Some thoughts on
The Dressmaker’s Child
What happens? Cahul drives a Spanish couple to see the statue once thought to shed tears, and have the power to pardon penitents. The couple have heart about it and Cahul does not tell them that the alleged powers have long since been discredited, because he wants to make money by charging them for the trip. He deceives them and his father, and takes a longer way round. He’s attracted by the woman and wishes he had her instead of his girlfriend. After having to change a tyre, he drives the couple back when they’ve spent enough time at the statue. While they’re kissing in the back of the car he goes past the Dressmaker’s house, and her daughter runs out at the car and there’s a bump. He doesn’t stop but sees her nightdress on the road in his rearview mirror. He is anxious about repercussions, having been seen, and so on, although the girl has a reputation for running at cars and surviving. However there’s no news for several days, when he hears that she’s been found in a quarry some distance from where he hit her, and he seems not to be in the frame. The mother, a single mother, drinker and prostitute, is accused. She stares at him in a café, and then later, when he’s walking to where he meets his girlfriend Minnie very late at night, he is accosted by the mother who wants him to go home with her. She lets him know she knows what happened, although it was she who moved the body and so deceived the police. He resists her pleas to go home with him. She tells him Minnie is not good for him, and indeed she marries someone else about a year later. This is partly, we assume, because the incident has affected Cahul and made him more withdrawn. He sees that the mother of the dead girl has changed. She doesn’t drink or whore now, and is doing up her cottage with many beautiful flowers. And Cahul too finds himself going to confession, and even goes up to the statue and tastes the ‘tears’. Something has changed in both of them and eventually, Cahul, knows he will go to her.
But how does all this gell? Perhaps we need to look also at the imagery. The statue is debunked as superstition, and placed against the very realistic world of the motor mechanic’s spanners and oil. The stories about the statue are matched by stories about the Dressmaker. Cahul becomes confused about what really happened that night? About his feelings for the Dressmaker in spite of his rational self. He ‘knows’ that the statue doesn’t really shed tears, but he tastes them even so. The girl who runs at cars is a spirit-like figure, but her bodied by the barbed wire physical enough. There’s uncertainty about what the Spanish couple mean when they speak, why they want to go to the statue (Do they have something to repent?). The feelings that overtake Cahul, fear but not only fear, are not quite rational. Is Trevor, then, saying something about the meaning of superstition? The emotional need people may feel to get the Madonna’s blessing is something spiritual and not actually connected to the facts about her status. Cahul’s calculation, his deception, his boorish way of comparing Minnie to the Spanish woman, to the singer Madonna, on the basis of he physical only - these are in some way challenged and undermined by his experience with the child. Even though, as he says, it’s not his fault she ran out at the car, he feels guilty, and his guilt seems to go on after there’s a danger of him being arrested for not stopping. And gradually he’s drawn to the Dressmaker, who is now filling her garden with flowers just for him. It’s as if the child has been sacrificed to release both he and the Dressmaker from the styles of life they are living. She too, being mental ill and rushing out at cars, exemplifies the irrational as does the faith people have in the irrational statue of the Virgin. The complete lack of sympathy, or expression of grief by her mother, for the child makes her seem more like a spirit, even an angel, perhaps an angel of death?, or else a lost spirit continually trying to get herself killed to return ‘home’ to where she came from.
This, then, seems very much a religious story, about denial of the miraculous, and about marriage and guilt, perhaps the kind of guilt which Christians feel we are born with, a guilt associated with forbidden knowledge and carnal love.
I’m not at all sure of any of this!!