Volunteer Of V.F.D
- "Not too quickly! You could trip over the welcome mat and decapitate yourselves."
- —Aunt Josephine to Violet and Klaus
Josephine Anwhistle was Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire's second cousin's sister-in-law - namely the sister of the spouse of the Baudelaires' second cousin - and becomes their guardian in The Wide Window. She was the wife of Isaac "Ike" Anwhistle and sister-in-law of Gregor Anwhistle.
The Baudelaires had not really enjoyed most of their time with her not because she cooked horrible cold meals such as chilled cucumber soup, or chose presents for them that they didn't like, or always corrected the children's grammar, but because she was so afraid of everything that she made it impossible to really enjoy anything at all. And the worst of it was, Aunt Josephine's fear had made her a bad guardian. A guardian is supposed to stay with children and keep them safe, but Aunt Josephine had run away at the first sign of danger. A guardian is supposed to help children in times of trouble, but Aunt Josephine practically had to be dragged out of the Curdled Cave when they needed her. And a guardian is supposed to protect children from danger, but Aunt Josephine had offered the orphans to Captain Sham in exchange for her own safety.
But despite all of Aunt Josephine's faults, the orphans still cared about her. She had taught them many things, even if most of them were boring. She had provided a home, even if it was cold (due to her fear of the radiator exploding) and unable to withstand hurricanes. And the children knew that Aunt Josephine, like the Baudelaires themselves, had experienced some terrible things in her life.
Josephine grew up along the shores of Lake Lachrymose.
Captain Widdershins mentions that he was friends with Josephine Anwhistle and that he patrolled the waters of Lake Lachrymose for years.
She was also a member of V.F.D. and is stated to have been close to Beatrice and Bertrand Baudelaire.
At some point she met Ike Anwhistle, fell deeply in love, and was married to him. They enjoyed a loving marriage until Ike was eaten by the Lachrymose Leeches when he failed to wait an hour after eating before going for a swim, instead waiting only forty five minutes.
Josephine was traumatized by Ike's death and fell in grief. Ever since his death, Josephine has been terrified of Lake Lachrymose. It felt like she had lost a friend when the lake took away her husband. No longer did she swim in it every day, no longer did she visit its beaches and caves and islands which she once knew so well. She also developed a myriad of fears and phobias, many irrational.
The Wide Window
Later, she became the guardian of the Baudelaire orphans. They refer to her as Aunt Josephine simply because Josephine herself had told them to, as it's much easier than saying second cousin's sister-in-law. After the children's Uncle Monty died, Aunt Josephine decided to take care of them because she didn't want them to be as lonely as she was when she lost Ike.
In her house, she prepared a bedroom for them that was neat and clean, and even gave them gifts, though the Baudelaires did not enjoy them. Violet received a doll named Pretty Penny, Klaus received an electric train and Sunny got a rattle that was, to her dismay, not worth biting. Violet gave the doll to Sunny to bite on, Klaus gave the electric train to Violet to tinker with, which unfortunately left Klaus with a rattle.
As she gives her new charges a tour of her home, she explains why each and every thing is terribly dangerous. Klaus asks why the cans are there and Josephine replies that they are for burglars. She explains that doorknobs can shatter into a million pieces and hit one's eye, doormats can cause one to trip and break one's neck, the stove can burst into flames, and the telephone can electrocute someone. Her fears range from burglary to realtors. Understandably, the Baudelaire orphans are surprised to find out that a woman so afraid of everything in sight can bear to live in a house that is literally clinging to the side of a cliff, hanging over Lake Lachrymose, even including a large window that looks out onto the lake where her beloved husband died.
When Hurricane Herman is on the way, she takes the children out for supplies and meets Captain Sham, who is really Count Olaf in disguise. He charms and flatters her so she won't listen to the Baudelaires warnings and later, Aunt Josephine receives a telephone call, but as she is afraid of the phone, Violet offers to answer it. Realizing the caller is none other than Captain Sham, Violet quickly pretends that it's a wrong number from the Hopalong Dancing School. When Captain Sham calls again, Violet offers to answer the phone again, but her aunt is impressed by Violet's bravery and picks it up instead. Delighted to speak with someone she believes to be so charming, she tells the children to go upstairs so they can't eavesdrop on the surprise he has planned for them. Though they attempt to refuse, their guardian insists and they uneasily head to their bedroom. They immediately know it was a bad decision when they hear breaking glass and rush downstairs. The children find a note pinned to the door of Josephine's grammatical library, explaining how she finds life hopeless and leaves them to the care of Captain Sham. The Baudelaires enter the library to find that their aunt has thrown herself out the wide window overlooking the lake.
