"I positively desire, I really quite insist that they shall go," the old lady explained to us from her stiff chair. "We've talked about it so often, and they've had from me so clear an account—I've amused them again and again with it—of what's to be seen and enjoyed. If they've had hitherto too many duties to leave, the time seems to have come to recognize that there are also many duties to SEEK."
In this passage, early in the short story "Europe" by Henry James, the narrator encounters old Mrs. Rimmle sitting in her parlor and surrounded by old photos and framed letters from her glory days, when she traveled to Europe with her late husband. She is also surrounded by her three loving, dutiful daughters, who hang upon her every word and fantasize about going to Europe some lucky day.
The narrator isn't so sure this is really going to happen. As he listens to Mrs. Rimmle in her speech, he senses that she is prevaricating. He finds her upsetting and wonders what she is hiding beneath her "placid perversity" and her "grim secrecy of intention."
When Mrs. Rimmle speaks of her daughters "laying-up for the years to come the same store of remarkable impressions,” she implies that, instead of going to Europe themselves, they may simply be storing memories of things that their mother did. They lay up (i.e., put up or store) these memories in the hopes that they might some day live the same adventures—but there are so many duties to “SEEK” (the capitalization is used here intentionally by James) that keep them at home.
Readers also get the sense that time is moving at a different pace for Mrs. Rimmle, who talks about her trip to Europe as something that happened "the year before last"; for her daughters, a trip to Europe will be nothing but "endless aftertastes." The daughters have formed this impression based on the stories that their mother is always telling them and on the photos, letters, maps, and sketches that surround them in their mother’s parlor. Europe is real for their mother, but it may only be an unattainable dream for Jane, Becky, and Maria Rimmle.
"My daughter has been; my daughter has been—" She kept saying it, but didn't say where; that seemed unnecessary, and she only repeated the words to her visitors with a face that was all puckers and yet now, save in so far as it expressed an ineffaceable complacency, all blankness. I think she rather wanted us to know how little she had stood in the way.
It added to something—I scarce knew what—that I found myself desiring to extract privately from Becky. As our visit was to be of the shortest my opportunity—for one of the young ladies always came to the door with us—was at hand.
Mrs. Rimmle, as we took leave, again sounded her phrase, but she added this time: "I'm so glad she's going to have always—"
I knew so well what she meant that, as she again dropped, looking at me queerly and becoming momentarily dim, I could help her out. "Going to have what YOU have?"
"Yes, yes—my privilege. Wonderful experience," she mumbled. She bowed to me a little as if I would understand. "She has things to tell."
Mrs. Rimmle’s daughter Jane has escaped to Europe with family friends. No one is quite sure when she is going to return. In the meantime, back at home, Mrs. Rimmle is clearly stunned by the idea that one of her daughters has left her. A domineering matriarch who has spent the last thirty years (since the death of her husband) bending reality and the duties of her daughters to her will, Mrs. Rimmle has turned the idea of Europe into the ultimate unattainable dream for her daughters.
But now Jane has done the unthinkable and actually gone to Europe. Mrs. Rimmle seems to be stuck in a loop, repeating "My daughter has been—" over and over. This phrasing is strange, because it seems to imply that Jane has returned from Europe. She has not, but Mrs. Rimmle has created a fantasy that she has...
(The entire section contains 1124 words.)
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