Charlotte’s Web

Magnum Opus - Garth Williams


Recently, some words from ‘Charlotte’s Web‘ surfaced from my unconscious. (If you’ve never read Charlotte’s Web, I don’t know what you’re doing here. We are probably from different planets.)

When Wilbur sees Charlotte’s egg sac, he asks if it’s a plaything. Charlotte replies:

“It is my egg sac, my magnum opus.” “I don’t know what a magnum opus is,” said Wilbur. “That’s Latin,” explained Charlotte. “It means ‘great work.’ This egg sac is my great work – the finest thing I have ever made.”

This is how I feel about my children, how I imagine all mothers must feel about their children. They were my gift to the world. And they are gone, one from the world and one from the nest.

At least Charlotte got to go first. That is the natural order of things. There is no consolation for me, but there is art.

What a wonderful book! It is so full of wisdom. I always thought it was about friendship, but it is also about death. I guess it’s about everything. When I read it to my kids, I remember feeling upset by Wilbur’s panic when he thinks that Charlotte’s children are leaving him.  It triggers my fear of abandonment.

Wilbur was frantic. 'Come back, children!' he cried.

Watching the last season of ‘The Wire’ the other night, I wondered if Templeton, the unscrupulous reporter, was an homage to E.B. White’s Templeton, a rat. Maybe all roads lead to Charlotte’s web.

Here is an excerpt from Eudora Welty‘s review of Charlotte’s Web, written in 1952 (which I found here)

What the book is about is friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time. As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done. What it all proves–in the words of the minister in the story which he hands down to his congregation after Charlotte writes “Some Pig” in her web–is “that human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.” Dr. Dorian says in another place, “Oh, no, I don’t understand it. But for that matter I don’t understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.” The author will only say, “Charlotte was in a class by herself.”


*illustrations by Garth Williams

This entry was posted in Art, grief, love, Words and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Charlotte’s Web

  1. Lynn says:

    So lovely. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and Ms. Welty’s words. Both are generous and enduring.

  2. Sam says:

    I’ve never read Charlottes Web, or The Lord of the Rings, nor have I seen the Sound of Music or Pretty Woman….
    Have I really missed out?

  3. Krista says:

    I used to have a nest inside me but then it got ripped out before I could ever make a baby with it. I used to cry about this and then I got pissed but now I have no more fucks to give. I guess I just was never meant to be a mother. My life is wonderful regardless, I’m an auntie to so many awesome kids… I win!

  4. sharnek says:

    It has been years since I last read Charlotte’s Web. I’m going to reread it.

    I’m a grieving mother too.


  5. annemarie says:

    Shit, I’ve never read Charlotte’s Web. I’m sorry! If only you were my mommy back when I needed a mommy most! There were no books in my house. There was nothing. I don’t know how I even discovered reading, but as soon as I did, it felt like I must have invented it. However, by then it was too late for Charlotte’s Web. I began with trashy novels and from there moved straight to Dostoyevsky.

  6. ali says:

    Oh, man. Tearing up at work! Must re-read & re-watch. This was one of my favorites as a kid- I think my dislike for eggs derives from this!

    The “magnum opus” scene is such a sweet one…

  7. Beannie71 says:


  8. Sisty says:

    I read Charlotte’s Web probably 20 times when I was a kid/adolescent and several more times as an adult, to my kids. Needless to say it had a major impact on me and Eudora Welty is right — it is as near about as perfect as a book can get. It’t sweet, suspenseful, sad and funny, and the characters are so soulfully drawn.

    Sam, I will say without hesitation that Pretty Woman, the Sound of Music, and Lord of the Rings are not anywhere near the same league.

  9. dust says:

    I’ll be brave and read it. My 40’th birthday is approaching and I still didn’t grow a single deep root, just managed to create a firm routine that mimics it. I’ll read it to re-educate myself and remember fear of abandonment. My relationship with you is a prime example, I never missed a post on this blog, but failed to participate for a long time. Accepting a loos doesn’t make you a looser, but assuming it, does.

  10. Andra says:

    Sam, I’ve never done any of those things either and I feel just fine.

  11. Katharine says:

    While sipping an early morning coffee outside a used bookstore window on a grey Thursday morning, I noticed a beautiful spider in her web out of the corner of my eye. I said spontaneously: “Good morning Charlotte.”- and that little miracle carried me through the day.

  12. Sister Wolf says:

    Lynn – My pleasure

    Sam – Charlotte’s Web, yes, but the others, no.

    Krista – You DO win. Motherhood can bring such terrible heartbreak. And every kid deserves a devoted auntie!

    sharnek – I’m so sorry. I wish I was magic and could change this. xoxo

    annemarie – I think you would love it.

    ali – xoxo

    Beannie71 – YES!

    Sisty – Agree on every point.

    dust – oh dust, 40 is a good time to create a whole new life, if you choose to. It’s so good to know you are with me.

    Andra – You are one content woman!

    Katharine – That makes me happy, thank you!

  13. dust says:

    Sister W, sure, I’m with you, together with typo’s, bad grammar and missing words. It’s a tradition.

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