Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Advances in Narration
‘‘Astronomer’s Wife’’ shows many of the advances and innovations in narration that were...

(The entire section is 618 words.)

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Boyle’s short stories are characterized by fluency of language, whose fresh, striking images and metaphors give her characters’ lives a sense of immediacy. This story unfolds through a gradual revelation in relation to these metaphors rather than through crises of action. For example, the occupations of the astronomer and the plumber are metaphorically significant. An astronomer is concerned with a study of heavenly bodies, and as such, has his eyes fixed upward. Boyle’s astronomer seems completely disconnected, mentally and spiritually, from earthly matters. Furthermore, he keeps himself physically remote from even his wife, seldom speaking to her. Throughout the entire story, he remains behind his bedroom door. Mrs. Ames realizes—and tells the plumber—that her husband only goes “up,” never “down.”

The plumber’s vocation suggests several things about his role. A plumber’s attention is fixed, literally, on the earth—buried pipes and drains and such. This story’s plumber, who remains nameless, seems completely at ease with his strong, capable body and with his mission in the cavernous drain. He goes “down” readily into the earth and speaks to Mrs. Ames from within the drain. Amazed, Mrs. Ames sits “down” on the grass, and during a meditative few moments, begins to see the plumber, always “down,” as a symbol of the physical body of man, in contrast to her husband, always “up,” representing man’s mind. Through simple word choice—“up” and “down”—Boyle represents opposing planes of living. As she and the plumber enter the earth together, he has begun, metaphorically, to plumb the depths of her despair and will remedy it as easily as he repairs drains, with simple human love and communication.

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View and Narration
The narration of this story is in the third-person limited, but it is not a conventional...

(The entire section is 666 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Austenfeld, Thomas Carl. American Women Writers and the Nazis: Ethics and Politics in Boyle, Porter, Stafford, and Hellman. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.

Bell, Elizabeth S. Kay Boyle: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Carpenter, Richard C. “Kay Boyle.” English Journal 42 (November, 1953): 425-430.

Carpenter, Richard C. “Kay Boyle: The Figure in the Carpet.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 7 (Winter, 1964/1965): 65-78.

Chambers, M. Clark. Kay Boyle: A Bibliography. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 2002.

Elkins, Marilyn, ed. Critical Essays on Kay Boyle. New York: G. K. Hall, 1997.

Ford, Hugh. Four Lives in Paris. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987.

Lesinska, Zofia P. Perspectives of Four Women Writers on the Second World War: Gertrude Stein, Janet Flanner, Kay Boyle, and Rebecca West. New York: Peter Lang, 2002.

Mellen, Joan. Kay Boyle: Author of Herself. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.

Moore, Harry T. “Kay Boyle’s Fiction.” In The Age of the Modern and Other Literary Essays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971.

Porter, Katherine Anne. “Kay Boyle: Example to the Young.” In The Critic as Artist: Essays on Books, 1920-1970, edited by Gilbert A. Harrison. New York: Liveright, 1972.

Spanier, Sandra Whipple. Kay Boyle: Artist and Activist. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986.

Yalom, Marilyn. Women Writers of the West Coast: Speaking of Their Lives and Careers. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1983.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Boyle, Kay, ‘‘Words That Somehow Must Be Said, Selected Essays 1927–1984,’’ edited by Elizabeth S. Bell, North...

(The entire section is 330 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1930s: Divorce is still illegal in many Catholic European countries, and even where it is legal it is extremely rare.


(The entire section is 286 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Use the encyclopedia to research philosophers who have talked about the body/mind question. You will want to look at such thinkers as Plato,...

(The entire section is 165 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Fifty Stories (1981) is a collection of fifty of Boyle’s best and most representative stories. Boyle’s writing career was long and...

(The entire section is 296 words.)