Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 288

"Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time" is a 1959 short story written by American writer Peter Taylor. It focuses on an elderly brother and sister named Alfred and Louisa Dorset from West Vesey, who annually host a party for the town's teenagers in their house, much to the displeasure of the children's parents. It also introduces the young Ned and Emily Meriwether, who decide to smuggle in the town's paperboy, Tom Bascomb, to the party by making him pretend to be Ned.

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As there are several hints that suggest that the sibling pair might have an incestuous relationship, and because Taylor incorporates several social themes such as innocence, guilt, family affairs, judgment, classism, and community, the story is considered a tragicomic allegory. The plot is narrated by an unnamed narrator who speaks in second person, directly addressing the reader. This is an interesting writing technique which Taylor used to attract the readers and make them “feel” the same emotions his characters felt.

The title comes from a popular Bronzino painting also titled “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.” Interestingly enough, the Dorsets own a print of the painting, which might represent their fear of old age, adulthood, and responsibility. They also have a replica of Rodin’s sculpture “The Kiss,” which further accentuates their very close relationship.

By the end of the novel, the Dorsets seem to have realized that their eccentric behavior might have been a bit too childish, and they finally start acting as adults, thus shuttering the illusion of innocence. Consequentially, that year's party was the last one that the Dorsets hosted.

Taylor’s story was first published in The Kenyon Review and received generally positive reviews, and even won the 1959 O. Henry Award for best short story.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 264

The point of view is the most important device in this story, combining schoolboy experience with mature understanding. The unnamed narrator speaks in the first person; he is a child of West Vesey Place, somewhat older than Ned Meriwether, and has served his turn at the dancing parties but was not present at the last one. He does not tell the story in chronological order but mingles memories, his own and others’, with reports of the fiasco from several sources. He speaks often of “we” and “us,” so that he seems to be a composite voice of the community, at least for his generation. He also tells the story in retrospect, many years after the event.

The last pages include information and impressions gleaned from Ned’s wife at some time after World War II. By this means the reader knows the unhappy aftereffect for the Meriwethers of their impractical joke. Reasons for the family breach are not clear—the children were too young to analyze their own thoughts and feelings—but Ned’s wife is sure that it started that night at the Dorsets’. She comes from outside Chatham; she lives in it but is not part of it, and her view helps the narrator shape his reactions.

The narrator is a born storyteller. His voice is conversational, his attention sometimes digressive, his insight keen. He understands Chatham, its pretensions and its social values—Bascomb, Meriwether, and Dorset. Peter Taylor has used similar narrators in other stories, and one hears much of the author’s voice in the voice of the fictional storyteller.

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