Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Warner has been praised for her astringent style, for her elegance and precision in portraying eccentrics, for her ironic but “compassionate wit.” This story demonstrates all these features, but it is the satire on social types such as Aston, Vere, Fogg, and Miss Larke that enables the weird behavior of Lucy to command the reader’s amused and sympathetic attention.

The plot follows a chronological sequence. The initial scene depicting Lucy as the predictable housewife is followed by a quick succession of scenes showing her various possibilities: as an art object for the anonymous “Ithamore,” model of piety for Fogg, harmless eccentric for Miss Larke, and memento of his vanished “nova” for Bastable. Aurelia is Lucy’s “nova”: the realized Other. The narrative manages to blend the fancifulness of Aurelia with the prudent tactfulness of Lucy in the plotted drifting she goes through.

The most hilarious spoof on bourgeois mores is found in Lucy’s weighing of alternatives (the two letters) as she combs out the fleas in the cat “to a new rhythm of ’he loves me, he loves me not.’” The two letters condense the inescapable subordination of ethics to money and social class. The folly of the middle-class doting on the charm of the past is exposed in the exchange between the two ladies who boarded the train at Peckover Junction. Warner also ridicules the sentimental Victorian moralizing of landscapes when Lucy wonders if the...

(The entire section is 575 words.)