Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As a story, “Laura” functions mainly as an assault on the comfortable certainties of the English upper class in the last few years before World War I, which was to shatter that class’s power and kill so many of its members (including the author, who was shot by a German sniper in 1916). The main vehicle of the assault is Laura, who projects from the start an air of total superiority. Her belief in the transmigration of souls most obviously contradicts central tenets of Christianity—Laura scornfully wonders if she could be imagined as an angel—but Laura also rises above fear (the thought of death causes her no emotion), above the doctor (whom she mentions only with sarcastic deference), and above all forms of social convention (even, in otter shape, exploiting the opportunities presented by her own funeral). Most of all, though, Laura rejects all forms of moral judgment. She does confess that “I haven’t been very good,” but immediately qualifies this by listing all of her failings without interest and then claiming that they are excused by circumstance. She furthermore goes on unrepentantly to repeat them all in future existences, and at all times takes a positive delight in mischief. The thoughts that she projects are that sin is fun, that virtue is so boring as to be provocative, and that dash and elegance are the most important qualities that a person can possess.

Amanda and Egbert function by contrast as images of sober rectitude and...

(The entire section is 597 words.)