The Collected Stories
This collection comprises thirty-six stories published previously in three separate volumes: The Admiral and the Nuns and Other Stories (1962), Fingers in the Door and Other Stories (1970), and Live Bait and Other Stories (1978). The publication of each of the volumes occasioned praise by major reviewers; Tuohy’s first book of stories was awarded the Katherine Mansfield Short Story Prize in 1962, while his third book of stories received the prestigious Heinemann Award in 1978. The name most frequently mentioned by critics with reference to Tuohy is that of Anton Chekhov. Like the stories of Chekhov, Mansfield, and other modern masters of the form, Tuohy’s stories are characterized by slick surfaces carefully evoking actual times and places; accuracy of observation with reference to particulars of voice and gesture; beginnings in medias res, capturing a reader’s immediate attention; lack of clear resolutions, productive of ambiguity; and endings tending toward epiphanies, where meaning is implicit.
Tuohy’s travels in many countries, including Japan, Brazil, Poland, Portugal, and the United States, as well as his native land, England, guarantee a freedom from insularity, a cosmopolitan awareness that people are much the same wherever they are found in this age of anxiety, moral confusion, and ambiguity. In “The Admiral and the Nuns,” all the characters have difficulty living in situations with which their diverse backgrounds have not prepared them to cope. The story is set in a remote company town in South America; the major characters include Fernando Ferreira, who cannot outgrow his Latin biases in spite of his presumably liberating education and his business experience; his wife, apparently comfortable in her newly built, aquarium-like tract house with its glass walls and slanted roofs, her two young men-children, and her black servant; Stefan Woroszylski, a former officer in the Polish air force, whose heavy drinking, wenching, and violent behavior (he kills stray dogs, for example) are the consequence of his displacement and confusion; his British wife, the convent-educated daughter of the Admiral of the title; and the narrator, a visitor from England who moves in and out of the lives of the other characters, recording responses that are sympathetic to the men, in spite of his inability to relate to them, but harshly critical of the British woman, who does not keep her house clean and is, so the narrator believes, too ignorant to realize what a bad wife she is.
The narrator’s response to the British woman apparently derives from her efforts to line the narrator up on her side: two Britishers together. The broken pearls that she asks him to have repaired for her are both a symbol of her life and a means by which she can maintain contact with the narrator. He resists identification with this woman who presumes to think of herself as his “kind,” relegating her to the company of the stupid, the slothful, the sluttish, the arrogant, and the insensitive. The epiphany occurring in the last sentence of the story, however, casts doubt on the narrator’s judgment. He is unable to decide whether the woman has had the best or the worst of educations, and this ambiguity forces the reader to reconsider the narrator’s point of view. The woman, accepting the holiness of her marriage vows, behaves in a manner consistent with her upbringing. Because she feels a moral responsibility for her actions, she will go with her husband to live in Communist Poland, stepping off the edge of the world she knows. She will endure in spite of unhappy experiences and thwarted hopes because she is the daughter of a British admiral and was educated by the nuns. In this light, and nudged by the title, the reader comes to see the story as a gradual revelation of the narrator’s moral confusion.
“Fingers in the Door,” though considerably shorter than “The Admiral and the Nuns,” explores the same themes. In this story, it is the husband, Andrew Ringsett, who exhibits moral courage in the face of an embarrassing and painful situation. Andrew, a highly successful estate agent, and his wife, Beryl, a former office worker in a typing pool, are taking their daughter, Caroline, to London for lunch and a matinee on the occasion of her sixteenth birthday. Having achieved upward mobility, Beryl is not satisfied to stand still, and even her husband’s continuing success cannot accommodate her ambitions. Indeed, money will never compensate for her lack of social status, deriving from her birth to a working-class family. Caroline’s upbringing has resulted in a snobbery and a total lack of compassion for and understanding of her younger brother and her father: Caroline and Beryl have joined together in some code of sisterhood, based on material possessions, which excludes the males of the family.
On the train to London, Beryl and Caroline take a carriage occupied by an older woman in a fur coat who is...
(The entire section is 2029 words.)