Friday, September 29, 2017

Notes from the House Spirits by Lucy Wood Analysis

The short story "Notes from the House Spirits" by Lucy Wood was written in a unique style. While I was reading I had a feeling that the words were flying around. This effect was achieved by using simple sentences, repetition, describing the very recognizable things like dust or sound like the creak of floors.

The storyteller here is the House Spirits, the narrator uses the pronoun "we" (in plural). The narration stretched in time for the period of the time of exiting the house. The reader sees how time is going by, tenants replace each other, the House Spirits adopted to them, estimated and express own opinion about them.

Let's see how the state of silence was described in the story:
"Dust drifts across the room and settles on skirting and curtain rails. We can see it, every single piece, as it piles up and no one brushes it away. Dust is static and lazy; it lands on the first thing it sees. It fills the house bit by bit and no one brushes it away. It is not our job to brush it away." Reading these lines I felt such as my thoughts were described in this paragraph. There are some moments probably in everyone’s life when things which we didn't notice in usual circumstances became very tangible and real. Lucy Wood was able to describe it and make it recognizable.

The Notes includes a number of memories about dwellers of this house. The lonely woman was the first. She left the house suddenly leaving off her belongings. My impression was that the House Spirits described it without emotions: "It is rude to leave suddenly, without any notice. She didn't give us any notice. There weren't any boxes. She didn't take any of her things away. Didn't she like it here? She left all her things behind. What does she expect us to do with it all? There is nothing that we can do with it, except count it, except look carefully through it, and we have done that already."

The author used a good method to summarize each part of the story - putting the paragraph with its own title:
"Things we miss about the one who left suddenly in the night:
Her laugh, which was as loud and sudden as the gas flame igniting in the boiler. ... The way she jumped when the doorbell rang."

More and more new people came and left the house, the emptiness, the details - all these things were described consecutively and thoroughly: "Now we notice what we didn't notice before: that the paint is actually a strange blue, a cold blue, a blue that wasn't the right decision. We don't want that blue anymore." The narrator estimated people, things, animals: "There is a spider's web behind a door handle and one under a light switch. We like spiders; they are quiet and make good use of the space."

The Spirits gave them-self a modest role in explaining their attitude to everything: "we think the voice is familiar – we are not good with voices" or "We think they are the same people but we are not sure. We are not good with faces"

Many characters go through the story and drift away. The time of being in the house was described by a few glimpses, very shortly. This way of writing highlighted the fact of temporal quality of everything, readers can see how time is going by scene by scene, as slides in the presentation change one after each other without any of our participation. People experience the same during pivotal moments of their lives or on the deathbed when reminiscences from childhood, youth, and adulthood are passing in memory for a few minutes.

The separated plotline of the story is growing of the buddleia. This is a quote about this plant from BBC: "More people are buying buddleia for their gardens, but it's classified as an invasive species and is a problem on British railways. It's hard to walk by a railway line in Britain and not see buddleia." I admit that it is a way to represent the flow of time: it never stops.

Lucy Wood was so verisimilar in her story that readers would believe in existence of the spirits, these wonderful creatures who it seemed are interested in all our deals. I noticed this treat in my cat. His name is Lastic and he always comes to the room where something happens: a gathering of family members and so on. We often discuss what could be his thoughts about us, the version of "Notes" from Lucy Wooden could be appropriate.

Lucy Wood is a very young writer, she was born in 1990. There is no Wikipedia page about her, no youtube channel, it seems that she does not care about promoting her works. But she was noticed by The Guardian and she received the​ very positive replies about her literary style. I expect that the Google engine machine will guide the future readers, who will start reading her story, for this analysis and I will take a part of in the distribution of this talented author - Lucy Wood.

Notes from the House Spirits by Lucy Wood

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant Analysis

A very famous French writer Guy de Maupassant described in the short story "The Necklace" the incident which changed the life of a person. It's interesting that it was the second story which I had read in English of this author where one event that had a crucial influence on the future life of the protagonist. The first was "The Log", I have already published the analysis of that story on my blog.

