The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford Analysis

Jean Stafford

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford does not follow any chronology but is instead organized into four sections according to geography, borrowing titles from Mark Twain and Henry James, both of whom Stafford admires. “Innocents Abroad,” as the title suggests, includes six stories set in France, England, and the Caribbean. All the stories involve an American protagonist, usually a woman, who is displaced and alienated in a foreign setting.

In “Maggie Meriwether’s Rich Experience,” Maggie, from Nashville, Tennessee, finds herself unable to converse in Paris in spite of years of studying French. Among the rich sophisticates at Monsieur Le Baron’s château, she is a speechless, witless American, only to shine at home with her comic recounting of her experiences. The comic tone of this story is sustained in “Caveat Emptor.” Set at the Alma Hetterick College for Girls, it involves the subterfuge of two young new teachers who undermine the fatuous college with a fictitious research project while accidentally falling in love. The remaining four stories, set in Belgium, Heidelberg, and the Caribbean, give a much darker view of the human psyche. In “The Children’s Game,” the protagonist is initiated into the sordid world of compulsive gamblers; “The Maiden,” the only story in the collection told by a man, involves the shocking revelation made by a loving, devoted German couple that the husband proposed just after watching his first beheading. Another story set in Heidelberg, “The Echo and the Nemesis,” employs the device of the literary double. A shy, lonely American student, Sue, attaches herself to the rich, odd, obese Ramona. As the story progresses,...

(The entire section is 695 words.)

The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Jean Stafford never claimed to be a feminist; in fact, she was a self-proclaimed reactionary. She was skeptical of the reform movements of the late 1960’s. In her nonfiction writings of the last decade of her life, she made a clear distinction between what she saw as the injustices suffered by women at home and in the workplace and the facile revisionism of the feminist movement. She believed that the howling crowds of angry women drowned out the voices of reason and change. She ridiculed what she considered absurd ideas, such as that rape is a political crime and that alimony is a form of reverse discrimination. Nevertheless, Stafford consistently supported such causes as women’s rights to equal pay, equal employment opportunities, and legal abortion.

Her greatest impact has been made by her stories, through which she transformed her own personal suffering into art. By making her protagonists women, Stafford validates female experiences. Moreover, as the winner of seven O. Henry awards and of the Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford, Stafford proved the popularity of her themes and their importance to women’s issues. The tortuous journey from innocence to experience, the dichotomy between inner and outer selves, and the tension between will and imagination are not only the province of men; for Stafford they are the essence of human experience, both male and female.

The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford Bibliography

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Cornillon, Susan Koppleman, ed. Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1972. While not dealing with Stafford directly, this book provides a useful historical perspective and background information for anyone interested in Stafford’s work. Particularly useful is the summary of each article and the annotated bibliography.

Goodman, Charlotte Margolis. Jean Stafford: The Savage Heart. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990. Goodman’s thesis is that Stafford drew extensively upon events in her own life for her fiction; the book gives biographical information in chronological order while finding parallels in Stafford’s fiction.

Hulbert, Ann. The Interior Castle: The Art and Life of Jean Stafford. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. Hulbert provides concise, readable literary criticism and interesting background information about Stafford and her circle.

Roberts, David. Jean Stafford: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988. Like Ann Hulbert’s book (above), Roberts’ provides useful criticism about Stafford’s works but also includes an extensive bibliography. Also useful are the final sections about her nonfiction work during the last years of her life.