Category: Short Story Project

Chekhov, “Le triomphe du vainqueur” (1883)

It’s Carnival Friday, everyone gathers at the functionary Kozouline’s house for crêpes, giving Chekhov room to write as few crêpiers ever could about crêpes. Then two functionaries, among them Kozouline, make fun of an old man, humiliating him, paying him back for the time when he was their boss. The cruelty of the host is apparent at the end when Kozouline tells the narrator’s father to prance around like a rooster–which the father does. As does his son, who wants to make sure he lands himself a proper post: “On me nommera sûrement commis aux écritures.” Not a scintillating story but for the triumphalism of lowly clerks’ self-aggrandized ascent in the lower reaches of miserable bureaucracies, and the petty cruelties that shadow the reigns, delicious crêpes notwithstanding. After all, they’re all gathered together.

Les Éclats, 1883 Nr. 9. Not included in the Constance Garnette edition. 

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Dr. Beeber” (1970)

isaac singer dr. beeber

Dr. Mark Beeber is a rich Bohemian philosopher who’s written one book but bears his title for pretension’s sake: he’s never written his dissertation. “His stories always came to the same conclusion: everything is vanity, all philosophers are mistaken, all ideals silly and hypocritical. Man is nothing but a sly ape. However, when one can’t pay the rent, there’s trouble.” He befriends a young writer at the Warsaw Writers’ Club whom he calls Tsutsik (which means puppy) who, seeing him deteriorate–he’d rejected his family–suggests a matchmaker. Beeber marries a rich woman who turns out to be a Martha Updike, controlling his environment so as to force him to publish another book. “She won’t let me answer the phone; she’s afraid I’ll be robbed of my time for contemplation.” All his needs are fulfilled down to a gastronomy that fattens him. But he’s bored. He feels so enslaved he starts an affair with the maid. He’s eternally dissatisfied. Then goes to a casino and wastes all of his wife’s money. She throws him out. His deterioration resumes. His philosophy has twisted, though it’s not much different than what it had been: “Rationalism is the worst disease of the human species. Reason will reverse evolution. Homo sapiens will become so clever that he won’t know how to breed, to eat, or go to the toilet. He’ll even have to learn how to die.” But even though he can’t pay the rent–he has no roof, no bed, no zlotys–what frightens him most in the end is that his wife would forgive him.

The New Yorker, March 7, 1970

Malamud, “The Literary Life of Laban Goldman” (1943)

bernard malamud literary life of laban goldman

Laban Goldman is kin to Chekhov’s Mitia Kouldarov in “Joy,” but without youth’s excuse. He’s a middle-aged man married 27 years to Emma, “a small woman, heavily built,” with a daughter, Sylvia, married and raising two children elsewhere. Goldman is self-delusional: he writes letters to the Brooklyn Eagle and the New York Times and thinks he’s on his way to becoming a literary star, or was, but for his wife. He’s just had a letter printed in the Eagle that morning. He uses “big words,” says things like “It’s a sociological subject of import” when he speaks to his daughter on the phone and has only contempt for his wife. “Twenty-seven years I have been married to you in a life which I got nothing from it,” he tells her. He attends night school, where he’s infatuated with a Miss Moscowitz, “a tall, thin woman in her early thirties.” His English class is discussing Romeo and Juliet. He “squirmed uncomfortably in his seat as the period grew shorter. He knew that he would feel miserable if he had not raised his letter…” But he finds a way, though his letter is about divorce. He contrives a way to squish the Capulet-Montague clash through his letter: “The result of this incongruence is very frequently tragedy or, nowadays, divorce.” It’s actually quite a funny line. “On this subject I would like to quote you some words of mine…” (Laban is Arabic for yogurt, and a reference to Libnah in Numbers, but not seemingly meaningful here.)

Afterward Goldman and Moscowitz go out for coffee and are exchanging verbally masturbatory flatteries when Moscowitz notices a woman rushing their way, with another woman trying to hold her back. “Mr. Goldman,” she said in a tight voice, “your wife is coming.” The scene reminds me of the scene where Mr. Zipsky in Woody Allen’s Radio Days has a nervous breakdown and runs amok in the neighborhood. Not fair to Emma of course, but the way Malamud describes her approach is cleaverly evocative. And so: esclandre. Miss Moscowitz quickly exits. Goldman is indifferent to his wife. His letter that morning erases all depression, leaving him with his final delusion: “Ah,” he sighed, as he walked along, “with my experience, what a book I could really write!”

Assembly, November 1943

Hemingway, “Hills Like White Elephants” (1927)

ernest hemingway

The elephant in the title, as big as the hills, as big as the elephant in the room, the white elephant: the “girl” (Hemingway’s women are always “girls”) is pregnant. “The American” (not just a man, certainly not a boy: The American) wants her to have an abortion, “to let the air in,” as he describes the “operation,” which he says isn’t an operation at all really, never saying the word abortion or coming close to it. It’s what, 1920s Spain? They’re drinking. “That’s all we do, isn’t it–look at things and try new drinks?” she tells him.

She looks out and describes the hills “like white elephants,” at least at first. He misses the point. He doesn’t try to engage her on hers. What do you mean? What do you see? He doesn’t even think of trying to see through her eyes. He says:  : ‘I’ve never seen one,” and drinks beer. Brings it back to himself. He’s a narcissist. “No, you wouldn’t have,” she says. Again he misses the point: “Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.” What their exchange proves is that they are talking at cross-purposes. It’s a conversation between two deaf people, two people deaf to each other. He is not listening. She is not interested in listening, and will have to tell him so explicitly by the end of the story.

They talk beer. Talk drinks. They have that in common. Then he breaks it to her: “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig.” Jig? Why did Hemingway call his “girl” by a dance’s name? It’s not a small detail. Nor is the astoundingly dumb, even macabre, reduction of an abortion to this: “It’s just to let the air in.” For him, maybe. (The story is an unfortunately strong argument for anti-abortionist zealots.) It brings happiness, he tells her. Couples who do it love each other again: that is, they can fuck freely again, no baby burden. She wonders: “and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?” That she has to ask whether he loves her negates his affirmation (“I love you now. You know I love you.”) Clearly, so much is amiss, tragically so. Including the next revelation, almost suicidal for the “girl” and at this point murderous for the bay: “Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.” If you don’t care, I don’t care. Hemingway’s foresight: he is the man, nevertheless he can articulate the woman’s isolation and nearing despair. The man is about what the man wants: the operation, the resumption.

Then she changes her mind about the hills like white elephants, as if to try again, prompt him to see: “They don’t really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skins through the trees.” But all she’s done is humanize the hills even more. 

