A Reasonable Facsimile Summary
by Jean Stafford

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A Reasonable Facsimile Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Change is the only stimulus,” insists Dr. Wolfgang Bohrmann on retiring from a career of teaching at Nevilles College in Adams, Colorado. Instead of resigning himself to spending the remainder of his allotted years in quiet retirement, Dr. Bohrmann embarks on a variety of engrossing pursuits, not the least of which is having a new house built for himself, a “house of tomorrow—cantilevered, half-glass—six miles out on the prairies.” From his position on one of the house’s many decks, the enthusiastic professor emeritus can command an expansive view of the Rocky Mountains and the ever-changing panorama of cloud and sky: “there dark rain, here blinding sunshine, yonder a sulphurous dust storm, haze on the summit of one peak, a pillow of cloud concealing a second, hyaline light on the glacier of a third.”

From his aerielike perch, Dr. Bohrmann inhales the invigorating air of freedom; loosed from his career bonds, he is free to explore the numerous hobbies that intrigue his curious mind. A man of wide-ranging interests, he occupies his time studying Japanese, learning the art of engraving, exploring the mysteries of mycology, and growing Persian melons. Having carved his own private space within a landscape that he loves, Dr. Bohrmann is not prepared for the sudden arrival of a young easterner, Henry Medley, who informs the old gentleman of his intention to pay him a prolonged visit so that the two may get to know each other personally after having corresponded for some years. Dr. Bohrmann, astonished at the prospect of having a houseguest (“not through any want of hospitality but because it was a matter that had never arisen”), nevertheless rallies to the occasion and has his housekeeper, Mrs. Pritchard, prepare the spare room for his visitor.

The ubiquitous Mrs. Pritchard, “shaped like a pear” and having “a blue mustache under a fleshy and ferocious bill,” harbors a deep suspicion that the arrival of the professor’s disciple may not be a very pleasant event. Indeed, when Henry Medley, true to his name, unloads his gear from the taxi (a pup tent, a portable grill, a sleeping bag, “two bulging Gladstones, a typewriter, a tennis racket, a pair of skis, a rifle, a fishing rod and tackle box, a recorder . . . and two large boxes of cuttings of field flowers from the Hudson Valley . . . ”), Mrs. Pritchard senses that his will be no abbreviated visit, for skis cannot be used, even in the mountains near Adams, until late fall or early winter at best. Dr. Bohrmann, whose magnanimous hospitality becomes taxed by Medley’s invasion of his home, tries to maintain his habitual friendly demeanor, but as days pass, it becomes clear that the overbearing English teacher plans to stay.

The drama of the story builds as Dr. Bohrmann, urged on by Mrs. Pritchard’s concerned prodding, attempts to free himself from Medley’s grasp. He longs for his highly prized solitude, which Medley has broken by his noisy, persistent presence. Perhaps the most overwhelmingly unbearable aspect of Medley’s omnipresence is his infatuation with his mentor, which leads him to agree, wholeheartedly and constantly, with whatever Dr. Bohrmann says. Although Bohrmann scolds Medley for his sin of “impassioned, uncritical agreement,” he soon discovers that the young man simply has no ideas of his own. While overtly brilliant, for Medley “had apparently read everything and forgotten nothing,” Bohrmann’s protege “was so unself-centered that Dr. Bohrmann began to wonder if he had a self at all.” In short, Henry Medley is an intellectual robot, a “reasonable facsimile” of the true intellectual and spiritual offspring that Dr. Bohrmann once desired more than anything else in the world.

Once Dr. Bohrmann realizes that Medley must go—must be evicted, albeit gently, if need be—the focus of the story turns to a most essential yet rather unusual character, Bohrmann’s cat, Grimalkin. As fate (or fortune) would have it, Henry Medley suffers an excruciating allergy to cats, and even though the professor has agreed to restrict Grimalkin to the outdoors during Medley’s stay, Mrs. Pritchard intervenes, allowing the animal to slip into the house just long enough to keep the dander level painfully high. Finally, in a voice punctuated with explosive sneezes and with an expression dampened by tears of allergic agony, Medley announces his intention to depart. No character is more pleased than Grimalkin, who, having been unceremoniously ousted by Medley’s arrival, equally unceremoniously deposits a farewell gift on the mat outside Medley’s door as he prepares to leave—a dead gopher. With a sense of unspeakable relief, Dr. Bohrmann returns to the life he most enjoys, free from the “sapping tedium of Medley’s monologues and interrogations” that had seemed to rob him of his own personality.