Ten Quotations From a Fictional Role Model

Amelia Peabody is a fictional character.
Amelia Peabody is a fictional character.
Amelia Peabody is a fictional character.

That makes me so sad! For many years, she was my role model. I wanted to be Amelia Peabody. It wasn’t just that she had an adventurous life; she was an amazing woman! She inspired me to be brave and tackle my problems, whether they were minor difficulties or seemingly insurmountable. She was a feminist who didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. She truly adored and respected her husband. Her attitude toward her son… well, that was an inspiration to me during my mothering years. I appreciated her honesty – and sometimes her tactful discretion. (oops, right. Fictional character.)

I read my first Elizabeth Peters book – not an Amelia Peabody one – 26 years ago. I remember it clearly – I went through the entire day with that big clunky hardcover book in front of me, propped up on the counter while I made sandwiches for lunch and washed dishes. Okay, that’s a lie. I didn’t wash dishes that day. I read it while nursing the baby, totally ignoring that sweet little face. I turned on the television and let the boys watch cartoons all afternoon so I could sit on the couch and read. When I closed that book, I called a girlfriend and raved about it. She said (so casually!) that she especially liked the Amelia Peabody books. I packed up the kids and we walked to the library, where I borrowed the first two of them.

That fictional character changed me. She was an intrepid 30-ish woman who traveled to Egypt and married an equally intrepid archeologist. They had a lively and unconventional family and continued their adventures in Egypt until the end of the first World War. With Emerson’s bare hands and Amelia’s stout parasol, they battled master criminals, venial archeologists and tomb robbers, and a number of villainesses. And they adored each other.

I am limiting myself to ten “Amelia” quotes. The seven scenes are a bonus.

1. When one is striding bravely into the future one cannot watch one’s footing.

2. Though I had slept only a few hours, I felt quite fresh and full of ambition. Righteous indignation has that effect on my character.

3. Though I have encountered mad dogs, Master Criminals, and murderers of both sexes, I consider the raising of Ramses my most remarkable achievement.

4. Emerson was clearly in one of his masterful moods. I always allow him to enjoy them unless I feel it is necessary to set him straight…

5. Abstinence, as I have often observed, has a deleterious effect on the disposition.

6. A lady cannot be blamed if a master criminal takes a fancy to her.

7. Heretofore all my criminal investigations had occurred in the Middle East, so I had never had occasion to visit New Scotland Yard.

8. I always say that if one cannot have a pyramid, a nice deep tomb is the next best thing.

9. A noble ideal, and one with which I thoroughly agree-in principle. Noble ideals are often inconvenient.

10. At the age of three Ramses had informed us that he did not need a nanny and would not have one…. I did not agree with him. He needed something–a stout healthy woman who had trained as a prison wardress, perhaps–but it had become more and more difficult to find nannies for Ramses. Presumably word had spread.


Two of my favorite scenes from the first book, “The Crocodile on the Sandbank”:

“We are not acquainted,” said the person called Emerson, in a slightly modified shout. “And if you make any attempt to introduce us, Maspero, I shall fell you to the ground!”
Emerson, not wanting to become acquainted with Amelia

“My mummy! You have stolen my mummy! By Gad, Peabody, this time you have gone too far! I’ve watched you; don’t think I have been unwitting of your machinations! My pavement, my expedition, my brother’s loyalty, even my poor, helpless carcass have fallen victim to your meddling: but this — this is too much! You disapprove of my work, you want to keep me feeble and helpless in bed, so you steal my mummy! Where is it? Produce it at once, Peabody, or—”
Emerson, resisting his inevitable attraction to Amelia

From “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog”:

Emerson: Give me your solemn word that you will not go wandering around the cliffs, or anywhere else, alone. If you receive a message asking for your help, or offering to show you where a valuable antiquity is hidden—

Amelia: Why, Emerson, you make me sound like some silly Gothic heroine instead of the sensible, rational woman you know me to be. When have I ever done such a thing?

From “The Last Camel Died at Noon”:

Emerson: “I am a man of iron control, Peabody, as you know, but I fear my control would snap if someone laid violent hands on my son. And you—I well remember what you did on an earlier occasion, when you believed Ramses had been seriously injured.”

Amelia: “You keep referring to that occasion and I keep telling you I have not the slightest recollection of behaving in such an ill-bred fashion.”

From “The Deeds of the Disturber”:

“Now, Mama, Papa, and sir,” said Ramses, “please withdraw to the farthest corner and crouch down with your backs turned. It is as I feared; we will never break through by this method. The walls are eight feet thick. Fortunately I brought along a little nitroglycerin—”

From “The Lion in the Valley”:

Amelia: I am distressed about Ramses, Emerson. To have our son misbehave so badly, just when I had hoped to get through one voyage without incident . . . how many boys of eight I wonder, have been threatened with keelhauling by the captain of a British merchant vessel?