There’s an exchange toward the end where she seems to want the possibility of possibilities: “we could have everything.” No. The man says they can’t. “Once they take it away, you never get it back.” Take what away? We never know. The baby? She wants him to stop talking. She begs him to. The drink at separate tables. Her last line is damning: “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.” She wants the baby. She is not diseased.

The themes strengthen the story, which hints at certain sensibilities that suggest Hemingway was not entirely deaf to women’s. And abortion, ever the white elephant. Hemingway executes the theme deftly, with the unsaid here sounding so loud, so painful, as it always is in these circumstances: so much of it can’t be verbalized, so much of it the man in the story either doesn’t want verbalized, for all his intolerable volubility, or wouldn’t know how: “Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.” But it seems to.

Transition, August 1927.

Hemingway, “Cat In the Rain” (1924)

American Writer. Ernest Hemingway With His First Wife Hadley Richardson And Their Son John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway (Jack) In Schuns, Austria, 1926. (Credit unclear. Found on “Posterazzi,” on Amazon.)

There’s always been various connections between Hemingway and cats, even in passing. This is one of them.  Carlene Brennen in Hemingway’s Cats (2000) describes Hemingway’s young marriage to Hadley Richardson when she wanted a child and a cat. A child was out of the question: he was writing. She was lonely. At the time Hemingway was a reporter for the Toronto Star, writing from Europe. She had nothing to do. They both loved cats but he told her they were too poor to own one. They lived in a shabby rented room with beautiful views of Paris rooftops. Hemingway thought the room had belonged to Verlaine, where Verlaine had died. He worked. She paced. She got pregnant, unexpectedly. “The story was a tribute to Hadley, who was dealing with her first year of marriage, the loneliness it entailed, and her deep desire for motherhood,” Brennen writes. Brennen then cites Gioia Diliberto’s biography, Hadley, that found Hemingway basing the story on an incident in Rapallo in 1923, the little Mediterranean town near Genoa, where the couple spent some time when Hadley was two months pregnant. She saw a kitten hiding under a table, just as in the story. “I want a cat,” she is reported to have said in the biography, or in the story: Brennen doesn’t make a distinction. “I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun I can have a cat.” Ernest actually gave her a small dog in her last month of pregnancy, and they both took to it. “Cat in the Rain” was part of the In Our Time collection published in 1924.

As in “The Quay at Smyrna,” most of the story is in what’s not told, though in this case, between the affected prose and the Hemingway anchor attached to the story, it leaves a lot of room for wild interpretations. The biographical context of the story doesn’t help, except to shed some of the pretentious assumptions a critical reading of the story risks producing. To me, a little too obviously, the protectiveness for the cat is the basic maternal instinct, the more so since Hadley was gestating child and instinct. The opening scene-setting seems superfluous: the war monument, the palms, the Italians who come “from a long way off” to look at the monument, even Italy: they could have been on a hot tin roof for all we care, the story could have still been pulled off the same way but for Hemingway’s affectations and his desire to advertise that he’s ben to an Italian seaside town with a war monument. The insistent rain is necessary to ensure that the cat needs to be sheltered from it, though wind, cold, sleet or afternoon heat might’ve had the same effect on most cats. Why the woman is referred to, twice, as a “girl” is unclear. Maybe that’s how Italians saw Americans. Why she can’t have long hair even more so: in the mid-20s? In Europe? Finally, the cat presented to her by the Italian maid may not be the one she’d seen, though given the incessant rain, it seems a quick check of her fur would reveal whether she’d been outside or not. The ambiguity seems more literary than meaningful, although isn’t it so with  child: you never know what you’re going to get until it’s delivered. Or didn’t, anyway, back then, before the era of grotesque-dimensional ultrasounds.

This is too much: “Italians came from a long way off to look up at the war monument. It was made of bronze and glistened in the rain. It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain. The motor cars were gone from the square by the war monument. Across the square in the doorway of the café a waiter stood looking out at the empty square.” This is the sort of paragraph that makes Hemingway disciples swoon. This is the sort of paragraph that does not make me swoon. It just makes it clear how much of a one-trick wonder Hemingway was, and how much he demolished generations of writers who tried to be the next Hemingway. At least Camus had something to say in his minimalism. With Hemingway, the iceberg below the surface is hollow.

Edith Wharton, “The Lamp of Psyche” (1895)

edith whartonDelia and Laurence Corbett are a pair of do-nothing rich, part of that “richly upholstered and intellectually barren world,” as James Mac Gregor Burns described Wharton’s frequent characters. They live in Paris. It’s her second marriage. Her first died, much to her pleasure: “Her husband often reminded her of the poodle, and, not having a whip or its moral equivalent to control him with, she had long since resigned herself to seeing him smudge the whiteness of her early illusions.” Her aunt Mary Hayne in Boston is a hyperactive liberal advocate. She falls and gets water on the knee. Her niece decides to go to Boston to be with her–and also to show-off: “She was really very glad to be returning to Boston as Corbett’s wife; her occasional appearances there as Mrs. Benson had been so eminently unsatisfactory to herself and her relatives that she naturally desired to efface them by so triumphal a re-entry.” Mrs. Hayne’s over-activity is a burdensome contrast to Delia’s laziness. ” In its light her own life seemed vacuous, her husband’s aims trivial as the subtleties.” More burdensome is the question her aunt asks Delia: what did your husband do in the Civil War war? Nothing. Why? “I really don’t know,” she said, coldly. “I never asked him.” How could she possibly not? Because she was an indolent northerner who couldn’t give a shit. It would not have happened in the South, or in any northern family affected by the war (in the 99 percent):

But the matter weighs on her heavily enough that it pushes her back to Paris, where she thinks the “torment of the question,” and not knowing Corbett’s own answer, would dissipate. It does not. Corbett himself triggers the confrontation when he comes home with the framed picture of a soldier killed at Chancellorville, picked up in a little shop on Rue Bonaparte. He meant it as a present for his wife. The gesture has all the elegance of the goon who piously cheers the war wounded on display at an NFL game. His wife feigns being touched, but the gesture begs the question, which she poses directly. He answers it astoundingly: “I don;t think I know.” And: “Well — it all happened some time ago,” he answered, still smiling, “and the truth is that I’ve completely forgotten the excellent reasons that I doubtless had at the time for remaining at home.” That home strikes as the loudest Berlioz-like knell of his cowardice. She calls him a coward. The picture drops, breaks its crystal cover. She later apologizes. “Her ideal of him was shivered like the crystal above the miniature of the warrior of Chancellorsville. She had the crystal replaced by a piece of clear glass which (as the jeweller pointed out to her) cost much less and looked equally well; and for the passionate worship which she had paid her husband she substituted a tolerant affection which possessed precisely the same advantages.”

