A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal

by Daniel Defoe

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448

One of the key themes in this text is really implied by the structure and framing, rather than stated outright. The author's choice to use an external preface device, with the story contained inside it having been sent to London by an unnamed third party, is one which distances the person presenting this story to the reader from the writer of the "facts" themselves. This contributes to the overall theme of misinformation and the question of belief -- do we believe the story? Does the person writing the preface believe the story? And what is it about someone that makes them worth believing? The writer of the preface is keen to stress that the story was sent to him by a "justice of the peace," a pillar of the community, while the "kinsman" of Mrs Bargrave is likewise keen to emphasize that Mrs Bargrave herself is beyond reproach. So, there is a suggestion that people must pass a certain bar of respectability before they can be considered trustworthy. What is this bar? And what does it mean that someone must be considered trustworthy before we take them at their word?

The theme of the supernatural, and whether or not it exists, is, then, almost subordinate to this theme. It does not matter so much whether or not ghosts are real: what matters is whether others are willing to believe something transmitted back to them through several channels -- and originated by a woman, no less.

The theme of female mistreatment, then, emerges in this text in several ways. To begin with, Mrs Bargrave cannot tell her story herself. It has to be filtered to us, the reader, through not one man, but two. One vouches for her character, her kinsman. The next vouches for the character of the kinsman. Two vouchsafes are required before an audience will listen to Mrs Bargrave. Next, we know that this is far from the first indignity Mrs Bargrave has suffered in her life -- she has suffered a "barbaric" husband, while Mrs Veal has been mistreated by an "unkind" father. The two of them have clung together for spiritual guidance, each other's only solace. After Mrs Veal dies, it is her first urge to go to her old friend, but even then, Mr Veal tries to keep the story under wraps, not wanting to allow Mrs Bargrave to tell her own story. The troubling question of women's interaction with society, and the extent to which this informs how we feel about what they say, is prevalent in this text, not least because it is a story which concerns women and yet is both repressed and disseminated depending on the whims of men.

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