Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In the novel’s first chapter, the inaccurate “balladization” of events relating to the wedding conveys Spark’s customary themes of truth versus distortion and reality versus appearance. Spark’s customary narrative method is interconnected with these themes. Within chapters, between chapters, and in the novel’s structure as a whole (the linkage between the first and last chapter), narrative looping first depicts an event, then flashes back to show what led to it, and then restates the event (now understood by the reader more fully or in a different light) with fresh material. Thus the reader outside the novel, unlike most of its characters, is led from distorted truth or appearance to underlying reality. In the last chapter, for example, the whole story behind Humphrey’s jilting has now been revealed (including the disclosure that Humphrey’s rejection has been repeated verbatim from Dougal’s earlier formulations); further, after discarding inaccuracies that have grown up around the “legend,” the narrator proceeds to reveal that after returning to Peckham, Humphrey did eventually marry Dixie, accepting her drives toward materialism and the status quo, which have made her old before her time. Though falsifying the “ballad,” by acquiescing to his place Humphrey again verifies his surname.

Two other essentials of Spark’s narrative method, ironic juxtaposition of chapter sections and the misleading or deception of the reader, are also interconnected with her theme of truth versus distortion. A blend of narrative looping and ironic juxtaposition occurs early in chapter 1 with the depiction of Trevor Lomas’ attempted banishing and battering of Humphrey at a pub (after the wedding fiasco) and the flashback revelation that Lomas was Humphrey’s best man at the affair; this revelation parallels the later one that underneath Lomas’ solid citizenry is a villainous minor criminal. Other juxtapositions include the fourth chapter’s elder and younger illicit couples (Druce-Coverdale, Place-Morse) to show lovelessness bred by amorality and the seventh chapter’s scene of Leslie at a meeting of the Lomas gang, followed by his mother’s foolish declaration to her husband that Leslie is doing fine without scrupulous parental supervision. Finally, examples of Spark’s narrative misleadings include, in chapter 3, the expectation and apparent view of aggressive blue-collar males fighting, when the reality turns out to be that the altercation is between the women, with the men laboring to preserve peace, and, in chapter 7, the reader’s supposition that Nelly Mahone, under the Lomas gang’s duress, has concocted a farfetched lie about Dougal pursuing Lomas’ girl, Beauty, when only two sections later Dougal actually begins to court her.

A symbolic activity gathering these themes and metapoetically commenting on Spark’s technique is Dougal’s ghostwriting of retired actress and singer Maria Cheeseman’s autobiography. When “Cheese” complains to Dougal about all the fallacious material he has imported into the book (derived, unknown to...

(The entire section is 1260 words.)