Scribner’s Magazine, October 1895.

Paul Bowles, “Under the Sky” (1947)

The lurid story of young a mountain man, Jacinto, who comes down to an inferno of a town under a lightning-ridden sky to sell “all the things his family had made since his last trip.” He’s an angry man. He rolls five joints in front of others. A man threatens him with arrest of he doesn’t share. He must give up two joints. He’s livid, but not armed. He is at heart a coward, as we will soon see. He encounters a trio of travelers just off the train who look at him oddly as they pass by. He waits for one of them to come out of the hotel at night. One does. A woman, “not the younger one.” She smokes. They talk. He suddenly drags her beneath the lightning sky and swears to her that he’s about to kill the man who is with the other woman because he wants the woman. It’s a subterfuge. The woman screams. He tells her she’s saving the man’s life–by essentially letting him, Jacinto, take her to the cemetery, where he rapes her. She then leaves. “He was happy because she had not asked for any money.” The next year he waited for the train four days. Nothing. At the cemetery, he sobs. I have no idea why. A passing woman says, “He has lost his mother.” If that’s supposed to be a clue, it doesn’t ring true. Nor does the story soar anywhere near the first paragraph’s lyricism:

 

There’s also a derisive, primitive attitude about the simplicity of the natives, Bowles depicting them as two-dimensional brutes, when the telling of the story seems more brutal.

Horizons, June 1947.

[rape, natives, lightning, marijuana]

Cheever, “The Sutton Place Story” (1946)

Deborah is the not-quite 3-year-old daughter of Katheryn and Robert Tennyson. Her parents party and get drunk so much that “She made Martinis in the sand pile and thought all the illustrations of cups, goblets, and glasses in her nursery books were filled with Old-Fashioneds.” She is mostly cared for by a nanny, Mrs. Hartley, with whom she quarrels as if the two were an old couple. At one of her parents’ parties, they entertain a woman called Renee Hall, an actress, about 35, “dissipated and gentle,” who saw her life disappearing and her wish for a child unfulfilled. She takes to Deborah, but has a falling out with the Tennysons when she becomes too attached to the little girl, lavishes her with too many gifts and even ventures to question her parents’ style:

But eventually Mrs. Hartley hands off Deborah to Renee to look after for a few hours a week, especially when Mrs. Hartley goes to church. One of those days, right after Deborah tells renee that she has a friend called Martha and is dismissed “of course you do”) Deborah disappears. Her parents are in a panic. The search is on. Police finally find her in front of an antique store on Third Avenue. She tells her father she had to find her friend Martha.

The story recall Flannery O’Connor’s “The River,” where of course the boy, also surrounded by drunkard and somewhat more indifferent parents, isn’t found but drowns, looking for his own version of Martha.

[Missing children, panic, loss, unfulfilled life, projection, parenting, drinking]
The New Yorker, June 29, 1946

Eudora Welty, “The Key” (1941)

Ellie and Albert Morgan are a simple minded deaf and dumb couple from Yellow Leaf, Mississippi, in a train-station waiting room, on their way to Niagara Falls, a trip intended to possibly rekindle, if not merely kindle, their love for each other. A wanting love: Albert is hopeful. She seems less so. A red-haired man is playing with a metal key that falls to the ground in a rattle and drifts to Albert’s feet. He picks it up. He doesn’t return it. It becomes a symbol of everything that may happen between him and Ellie, cause of what may be wrong between him an Ellie. They speak on their fingers, in sign language, perhaps a detail intended to suggest isolation. The disrupting element is the red-haired man, whose presence is arrogant, presuming and ultimately insulting: he drops another key in Ellie’s hand, to a hotel room, and walks out.

I found the story a bit contrived, heavy on the symbolism. Funny what role Niagara Falls keeps playing in fiction. Or keys.

Harper’s Bazaar, August 1941.

Willa Cather, “The Sentimentality of William Tavener”

The circus is in town, and Hester wants her harsh husband to let their boys go there. William and Hester Taverner are prosperous farmers in McPherson County (a rarity). Silence “was William’s refuge and his strength,” but he was a hard man, “grasping, determined and ambitious.” Hester remembers going to the circus when she was young. She tries to convince William of letting the boys go. “Nobody was ever hurt by goin’ to a circus,” she says. Turns out he’d sneaked out and been to the same circus when he was a boy. That startles Hester. They reminisce. “Their relationship had become purely a business one, like that between landlord and tenant. In her desire to indulge her boys she had unconsciously assumed a defensive and almost hostile attitude towards her husband. No debtor ever haggled with his usurer more doggedly than did Hester with her husband in behalf of her sons. The strategic contest had gone on so long that it had almost crowded out the memory of a closer relationship. This exchange of confidences tonight, when common recollections took them unawares and opened their hearts, had all the miracle of romance.” They talk so much “they had as much to say to each other as people who meet after a long separation.” He then gets up for bed and sets aside $10 for their boys to go. Hester “had a painful sense of having missed something, or lost something; she felt that somehow the years had cheated her.” She gives the boys the money. All these years, she had been their advocate. And now, this twist, as she spoke for their father. “The boys looked at each other in astonishment and felt that they had lost a powerful ally.”

Henry James, “A Landscape Painter” (1866)

Jasper Francis Cropsey

Jasper Francis Cropsey, ‘The Valley of Wyoming.’ This large studio work was commissioned in 1864 by Milton Courtright (1810 – 1883). Courtright was born and raised on his family’s farm in the heart of the Wyoming Valley. In his account book, Cropsey recorded a payment of $125 from Courtright on August 4, 1864, and three additional payments in January, March, and May 1865, totaling $3, 500. On August 8, Cropsey made at least two preparatory drawings of the site (now in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). One of these served as the basis for the oil sketch for this painting (see 25.110.63). This final version of the picture was shown at the National Academy of Design in New York in 1865. It retains an original frame and plaque with a poem written in 1809 by the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell. (From the Met.)

