of them, wouldn’t say it in public. So that immediately gives the impression that the women were actually prostitutes or actresses or something. Which I very much doubt was what was intended. I am very uneasy with Cecily herself saying ‘God’, as well.
Then there are the accents of course, which are mainly a hodgepodge mess, but certainly nothing any native speaker would call aristocratic, or even upper-middle-class. Though to be fair, accents are such changeable things that we can hardly apply the standards of today to the eighteen-eighties.
The numerous other small errors I shall not enumerate, but as someone once said to me: the most aristocratic person at that party was the waiter. And in that case, what was Cecily doing at a party with such people? Especially if she cared enough about class to reject William for his status alone.
(Incidentally, Cecily’s surname was ‘Addams’ according to the shooting script, although it was never mentioned on the screen. I, for reasons that now escape me, changed that to ‘Adams’ when I wrote ‘Sweet William’.)
Faced with all this, should one write William with the background that was actually portrayed, the one that was probably intended, or try to come up with something that explains everything? The last choice has so far eluded me; so I have settled for an uneasy compromise between the other two options. But I will never be comfortable with anyone who claims they can say anything about William’s up-bringing based on the party scene.
What else can we infer about William? Not a lot really. He was left handed, wrote with a fountain pen, wore glasses, had the poetical ability of a dead sheep (even if the great ode wasn’t finished), and allowed vulgarians to be rather rude about him. All the other traditions about his background are fan fiction conventions rather than canon.
As to the question of what rhymes with effulgent, W. S. Gilbert came up with the best answer in 1885, with Yum-Yum’s song in Act II of The Mikado:
The sun, whose rays
Are all ablaze
With ever-living glory,
Does not deny
His majesty –
He scorns to tell a story!
He don’t exclaim,
‘I blush for shame,
So kindly be indulgent.’
But, fierce and bold,
In fiery gold
He glories all effulgent!
W. S. Gilbert: The Mikado
If William had heard this in time, things might have taken a very different course.
We then come to the infamous street scene that shattered a thousand canons as effectively as an explosion in a book factory, and raised the second question: Who, exactly, sired him?
Passing over the fact that William was without hat, over-coat, gloves or any of the other accessories of a gentleman – he was upset, we will give him the benefit of the doubt – it is inexcusable for the vampires. They would have stood out like sore thumbs, on the streets of London. But our hero is too upset to notice anything odd when he bumps into them, and he heads off down a side street.
We are unfortunately not sure how long Dru followed him for, or just where and when Angelus and Darla noticed her absence. William had time to find a quiet spot, sit down, shed a few tears, and rip up his poetry. But that could have taken one minute or twenty and we don’t know what the vampires were doing during that time. Dru might have simply watched, or she might have gone back and found Angelus to ask his permission for her choice, or Angelus might have noticed she was missing and come after her… the possibilities are endless.
Of course for someone like me, who is interested in the
Angelus as Spike’s sire angle, the all important question is: Where was Angelus? Unfortunately he could equally have been three streets away; or just around the corner, ready to step in and offer his blood when William was dying. That last is what I assume must have happened, since Spike referred to Angel as his sire on two occasions and it is the only simple way to account for all the facts as we have seen them on the show, but from what we saw on the screen you can’t be sure. Since we saw Dru bite him, but not who fed him the blood, it could be either her or Angelus, or both, or even Darla or any other vampire who happened to be passing for that matter. Which is why, regrettably, I don’t think anyone can say, with any certainty, who did the actual siring. Those who follow interviews and read the ‘explanatory notes’ that Joss feels the need to issue from time to time to cover up his mistakes, may well hold other views.
Nor can we even say exactly where William was killed. A lot of people call it a barn, but to me it looked like a back alley. Though so much of my attention is always attracted by wondering which idiot decided to have him seated on straw-bales (in 1880!), and trying to tune out the rather obvious sound of some very twenty-first century traffic in the background, that I can never really concentrate.
It is interesting that he referred to having heard ‘tales of London pick-pockets,’ since it seems to imply that he was not a native Londoner. Yet by the mine scene he had got the North London accent down quite well, which probably meant he was familiar with it when alive. Fortunately, nearly all middle-class Englishmen have the irritating ability to speak both ‘received’ English and the local accent from where they grew up, so it not all that surprising that he could talk ‘like that’. All in all, he could well have been a young man from the suburbs, who was in London staying with relatives.
A word about the famous ‘Mother is expecting me’ comment. At that time it would not have been at all unusual for a twenty-seven-year-old to still be living at home, especially if he was unmarried. We need not infer that William was particularly tied to his mother’s apron-strings, even if you assume that that remark meant he was expected home. (And, as I once pointed out, ‘Mother’ could just as well have been the notorious Madam of the biggest brothel in that part of London…)
What we can say is that Dru chose him and Dru killed him. To my mind he was entranced, and to at least some extent hypnotised, by her. He certainly didn't seem to react much when she went into her game-face. It was nice to be shown, for once, some indication that a vampire’s bite is actually painful, even if his expression did subsequently change to rather unbelievable pleasure. Now it could be that William himself simply never knew just who fed him the blood, so that he was taught to consider Angelus as his sire regardless of who actually was, but I think he must have always been aware of who selected him to be a vampire. The face of his salvation, the person who saved him from mediocrity: Drusilla.
So the young poet died.