Style and Technique
The constant danger to authors of stories about suffering children is that they will overstep the boundary between pathos and sentimentality, as most of them do, turning pathos into bathos. The effectiveness of “Winter Night” derives in part from Kay Boyle’s skill at counterpointing Felicia’s plight with that of the other little girl without losing any of the specificity that makes them worthy of compassion.
Such details as the “golden fur” on their limbs, the lilac of their eyes, and the interest they have in ballet not only unite them in the mind of the sitter, but also make them real for the reader. Felicia’s plight is individualized by the details of her apartment and of her nighttime routine, by the dialogue of the maid, and by the questions she asks the sitter. When the sitter speaks of the crying of the girls in the camp, Felicia asks whether they cried because their mother had to go out to supper. Such questions ring true because they are derived from Felicia’s experience. In the same fashion, the story of the girl in the camp escapes sentimentalization by the understated manner in which the woman sticks to the factual details of that experience.
The story of the other little girl, more dramatically sensational, has the potential to make Felicia’s story mundane or trivial, yet in Boyle’s hands it has rather the opposite effect. The failure of Felicia’s mother to try to comfort her daughter in a world in which such things happen to little girls deepens the pathos of her situation. Felicia and all the other children have reason to be apprehensive.