The plot of the short story "Necklace" is about a young woman, Mathilde, who was rather pretty and her prospects in life should have been good and bright. The author believed that "Women don't belong to a caste or class; their beauty, grace, and natural charm take the place of birth and family". But she "had no dowry, no expectations, no means of becoming known, understood, loved or wedded by a man of wealth and distinction; and so she let herself be married to a minor official at the Ministry of Education." Mathilde dreamed about a charming style of life, about beautifully furnished rooms with luxurious chandeliers, about elegant cavaliers who would appreciate and admire her beauty.

Once her husband brought home an invitation for a ball in the Ministry, instead of being glad, she started crying. Mathilde complained to her husband that she didn't have the clothes for the party. For his question how much money for buying appropriate clothes she needed, she answered calculating the price equal to all their savings. Her husband approved it, but it wasn't enough. She felt the need for a piece of Jewellery to go with the dress. Her husband advised her to borrow it from her former rich friend Madame Forestier. So she did as advised, she asked to borrow it for a short period of time and in return to her request received a beautiful necklace for the ball.

Mathilde has a great success during the ball. Every respectable man wanted to dance with her, she was noticed by the Minister. When the party was over the spouses came home and suddenly Mathilde saw she had lost the necklace. This fact terrified the couple. They tried to find the jewelry but without results. They decided to replace the necklace by buying a similar item.

The husband gathered all savings what he had, he borrowed money from all his acquaintances and they bought the necklace which looked similar to the original one. Mathilde returned this replacement to Madame Forestier, she noticed nothing.

Next ten years the spouses struggled to gain money for returning borrowed money. Mathilde "looked old now. She had become strong, hard and rough like all women of impoverished households."

It is how Guy de Maupassant described the climax of the story: "One Sunday, as she was walking in the Champs Élysées to refresh herself after the week's work, suddenly she saw a woman walking with a child. It was Madame Forestier, still young, still beautiful, still charming." Mathilde decided to disclose the story of replacement. Madam Forestier didn't recognize her at first and when Mathilde explained that her exhausted looks were caused by the tremendous efforts to arrange the money for buying the necklace: "Madame Forestier, deeply moved, took both her hands. "Oh, my poor Mathilde! Mine was an imitation! It was worth five hundred francs at most! ..."

This story could be interpreted differently but I'd highlight one very important idea. People could have positive and negative attitudes to the fate and their choice defines the quality of their lives. Imagine the beauty of Nature, a freshness of the air, magnificent Parisian streets (Champs Élysées was mentioned in the text), they are equal for everyone: for rich and poor people. Mathilde could enjoy her life having the husband who loved her, living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But no, she separated herself from her family and friends once concluded that she is different.

It is interesting to think about the author's opinion about her. It seemed that Guy de Maupassant sympathized with her (he described her beauty), but I discerned in many details of the story that the author tended to appraise her character as a selfish, egoistic person. In contrary, her husband was looked at by Mathilde as a minor official, good-for-nothing man. After attentive reading, I drew an opposite conclusion.

"The Necklace" might be used as a didactic story for motivating people to avoid focusing on negative circumstances and paying more attention to the positive side of the life.

The story has a surprise ending, almost a twist in the tale which adds to the interest of the reader.

The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield Analysis

The short story "A Cup of Tea" was written by a prominent New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield. Before reading I listened to the audio of the story from Youtube (the link is posted in the ending of this review). The tone of voice in the recording was quite ironical, even flippant, obviously, it was made for purpose because of the similarity of literary style of the story. That was a right method indeed, how else can we read this passage: "Rosemary Fell was not exactly beautiful. No, you couldn't have called her beautiful. Pretty? Well, if you took her to pieces... But why be so cruel as to take anyone to pieces?".

The story tells us about one episode in the life of a very rich woman Rosemary Fell. She was used to spending money for any whims of hers. Katherine Mansfield described the scene how the shopkeeper flattered her taste of beauty: "You see, madam," he would explain in his low respectful tones, "I love my things. I would rather not part with them than sell them to someone who does not appreciate them, who has not that fine feeling which is so rare...". The seller asked for the thing (animated composition in the box) at a very high price and Rosemary espoused that the price didn’t shock her, she was able to buy everything that she wanted. Let's look at the text:

"Charming!" Rosemary admired the flowers. But what was the price? For a moment the shopman did not seem to hear. Then a murmur reached her. "Twenty-eight guineas, madam." "Twenty-eight guineas." Rosemary gave no sign. She laid the little box down; she buttoned her gloves again. Twenty-eight guineas. Even if one is rich...

