In this book, the Baudelaires are sent to live with a woman who is afraid of everything, yet lives in a house perched on the side of a cliff with stilts.
If you have not read anything about the Baudelaire orphans, then before you read even one more sentence, you should know this: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are kindhearted and quick-witted, but their lives, I am sorry to say, are filled with bad luck and misery. All of the stories about these three children are unhappy and wretched, and the one you are holding may be the worst of them all.
If you haven't got the stomach for a story that includes a hurricane, a signaling device, hungry leeches, cold cucumber soup, a horrible villain, and a doll named Pretty Penny, then this book will probably fill you with despair.
I will continue to record these tragic tales, for that is what I do. You, however, should decide for yourself whether you can possibly endure this miserable story.
With all due respect,
- For Beatrice–
- I would much prefer it if you were alive and well.
The book begins with Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire sitting at Damocles Dock in the town of Lake Lachrymose, which lies next to the lake with the same name. Mr. Poe, the manager of their estate, arranges a taxi to drive the Baudelaires to the top of a high hill where their new home awaits. As the taxi pulls into the driveway, the orphans find themselves at a house perilously perched on the edge of the hilltop that looked out on the lake.
Inside, they find their new guardian waiting for them, Aunt Josephine Anwhistle. She is a kind-hearted, yet peculiar woman who has practically every fear there could be. Within Aunt Josephine's house is a library filled only with grammar books and a large window (the titular Wide Window) at the far end of the room, which offers a spectacular view of Lake Lachrymose. It is here where Aunt Josephine recounts the tale of her last day on the shores of the lake with her husband, Ike Anwhistle, and how he met his end due to the carnivorous Lachrymose Leeches, which have the ability to smell food on a human if he or she does not wait an hour before going into the water.
After telling Aunt Josephine of Hurricane Herman's approach, they set about gathering supplies for the storm. While in the town market, they encounter Count Olaf, disguised as a sailor named Captain Sham. The three children attempt to warn Aunt Josephine about Captain Sham's true identity, but she does not believe them due to Sham's charm, his use of a peg leg to hide his tattoo of an eye on his left ankle, and because he has a business card - despite that anyone can go to a print shop and have business cards say whatever they want.
During dinner that evening, Aunt Josephine receives a phone call from Captain Sham, and she then sends the children to their bedroom. The Baudelaires lie awake for what feels like hours, trying to get themselves and Aunt Josephine out of the situation with Captain Sham before eventually falling asleep. They are later awakened by a sudden sound of shattering glass and immediately go to investigate. Upon searching the house for any trace of Aunt Josephine, the Baudelaires come to the library where they find a suicide note from their aunt and discover that the Wide Window had shattered. Although filled with grammar mistakes the children know Aunt Josephine would never have made, the note says that Captain Sham is to be their new guardian. The children then conclude that Count Olaf is behind it and decide to call Mr. Poe.
Mr. Poe informs the children that like him or not, Captain Sham is to be their new guardian per Josephine's last will and testament written in the note. Captain Sham, upon hearing the news from Mr. Poe, offers to take he and the three children to lunch at a local restaurant, The Anxious Clown. Needing more time to find the truth behind Aunt Josephine's suicide and strangely written note, Violet decides to take drastic action and gives her siblings a peppermint, which the children are terribly allergic to. Almost immediately, the children break out in hives and their tongues swell, causing Mr. Poe to allow them to go back up to Aunt Josephine's house.
As they reach the hilltop, the effects of Hurricane Herman could be felt, as rain had started to fall and the wind had begun to pick up. While Violet and Sunny attempt to take a baking soda bath to relieve their itchy hives, Klaus returns to the library to see if he could make out anything about Aunt Josephine's note. As his sisters return to his side, Klaus reveals that Aunt Josephine had purposefully written the note to hide a message reading "Curdled Cave". They conclude that Aunt Josephine is in fact not dead, merely hiding.
Upon this discovery, however, the hurricane had reached its peak force. The children hurry to find a map to locate Curdled Cave and resolve to look under Aunt Josephine's bed; as she had told them she had hidden anything to do with Lake Lachrymose away after Ike died. After finding an atlas of Lake Lachrymose, a bolt of lightning strikes one of the many supports holding Aunt Josephine's house up on the cliffside. After a narrow escape, the Baudelaires watch as the house is ripped from the side of the cliff and falls into the lake below.