Locksley is a wealthy, or particularly good-looking” man who was engaged to a “most mercenary” miss Leary who wanted him for his money, broke that engagement, and died at 35. The story is his journal, in the possession of a woman who frames the story in her introduction. Locksley seeks a place to isolate himself and paint. He meets Captain Richard Blunt, former seafarer and inveterate liar, and sets up in his idyllic house and retreat. He wants to stand on his own merit. If that fails, “I shall fall back upon my millions.” Blunt has a 27 year old daughter who provides for the household by teaching kids piano. Esther is “honest, simple, and ignorant,” of course, because this is Henry James. Still, it’s an idyll. The captain lies, but so does he: “Which is the worse, wilfully to tell, or wilfully to believe, a pretty little falsehood which will not hurt any one? I suppose you can’t believe wilfully; you only pretend to believe. My part of the game, therefore, is certainly as bad as the Captain’s. Perhaps I take kindly to his beautiful perversions of fact, because I am myself engaged in one, because I am sailing under false colors of the deepest dye.” He and Esther exchange insults, tiresomely, much like da Tanka and Mileson in the William Trevor story. She was engaged previously but didn’t want to get married until her beau got rich. He went and got rich in China, without her. That may explain what Locksley sees as her sourness. Now she’s been friends with a Mr. Johnson, but turns his marriage proposal down flat, even though she’d told Locksley that she’d marry the first who asks even if he’s “poor, ugly, and stupid.” Eventually she agrees to marry Locksley. When he tells her to read his diary, she tells him she’s already read it. She knows he’s rich. “You deceived me, I deceived you. Now that your deception ceases, mine ceases,” she tells him. “It was all make-believe virtue before.” He calls her a false woman. “No–simply a woman,” she tells him, bringing out James’s misogyny again. “Come, you be a man.”

The Atlantic Monthly, February 1866.

Chekhov, “Chez le barbier” (“At the Barber’s,” 1883)

Makar Blyostken is a poor barber keeping a shabby shop. East Ivanitch Yagodov is his godfather. He gets his haircuts free. He walks in after an illness, when his hair fell out unevenly. He wants his hair shaved. Maker begins. They chat. Catch up. The barber asks about Anna, Yagodov’s daughter. Yagodov wonders why Maker did’t come to her engagement party. Maker is stunned. He was in love with Anna, thought he and she had agreed to marry, he’d spoken to his aunt, she’d agreed to the marriage. Yagodov, without a hint of compassion, is dismissive, tells him he’s not worthy of his daughter, he has a poor trade, tells him it’s done, tells him he can find another fiancee—one lost, ten found. Maker is crushed. He can’t keep cutting. He cries. Yagodov says he’ll return the next day and leaves, his head half cut. When he returns, Maker tells him he’ll have to pay for the job to be finished. Yagodov walks out. He considers paying for haircuts a luxury. He goes to his own daughter’s wedding with his head half shaved: the man of means, stomping on his own relation, reinforcing his poverty.

Chekhov, “Le miroir déformant” (1883)

The first story in the Pleiade edition, not incliuded in the Constance Garnette edition. An immediately vivid scene-setting–the dread, the dankness, the age of the hall of paintings of the narrator’s ancestors), the rain on the window panes, the way the paintings seem to address the narrator for breaching their long isolation (“Tu mérites une correction, mon petit !”) and that brilliant image of the echoing cough: “Nos pas résonnaient dans toute la maison. Le même écho qui répondait jadis à mes aïeux renvoyait le bruit de ma toux.” The husband points out a deforming mirror to his wife, the same mirror that one of his ancestors would never go without. It shows him grotesquely deformed. But when she holds it, she screams, faints, and becomes ill for days until he finally relents to her pleas to have the mirror again. Once she does, she rejoices: the mirror deforms all her ugliness into beauty. They both stare at the mirror, because he can finally see his wife as a beauty.

Spectator, 1883, Nr. 2

Chekhov, “Une grande joie” (“Joy,” 1883)

chekhov

Chekhov, by Bazaroff.

One of my favorite Chekhov stories. Brings back memories of working the blotter at the Beckley paper. The overwhelming joy of Mitia Kouldarov, a young clerk who sees his name in print–in the police blotter, after falling drunk outside of a bar and getting struck by a carriage. He can’t contain his joy with his perplexed parents, the mother constantly crossing herself. Now they know me all over Russia, he says happily.

The Spectator, 1883, Nr. 3

V.S. Pritchett, “The Spanish Virgin” (1932)

A story, more like a novel, of nouveau poor. We’re in Seville. Formerly rich and currently widowed, bigoted and still extravagant Mrs. Lance, who sleeps with a revolver under her pillow–and once shot her husband, mistaking him for a burglar, wounding him in the hand– and her pretty daughter Crystal, 20, who speakhttps://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/18/upshot/cities-across-america-question-single-family-zoning.html?searchResultPosition=5s the way she scrawls. They’re waiting for a letter and money from Crystal’s uncle after “a disaster.” “They were at the most expensive hotel in Seville merely because they were afraid of going anywhere else. She stayed there because she had always stayed at expensive hotels and would continue to do so, money or no money. A lifetime’s habit of wealthiness had become, now that she was in fact poor, almost a superstition. In the old days the money had come naturally from her husband; now he was dead, it might well descend from heaven, and she began to look upon everyone as possible intermediaries of the divine will.”

Mrs. Lance: “Her voice had an affected drawl that was calculating rather than tired. She was frank, bitter, snobbish and courageous. She controlled a jealous temper and adopted towards her daughter an attitude of affectionate contempt. She liked making enemies.” And Crystal? Crystal who, well ahead of her time, ends most of her sentences with a question mark? Crystal who secretly wants to be an actress? “She seemed to be unhuman; not a fairy from wild and delicate hills, but an artificial creature stepping out of the Cinderella coach in a pantomime. Her presence was a glitter of light that threw shadows of grotesqueness upon all other people.” In contrast with her mother, “She went about with a pretty, determined air, humming like a bee in a timeless world of her own with an idle belief in the goodness and happiness of everyone.”

Alec Ferguson An Englishman in Seville with an engineering company who “gave the impression of thickness and heat” is following them, interested in Crystal, but Mrs Lance neutralizes him, treating him like a son, using him to ultimately tap his money to her needs. the Marquès de Palominas, owner of vines and olive groves, “shrewd, affable, and obstinate and easily excited,” a lazy sensualist. His wife: “She was slightly taller than he, as pale as flour. She dressed in black. She was large and black and white and swollen, and though she sighed a great deal of air out of her body, she did not get smaller. She spoke very formally in a very high voice that shook her chins as if they were a toppling pile of saucers. She was very devout and came to Seville every Easter to see the religious ceremonies, and she did not like foreigners because they were usually not Roman Catholics. Although she seemed drowsy and obese she was nervous and suspicious, and her small black eyes were very observant.”

Marquès unabashedly flirts with Crystal as he takes her to an appointment with Alec at some woman’s house . But he thinks Crystal is making advances as she muses out loud about her need for money. They’re both scheming. He can’t figure out if she’s leading him on for herself or to hitch him with her mother. “Had he won the mother or the daughter, or both? It was so difficult to know about these foreign customs.” Meanwhile, she forgets her bag in the Marquès’ carriage.

