(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Told in the first person by artist Roland Simpson to an unidentified listener, “The Bambino” is less a plotted story than a sketch revealing a dramatic situation and a set of characters. The anonymous listener prompts the story by asking Simpson if he painted a portrait hanging on his studio wall. Simpson replies that it is a study of Adela Archdale and her infant son painted by Frances Archdale, sister of Adela’s husband and at one time Simpson’s fiance. Jack Archdale collects modern pictures, and Simpson explains to the listener the circumstances that explain why he has not purchased this one.

According to Simpson, the key to the situation can be seen in the composition of Frances’s portrait of Adela and her son. The child is naked, standing between his mother’s knees, but the visual focus of the picture is Adela’s hands. “They’re in the centre of the picture, large and white and important, as if Frances had known.” For Simpson, the portrait captures the deadly combination of Adela’s chief traits. The first is her beauty; he describes her as a “slender Flemish Madonna” and implies that Jack Archdale married her because she appealed to his collector’s taste. The second is her clumsiness, both verbal and physical. Adela’s hands are always in motion and always dropping things; she does not seem to understand the extent of the damage she does when she drops an antique Chinese bowl, left to Simpson in the will of a friend, and replaces it with a modern blue and white bowl from a department store.

The conflict Simpson observes between Jack and Adela is objectified in a dispute in London about who should hold the baby, thirteen months old at the time. Jack is angered when Adela says that the boy is “more mine than yours” and confides to Simpson that he cannot wait until the baby, whom they both call the Bambino, grows up. “I can’t wait twenty years to know what he’s going to do, the sort of things he’ll say, what his mind’ll be like.” On the other hand, Jack continues, Adela would like to...

(The entire section is 840 words.)