Though the stories in The Darts of Cupid, and Other Stories cover several different decades and cultural milieus, Templeton’s style, mood, tone, and use of first-person narration connect the works, as does her persistent interest in loss and its effects on her characters. Given that many of the facts of Templeton’s own life parallel details related by the narrators within the collection, one senses that the author might also be using autobiography to inform these stories. Templeton’s subjects, set against the backdrop of modern Europe, tend to be bleak. Her characters meet during wartime, then part. One narrator’s family loses its family house as a result of the Communist takeover of Bohemia. Another learns of her husband’s unfaithfulness as he is dying. Her narrators sometimes take risks, but often do the honorable rather than the most pleasing thing. Most have lost lovers. One gets the sense that even in their happiest moments, these women cast about for something more. Templeton does not let her characters become maudlin and cowering. They are resilient and find themselves sustained by the past rather than destroyed by it. Templeton maintains a precarious balance between that sense of loss and sense of strength.
The collection opens with the title story, “The Darts of Cupid,” set during World War II. The narrator, Eve Prescott-Clark, works with a number of other women engaged in relatively mundane secretarial tasks in a medical facility in Bathdale, England. Most of the women are having affairs of one sort or another. Though married, Eve uses her stint in the military to “leave her husband.” She meets an American major who takes charge of the facility and adopts a flirtatious interest in the narrator’s work methods. Because he does not use the typical lothario approach of the other men, the two develop a very real friendship which then dovetails into love.
One could never call “Darts of Cupid” a wartime romance story. Templeton subverts the atmosphere of wartime romanticism by relating very specifically the various sexual peccadilloes of the men and women in the facility. People sleep together regardless of whether the lover is married, and most of those “romances” are affairs of convenience and lust, not emotion. For example, the Major is married to a lovely woman in the United States, yet he is also living with a beautiful English woman ironically named Constance, who is pregnant with his child. In fact, his relationship with his lover is so open that he invites Eve to the house he shares with her. Constance arranges for Eve to have a beautiful nightgown to wear that evening as the Major slips into her bed. The war atmosphere makes sexual relations less important, more perfunctory.
Templeton undercuts the elements of romance, yet her narrator falls in love despite herself. The Major is called away and the two must live without one another. Eve feels a sense of tragedy that their love will remain unfulfilled. Yet, as the story ends, Templeton draws parallels between the narrator’s loss and the stories of her many girlfriends who married their wartime boyfriends. One of them, Claudia, comes back at the end of the story and relates how her new husband bored her after all, that sex was all there was, and that eventually one had to get out of bed. Though Eve seems saddened at losing touch with this great love of her life, Templeton suggests that the memory of love might be more gratifying than its reality.
Three stories in the collection involve the coming of age of a first-person narrator named Edith, which again hints at an autobiographical strain in the collection. The first of these stories, “Irresistibly,” concerns the narrator’s relationship to a painter named Dalibor, who has been asked to do a portrait of the Cardinal Archbishop of Prague. The banter between these characters revolves around the idea of destiny and one’s ability to “change one’s fate.” Philosophically, the young girl does not understand the painter’s position until his death some months later. He had, inexplicably, gone to Paris because a fortune-teller told him he would meet his destiny there. He stayed out in a storm and was killed when a tree fell on him. Bystanders felt he had, in some way, caused his own death. The young girl puzzles over the idea that one can choose a fate that might be negative. A family friend, the Professor, suggests an instructive conclusion to young Edith’s quandary: “Destiny is what we make ourselves. Because our destiny is always irresistible to us.”
(The entire section is 1865 words.)