Next, it’s Marques and Mrs Lance who flirt. She hopes he’ll pay her hotel bill. “The dirty little dago would pay the bill.” She schemes: “And then her face brightened with the inspiration of revenge. His word ‘ruthlessness’ put her on her mettle. What an excellent plan it would be to make him pay the bill by pretending to promise to meet him, and then quietly slip away with Crystal by the night train!” But Crystal reveals his advances on her, and her mother is now jealous, too, and wishes she hadn’t sold her gun.

Marques’ wife is incensed at the letter found in the carriage, something about asking a certain Madame Mathieu to give back money “he” lent. He protests, says it’s Lance’s, asking Mathieu for money. And decides to stop Lance’s scheming to get her bill paid. They both agree the English are “barbarous.”

Bigotry is a central theme. Hypocritical Mrs Lance, incensed at Crystal being flirted with but hiding her own flirtations with the same man: “I always knew that these people were beasts, but I did not know they were swine.” “The little monkey-like night clerk with his big yellow ears and cropped hair.” (The theme vanishes in later sections.)

The religious procession. And then a twist: It’s poor deluded Alec, the one true gentleman who doesn’t think himself a gentleman, who pays Lance’s hotel bill. “He whistled at the amount a bit, but she would repay him. Mrs. Lance was a lady; he himself was not perhaps by her standards quite a gentleman, but he could not put her in the position of asking him for aid.” That should kick off a tragi-comedy of errors. Alec senses he’s been played by Lance, “but he pushed the unworthy thought away.”

They return to London. Lance had extracted revenge: she’d left a glove in Marques’ room. Reality bites: “her husband had avenged himself upon her by leaving her a paltry £ 100 a year. The grand buccaneering days were over.” “She could not admit the fact that she had ever ceased to be wealthy. Her talk was again an increasing pageant of rich islands and continents in which she had luxuriously lived, galloped horses, won absurd wagers, and despised everybody.” She repeats the scheme she pulled off through Alec, using Crystal’s friends to get at their money, pimping her daughter, using her “as bait,” as Dufaux later puts it: “Mrs. Lance almost unconsciously put her daughter to that usage into which she had stealthily and amusedly slipped in Seville; Crystal made friends and brought them to the house where her mother, unknown to her, would borrow money from them. Crystal’s beauty was becoming her mother’s capital.”

Mr. Adolphe Trellis, architect, father of two boys Lance is coaching. Prospective trick to Lancers designs: marry him to Crystal, even though he’s married. Meanwhile for Crystal, “the vague hostility she felt towards her mother was growing into a determined anger.” She realizes her mother is receiving her, not passing along calls and deals that would land her stage jobs.

She discovers being pimped, and Pritchett is a bit heavy handed making her voice the self-revelation: “She has always been interfering with me ever since I can remember, and she doesn’t care what she does. Always talking about her money! She only wants it for herself. She can never forget how rich she has been. And she is so relentless that she even uses me. Everything is money, money, dreadful money. And that is why I have failed. Now I can see it. Everyone, as Mr. Geelong says, is suspicious. It is shameful.”

But she gets a big part in a play. It’s her break–her break into theater, her break from her mother. She must deal with that new world’s cesspools of politics and jealousies, embodied in the rippling Miss O’Malley (see her described below). And she has a new interest: Fontenoy Dufaux, yet another (unhappily) married man, seeking a divorce for four years. “She felt she was chained to him by her mother’s act, and as she walked about the Rows of the town she would be surprised to see only one reflection of herself in the shop windows, when, in her mind, she was one of three enemies: her mother, Dufaux and herself. Her fear of them had made both Dufaux and her mother intimate and silent inhabitants of her body, and she loved them both and submitted to them.” But then Crystal realizes he despises P’Malley, so “they could be united on enemy ground: her mother and Miss O’Malley.” The story is all about competing hatreds, dueling one-uppmanship, feared and actual deceptions.

But the story is losing its stride here, getting weedy with stage talk and plottish tatters that are taking us away from the more absorbing narrative of the earlier pages.

Crystal and Dufaux take a long walk together, she defends her mother against his accusation and feels she now has the upper hand, no longer fearing Dufaux. But what glimmer of romance was between them–“some profound dark sighing behind them”–vanished. Or was Pritchett refereeing to the malaise between them created by her mother’s pimping? The latter: “Having forced herself in her own devious way from her bondage, she became coquettish and awakened him to pursuit. A score of meetings in his rooms or hers, in restaurants, dance halls, walks, a glittering and fascinating net of talk drew them apart from the rest of the company. For weeks it dragged round from one town to another, creaking, wheezing, declaiming, quarrelling, united by the common fear of extinction. Dufaux wooed her not openly first, but by indulging in long tirades of self-condemnation.”

The theater company tours, in full page after page as “Her love for Dufaux was a heavy and ever-warming wine in her limbs, filling her with power, making her unreal to herself.” But jealous O’Malley snitches on them to Crystal’s mother, who rushes in to crash their party. Crystal has a breakdown. The couple splits. She is out of the theater. She broods. Dufaux doesn’t answer letters. Her spirit for life is gone. “The world had lost its flame, had extinguished and become unreal and meaningless, because she had no meaning to give it.” Mr. Geelong tries to get her back on stage, as her agent. And whatever happened to Alec? Just disappeared? At least we’re back to Mrs. Lance borrowing money to survive. The two women quarrel. Geelong proposes marriage, she refuses. Then changes her mind. A bit ridiculous. They marry. “They were married at a registry office one morning, went to a cinema in the afternoon and dined together in the evening.” Obviously, Pritchett has lost interest in this story, lost its threads long ago. Yet she still lives with her mother. “It was a strange situation; for it never entered Crystal’s head that her mother was Mr. Trellis’ mistress; and Mrs. Lance, confused in the dream of her own life, could never have imagined that Crystal would marry Mr. Geelong, whatever else she might do.”

A strange, unsatisfying ending, after all this. I started and finished this story today. I was fascinated, then bored and disappointed. He must not have known what to do with it.

He can overwrites http://a.co/eDv1GaH

Pritchett similes: “The whiteness of the houses was the rough whiteness of an Arab’s robes;”

“And then the highest of her toppling pile of chins surprisingly toppled over into a loud yawn.”

“this peacock tail of talk.”

“The whole of Miss O’Malley smiled and gleamed. An almost visible wave of pleasure passed in a rich and fleshy eddy from her bosom, across her stomach and forked in two satiny streams down her thighs. And then the tide curled back and arriving at her face, there resolved itself into a scowl.”

