The Daughters of the Late Colonel Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Daughters of the Late Colonel” is an account of the activities and thoughts of two spinster sisters during the week after the death of their dictatorial father. Although the sisters think of themselves as having been extraordinarily busy that week, it is obvious that most of their efforts have been psychological. They have agonized over the one necessary decision—to bury their father—and they have accomplished that, not without misgivings. However, they are still unable to assert themselves, even in the most mundane areas of life.

The story is divided into twelve sections. In each section, Mansfield concentrates on one area of the sisters’ preoccupations, penetrating the mind of one sister or the other, or of both, alternately, reproducing their churning thoughts. Most of the sections take place on the Saturday that marks a week after his death; there are flashbacks, however, to the death, to the funeral, and to an earlier visit by a grandson.

Although the prime tyrant of the sisters’ lives was their father, the incidents related in the story show their fear of Kate, the bad-tempered young maid, of Nurse Andrews, and of public opinion. In the first section, they worry about the propriety of wearing colored dressing gowns and slippers during the mourning period, when Kate or the postman might see them. In the second section, they cannot summon up the courage to ask Kate for more jam or to restrain Nurse Andrews from gobbling up their butter. Later, although they have proved to themselves that Kate snoops in their bureau, and although they are the victims of her consistent impertinence, they cannot summon up the resolution to dismiss her.

If Constantia and Josephine Pinner are unable to confront people, they are even more emotionally crippled by the possibilities of demands on them for action. When the vicar of Saint John’s, Mr. Farolles, offers to bring Communion to them at their home, it is the possibilities that frighten them....

(The entire section is 809 words.)