Study Guide

The Performance

by Monica Elizabeth Knight

The Performance Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“The Performance” is included in the collection The Travelling Entertainer, and Other Stories. Jolley wrote and published many short stories before her first novel, Palomino, found a publisher; by then she was a popular writer of short fiction. Her stories have appeared in more than twenty anthologies.

“The Performance” contains many of the elements that are characteristic of Jolley’s writing. To begin, she uses a framing device: a narrator who is ostensibly recounting the tale told to him by a confused, anxious man who has just been admitted to the hospital. The narrator tells just enough about himself to give the reader some understanding of his personality and the trouble that has brought him to the hospital (to be “cured” of homosexuality). The way the narrator responds to the man is a kind of performance, a term that is used again and again with a number of meanings; it is the central metaphor of the story.

The structure of the story is also typical of Jolley. The man does not recount events in strict sequence but skips around in time, with one memory reminding him of another. Jolley weaves her story as if it were made up of different strands of yarn—the present, the recent past, the distant past, and the present again, with several permutations of this pattern. It is not until the end of the story that the narrator begins to get a glimmer of understanding of what the man has been trying to tell him.

First, the man talks about his conviction that every work carries its own measure of responsibility, a key idea in the story....

(The entire section is 653 words.)

The Performance Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Howells, Coral Ann. “In Search of Lost Mothers: Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners and Elizabeth Jolley’s Miss Peabody’s Inheritance.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 19 (January, 1988): 57-70.

Kirkby, Joan. “The Call of the Mother in the Fiction of Elizabeth Jolley.” SPAN: Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies 26 (April, 1988): 46-63.

Kirkby, Joan. “The Spinster and the Missing Mother in the Fiction of Elizabeth Jolley.” In Old Maids to Radical Spinsters, edited by Laura L. Doan. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Lurie, Caroline, comp. Learning to Dance: Elizabeth Jolley, Her Life and Work. New York: Viking, 2006.

McCowan, Sandra. Reading and Writing Elizabeth Jolley: Contemporary Approaches. Fremantle, Wash.: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1995.

Riemer, A. P. New Worlds and Old: Essays on the Major Writers. New York: Garland, 1991.

Spender, Dale, ed. Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers. New York: Pandora Press, 1988.

Thomson, Helen. Bio-Fictions: Brian Matthews, Drusilla Modjeska, and Elizabeth Jolley. Townsville, Queensland: Foundation for Australian Literary Studies, 1994.

Willbanks, Ray. Australian Voices: Writers and Their Work. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.