“… the cruelty of the crucifixion—not because of the crucifixion itself, but for the grotesque way it makes people feel cruel toward their neighbors: “And then, mounted on a platform, were the voluptuous images of the Crucifixion gleaming in the light of candles as with the sweat of a grotesque agony. The candles tinkled in their vases. A murmur passed over the heads of the people. At the sight of such pain frozen in sculpture, their eyes were satisfied. This was the summit of cruelty. One hated his neighbour. This put passion into the heart. If one could be for the flash of a second as cruel as that!”

Maupassant, “L’inutile beauté” (1890)

La comtesse de Mascaret, hautaine, dédaigneuse de son jaloux mari, qui s’impose pour l’accompagner au bois.

I like this description: “Ils montaient maintenant les Champs-Élysées, vers l’Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. L’immense monument, au bout de la longue avenue, ouvrait dans un ciel rouge son arche colossale. Le soleil semblait descendre sur lui en semant par l’horizon une poussière de feu. Et le fleuve des voitures, éclaboussées de reflets sur les cuivres, sur les argentures et les cristaux des harnais et des lanternes, laissait couler un double courant vers le bois et vers la ville.”

He is a brute. She was forced to marry him by her parents, for his money. She’s never liked him, let alone loved him. “Vous m’avez donc achetee.” She tells him she’ll confess her feelings. Her name is Gabrielle. She is three months out from her last child. Her seventh. Three boys, four girls, the oldest is 10. He wants yet another. She is married 11 years, she’s 30. She, like a Wharton heroine, “ne veux plus être la victime de l’odieux supplice de maternité que vous m’imposez depuis onze ans ! je veux vivre enfin en femme du monde, comme j’en ai le droit, comme toutes les femmes en ont le droit.” Because as soon as she began to be devoted to him, to play the part of the loving wife, “vous êtes devenu jaloux, vous, comme aucun homme ne l’a jamais été, d’une jalousie d’espion, basse, ignoble, dégradante pour vous, insultante pour moi.” Impregnating her was his way of keeping her from other men. She didn’t realize it at first, “puis j’ai deviné. Vous vous en êtes vanté même à votre sœur, qui me l’a dit, car elle m’aime et elle a été révoltée de votre grossièreté de rustre.” [How repulsive: she’s right to rebel.]

And this devastating passage: “Ah ! rappelez-vous nos luttes, les portes brisées, les serrures forcées ! À quelle existence vous m’avez condamnée depuis onze ans, une existence de jument poulinière enfermée dans un haras. Puis, dès que j’étais grosse, vous vous dégoûtiez aussi de moi, vous, et je ne vous voyais plus durant des mois. On m’envoyait à la campagne, dans le château de la famille, au vert, au pré, faire mon petit. Et quand je reparaissais, fraîche et belle, indestructible, toujours séduisante et toujours entourée d’hommages, espérant enfin que j’allais vivre un peu comme une jeune femme riche qui appartient au monde, la jalousie vous reprenait, et vous recommenciez à me poursuivre de l’infâme et haineux désir dont vous souffrez en ce moment, à mon côté. Et ce n’est pas le désir de me posséder – je ne me serais jamais refusée à vous – c’est le désir de me déformer.”

He reasserts himself physically as the carriage takes them to the park, forcibly, telling her he’s the master and the law is on his side. It’s domestic violence, pure and simple: “Vous voyez bien que je suis le maître, dit-il, et le plus fort.”

He agrees to her proposition to go to a church. They turn around. And then she tells him: one of the seven children is not his. It was her “unique vengeance” against him, “contre votre abominable tyrannie de mâle, contre ces travaux forcés de l’engendrement auxquels vous m’avez condamnée. Qui fut mon amant ? Vous ne le saurez jamais ! Vous soupçonnerez tout le monde. Vous ne le découvrirez point. Je me suis donnée à lui sans amour et sans plaisir, uniquement pour vous tromper. Et il m’a rendue mère aussi, lui. Qui est son enfant ? Vous ne le saurez jamais. J’en ai sept, cherchez ! Cela, je comptais vous le dire plus tard, bien plus tard, car on ne s’est vengé d’un homme, en le trompant, que lorsqu’il le sait. Vous m’avez forcée à vous le confesser aujourd’hui, j’ai fini.”

He spares her the beating she expected. Dinner. He examines his children “avec des yeux incertains qui allaient d’une tête à l’autre, troublés d’angoisses.” She swears the truth of what she said. In bed later, knowing he’s coming, she hides a gun. “Elle attendait, énergique et nerveuse, sans peur de lui maintenant, prête à tout et presque triomphante, car elle avait trouvé pour lui un supplice de tous les instants et de toute la vie.” But he doesn’t show. He tells her by letter he’s going on a long trip.

Suddenly, we get part III.

I love it. But it breaks the dramatic flow of the story entirely. It’s a socio-philosophical disquisition between two men. (Men, of course: the irony.) It’s a great exchange, but does it belong in such a raw form?

At the opera, a few years later (actually, six) two men gossip about the couple, seeing her radiant, having seen Mascaret worried, getting old. The men are Bernard Grandin and Salinas. But one of the men, Salins, has a social conscience, pitying woman. Why? “Pourquoi ? Ah ! mon cher, songe donc ! Onze ans de grossesses pour une femme comme ça ! quel enfer ! C’est toute la jeunesse, toute la beauté, toute l’espérance de succès, tout l’idéal poétique de vie brillante, qu’un sacrifice à cette abominable loi de la reproduction qui fait de la femme normale une simple machine à pondre des êtres.” The other guy says it’s “la nature.” But the conscious one persist: “Oui, mais je dis que la nature est notre ennemie, qu’il faut toujours lutter contre la nature, car elle nous ramène sans cesse à l’animal.” It’s a humanist speech, rejecting god and honoring mankind.

Back to the couple, as they return home from the opera (just as in all TV shows: the conversation in the car), but there’s nothing humanistic about Mascaret’s begging of his wife to reveal who the odd child is. He says he’s been going crazy all these years trying to figure it out. “Est-ce que j’aurais accepté, sans cela, l’horreur de vivre à votre côté, et l’horreur, plus grande encore, de sentir, de savoir parmi eux qu’il y en a un, que je ne puis connaître, et qui m’empêche d’aimer les autres.” But isn’t that cruel? How is the fact that he’s not the biological father stopping him from being a father? The limits of enlightened thinking, even by Maupassant.