The letter read as such:
- Violet, Klaus, and Sunny-
- By the time you read this note, my life will be at it's end. My heart is as cold as Ike, and I find life inbearable. I know your children may not understand the sad life of a dowadger, or what would have leaded me to this desperate akt, but please know that I am much happier this way. As my last will and testament, I leave you in the care of Captain Sham, a kind and honorable men. Please think of me kindly even though I'd done this terrible thing.
- -Your Aunt Josephine
Violet calls Mr. Poe to tell him of the tragic event and waits with her siblings for him to arrive. They consider writing a forgery of the note to avoid being placed into Captain Sham's care and realize that that must be exactly what Sham did: throw their Aunt out the window and forged her note. When Mr. Poe arrives, he studies the note and decides it is not a forgery. He contacts Captain Sham to explain what happened and sets up a meeting at The Anxious Clown restaurant to discuss the children's future. The orphans are allowed to return to Aunt Josephine's house and Klaus studies their aunt's note, which is filled with grammatical errors. Those errors spell out "Curdled Cave", meaning that Aunt Josephine faked her death and is hiding inside Curdled Cave. Hurricane Herman picks up force and manages to shake the house so badly it breaks off the cliff and falls into the lake.
The Baudelaires then steal a sailboat and head for Curdled Cave. When they reach it, they are happy to discover that Aunt Josephine is still alive. They learn that Aunt Josephine was planning on living with them in the cave. Josephine also explains she was forced to write the suicide note by Captain Sham or else he would drown her. She threw a stool out the wide window to fake a suicide scene, wrote the note so the Baudelaires would uncover her true location, and left the house, somehow inexplicably finding a way to Curdled Cave.
The children persuade her to come back to the mainland and explain to Mr. Poe who Captain Sham really is, after Klaus explains that the cave is for sale and realtors will visit it. Unfortunately, not thinking of making another journey across the lake, Aunt Josephine had eaten a banana less than an hour before, and the smell attracts the Lachrymose Leeches. The leeches violently attack their little boat and Violet hurriedly invents a signal in the hope of attracting attention to their situation. Just as the sailboat is quickly sinking, they are rescued by another boat. Unfortunately, Captain Sham is the one who came to the rescue.
He's displeased with Aunt Josephine for being alive when she should be at the bottom of the lake. Aunt Josephine begs and pleads with him to spare her, saying he can have the children and she'll move away, dye her hair, change her name, nobody will ever hear from her again. It is thought that Captain Sham may have let her live if she had not corrected his grammar at the wrong time, and irritated him - but since she did, he pushes her over the side and into the waiting mouths of the leeches. Later, two fishermen find two life jackets in tatters.
It is never truly confirmed whether Josephine lost her life to the leeches. The life jackets are assumed to belong to her, but her remains are never found, meaning that she could have survived the attack and cast off her life jackets, possibly in an attempt to cause the assumption that she had perished; however, the truth is unknown, and it is more likely that she did indeed suffer her death at the hands of the leeches.
- "Grammar is the greatest joy in life, don't you find?"
- —Aunt Josephine
Josephine was very fond of grammar, often correcting people when they made grammatical mistakes. Her personal library contained only a wide variety of grammar books. It is possible her great love of grammar spawned because it was the one thing she could not possibly be afraid of. Unfortunately, she valued how people say things more than what they say, such as when Klaus told her about his fear of Olaf's ankle tattoo or when Violet asked for an explanation on why Josephine abandoned them, and even when Violet tried to save "each of their lives".
Aunt Josephine was eccentric and awkward in the presence of others. She often corrected others' grammar immediately after they spoke incorrectly, whether or not this was appropriate to the situation. This caused her once to overlook Klaus' fear of Olaf's tattoo when he confided it in her, and of course led to her demise at the hands of Count Olaf. She also corrected Sunny's infantile sounds, forgetting that as a baby, Sunny was incapable of proper speech or grammar. It is possible that her excessive phobias caused her to become reclusive and her social skills to atrophy.
