The Doctor's Wife

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

The Doctor’s Wife is the story of Sheila, Mrs. Kevin Redden, who stops in Paris to visit a friend on her way to a holiday in the south of France. Through the friend she meets Tom Lowry, a handsome young American student. Since Mrs. Redden’s husband, a physician, has been detained at home in Belfast, Sheila continues to her destination alone, only to be followed unexpectedly by Tom. They have a torrid love affair, aided by the husband’s somewhat coached decision not to join her at all. Tom and Sheila return to Paris, and reality sets in with a series of hastily arranged hotels, recriminating phone calls, shouting matches, and thoughts of suicide. Sheila’s husband, her brother, and her son all entreat her to come back home. Tom meanwhile arranges a visa and plane ticket for her to depart for America and join him. Sheila chooses neither course, but strikes out on her own. The first half of the work is the plain and simple explication of an old story; the second half of the work emphasizes the wages of sin.

Although Moore has twice received the Governor-General of Canada Award for Fiction, and once received the James Tait Black Memorial Award in Britain, The Doctor’s Wife is not an example of his best writing. The unswerving plainness and lack of depth evident in this work should lead to the suspicion that it was written with the primary purpose of serving as the basis for a film, since two other of his works have followed similar courses.

The story moves along rapidly as the action changes from scene to scene. Moore’s storytelling technique is very reminiscent of Graham Greene’s with a controlled point of view regardless of the constantly shifting perspective. One of the most interesting if obvious of these shifts is that which occurs between the two basic sections of the story and facilitates the change in emphasis which also occurs then. Moore uses the device of viewing Sheila and Tom’s romance through the eyes of some rather skeptical observers as his shift between their idyllic love affair in its early romantic stages, and the more realistic contemplation by the reader of the consequences of their actions that will unfold in the second half of the work.

Moore’s characters lack depth. The action of the story takes place with very little motivation given for Mrs. Redden’s decisions, and less psychological background from which to divine them independently. Her husband, Kevin, is depicted as crass, spiteful, incessantly malicious, and altogether negative. The lover for whom she leaves Kevin is so sketchily drawn as to be nearly a shadow moving through the pages. This does place the emphasis upon Sheila and her crisis, but also removes some element of reality from the narrative. It is difficult, for instance, to fathom Sheila’s ability to break out of her perfect-wife-and-mother role to become an instant voluptuary with the aid of so nebulous a creature as Tom Lowry.

Only Owen Deane, Sheila’s brother and the first character to whom we are introduced, seems to have been completely drawn. His assigned character is in itself fairly shallow, but in this case the lack of depth is understandable, since he is a fairly minor functionary in the drama. Such a lack of depth may be a deliberate attempt to force the reader to draw independent conclusions, but one of those conclusions may be that Moore is waiting for the actors in the film version to make up for his failings with their acting talents.

A few typically human reactions have been successfully chronicled along with the rather flat characterizations. Sheila’s relatives, for example, as they learn about her proposed defection, are all suddenly blessed with great hind-sight and claim that her actions are not altogether out of tune with her past history, for she has always had certain weaknesses. Her old friend, by contrast, specifically finds such a situation as Sheila has created to be antithetical to Sheila’s very nature. One can easily recognize the likelihood of such pronouncements in such a situation.

Mrs. Redden cannot face a return to her past and to the pain and self-abasement that it would include. She is wise enough to realize that Tom’s attentions have been a great catalyst to show her that there is...

(The entire section is 1745 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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