Madame doubtfire, p.1

Madame Doubtfire, page 1


Madame Doubtfire

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Madame Doubtfire


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  Some reviews of Madame Doubtfire

  ‘A comedy about divorce… which had us howling with laughter’– The Times Educational Supplement

  ‘Wonderfully witty and confident writing… we can only laugh and admire’– Books for Keeps

  ‘Anne Fine has written an exceptionally funny book which contains, at its centre, an extremely important and well-delivered message’ – Children’s Books of the Year

  ‘Anne Fine specializes in both the darker and lighter sides of divorce with humour and poignancy’ – The Times

  ‘It’s not all sweetness and light but, as anyone who knows her book Madame Doubtfire will agree, there’s a lot of fun in there as well’– Daily Mail


  Anne Fine was born and educated in the Midlands, and now lives in County Durham. She has written numerous highly acclaimed and prize-winning books for children and adults.

  Her novel The Tulip Touch won the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award; Goggle-Eyes won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award and the Carnegie Medal, and was adapted for television by the BBC; Flour Babies won the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award; Bill’s New Frock won a Smarties Prize, and Madame Doubtfire has become a major feature film.

  Anne Fine was named Children’s Laureate in 2001.

  Other books by Anne Fine














  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

  Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

  Penguin Books India (P) Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India

  Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, Cnr Rosedale and Airborne Roads, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  First published by Hamish Hamilton Ltd 1987

  Published in Penguin Books 1989

  Reissued in Puffin Books 1995

  Published in Puffin Modern Classics 1998


  Copyright © Anne Fine 1987

  Introduction copyright © Julia Eccleshare 2003

  All rights reserved

  The moral right of the author has been asserted

  Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

  British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

  A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

  ISBN: 978-0-14-193956-8


  by Julia Eccleshare

  Puffin Modern Classics series editor

  Even as you laugh, doubled up by Anne Fine’s needle-sharp wit and her all-too-acute ear for vicious dialogue, you cry for Lydia, Christopher and Natalie, caught up in the crossfire of their parents’ disintegrating marriage. For Madame Doubtfire is the story of how children cope when parents divorce: what they really think while the adults are busy making new arrangements, covering over the cracks by ensuring that the organization of meals, school days, clothes and holidays holds together.

  In Daniel and Miranda’s case, there is no disguising the animosity between them – it’s all-out war – and the idea of Daniel, disguised as a woman, becoming the children’s minder, while hilarious, is also unbearably painful as it highlights how divorce has ensured his removal from the children’s lives. From Daniel’s perspective, he is back with his children; from Miranda’s, child-care problems are solved; but for the children there is no real resolution of the emotional turmoil that Anne Fine characterizes as an easily understandable combination of rage and grief. All of this is captured with the deepest sympathy. Each of the children has a slightly different reaction. Lydia and Christopher see through the disguise and, though embarrassed and horrified, play along with it, trying not to let too many secrets out of the bag. But it is the youngest child Natalie’s determination to believe in the subterfuge that chills, and even Daniel and Miranda are chastened by her credulity.

  First published in 1987, Madame Doubtfire set a benchmark for contemporary family dramas, and Anne Fine showed her absolute mastery of the bitter-sweet story.


  1 A quiet afternoon tea with Father

  2 Stark naked in front of the neighbours

  3 A visit from the witch

  4 A good interview technique can work wonders

  5 Finding a rôle in life

  6 Happy Families

  7 Of acting, happy pigs and war

  8 Funny, that’s just what Mum always says

  9 The day of the storm is not a day for thatching

  10 The Looking Glass River

  Chapter One

  A quiet afternoon tea with Father

  All the way up the stairs, the children fought not to carry the envelope. Towards the top, Lydia took advantage of her height to force it down Christopher’s jumper. Christopher pulled it out and tried to thrust it into Natalie’s hand.

  ‘Here, Natty,’ he said. ‘Give this to Dad.’

  Natalie shook her head so violently her hair whipped her cheeks pink. She interlaced her fingers behind her back. So Christopher tucked the envelope down the top of her pinafore dress, behind the yellow felt ducklings. Natalie’s eyes filled with tears, and by the time Daniel Hilliard opened the door to let his children in, she was weeping gently.

  He reached down to pick her up in his arms.

  ‘Why do you always have to make her cry?’ he asked the other two.

  Lydia looked away. Christopher blushed.

  ‘Sorry,’ they said.

  Daniel carried Natalie through the hall into the kitchen and sat her on the edge of the table. Hearing a soft crumpling of paper inside her dress, he reached in behind the yellow felt ducklings, and pulled out the letter.

  ‘Aha!’ he cried. ‘Another missive from The Poisoned Pen. How is your mother, anyway?’

  ‘Very well, thank you,’ Lydia informed him with slightly chilly courtesy.

