Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At the time of publication, Rebecca West, although only twenty-one, had already won considerable recognition in British avant-garde circles for her incisive contributions to feminist and socialist journals. The story reflects not only her political and feminist preoccupations but also the emotional turbulence of her private life.

The heightened melodrama of the plot overlays a profound and biting criticism of institutionalized marriage, with particular concern for the role that women are expected to perform. Until the moment of murderous confrontation, when the pure loathing that underlies their previous petty disagreements is laid bare, neither partner knows anything of the other’s true characteristics or inner thoughts. To Evadne, George is a weak but attractive man with a pleasing, albeit indecisive, intellect. She ascribes his frequent moods of irritability to pressures at work and has no inkling of the sexual disgust with which he regards her. To her, the marriage is dull, but tolerable, and gratifying to her physical needs.

George sees Evadne as a trivial, sensual creature with no inner depth or spirituality. His deliberate blindness to her public achievements demonstrates his fear of not being able to master her—an indication that his disgust with her sexuality may also be based on fear of inadequate manhood.

In a very complex and illuminating passage analyzing Evadne’s hesitation at the point of murder, the author...

(The entire section is 442 words.)