|The Bad Beginning|
September 30, 1999
The novel begins with a dedication to a mysterious Beatrice, whom Snicket describes as "darling, dearest, dead". The author then provides a brief explanation of why the book should not be read, before describing the series' protagonists: Violet Baudelaire, a 14-year old amateur inventor; Klaus Baudelaire, a 12-year-old bookworm; and Sunny Baudelaire, an infant with unusually powerful teeth.
The Baudelaire children have left the unspecified city in which they live to spend the day at the deserted Briny Beach. While enjoying the solitude, their parents' inept banker, Arthur Poe, arrives to inform them that their mother and father have both died in a fire which has destroyed their mansion and all of their possessions. As executor of the Baudelaire estate, it is his duty to find a new home for the orphans.
The Baudelaires briefly live with Mr. Poe and his wife, Polly, sharing a room with their ill-behaved children Edgar and Albert. All three Baudelaires are miserable and apathetic to their situation, but Mr. Poe soon informs them that, in accordance with their parent's will (which requests that the children be cared for "in the most convenient way possible"), he has located a distant cousin, Count Olaf, who lives within the city limits and is willing to become the children's legal guardian.
On the car ride to Olaf's house, Mr. Poe explains to the Baudelaires that while Olaf is titularly a count, he is also a professional stage actor. When the car arrives in Olaf's neighborhood, the children are greeted by the kindly Justice Strauss, a judge on the High Court. When Violet mistakes her for Olaf's wife, however, Strauss hastily explains that she is only a neighbor, and directs the children and Mr. Poe to the squalid and betowered house that is Olaf's; carved on the front door is the image of a glaring eye.
The children soon learn that Olaf has only accepted their guardianship under the mistaken belief that he will receive their vast inheritance (which has been set aside until Violet turns 18). Olaf is sinister, self-absorbed, and unhygienic; he bears a tattoo of the glaring eye on his left ankle and a distinctive unibrow. When the count learns that he will not receive the Baudelaire fortune, he immediately drops all pretenses of friendliness toward the children. Every day the count leaves to work with his theater troupe, posting a list of often demeaning chores which the children must perform before his return home. Although the house is spacious, the orphans are given only one room and one bed. They are strictly forbidden to enter Olaf's tower study, and are provided with no belongings.
Eventually Olaf informs the children by way of the chore list that his 10-man theater troupe will be coming over in the evening, when the Baudelaires must serve dinner. Having no suitable supplies to make a meal for ten, the children spend the day with Justice Strauss shopping for ingredients to make spaghetti alla puttanesca and chocolate pudding. That evening Olaf arrives with his theater troupe, a motley crew which includes a man with hooks for hands, a bald man with a long nose, two women with white-powdered faces, and one who is so obese as to resemble neither a man nor a woman. The count and his troupe openly discuss his intentions to embezzle the children's inheritance, and Olaf becomes outraged when he learns the children have not prepared roast beef. When Klaus protests, Olaf slaps him and grabs Sunny, but calms down and allows the children to serve the puttanesca.
The next day the Baudelaires set out to find Mr. Poe, who works at Mulctuary Money Management, and report Olaf's abuse. Poe explains that Olaf is acting in loco parentis, and can raise them as he sees fit. The next morning, Olaf stays late to speak with the Baudelaires. He explains that Mr. Poe called him to address the children's concerns, and that as a first-time parent, he has been uncertain how to connect with them. Olaf informs the children, to their dismay, that they will be performing with his theater troupe in their upcoming production The Marvelous Marriage.
Convinced that the performance is a scheme to steal their fortune, Klaus spends the day researching inheritance law in Justice Strauss's personal library. His research is interrupted by the hook-handed man, however, who takes him back to Olaf's house. Klaus manages to grab a book on marriage law before he is taken away. During the night he discovers that a 14-year-old may get married with guardian consent, and realizes that Olaf plans to legally marry Violet in The Marvelous Marriage and in so doing form a concurrent estate, giving him unlimited access to their fortune. The next morning Klaus heads out early to confront Olaf with the evidence; the count confirms Klaus's theory and informs him that Sunny has been kidnapped on his behest and is being hung in a birdcage from the tower study window, to be dropped the moment he or his sister does not comply.
