Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford does not follow any chronology but is instead organized into four sections according to geography, borrowing titles from Mark Twain and Henry James, both of whom Stafford admires. “Innocents Abroad,” as the title suggests, includes six stories set in France, England, and the Caribbean. All the stories involve an American protagonist, usually a woman, who is displaced and alienated in a foreign setting.

In “Maggie Meriwether’s Rich Experience,” Maggie, from Nashville, Tennessee, finds herself unable to converse in Paris in spite of years of studying French. Among the rich sophisticates at Monsieur Le Baron’s château, she is a speechless, witless American, only to shine at home with her comic recounting of her experiences. The comic tone of this story is sustained in “Caveat Emptor.” Set at the Alma Hetterick College for Girls, it involves the subterfuge of two young new teachers who undermine the fatuous college with a fictitious research project while accidentally falling in love. The remaining four stories, set in Belgium, Heidelberg, and the Caribbean, give a much darker view of the human psyche. In “The Children’s Game,” the protagonist is initiated into the sordid world of compulsive gamblers; “The Maiden,” the only story in the collection told by a man, involves the shocking revelation made by a loving, devoted German couple that the husband proposed just after watching his first beheading. Another story set in Heidelberg, “The Echo and the Nemesis,” employs the device of the literary double. A shy, lonely American student, Sue, attaches herself to the rich, odd, obese Ramona. As the story progresses,...

(The entire section is 695 words.)