Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Death of a Huntsman” involves its protagonist, Harry Barnfield, in a love triangle; strangely enough, his wife is not one of the three “corners.” It is one measure of the sterility and joylessness of his marriage, in fact, that when Harry has an affair with young Valerie Whittington, he hardly considers his wife to be an issue or obstacle. The third corner of the triangle is occupied by Valerie’s mother, Edna, an old flame of Harry.

A brief summary of the story’s plot may seem to indicate that things would have worked out fine for Harry and Valerie, that true love would have triumphed, had not old Edna insisted on getting in the way. On the contrary, a closer reading indicates that the affair was doomed from the start, doomed by the lovers’ very natures.

“Death of a Huntsman” is, in fact, a variation on the ancient senex amans pattern of comedy, that is, an old man made foolish by love for a much younger woman. Harry and Valerie’s age difference is emphasized throughout. To his fellow commuters, Harry looks a decade older than his forty-three years. Harry is surprised, on the other hand, to learn that Valerie is nearly twenty rather than the fifteen or sixteen that he takes her to be. The difference between fifteen and twenty is greater than only five years: It is—emotionally, for Harry—the difference between having an affair with a young woman and having an affair with a schoolgirl. Indeed, a feeling of things being not quite right pervades the story from the start. H. E. Bates manipulates the reader by favoring dramatization rather than idyllic and serene scenes of love in the woodlands—moments when things go wrong, when doubt enters Harry’s mind.

The feeling of unease emanates primarily from Harry. It is he who feels that there is something “disturbing” about Valerie. Exactly what is disturbing he cannot say, but it is associated with Valerie’s ridiculously long legs dangling...

(The entire section is 800 words.)