Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Among the most notable aspects of A. E. Coppard’s technique in this story are his skillful drawing of character and his deft presentation of significant details of description. The holiday crowd gathered for the games is festive, but also a little vulgar; it is made up of “soldiers, sailors, and quite ordinary people.” George and Nab are from the lower ranges of the stratified English society of the 1890’s; Margery and Minnie seem typical of the “jolly girls” who “hunt in couples.” Margery opens her conversation with George by complaining that the train on which they came from London was filled with “boozy men” with “half of ’em trying to cuddle you.” This conversational gambit naturally invites similar flirtation from George, and the triteness of their flirtation helps define the characters. Similarly, the blatant vulgarity of the conversation of Jerry Chambers identifies him as a “cockney ruffian.”

Although one hesitates to insist dogmatically on the precise significance of small details, they can often provide important clues to the author’s values and attitudes. What is the importance, for example, of the fact that the blind beggar, who has a “strange dignity inseparable from blindness in his erect figure,” wears a clerical hat? The town where the games take place has a garrison and a dockyard and would have been considered a city except for the fact that the “only available cathedral” was “just inside an annoying little snob of a borough” that keeps itself outside the “real and proper” town. The cathedral further isolates itself from the public by charging sixpence admission. The only titled person the young men have ever seen is the countess who helps award the prizes, but Coppard says that she has “a stomach like a publican’s wife.” Traditionally, the institutions of the church and the aristocracy were supposed to give England its moral fiber, but such representatives of these institutions as appear in this story seem conspicuously deficient. In a world where the church is either impoverished or snobbishly withdrawn and where a countess is indistinguishable from a publican’s wife, it is hardly surprising that the vulgarity of Jerry Chambers prevails.