Amusingly and with understanding, Ethel Wilson presents the Johnsons as a working-class couple whose humdrum marriage is marred, though not violently disrupted, by misunderstandings and petty arguments. They live on the surface of life, unable to articulate their deeper feelings. These are occasionally presented as pronouncements by their attendant angels, a rather awkward authorial device.
In contrast to the Johnsons, whose lives seem characterized by friction, Myrtle’s Aunty Emblem exudes a “golden effulgence” that is derived from her plump prettiness, self-satisfaction, and popularity. Myrtle finds her aunt’s visits trying, especially when her aunt, twice widowed and once divorced, advises her about how to keep a husband satisfied. Yet even this gregarious and maternal figure-an emblem indeed-has come to enjoy most that time of day when she is alone in bed reading the personals columns in the newspapers, as if having “discovered the joys of privacy [she] does not wish to lose them, for at least she now owns herself.”
In stark contrast to Myrtle’s aunt is Myrtle’s cousin Vicky. A timid spinster, she lives alone in a boardinghouse, in a room lit by a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling; her sole indulgence is to read one film magazine a week. Aside from going to her job as a shop assistant and to church, her only outings are to visit Myrtle, who characteristically finds her trying but tolerates her. Yet Vicky is the one who...
(The entire section is 424 words.)