Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ruth’s perspective as a limited omniscient center of consciousness guides the reader through the story. Her reading and her memories of passages from biographies of Eliot present a backdrop for the exchanges between Ruth and Rupert and for Ruth’s inward musings, sometimes perceptive, but more often delusory. The chasm between the authentic personal sympathies of Eliot and Lewes, and the ersatz, almost trivial developments between Ruth and Rupert that she grasps at as ideal friendship, creates sustained irony, intensified by section titles with ambiguous applications to both Eliot’s and Ruth’s lives.

Adding to the irony is the suggestiveness of the titles of paintings that Rupert copies. The first, Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Socrates (1787), implies an end to the rationalism by which Ruth has formerly described herself and its replacement by the subjective reality she and Rupert pursue each night. This recalls the reflections of the bridges in the River Seine that Rupert claims compete with the bridges over the river to be perceived as the true world. Other subjects suggest Rupert’s mastery, through assertion of his perception, over mythology, the natural world, a domestic scene, and a painting of Venice’s Grand Canal, presaging his reconstruction of Cross’s mentally disturbed leap into that water. Only at the end is that mastery dramatized, as Ruth must drop her sentimentalizing.