Even worse: he tells her he didn’t kill her six years before not because it’s morally wrong, because it would orphan the children, but because he would have never found out who his non-biological child is. This is awful. So is this: “J’ai attendu, mais j’ai souffert plus que vous ne sauriez croire, car je n’ose plus les aimer, sauf les deux aînés peut-être ; je n’ose plus les regarder, les appeler, les embrasser, je ne peux plus en prendre un sur mes genoux sans me demander : « N’est-ce pas celui-là ? »”

Then she doubles down with their awfulness, telling him she never lied, she never cheated on him, they’re all his. And he triples down: how is he going to trust her at all, from now on? How can he not continue to doubt? She tells him had she not lied she’d have continued to make babies, but, she says, triumphantly, “Je suis, nous sommes des femmes du monde civilisé, monsieur. Nous ne sommes plus et nous refusons d’être de simples femelles qui repeuplent la terre.” [This is a fantastic story for Alabama legislators]

Then Maupassant gives Mascaret this epiphany, as he finally believes his wife: “Alors, il sentit soudain, il sentit par une sorte d’intuition que cet être-là n’était plus seulement une femme destinée à perpétuer sa race, mais le produit bizarre et mystérieux de tous nos désirs compliqués, amassés en nous par les siècles, détournés de leur but primitif et divin, errant vers une beauté mystique, entrevue et insaisissable. Elles sont ainsi quelques-unes qui fleurissent uniquement pour nos rêves, parées de tout ce que la civilisation a mis de poésie, de luxe idéal, de coquetterie et de charme esthétique autour de la femme, cette statue de chair qui avive, autant que les fièvres sensuelles, d’immatériels appétits.
L’époux demeurait debout devant elle, stupéfait de cette tardive et obscure découverte, touchant confusément la cause de jalousie ancienne, et comprenant mal tout cela.”

See full story: http://athena.unige.ch/athena/selva/maupassant/textes/beaute.html

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Yochna and Shmelke” (1977)

Yochna is a pious, homely, rather fat girl. She is arrangedly married to a pious man, Shmelke. They go through all the rituals, down to ensuring their heads are covered even in their most private moments. They copulate once, then Shmelke decides he has to go off to see rabbis, and dies in a terrible accident. His body is carried off by a torrent. Shmelke can’t remarry if his body isn’t found. She had loved him sight unseen, and now must live with him unseen forever. “Her luck had glowed briefly, then been extinguished. What had she done to be so afflicted?” She accepts her fate. She is pregnant.

A well enough told story but more fit for children than much else: the moralizing, The piousness, is syrupy and ultimately unrelated to anything but piousness for its own sake.

The New Yorker, February 14, 1977

Updike, “The Parade” (1984)

John Updike’s childhood home in Shillington, Pennsylvania. (The Reading Eagle)

Not at all a story. It had been part of “The Egg Race,” which The New Yorker didn’t like, was cut from it, years later resubmitted as its own story, declined, then run in the Ontario Review and in Odd Jobs, a recollection of when he was invited to be in the Shillington parade. It’s descriptive, entirely self absorbed, not illuminating or generous about parades. In Odd Jobs, he places it in a section on personal essays but doesn’t bother changing the fictional Hayesville.

Ontario Review, Spring-Summer 1985

Edith Wharton, “Xingu”

A fabulous, funny story about the pretentiousness of high society women and their book clubs. (Here’s a summary.) Xingu is a river in Brazil, but the reader doesn’t know that. Five of the six women in the club don’t know that, nor does their guest, the imperious novelist Osric Dane who’s deigned be the guest of the book club to talk about her latest novel, about which no one talks. The group is flummoxed, unable to talk about much of anything seriously, it is ridiculed by Dane, until Mrs. Roby, seemingly the least intellectual of the bunch, saves the discussion by allusively referring to Xingu. No one knows what it is but they all seize on Xingu as their life raft and get lost in it, including Dane, until Roby and Dane leave together for a bridge party. The women, after more pretending that they know what Xingu is, finally look it up, realize it’s a river in Brazil, where Roby once lived, and realize they’ve been had. They decide to kick Roby out of the group.

There’s some thought that Wharton was getting back at Henry James in the story: could there possibly have been a more pretentious man in America?

Of the head of the group, Mrs. Ballinger: “Her mind was an hotel where facts came and went like transient lodgers, without leaving their address behind, and frequently without paying for their board.“ The line reminds me of an equally cruel line in Cheever:

“Alice Malloy had dark, stringy hair, and even her husband, who loved her more than he knew, was sometimes reminded by her lean face of a tenement doorway on a rainy day, for her countenance was long, vacant, and weakly lighted, a passage for the gentle transports and miseries of the poor.”

[]

Flannery O’Connor, “The River” (1953)

flannery o'connor

One of her startling stories, combining the breezy, the humorous, the sinister and the horrible as “Bevel,” the little boy at the center of the story, moves toward a drowning. His parents party, his mom is a drunk. They hire a sitter, Mrs. Connin, to take care of Harry for the day. She claims him and tells the couple they’ll be going down to the river to see Rev. Bevel Summers, an itinerant preacher. Harry, who is 4 or 5, decides to call himself Bevel, because it’s funny, because Mrs. Connin doesn’t know his name, because he’s looking for himself, because he likes trying new worlds, the impulse that will doom him. They spend a little time at Mrs. Connin’s house, an interlude with three other boys and a girl, there to set up the final scene: the boys play a trick on Bevel and frighten him by having him startle a pig that runs out from its pen and scares him. Pigs are not the cute characters of children’s books after all, and he was not birthed by a doctor but by Jesus Christ, as Mrs. Connin tells him. At the river, Mrs. Connin tells the preacher that he shares the same name as the boy’s, and the boy makes fun of the name as the preacher talks to him, and dunks him in the water to baptize him, and becomes angry when Harry-Bevel tells him his mom is hung over after Mrs. Connin tells the preacher to pray for her for being ill. Around the river, ”this was no joke. Where he lived everything was a joke.“ Mrs. Connin brings him home. The couple make fun of her, or at least of the preacher, and laugh when they discover Harry has been calling himself Bevel. Mrs. Connin refuses the money. After he goes to bed, and the next day, while everyone is sleeping off their booze, Bevel (O’Connor still calls him that) walks out with money he takes from his mom’s purse and goes all the way back to the river because he wants to find Christianity in its waters, dunking himself.

Mr. Paradise had been at the revival. He has cancer. He’s never been healed. He made fun of the preacher and laughed when the child tells him his name. He saw Harry walk by unaccompanied, and took a stick of red and white peppermint and followed, apparently to look after him (or to seduce him, to molest him: who knows). The boy gets in the river, dunks himself, can;t feel it, keeps dunking himself, Mr. paradise comes abounding, waving the red and white stick and shouting, Bevel thinks it’s a pig coming after him just like at Mrs. Connin’s house and dunks down, but this time the current carries him off and he drowns, despite Mr. Paradise’s efforts to find him.

