How is the story "The Chaser" talking about relationships?
John Collier had a negative attitude about marriage. His story "The Chaser" is only concerned with marital relationships. The old man who sells the lovesick, impetuous Alan Austen the potion he plans to use to make Diana fall in love with him knows the young man will be back for "the chaser," which he describes as follows:
"Here is a liquid as colorless as water, almost tasteless, quite imperceptible in coffee, milk, wine, or any other beverage. It is also quite imperceptible to any known method of autopsy."
This is the "chaser" the old man believes Alan will be wanting one of these days. The vendor of love potions and antidotes warns his customer that he will find love and marriage suffocating.
"She will want to know all you do," said the old man. "All that has happened to you during the day. Every word of it. She will want to know what you are thinking about, why you smile suddenly, why you are looking sad. . . . How carefully she will look after you! She will never allow you to be tired, to sit in a draught, to neglect your food. If you are an hour late, she will be terrified. She will think you are killed, or that some siren has caught you."
The term "chaser" is not as commonly used today as it was when Collier published his story in 1951. Some readers have gotten the impression that the title refers to the young man who appears to be "chasing" after a woman who disdains him. But a chaser, as Collier uses it in his title, is a drink of something like water, ginger ale, or beer which is sipped after a shot of hard liquor to sooth the taste buds without interfering with the effect of the whiskey, vodka, or whatever. The chaser in the story is the poison which the old man feels certain Alan will be coming back to purchase after he has lost his romantic illusions and developed a distaste for the grind of marriage. The love potion costs only a dollar, but one teaspoonful of the chaser costs five thousand dollars.
John Collier was not the only author who has expressed a distaste for the married state. The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote a long story about his own negative view of marriage. In "The Kreutzer Sonata," named after one of Ludwig von Beethoven's sonatas for violin and piano, the fictitious narrator expresses the view of marriage which Tolstoy himself often wrote about and spoke about in his later years:
“We were like two convicts fastened to one chain, hating each other, each poisoning the life of the other and striving not to recognize the fact. I did not then realize that ninety-nine per cent of the married people live in the same hell as mine, and that it must be so. Nor did I then realize that it was so of others or true of myself.
The protagonist/narrator Vasyla Pozdnishef kills his wife in a fit of jealous rage and gets off without execution or imprisonment because he is judged temporarily insane as a result of surprising his wife and her lover in flagrante delicto. (Tolstoy also blames art--in this case Beethoven's sonata--for arousing sinful emotions.) But Pozdnishef's reputation is ruined and he is consumed with guilt and bitter remorse for what he has done.
John Collier never takes such a grim tone in his stories, although at least a few of them, including "De Mortuis" and "Back for Christmas," involve a man murdering his wife. Collier's message is serious but he presents it in a characteristically humorous and fantastic way.