She looked vague. She stared at a plump tea-kettle like a plump hen above the shopman's head, and her voice was dreamy as she answered: "Well, keep it for me - will you? I'll..."

This was a long introduction which was necessary for understanding the moral of the story. The key moment of the story occurred when Rosemary went out of the shop and a young girl asked her some money for a cup of tea. In response Rosemary acted unpredictably, she invited the girl to her home for a cup of tea.

While I was reading this part of Katherine Mansfield's story, another story appeared in my mind. It is a satirical story written by one of the most well-known and recognizable Russian writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky. "A Nasty Story". The story told how one very high-level person, the general, decided to visit the wedding of one of his subordinate and how bad it turned: the tension of awareness having so high boss ruined the celebration. The true intention of the participating in the wedding for the boss was probably the attempt to increase his self-appraisal. I think that Rosemary had the same motivation.

After Rosemary brought the girl to her house, Philip, the husband of Rosemary, came home. He was very surprised, even shocked by the fact of seeing such an unusual visitor. Rosemary insisted that it is not her whim, that she would care about the future of that stranger - the young girl, who introduced herself as Ms.Smith. But the attitude of Rosemary in terms of Ms. Smith was changed dramatically when Philip said that Ms. Smith is pretty.

Rosemary went to her writing-room. "She opened a drawer and took out five-pound notes, looked at them, put two back, and holding the three squeezed in her hand, she went back to her bedroom."After Rosemary removed the threat of having a pretty girl in her house giving three-pound notes and returned back to Philip, she asked: "Do you like me?". He answered, "I like you awfully". "Then Rosemary said dreamily: "I saw a fascinating little box today. It cost twenty-eight guineas. May I have it?" Philip jumped her on his knee. "You may, little wasteful one," said he. But that was not really what Rosemary wanted to say. "Philip," she whispered, and she pressed his head against her bosom, "am I pretty?".

The last question in the story raised doubts about self-confidence of Rosemary. She depended on the money of her husband she wasn't sure about her attractiveness. The last question reminded the humorous episode mentioned in the beginning of the story: "Rosemary Fell was not exactly beautiful. .. Pretty? Well, if you took her to pieces...". One conclusion may be that the theme of insecurity, even for so extremely rich person, was highlighted in the story.

The story may give a lot of subjects for discussing: about relationships in society, about the definition of good and bad, about begging and so on. It is why this story is used as a class material for literary classes and why the name of the author is well known. Katherine Mansfield drew a picture of life in society and made it very well.

A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield links:

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Fur Coat by Sean O'Faolain Review

The short story "The Fur Coat" was written by a prominent Irish writer, Sean O'Faolain. Sean O'Faolain was christened John Whelan but he changed his name to the original Gaelic to show his pride in all Irish things.

There are no many actions in the story, only a few conversations about buying a fur coat. The main idea is to show an internal world of the main protagonist through the prism of her life experience.

The main character of the story is Molly - the wife of Paddy Maguire who became a Parliamentary-Secretary. She "gazed into his eyes and said, adoringly, “Now, Paddy, I must have a fur coat.” Maguire answered admiringly "Of course, of course, my dear,” ... Get two fur coats! Switzers will give us any amount of tick from now on.”. We can see further Molly's motivation of buying the fur coat. She used to be in a hard life's conditions during "revolution, husband in and out of prison, children reared with the help of relatives and Prisoners' Dependents' Fund".

Which thoughts were behind the request of the fur coat and was it a real demand? Through answers to these questions, we can understand the meaning and moral of the story.

She rhetorically asked her husband "You think I'm extravagant!”, she used the provoke statements “Paddy, you big fool, do you know what you'd pay for a mink coat?".

Next day this conversation continued. Molly wanted to be "well-dressed as anybody." But she declared that the true reasons were "wear any old thing under a fur coat.”, in other words, it needs much more money to buy the clothes for being equal to others on this level of the social ladder. Paddy Maguire agreed with all Molly's proposals, he listened to her, thinking simultaneously about some issues of his job, "he was lost in his plans", he worked on the plan of the pier. She wasn't satisfied "Paddy, tell me honestly. Honestly, now! Do you seriously think that I could put eighty-five pounds on my back?”. She started talking about dead animals and how it is cruel to make fur coats from them.