Is O’Connor judging the parents on various levels—for their drinking, their intention, their making fun of Ms. Connin and the preacher? Is this O’Connor’s way of taking revenge? On the boy? Seriously? The bitch once wrote that Harry “comes to a good end. He’s saved from those nutty parents, a fate worse than death. He’s been baptized and so he goes to his Maker; this is a good end.” Fuck you, O’Connor. You’re the nutty one.

From Wikipedia: “While Bevel’s drowning in the river that promised him baptism and eternal life, that promised him that he would ‘count’ for something, is a grotesquely humorous irony, typical of O’Connor’s stories, it might be pointed out that Bevel does indeed seem to experience an ‘epiphany’ of sorts as he is swept away to his death; ‘for an instant he was overcome with surprise; then, since he was moving quickly and knew that he was getting somewhere, all his fury and his fear left him.’ Baptism in christian theology has long been associated with death and christian detachment; in baptism a christian enters into the death of Christ, undergoing a ‘dying to sin’ and a ‘dying to self.’ It is perhaps this dying to self that Bevel is experiencing as ‘his fury and fear leave him’ and why ‘he knew he was getting somewhere.’”

Sewanee Review, Spring 1953

Poe, Poe, “Le Duc De L’Omelette” (1832)

 

The title is funny but it’s downhill from there: duke dies, devil to a card game, wins and gets out of hell. The surplus of French lines is aggravating even to someone who reads French. Poe’s version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

Broadway Journal, October 11, 1845

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Key” (1969)

Bessie Popkin isn’t the only one confused in the story. Isaac Singer is a bit confused to. He sets up his widow heroine in the opening paragraphs as a woman paranoid of dybbuks and evils all around her in descriptions that make her seem more like a woman in the creeping stages of dementia. She lives on Broadway, she despises New York, especially its colorful people. She seldom ventures past her blocks. One day returning from the market she breaks her key. She never gave a spare to the superintendent, thinking he steals. She wanders the streets, giving us a few of the city as it was around 1967, when Singer wrote the story (the picture above was by David Attie of Getty Images, taken in 1968):

She notices an accident, firefighters cleaning the street of the victim. The reader thinks she’s seeing herself, dead. As she wanders about, she thinks, passing by a church and huddling in its doorway, where she sleeps, unmolested, of making reckoning. She has an epiphany. The animals she had always despised, she now loves, embodied in a cat that purred by her. It’s night, but “the fear of death was gone, along with her fear of being homeless.” She returns home. The superintendent helps her get back in her house. She is amazed by his kindness. A neighbor had placed the milk and butter she’d left at the door in her own fridge. Again, Bessie is amazed by th kindness. She goes into her room, lies down, feels something strange rise from her feet to her breast and as if dreams of her husband telling her, “You don’t need no key here. Just enter—and mazel too.” Is she dead?

Th confusion I referred to has to do with that first page: the details Singer sets out don’t relate to anything else in the story, at least not those that imply she is forgetful or delusional.

Here’s how The New Yorker summarizes the story, which ran in the Dec. 6, 1969 issue: “Bessie Popkin, a widow for over 20 years, lives alone in her apartment near Broadway. She has become slatternly and suspicious, feeling tormented by Evil Powers. Returning from a shopping trip, she tries to open her door, but the key breaks in the lock. Leaving her groceries in the hall, she goes in search of a locksmith. Exhausted from wandering in the darkness, Bessie dozes off on a church step. Awaking late at night, she sees the moon for the first time in years and thinks of her husband Sam. In a renascence, she decides to start a new life. Reaching home in the morning, she finds that a neighbor has taken care of her groceries and that the superintendent does have a key to the apartment. She lies down on her bed, feeling a heaviness and vibrations in her body, and dreams that Sam comes. Together they walk through a corridor which leads to two mountains meeting, with sunrise or sunset between them. In the voice of the hotel owner who had led them to their bridal suite, she hears the words, “You don’t need no key here. Just enter–and mazel tov.””

The New Yorker, December 6, 1969

Henry James, “John Delavoy” (1898)

The narrator is a writer: it’s Henry James, sort of. John Delavoy is a famous writer who’s just died. Miss Delavoy’s his sister. Mr. Beston on publishes the Cynosure, a trendy literary magazine. The narrator wrote a piece about the late Delavoy that he wants placed in Beston’s magazine. He comes to know Miss Delavoy, and like her. But Beston doesn’t like the essay, it’s too literary, too revealing of the actual substance of Delavoy’s work. Beston calls it “indecent.” He is more interested in gossip, “personal” stuff, and in a portrait by Miss Delavoy of her brother, which she produces but then asks to have returned once she learns Beston is refusing to run the narrator’s piece, out of fear, ostensibly, of losing 5,000 subscribers, a figure that soon rises to 10,000. He is “the mighty editor.” Beston refuses to return the portrait or to run the essay. The portrait is published, the issue sells hugely. The narrator places his piece elsewhere, and marries Miss Delavoy.

Cosmopolitan, January-February 1898

Hemingway, “Up in Michigan” (1923, 1938)

Liz Coats is a maid at the house where Jim Gilmore lives. Jim Gilmore took over a blacksmith shop. “Liz liked Jim very much.” Her infatuation grows. She’s a simple girl, has never been in love before, or been touched. When he goes away hunting or fishing, she misses him, can;t sleep at night, imagines him. She places herself in such a way as to make sure he’s the last thing she sees before going to bed. One night he comes over to her and presses himself against her, touches her breasts, kisses her. They go for a walk. He rapes her. Not her idea of how it would go. She coves him up and returns to the house.

Three Stories and Ten Poems, 1923

Malamud, “Steady Customer”

Four waitresses in a restaurant are crying. Their 28-year-old colleague Eileen had just died during a gallbladder operation. None of them wants to take over her lucrative section. The owner, Mr. Mollendorf, recruits a new waitress, Rose, from the agency, and the four girls agree to give her the section—except for one table: that of the steady customer who’d been Eileen’s for two years. The two were’t yet going together, but the waitresses were under the impression that they were going to start. Ant least that’s what they tell Rose. One of the waitresses decides to keep that table. The customer comes in, orders his usual. Doesn’t ask about Eileen. The girls are furious. The witness decides to tell him outright. All he says is: “I—I see,” his voice “curiously uncontrolled. ‘I’m sorry.’” The girls are still more furious. “They’re all alike,” one of them says. They stare at him. Customers begin starring at him:

The girls don’t know if he left because he was overcome by the news or because he was upset at the way he’d become an object of their scorn. “I’m convinced he really and truly loved her,” one of them says, closing the story.

New Threshold, August 1943.