That day Violet attempts to visit Sunny, but finds the door to the tower guarded by the associate who looks like neither a man nor a woman. During the night she builds a grappling hook to scale the tower. When she reaches the top, however, she is met by the hook-handed man, who locks her in the uppermost room of the tower and brings Klaus to join her. Together the three children wait out the night in anticipation of the Marvelous Marriage performance.
The Marvelous Marriage itself serves little other purpose than as a vehicle for the wedding. Justice Strauss is procured for the role of the officiator (hence ensuring it is a legal ceremony), and Violet plays the role of the bride. Klaus is given a role with no lines, while Sunny remains locked in the birdcage under the hook-handed man's supervision. Every attempt the children make to speak to Strauss or Mr. Poe (who has come to see the performance) is interrupted by Olaf. When the time comes for Violet to sign the wedding contract, she makes a final effort to annul the marriage by signing the document with her left hand rather than her right. (The law required the document to be signed in the bride's "own hand".)
As soon as the contract has been signed, Olaf announces that the performance is over, and that Violet is now legally his wife. Mr. Poe, Justice Strauss, and many audience members object, but finally Strauss concludes that the ceremony has been legal. To Olaf's dismay, however, Violet informs Strauss that she has signed the document with the wrong hand, and the judge agrees that this is not in compliance with the law, rendering the ceremony annulled. Olaf orders the hook-handed man to drop their infant sister, but Sunny and the assistant have already arrived onstage. Mr. Poe attempts to arrest Olaf, but one of the assistants turns the house lights off. In the darkness and ensuing confusion, only Violet in her white wedding gown is readily visible. Before he and his troupe escapes, Olaf finds Violet in the dark and promises her that he will get their fortune if it's the last thing he does.
Once order is restored, Mr. Poe calls the police, but only Olaf's getaway car is found. Justice Strauss offers to adopt the Baudelaires, but Poe objects, observing that their parents' will instructs the children be raised by a relative. In compliance with the law, Strauss bids the children goodbye and leaves them in the care of Mr. Poe.
Letter from Lemony Snicket to the ReaderEdit
I'm sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.
In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.
It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.
With all due respect,
Letter from Lemony Snicket to the EditorEdit
To My Kind Editor,
I am writing to you from the London branch of the Herpetological Society, where I am trying to find out what happened to the reptile collection of Dr. Montgomery Montgomery following the tragic events that occurred while the Baudelaire orphans were in his care.
An associate of mine will place a small waterproof box in the phone booth of the Elektra Hotel at 11 P.M. next Tuesday. Please retrieve it before midnight to avoid it falling into the wrong hands. In the box you will find my description of these terrible events, entitled THE REPTILE ROOM, as well as a map of Lousy Lane, a copy of the film Zombies in the Snow, and Dr. Montgomery's recipe for coconut cream cake. I have also managed to track down one of the few photographs of Dr. Lucafont, in order to help Mr. Helquist with his illustrations.
Remember, you are my last hope that the tales of the Baudelaire orphans can finally be told to the general public.
With all due respect,
- Violet Baudelaire
- Klaus Baudelaire
- Sunny Baudelaire
- Arthur Poe
- Count Olaf
- Justice Strauss
- The Hook-Handed Man
- The White-Faced Women
- The Bald Man with the Long Nose
- The One Who Looks Like Neither a Man nor a Woman
- Bertrand Baudelaire (Mentioned only)
- Beatrice Baudelaire (Mentioned only)
- Polly Poe
- Edgar Poe
- Albert Poe
- The City
- Elektra Hotel (Mentioned in the Letter to the Editor)
- Pasta Puttanesca
- Violet Baudelaire's Microscope
- Klaus Baudelaire's Favorite Pen
- Sunny Baudelaire's Teething Rings
- Baudelaire's Grand Piano
- Boiled Chicken
- Boiled Potatoes
- Blanched String Beans
- Mr. Poe's Automobile
Lemony Snicket's ResearchEdit
- Lemony Snicket mentioned his room and possessions in the book. They were stated as being: a dusty accordion on which he could play a few sad songs, a large bundle of notes on the activities of the Baudelaire orphans, and a blurry photograph, taken a very long time ago, of a woman whose name was Beatrice. These items were mentioned to have been very precious and dear to him.