Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A comic tour de force, “Marjorie Daw” is an amusing story that is not concerned with illustrating lasting insights into the human condition. However, it does reveal the great power of words both to convince and deceive, particularly when a person, like Flemming, is susceptible to their suggestion. Knowing his friend well, Delaney sets out in all innocence to create a woman who will attract Flemming’s interest. As a well-read attorney, he also knows the pen’s might, but he initially assumes that he has made it clear that the story he spins about the Daws is just that—a story.

For his part, Flemming, an eligible bachelor of twenty-four, ripe for a husband’s role, is easily drawn to a woman of Marjorie’s reputed beauty and charm, particularly because he is not distracted by his normal pastimes, such as horseback riding. Instead of reading Balzac, who might enlighten him and give him some stoic resolve to bear his brief convalescence with cheerful fortitude, he hurls the novelist’s works at his servant, then lapses into melancholy, mulling over his misfortune.

No wonder Delaney’s portrait of Marjorie Daw so quickly intrigues Flemming. She looms in his mind as his reward for suffering through the misery of his convalescence—as fate’s compensation for depriving him of his normal pleasures. Instead of receiving that reward, however, he eventually pays a comic penalty for his spoiled, moody ingratitude, an aspect of his character that allows the reader to feel he deserves to have his delusion shattered.