The Wide Window
The Wide Window Plot
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 on stilts 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, although she is not their real aunt, she is their second cousin’s sister-in-law. She is a kind-hearted, yet peculiar and paranoid woman who has practically every fear there could be. For example, she is afraid to use the stove because according to her, it may start a fire, so she serves them cold cucumber soup. Along with fearing realtors and putting cans at doors to warn off burglars, Josephine also fears that a doorknob could shatter into a million tiny pieces and one shard may hit her eye, so she instructs the Baudelaires to push on the door. Josephine also considers grammar to be the greatest joy in life and is happy to teach Sunny proper English.
Aunt Josephine gives the Baudelaires gifts they do not like; a doll for Violet, a model train set for Klaus, and a rattle for Sunny. To be polite, they accept them, although they trade with each other; Klaus gives Violet the model train to tinker with, Violet gives Sunny the doll to bite on, unfortunately only leaving Klaus with only a rattle which they know is unfair, although he takes it with stride.
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. Ike only waited forty-five minutes. Josephine becomes upset and cries while remembering what happened to Ike, and wishes she could move somewhere else. The Baudelaires offer to go with her, but Josephine replies that she is too terrified of realtors and could never sell her house. The Baudelaires come to believe that Ike is the cause of her sadness.
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. Josephine notices a grammatical error, as it says “Every ship has it’s own sail” with an apostrophe in what should be “its”. The Baudelaires can sense his annoyance at her, concerned he may kick her in anger, but he forces a smile before leaving.
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.
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
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 who will come tomorrow.
The next day, Mr. Poe comes and the Baudelaires burst into tears. Mr. Poe comforts the Baudelaires in his arms. 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, especially after they perform a cross-check with Josephine’s grocery list and find out the note is not a forgery. Mr. Poe calls Captain Sham and upon hearing the news from Mr. Poe, Sham offers to take him and the three children to lunch at a local restaurant, The Anxious Clown.
At the restaurant, where a certain waiter attempts to give them a code, 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 the 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 Captain 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, she left the message and threw a footstool through the window to give the appearance that she committed suicide. 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. Olaf is angered at Josephine for faking her death and threatens to kill her, saying no one will believe a dead woman. Josephine pleads with Olaf to allow her to live and that she will go far away, go into hiding, and let him keep the Baudelaires and their fortune. Olaf is almost convinced, however, 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.