  ‘I’m very glad to hear it,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t like to think of her going down with amoebic dysentery, or salmonella, or shingles.’ His eyes began to glitter. A little smile warped his lips. ‘Or Lassa fever, or rabies, or –’

  ‘She had the beginnings of a slight cold last week,’ Lydia interrupted her father. ‘But it never took off.’

  ‘Pity,’ said Daniel. ‘I mean, what a pity.’

  No one responded. Christopher had dropped on to his heels in front of the quail’s cage, and was whistling to it through the bars. The tiny, silver-grey, feathery ball jumped up and down, peeping with excitement. Lydia was leafing curiously through the heaps of paperwork clutterin
g the table.

  Natalie said:

  ‘Daddy, Mummy sent you her love.’

  ‘Did she?’ Daniel was astonished. ‘Did she really?’

  ‘No,’ Christopher said, reaching inside the cage to touch his pet.

  ‘Of course not,’ said Lydia. ‘Natalie just made that up, or saw it on the telly, or something.’

  Daniel scooped up his small daughter, and gave her a squeeze.

  ‘Oh, Natty,’ he said. ‘It’s hard for you sometimes, isn’t it?’

  Natalie buried her face in his armpit.

  ‘It might be easier for her,’ Lydia remarked, ‘if you yourself were to make a bit more of an effort.’

  Daniel peered sharply at his elder daughter over the hedge of Natalie’s hair.

  ‘What do you mean by that?’

  ‘I mean,’ said Lydia, ‘that we are only here on Tuesdays for tea and every other weekend. It isn’t much. So it would be quite nice if Natty didn’t have to spend it listening to unpleasant remarks.’

  ‘Unpleasant remarks?’ Embarrassed, Daniel feigned mystification.

  ‘You know,’ said Lydia. ‘“The Poison Pen”, all those diseases…’

  ‘You’re right,’ said Daniel. ‘You’re quite right. I’ll make more of an effort. I’ll start now.’ He drew breath. ‘I’m glad your mother’s well. I’m pleased to hear it.’ He paused a moment. ‘I won’t read her letter right this minute in case I change my mind about that. I’ll put it up here on the shelf, and read it later.’

  He tucked the letter away between the cocoa and a large bag of quail food, and stood glowering at it for a moment. Then he turned back to his children.

  ‘I expect it’s only about remembering to take your coats home with you this time, or something like that.’

  Lydia and Christopher glanced at one another. They knew better. They’d read it. Indeed, they always read their mother’s letters to their father. It came under their general heading of ‘self-defence’. They even had a system. Lydia tore open the sealed envelope and took out the note. The two of them read it together, silently. Then Christopher would refold it into the same creases as before, and slide it in a fresh envelope he’d taken from the packet in the desk. He’d carry it over to Natalie, who usually unthinkingly and obediently stuck out her tongue to lick the glue along the flap. This way they shared all the responsibility between the three of them and, with luck if ever they were caught, all the blame too.

  ‘It’s sure to be the coats,’ Daniel repeated, entirely unconvinced. He scowled at the envelope again.

  ‘Maybe,’ said Lydia. ‘She did mention quite a few times during the week how very inconvenient it was, not having our coats.’

  Daniel was irritated.

  ‘You have other coats. You have the coats I bought you last winter.’

  The children were silent, and Daniel noticed.

  ‘She doesn’t like them, does she?’ he said.

  Trying to head him off, Lydia asked, ‘Could we have tea now? We’re really hungry.’

  ‘The coats,’ Daniel insisted. ‘The coats. The coats I bought you last winter, at hideous expense. You never wear them over here. In fact, I’ve never seen you wearing them.’ The skin around his eyes was darkening to a thin glaze. The children looked away. They knew the signs. ‘You don’t wear them, do you? No, you don’t. She doesn’t like them, so you’re not allowed to wear them.’

  ‘I wear mine,’ Natalie offered. ‘I did wear mine on bonfire night, and when we went sledding, and when the park was all flooded and muddy, and when we slid down that hill in cardboard boxes, and Mum thought that there might be dog dirt.’

  ‘See?’ Daniel crowed triumphantly. ‘See? She only lets you wear my coats when she’s afraid the coats she bought will get scorched, or ripped, or filthy, or –’ (thinking of dog dirt) ‘– worse.’

  The taut grey look around his eyes intensified, and seemingly without even noticing what he was doing, he lifted an imaginary rifle down from an imaginary rifle rack on the wall and, tilting his head slightly to one side, took imaginary aim through imaginary sights.

  ‘What are you doing?’ Lydia asked him. ‘Have you got cramp in your neck?’

  Embarrassed, Daniel made to hang the weapon back on the rack before, even more embarrassed, coming to his senses. To pull himself together, he squared his shoulders and breathed in deeply. The warm and comforting aroma of herbs and garlic filled his nostrils.

  ‘The stuffed bread!’ he remembered. ‘Ready to eat?’

  ‘You bet!’