The children then hurry to the docks to find Fickle Ferry shut down due to the hurricane. Needing to get across Lake Lachrymose to Curdled Cave, the children decide to take a sailboat from Captian Sham. The gates to the docks are locked, however, and the keys are in the hand of the sleeping Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender inside a shack by the gate posing as a security guard. While Klaus and Violet attempt to make a plan, Sunny goes in to steal the keys from the henchperson and succeeds. After a few moments, however, the henchperson comes lumbering out the door and grabs Violet and Sunny while Klaus is fumbling with the keys trying to open the gate. The obese henchperson then picks up Klaus with their mouth and begins walking back to the shack. However, they slip on the atlas of Lake Lachrymose and this gives the Baudelaires enough time to escape and steal a sailboat. They sail out through Hurricane Herman to Curdled Cave where they find Aunt Josephine. She tells the children that Count Olaf made her write the note, but instead of killing herself, left the message and threw a footstool through the window to give the appearance that she suicided. The Baudelaires try to convince her to sail with them back to town to tell Mr. Poe what had happened, but she refuses. Klaus points out to her that the cave is for sale, and realtors would surely come to see it. This is enough for Aunt Josephine to agree, her fear of realtors overpowering her fear of Count Olaf.
After sailing to the center of the vast lake, they are attacked by the Lachrymose Leeches. Aunt Josephine had regretted to point out that she had eaten a banana shortly before the children had arrived, causing the leeches to attack due to the scent of food. The leeches immediately begin to eat away at the boat attempting to get to Aunt Josephine. Violet creates a fiery signal using Aunt Josephine's hairnet, a bit of sailcloth, and a fishing pole and her knowledge of the scientific principles of the refraction and convergence of light to help catch the attention of another boat. The signal gets the attention of one sailor on the water, Count Olaf. He allows the children and their aunt aboard his sailboat, just as theirs sinks from the leeches onslaught. Aunt Josephine then pleads with Olaf to allow her to live and that she will go far away and let him keep the Baudelaires. When Aunt Josephine corrects a slip of grammar on Olaf's part, he throws her into the water and sails the boat back to the dock, leaving Aunt Josephine to fend for herself against the swarming leeches.
When they arrive back at the docks, Mr. Poe is just fixing to hand the children over to Captain Sham when Sunny bites into his fake wooden leg breaking it in half, revealing his tattoo and real leg beneath. Olaf then locks the gates to Damocles Dock and once again escapes with the Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender and leaves the Baudelaire children searching for someone else to care for them.
- Violet Baudelaire
- Klaus Baudelaire
- Sunny Baudelaire
- Count Olaf (as Captain Sham)
- Hook-Handed Man (as a ferryman)
- Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender (as a security guard)
- Arthur Poe
- Isaac Anwhistle
- Bertrand Baudelaire
- Beatrice Baudelaire
- Montgomery Montgomery
- The Bald Man with the Long Nose
- Abhorrent: here means "what Count Olaf used to do when he was about your age" (burning ants)
- Break out in hives: a phrase which here means "be covered in red, itchy rashes for a few hours."
- Brobdingnagian: a word which here means "unbelievably husky"
- Broke: The storm finally broke-the word "broke" here means "ended," rather than "shattered" or "lost all its money"
- Chameleonic: a word which means "able to blend in with any situation"
- Copious: here means "lots of"
- Dashed: a word which here means "shattered", regarding Violet's hopes
- Dowager: Klaus whispered to Violet, "is a fancy word for 'widow.'"
- Eavesdropping: "It means "listening in". If you stay here, you will be eavesdropping."
- Feverish pitch: a phrase which here means "it shook the house and sent all three orphans toppling to the floor."
- Forgery: Klaus said, using a word which here means "write something yourself and pretend somebody else wrote it."
- Futile: a word which here means "filled with futility."
- Garish: here means "filled with balloons, neon lights, and obnoxious waiters"
- Groaned inwardly: a phrase which here means "said nothing but felt disappointed at the prospect of another chilly dinner"
- Gusto: a word which here means "in a way which produced a great deal of phlegm."
- Impertinent: "a word which here means "pointing out that I'm wrong, which annoys me."
- Keeping things in perspective: "making things better by comparing the things that are happening to you right now against other things that have happened at a different time, or to different people."
- Mast: a word meaning "the tall wooden post found in the middle of boats
- Mollify: here means "get them to stop tearing their hair out in worry"
- Minimal pain: a phrase which here means "no pain at all"
- Neither rain nor sleet nor driving snow shall halt the delivery if the mails: All this means is that even when the weather is nasty and your mailperson wants to stay inside and enjoy a cup of cocoa, he or she has to bundle up and go deliver your mail anyway.
- Personage: a silly word which here means "person."
- Precariously: a word which here means "in a way which almost threw Aunt Josephine and the Baudelaire youngsters to their doom"
- Phantasmagorical: here means "all the creepy, scary words you can think of put together"
- Resolutely: a word which here means "as if she believed it, even though she wasn't so sure"
- Slipped a notch: a phrase which here means "grown less confident as he waited to see if Aunt Josephine realized he was really Count Olaf in disguise."
- Soup's on: "Normally, of course," Aunt Josephine said, "'soup's on' is an idiomatic expression that has nothing to do with soup. It simply means that dinner is ready. In this case, however, I've actually made soup."
