Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A striking feature of Villiers’s story is that it has but one character. Whatever happens in the tale happens to him or is seen through his eyes. When he speaks, it is only to himself. A tale so concentrated in the consciousness of one character would seem to cry out for the technique of the first-person narrative. Nevertheless, Villiers has chosen to provide a third-person narrator, discreet, unobtrusive, apparently objective, but indispensable for characterizing Chaudval for the reader, and for bringing out the narrative’s underlying irony. The narrator’s effort, with regard to Chaudval, is to demonstrate that his whole manner of being and thinking is infected with the theatrical virus of make-believe. When Chaudval first appears, the description of his quaint clothing and courtly gestures informs us that he is always playing a part. He is never simply himself, because he has no self. When he starts to reason with himself about his plan for retirement, the narrator blandly observes that the old actor “ventured upon a monologue.” When Chaudval reads, in a Paris newspaper, that a benefit performance will be given to raise money for the fire’s victims, the narrator reports that Chaudval mutters to himself that he ought to have lent his talent to the benefit performance for his victims because it could have been a brilliant farewell appearance for him. Chaudval betrays not the slightest awareness of how absurd and tragic this reaction is. Thus it is the...

(The entire section is 421 words.)