Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

An allegory is the figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another. It is understandable that in writing about a relatively taboo subject such as lesbianism, an author might gravitate to allegory in an attempt to imply more than can be said. “Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself” is very much in the tradition of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the master of allegory and ambiguity, whose stories are always engaging at the plot level, but whose real richness usually lies just beneath the surface.

The beginning of “Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself” is handled realistically enough, with considerable sophistication of style—as in, for example, this elaborately repetitive sentence from the opening of section 2: “The soft English landscape sped smoothly past: small homesteads, small churches, small pastures, small lanes with small hedges; all small like England itself, all small like Miss Ogilvy’s future.” The story gathers momentum only on the tiny island off Devon, where everything is both strange and familiar at once. Here the style becomes less consciously rhetorical, and the reader’s interest is focused on the meaning of the neolithic love story, which is told largely through metaphor. The warrior describes his lover as a “hut of peace for a man after battle . . . ripe red berry sweet to the taste . . . happy small home of future generations.” This change in style, as much as the switch in time, place, and gender, suggests to the reader multiple layers of meaning, layers that permit Hall to develop her ideas about inversion while maintaining a necessary artistic distance.