Molly explained emotionally that the cost of clothes is much higher than the price of the fur coat "I'd have to have two shoes and a blouse and hat and gloves and a fur and a purse and everything to match it, and I'd spend far more in the heel of the hunt, and I haven't time for that sort of thing". Paddy Maguire seemed to be confused, he agreed to buy a fur coat, Molly cried “Stop it! I told you I don't want a fur coat! And you don't want me to get a fur coat! You're too mean, that's what it is! And like all the Irish, you have the peasant streak in you. You're all alike, every bloody wan of ye. Keep your rotten fur coat. I never wanted it…

Paddy became perplexed, nobody before called him mean. "He sat miserably at his table, cold with anger. He murmured the hateful word over and over, and wondered could there be any truth in it. He added ten yards to the pier. He reduced the ten to five, and then, seeing what he had done, swept the whole thing off the table."

After three days she found a cheque on her dressing-table. "She went down and put her arms about his neck and laid the cheque, torn in four, into his hand. “I'm sorry, Paddy,” she begged, crying like a kid. “You're not mean".

Instead of describing the last scene of the story, it's better to quote it all: He "looked her straight in the eyes. “Molly. Tell me the truth. You want this coat?” “I do. O, God, I do!” “Then go out and buy it.” “I couldn't, Paddy, I just couldn't.” He looked at her for a long time. Then he asked. “Why?” She looked straight at him, and shaking her head sadly, she said in a little sobbing voice,“I don't know.

I had a mixture of impressions after reading this story. On the first sight, we see here lack of actions, just a few conversations with inconsistent intentions. But during the second reading for purpose of writing review for my blog, my evaluation of the story changed dramatically. I remembered the story “Grace” of a very well known Irish writer, James Joyce (I published the analysis of that story on my blog). The reading had the similar effect. There is something common in the way of thinking, an attitude to life, relationships in society. Reading this story is a next step to the aim of understanding the soul of mysterious Irish character.

The Fur Coat by Sean O’Faolain

Saturday, September 9, 2017

"Break it Down" by Lydia Davis Review

Lydia Davis's short story "Break it Down" explores what love is all about. Not love in general but according to a man, the narrator, who had a few days' experience of being in affairs with the girl for money.

He recounted again and again how much it cost for him to have love with this girl dividing all amount of money by the number of times of being in intimate affairs with her (the price was high in that case) or by all the days spent together (the price became much lower in this calculation).

The main part of the text was dedicated to describing the feelings of the main male character who was in love with the girl. The author, Lydia Davis, is a woman and she made the description of their love affair very sensitive and true to life. Here is the quote from the story, thoughts of the man:

"But it isn't over when it ends, it goes on after it's all over, she's still inside you like a sweet liquor, you are filled with her, everything about her has kind of bled into you, her smell, her voice, the way her body moves, it's all inside you, at least for a while after, then you begin to lose it, and I'm beginning to lose it, you're afraid of how weak you are, that you can't get her all back into you again and now the whole thing is going out of your body and it's more in your mind than your body, the pictures come to you one by one ..."

There is a moment in the story when the narrator concluded that he was in love with the girl and after saying it to her, she answered then she was in love with him too. He took it as returning back polite phrase, not more, and started to calculate the expenditure for being with her again.

The readers may conclude that it was hardly ever happened that they were in love with her even when he explained sincerely his feelings: " ... there was one bad time, when I told her I loved her. I couldn't help it, ... now I was half falling in love with her or maybe completely ..., really I couldn't say anything of what I was feeling because there was so much, words couldn't handle it ..." .

The controversy of his feeling was demonstrated by the author in the scene of their farewell. Saying bye to each other, she gave him her shirt "a green and blue shirt from the hook, and put it in my arms, for me to take away, the soft cloth was full of her smell ...". But in the last line of the story, the narrator said: "So I'm just thinking about it, how you can go in with $600, more like $1,000, and how you can come out with an old shirt."

Lydia Davis left to the reader a freedom to make own interpretation of the story and it doesn't look obvious that she condemned the main character, she might sympathize him.

These are the links to the text, audio, and video about this story:

Break it Down by Lydia Davis