- Surreptitiously: a word which here means "while Aunt Josephine wasn't looking."
- Taxi: "I'm surprised at you, Violet," he said. "A girl of your age should know that a taxi is a car which will drive you someplace for a fee."
- Transparent disguise: When someone is in a disguise, and the disguise is not very good, one can describe it as a transparent disguise. This does not mean that the person is wearing plastic wrap or glass or anything else transparent. It merely means that people can see through his disguise - that is, the disguise doesn't fool them for a minute.
- Utmost: here means "most"
- Wunderkind: a German word which here means "someone who is able to quickly climb masts on boats being attacked by leeches"
- You can't locked up the barn after the horses are gone: It means simply that sometimes even the best of plans will occur to you when it is too late.
- Larry the Waiter says, "I didn't realize this was a sad occasion."
References to the real world
- Main article: References and allusions in Lemony Snicket's works
- Snicket's endnote in The Reptile Room mentions the Café Kafka, a reference to the Austrian-Hungarian author, Franz Kafka. One of Kafka's short stories, "Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk," features Josephine, the only mouse that can sing. The Baudelaires' Aunt Josephine is rather mouse-like as she is "timid as a mouse." In Kafka's story, Josephine's music sounds like whistling if heard from the wrong angle, which may be a reference to Isaac Anwhistle's ability to whistle with crackers in his mouth. When his nickname, "Ike," is combined with his last name, "Anwistle," the result sounds like the statement "I can whistle."
- The name of the storm featured in the book is "Hurricane Herman," which may be a reference to Herman Melville.
- The name for Damocles Dock, presumably alludes to the legendary Greek figure Damocles who had a sword dangling over his head. Note that in the picture in the front of The Wide Window, it shows the Baudelaire children can be seen sitting on their luggage at Damocles Dock. In the archway at the entrance to the dock is a sword dangling over their heads.
- Lachrymose (Lake Lachrymose) means "given to or causing tears."
- The Baudelaire orphans' allergies to peppermints may be a nod to their tendencies to misfortune. In the Victorian art of flower arranging, peppermint symbolizes "cordiality, warmth of feeling." Thus, their allergy to peppermints could represent the absence of "cordiality" and "warmth of feeling" in their lives.
In the final picture, Mr. Poe can be seen clutching at a closed gate, watching as Count Olaf and the Enormous Androgynous Person escape. On the side of a building in the picture hangs a sign in the shape of a pair of glasses with a pair of squinting eyes, referencing Dr. Orwell's Office in The Miserable Mill.
Letter to the Editor
To My Kind Editor,
I am writing to you from the Paltryville Town Hall, where I have convinced the mayor to allow me inside the eye-shaped office of Dr. Orwell in order to further investigate what happened to the Baudelaire orphans while they were living in the area.
Next Friday, a black jeep will be in the northwest corner of the parking lot of the Orion Observatory. Break into it. In the glove compartment, you should find my description of this frightening chapter in the Baudelaires' lives, entitled THE MISERABLE MILL, as well as some information on hypnosis, a surgical mask, and sixty-eight sticks of gum. I have also included the blueprint of the pincher machine, which I believe Mr. Helquist will find useful for 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,
To be written.
Several editions of The Wide Window have been published. Some of these include foreign editions or re-prints such as: The Wide Window (US), The Wide Window (UK), The Wide Window (UK Paperback), The Wide Window Or, Disappearance! and Ouragan Sur Le Lac.
The Wide Window (UK)
The Wide Window (UK) was released on June 9, 2003 by Egmont Books Ltd. It features a black cover, different fonts and a purple spine. Brett Helquist's illustration is also different. On each of the UK versions, between the coloured spine and the black cover there are narrow images depicting a reference to each books content. The Wide Window features a row of waves. This is repeated on the back cover.
The Wide Window (UK Paperback)
This is a paperback version of The Wide Window released in the UK by Egmont Books in 2010. It has Lemony Snicket written on the top with A Series of Unfortunate Events written below it in an eye shape.
The Wide Window Or, Disappearance!
The Wide Window Or, Disappearance! is a paperback re-release of The Wide Window, designed to mimic Victorian penny dreadfuls. It was released on September 4, 2007, by HarperCollins. The book includes seven new illustrations, and the third part of a serial supplement entitled The Cornucopian Cavalcade, which features a 13-part comic by Michael Kupperman entitled The Spoily Brats, an advice column written by Lemony Snicket, and, as in The Bad Beginning or, Orphans! and The Reptile Room or, Murder!, (the final) part of a story by Stephen Leacock entitled Q: A Psychic Pstory of the Psupernatural.
Ouragan Sur Le Lac
Ouragan Sur Le Lac is a French edition of The Wide Window, published by Nathan Poche. Much different from other editions, the Nathan Poche one is almost completely black. It features only the title of the book, a small picture of the Baudelaire children and a white illustration of a lifebuoy.