  They sprang to life. Using the side of her arm, Lydia bulldozed the untidy pile of all her father’s most recent job applications further along the table top, clearing a space. Christopher did a quick trawl of the cluttered draining board, searching for enough clean plates and cutlery to get the four of them through the meal. Carefully, Natalie fetched glasses and a carton of milk.

  Cursing the steam that rose in his eyes and his scorched fingers, Daniel tipped the hot loaf out of the baking tin on to a serving dish, where it lay swollen and steaming for several seconds before it collapsed.


  ‘Nearly perfect!’

  ‘Mum says that often happens if you cook it too long.’

  But Daniel wasn’t having any of that.

  ‘I didn’t cook it too long,’ he informed them. ‘It waited too long. Like me, it waited forty minutes until your mother was good enough to drop you off.’

  At this fresh criticism of her mother, Lydia tightened her lips.

  ‘She said the traffic was bad.’

  Daniel tightened his.

  ‘Naturally, the traffic patterns of her own home town would take your mother entirely by surprise. She’s only lived here thirty-five years. She’s only been a car driver for half of them. She’s only driven you here at this time every Tuesday for the last couple of years. Naturally, she is as a stranger to the wheel, and the density of the traffic astonishes her.’

  Lydia snapped:

  ‘It isn’t very easy for her, you know, being a single parent.’

  Daniel drew himself up.

  ‘You don’t need to tell me,’ he reminded her. ‘I am a single parent, too. And whereas she has you three to keep her company for most of the week, I don’t. And you are forty minutes late, as usual. That’s forty minutes off my time with you, my very limited time with you. Forty minutes shaved off yet again by her customary unpunctuality and lack of consideration for my feelings.’

  All three children had stopped chewing, but Daniel didn’t notice. The same look as before was in his eyes, and, curling his lips into a hideous grimace, he reached into the drawer at the end of the table, and drew out an imaginary carving knife with one hand, while drawing the teapot towards him with the other. Still grinning horribly, he slowly and carefully drew the imaginary knife across the tea cosy’s imaginary throat.

  Christopher sighed. Natalie’s lower lip stuck out, as if she might burst into tears.

  ‘Oh, do stop being so silly!’ Lydia scolded her father impatiently. ‘You’re almost making Natty cry. You tell us off for it, and then you do exactly the same.’ She turned on her sister. ‘Now just stop being so wet, Natty. He hasn’t hurt the tea cosy. Or Mum. He just gets annoyed. He can’t control himself. You’re simply going to have to learn to ignore him.’

  ‘She’s right,’ Daniel pitched in, filled with remorse. ‘Your sister’s absolutely right. I can’t control myself.’ He fell on his knees in front of Natalie’s chair. ‘You’re simply going to have to learn to ignore me.’

  ‘Some hopes,’ sighed Christopher.

  ‘Some hopes,’ repeated Natalie. She patted her father’s thin patch, and felt rather proud. ‘Some hopes,’ she said again, adding a civil afterthought: ‘You can get up now.’

  ‘Thank you,’ said Daniel. He rose, brushing patches of grime from the floor off his trouser knees. ‘I promise I’ll be better in future. I’ll practise all the
rest of today, and be absolutely perfect by the time your mother drops you off here on Friday.’

  Lydia and Christopher froze. Natalie noticed at once. Her spoon drifted to a halt midway between her plate and her mouth, and as she peered anxiously, first into Lydia’s face, then into Christopher’s, her eyes seemed both to widen and become glossier, until a huge tear gathered on each lower lid, swelling and trembling, threatening to spill.

  Daniel whipped a purple-spotted handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to his daughter across the table. Natalie buried her face in its folds. Her father reached out for her, and she climbed on to his lap, sobbing quietly. He wrapped his arms around her, and tucked her head in neatly under his chin. Over it, he said to the others with steely courtesy:

  ‘No problem with the weekend, I hope? You are coming on Friday? I haven’t made any mistake with the schedule, have I? It is my turn to have you for the weekend?’

  Lydia smoothed out her face until it showed no expression whatsoever; but Christopher squirmed painfully in his chair. His eyes slid from his father’s questioning look and involuntarily glanced up at the envelope still propped, unopened, against the bag of quail food.

  And Daniel saw.


  In an instant, his good intentions dissolved. Bundling poor Natalie aside, he jumped to his feet, snatched down the envelope, and ripped it open. His eyes ran over the brief note, narrowing and flashing. His fingers gripped the paper’s edge. His knuckles whitened.

  ‘The witch! The selfish, thoughtless, inconsiderate witch!’


  ‘Robbing me of my weekends! How dare she? How dare she?’

  ‘Dad, please!’

  ‘I could murder her. Truly I could! Sometimes I think I could cheerfully slit her throat!’

  ‘No! Daddy! No!’ Natalie was off her chair in a moment. Tears scorching her cheeks, she hurled herself across the room, and beat him fiercely with her fists.

  Lydia was shocked.

  ‘Dad! Really! For God’s sake!’

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