Emerson: That was merely the captain’s bluff, maritime exaggeration. He would not dare do such a thing. You are not concerned about Ramses Peabody; he does that sort of thing all the time, and you ought to be accustomed to it.

Amelia: This sort of thing, Emerson? Ramses has done a number of unspeakable things, but to the best of my knowledge this is the first time he has instigated a mutiny.

Emerson: Nonsense! Simply because a few ignorant seamen misunderstood his lectures on the theories of that fellow Marx—

From “He Shall Thunder in the Sky”:

My prayers that Sunday morning may have had a somewhat peremptory tone. Emerson was dressing when I rose from my knees.
“Finished?” he inquired.
“I believe I covered all the necessary points.”
“It was a comprehensive lecture,” Emerson agreed.

My favorite passage from all of the books is from “He Shall Thunder in the Sky”, after Amelia overhears her son being rejected by the girl he loves:

“Oh, my dear, don’t pretend,” I said. My voice was unsteady; “I am so sorry, Ramses. How long have you…”

“Since the moment I set eyes on her. Fidelity,” Ramses said, in the same cool voice, “seems to be a fatal flaw of our family.”

“Oh, come,” I said, accepting the cigarette he offered and allowing him to light it for me. “Are you telling me you have never—er…”

“No, Mother dear, I am not telling you—er—that. I discovered years ago that lying to you is a waste of breath. How the devil do you do it? Look at you—ruffles trailing, gloves spotless—blowing out smoke like a little lady dragon and prying into the most intimate secrets of a fellow’s life. Spare me the lecture, I beg. My moments of aberration—and there were, I confess, a number of them—were attempts to break the spell. They failed.”

“But you were only a child when you saw her for the first time.”

“It sounds like one of the wilder romances, doesn’t it? Most authors would throw in hints of reincarnation and souls destined for one another down the long centuries… It wasn’t so simple as I have made it sound, you know, or as tragic. A weakness for melodrama is another of our family failings.”

“Tell me,” I urged. “It is unhealthy to keep one’s feelings to oneself. How often you must have yearned to confide in a sympathetic listener!”

“Er—quite,” said Ramses.

“Does David know?”

“Some of it.” Glancing at me, Ramses added, “It wasn’t the same, naturally, as confiding in one’s mother.”


I said no more. I could feel his need to unburden himself; experienced as I am in such matters, I knew that sympathetic silence was the best means of inducing his confidences. Sure enough, after a few moments, he began.

I used to be amazed and a little offended by negative reviews of the Amelia Peabody books. I couldn’t believe that anyone would find them boring or improbable. After a while, I realized that the books aren’t great literature. I don’t find them boring, but I will admit that the last few of them weren’t as good as the first twelve or so. It didn’t matter to me, because I was finding the aging Amelia just as inspiring as the younger Amelia. After all, I was aging, too, and she had so much to teach me! (Fictional character, Cathe!!)

I’ve read all of the Elizabeth Peters books at least twice – probably four or five times, but that’s not bad for 25 years of reading. When the audiobooks were published, I was resistant. I already heard the voices in my head and I didn’t want them to be overridden by someone else’s interpretation of Amelia and her family. But I love to be read to, and eventually I caved in. I was not disappointed. Barbara Rosenblat’s reading was perfect. Every character was perfect. She was consistent, through all of the series, even as the characters aged. In fact, I don’t think I ever read the last few books; I just got the audiobooks.

I have to say… these are not Christian fiction. Amelia’s Christianity was of the cultural variety. Her opinions were a bit unorthodox even for the cultural Christianity of the day, but in Egypt, where they knew her to be a Christian, her behavior would have exemplified the best qualities of Christians. She was kind and generous and respectful of other people, even assisting widows and orphans in their distress! Her husband and children rose up and called her blessed. What a woman!

Unfortunately, she was just a fictional character. *sigh*

What fictional characters have affected you, your personality, your character?

4 thoughts on “Ten Quotations From a Fictional Role Model

  1. I do love Amelia Peabody. I named a character after her author… and you. 😉

    I’m of the firm belief that all our reading shapes and changes us. It either scrapes another layer of clay from the form to more distinctly define us, or it twists and morphs us into something else.

    Definitely Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, though. Or, rather, her teacher.

  2. You recommended that series to me when my own versions of Ramses were small, and I came to love her, too. She made me want to have a “special” parasol.

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