….and page 3 of the hardcover. Here’s further exposition of Superego Sophie, her stepmother Fanny, and her sisters Lettie and Martha:
Since Fanny was always busy in the shop, Sophie was the one who looked after the younger two. There was a certain amount of screaming and hair-pulling between those younger two….
Then Sophie would have to drag them apart and mend their clothes. She was very deft with her needle. As time went on, she made clothes for her sisters too. There was one deep rose outfit she made for Lettie, the May Day before this story really starts, which Fanny said looked as if it had come from the most expensive shop in Kingsbury.
With the “deep rose outfit” we have our first example of the novel’s thematic color scheme.
Sophie is the sort of child parental-types worry least about; she’s doesn’t throw wing-dings like her sisters, with whom she has a calming way; she has a cool head, a good mind, and a terrific work ethic. Although in her way she is as strong-minded as Lettie and Martha, she is at the same time calmer and more mature. She reads, she studies, she gets good grades. Plus she’s supercompetent. Children like this must be a pleasure to raise; they’re so much less work than the more active, ebullient ones.
Then, one day, Mr. Hatter drops dead. We don’t know what happens, only that the girls lose their father just as Sophie is about to complete the Ingarian — or Inglish — equivalent of high school, and Martha and Lettie are in their freshman and junior years. He must have been a good man, to have raised three spirited, intelligent, strong-minded young women. But he leaves them nothing. The hat shop is on the ropes.
We’re told Mr. Hatter ran up heavy debts paying his daughters’ tuition at “the best school in town.” With his death his family goes from prosperity to destitution overnight. The girls’ comfortable lives are permanently disrupted, and the fairy-tale necessity of “seeking their fortunes” is no longer off in some vague future, but urgent and immediate.
All this just as the country has once again come under siege by the Witch of the Waste, Sophie’s home town is terrorized by the ominous castle-that-moves in the hills above it, and Wizard Howl, so they say, has taken a fancy to eating the heart — or is it sucking the soul? — of any young woman who is foolish enough to venture out alone.