The unique quality of A. E. Coppard’s short fiction derives from his powers as a lyrical writer, his sympathetic understanding of the rural, lower-class folk who organically inhabit the English countryside so memorably evoked in his tales, and his “uncanny perception,” as Frank O’Connor remarked, “of a woman’s secretiveness and mystery.” Coppard’s earliest reviewers and critics emphasized the poetic quality of his tales. The title story from The Field of Mustard is one of the great stories in English, and it suggests the full range of Coppard’s creative genius, including his lyric portrayal of the English countryside and its folk, especially its women, whose language and life-consciousness seem wedded to the landscape.
“The Field of Mustard”
Like other lyric short stories, “The Field of Mustard” is nearly plotless. It opens with the suggestion that everything has already happened to the main characters, “three sere disvirgined women from Pollock’s Cross.” What remains for Coppard is to evoke the quality of these lives and the countryside of which they are a part; the tale proceeds as a kind of lyric meditation on life and death in nature. The women have come to “the Black Wood” in order to gather “dead branches” from the living trees, and on their way home, two of them, Dinah Lock and Rose Olliver, become involved in an intimate conversation that reveals the hopelessness of their lives....
(The entire section is 2747 words.)
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