Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Beyond the Pale” incorporates many of William Trevor’s favorite themes: the loss of innocence (both real and false), the barriers and false fronts that people erect to hide from unpleasant truths, the intersection of the political and historical with the personal, the misery visited on people devoid of love, and the ways in which violence destroys both victim and perpetrator.

Although the children of Cynthia’s Irish narrative grow up in a fallen world, it is more particularly the fall from a false and illusory Eden that fills the story’s center. The Malseeds have created a garden setting in which the four English people can indulge their fantasy that life is perfect, that violence and unpleasantness exist elsewhere and that they all get along splendidly. The Malseeds themselves, however, are a transplanted English couple who affect a phony Irish manner; their very “tastefulness”—the studied effort to preserve the Georgian style of the building, the perfection of the garden, the resident pet Dalmations, the rooms not numbered but named after flowers—suggests rather questionable taste. However, even in the biblical Garden there was a serpent, and the Malseeds’ garden, built as it is on falsehoods, cannot return them to a prelapsarian (before the fall) state. Even the Malseeds’ name (mal is from the Latin for “bad”) reveals that evil has entered this world already.

The world of Glencorn Lodge, like the implied social contract among the four friends, who never criticize each other or speak of...

(The entire section is 634 words.)