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Emily Chesley: A Legacy of War Heroics, Savagery & Alcohol Dependence (Part Two)

The Meanderings of the Emily Chesley Reading CircleWriter, poet, social activist, explorer, aviatrix, and 92-year-old pole vaulter: Emily Chesley played many roles in her long and remarkable life.

It was within this chaotic milieu that Emily’s formative years were lived. As well, she grew up in the posthumous shadow of her father, whose legacy of savagery, alcohol dependence and war heroics was assimilated into her consciousness through the stories endlessly retold by her heartbroken mother. Molly’s inability to let go of the past seemed to envelop the young Emily like a shroud.

Chelsea, after a Friar Parsnip was also the master of the region’s only school, which met every morning after mass for two hours in the 13th century Ennis Friary. It was there that Emily learned to read and love speculative fiction. [3] But while not immersed in the fairy tales told by the Friar or sitting in her uncle’s laboratory while he tinkered, Emily was an unhappy child. Emily was prone at a very early age to outbursts,” as Molly called them; expressed through a twisted combination of violence and creativity, they quite often involved small animals and vaguely satanic rituals. Friar Parsnip tried to control the child, through blandishments of Mary’s love, and warnings that she would drink hellfire. Emily thought of these bribes and threats as mere story telling, and would pat the good-natured Friar on the cheek while she smeared lark’s vomit on the neighbor’s poodle, Yumyum.

Flannigan hired a local physician who was experienced in the field of psychiatry to help Emily overcome these “outbursts”. Dr. Abbie FitzWeezepuddle was descended from a long line of Norman loonies (who had settled in the region about the same time the friary was built). FitzWeezpuddle did not subscribe to such modern concepts as the “conscious automata,” “animal spirits” or even radical phrenology models of the human mind. He relied on tried and true methods, and therefore bled Emily on a regular basis to dispose of the “angry and melancholy humours” causing her explosive bursts of temper. This constant bleeding was expensive and, for Emily, quite enervating. However, while her body recovered and produced new blood, Emily used the time to read voraciously. She rounded out her study of Catholicism with books on Celtic, Greek and Arthurian mythology, and later supplemented this reading with the Norwegian sagas.

But eventually, her strength would return and another “outburst” would occur. Finally, the good citizens of Ennis had enough, and the dyspeptic family was run out of town; though it must be noted that the Friars did ask Mary, Hope and the womb-challenged Chelsea to stay. [4]

As Emily entered her delicate years Michael became the primary source of her education; the inventor was appalled to discover that she had learned neither mathematics nor natural science under the Friar’s tutelage. Meanwhile he continued to be a prolific inventor, cranking out a series of successful and sometimes dangerous devices.

Next chapter: The Crossing


3. This was how her “uncle” Michael referred to the catechism the school children did each morning.

4. The triumvirate of Flannigan sisters was often at the friary, though usually they were seen entering by the back door. Later, the sisters became well-known in the Irish district of New York City as the Friar’s Tarts.


  1. […] Writer, poet, social activist, explorer, aviatrix, and 92-year-old pole vaulter: Emily Chesley played many roles in her long and remarkable life. This week I am posting abridged excerpts from her biography, Get Bent: Emily Chesley’s Life of Speculation, which recounts the humble beginnings and formative experiences of the Speculative Songstress Of The Southwest. Chapter two (part two) of Emily’s bio here. […]

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