(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Fitz-James O’Brien’s short story “The Wondersmith” is divided into seven sections. The first, entitled “Golosh Street and Its People,” establishes the location and dark tone for the tale. The first-person, anonymous narrator is a strong presence in this section, describing the dirty street. The “eccentric mercantile settlement” contains a bird-shop with rare birds, a second-hand book-stall, a shop owned by a Frenchman who makes and sells artificial eyes, Madame Filomel, a fortune-teller, and the shop of Herr Hippe, the Wondersmith.

In section 2, “A Bottleful of Souls,” Hippe is described as tall and thin, with a “long, thin moustache, that curled like a dark asp around his mouth, the expression of which was so bitter and cruel that it seemed to distill the venom of the ideal serpent.” At a knock on the door, Hippe raises his head, “which vibrated on his long neck like the head of a cobra when about to strike.” Filomel, a fortune-teller and midwife, enters with a bottle of fiendish souls. The evil plot of the pair is revealed: The souls will animate the evil-looking wooden soldiers and maidens carved by Hippe, the dolls’ swords and daggers will be dipped in poison, and these fatal toys will then be given to little Christian children. Another knock is heard at the door, and Kerplonne and Oaksmith, “true gypsies,” enter. The conspirators are all gathered. They animate the manikins, dropping a gold piece among them to provoke a vicious battle. The souls are then gathered back into Filomel’s bottle, the manikins are replaced in their box, and the “four gypsies” depart to turn the dolls loose in the bird-shop.

Part 3, “Solon,” introduces the second plot, the love story between Solon, the hunchbacked vendor of secondhand books, and Zonela, the child of a nobleman who was stolen by Hippe. Zonela is...

(The entire section is 760 words.)