Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Spark has often been credited for her whimsical wit and her “crotchety originality.” What stands out in this polyphonic blending of voices and scenes, the interweaving of the lives of two daughters and the men who control their lives, and the consistently mistaken interpretations of motives and purposes, is a complete mastery of the banal peculiarities of English family relationships and the petty eccentricities of male writers.

The narrative structure consists of the alternation of scenes involving the couples Henry and Dora, Carmelita and Ben, and Carmelita and Kenneth. Each scene comments on the other and unfolds the ironic implications in the limited knowledge of each character. The impoverished Castlemaines want the past restored, while Carmelita looks forward to a vague future. By juxtaposing the last two scenes—Carmelita’s dilemma, her problem of how to satisfy Ben’s intellectual ambition, and Dora’s hesitation to marry Ben—the narrative exposes Carmelita’s pathetic blindness, her self-deception induced by her fatal admiration for her father. The third scene functions as a pivotal disclosure of Dora’s will to assert herself against her father, suggesting that, while she may not be as free as Carmelita (whose fixation on Ben testifies to her father’s predominant influence), she can make practical decisions within the framework of her symbiotic relationship with her father. Her job epitomizes her ethical limit: “a reformer of...

(The entire section is 488 words.)