Despite this, Josephine was kindhearted. She provided a home to three orphans because she didn't want them to feel alone. She gave them gifts in attempt for them to feel welcome, and when Violet and Klaus offered to cook pasta she told them that it is the guardian's responsibility to prepare meals so they wouldn't have to face the dangers of the stove. She tried to warn them of the dangers in everyday objects to keep them all safe and tried to share the joys of grammar with them. It also seems that the orphans were a good influence on her. After seeing Violet answer the phone (which Josephine feared to do) she answered it herself the next time it rang.
Josephine Anwhistle was afraid of nearly everything from the Lachrymose Leeches to having hair in her face. She was so scared of everything she made it difficult to really enjoy anything at all, regardless of whether her fears seemed rational or not. And the worst of it was, her terror caused her to be a bad guardian. She often made cold dishes for the children and never tried to make anything warm or nourishing, and ran away at the first sign of danger and had to be dragged out of Curdled Cave when she was needed by the children. She even offered the orphans to Captain Sham in exchange for her own safety. These acts also show that she could be moved to desperate action when frightened enough.
It is implied in The Wide Window, and explicitly shown in the movie and TV series adaptations, that Josephine was far more courageous before Ike's death. Among other things, she is noted in the movie to have tamed lions. "I was quite adventurous... when Ike was alive" she explains. She mentioned that she used to explore Lake Lachrymose and knew it well. She also swam in it every day, despite the risks posed by the leaches.
She likes to close her eyes when she's afraid in order to "block out the fear". Under her bed are all sorts of objects she wants to "block out", such as pots and pans (reminders of the stove), horribly ugly socks no human eyes should ever see, a framed photograph of her husband (too much heartache), and a stack of books on Lake Lachrymose.
Josephine is afraid of, among other things (listed in alphabetical order, as Aunt Josephine would have liked it that way):
- Automobiles (the doors may get stuck and she might be trapped inside)
- Avocados (the pit (seed) could be come lodged in one's throat)
- Being thrown overboard
- Black Plague
- Burglars (she places tin cans in the corner of every room so she'll hear when a burglar comes in and trips on them)
- Captain Sham/Count Olaf
- Doorknobs (may shatter into a million tiny pieces and one may hit her eye)
- Doormats (could cause someone to trip and break their neck or decapitate their head)
- Having children (she mentions that she and Ike were "afraid" to have children, but their reason for this fear is never given.)
- Having hair in her face
- Lachrymose Leeches
- Lake Lachrymose
- Radiators (may explode)
- Refrigerators (could also fall over at any time and crush you flat)
- Sofas (could fall over at any time and crush them flat)
- Stoves (they may burst into flames)
- Telephones (risk of electrocution)
As her long list of fears shows, Josephine could be irrational in her fears (something which Lemony Snicket himself mentions in his narration). While some of her fears had some justification -i.e. fearing Lake Lachrymose because of Ike's death, fearing the stove catching fire- her fear of realtors is never explained. Why she chose to live on a house literally hanging over the edge of the lake is unknown, but as it was the house she lived in with her husband, she may not have been able to let go, or because of her aforementioned fear of realtors. She demonstrated her tendency to irrational behavior again when she fled her house after faking her death and leaving a cryptic note for the children to follow and find her in Curdled Cave, when it would have made more sense to take the children with her into hiding, or inform them of what had happened, or at least leave them a sensible note. She also showed lack of forethought when she told the children that she intended to live in the cave indefinitely despite lacking in provisions or supplies. It should also be mentioned that in spite of her fear of the Lachrymose Leeches she forgot to warn the children that she had eaten a banana while waiting for them in the cave, and thus risked all of their lives as they tried to escape.
Behind the scenes
- In the film, Josephine was portrayed by Meryl Streep.
- In the video game, she was voiced by Donna Bullock.
- In the TV series, she was portrayed by Alfre Woodard.
- Although there is no official statement on her change of ethnicity (along with Mr. Poe and Uncle Monty) in the TV series (the book version of The Wide Window says Josephine has pale skin), Daniel Handler said he advocated for a more diverse cast.(9:00)
- Shouldn't You Be in School?
- The Wide Window
- The Miserable Mill (Mentioned only)
- The Grim Grotto (Mentioned only)
- Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (film)
- Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (video game)
- A Series of Unfortunate Events (TV series)