Wednesday, 23 October 2013

on Death of a Professor

What is the story about?
Who got the obituaries into the papers?
The disappointment of Kellfittard?
The loyalty of Vanessa?
The hurt, shock and enlightenment of Ormston?

Why does Ormston go to the pub?
To hide?
To get over the shock?
To think through possible motives for the hoax?
To think through his 'life'?

Why the university setting?
Have a go at academics?
Ask what counts as 'education', 'wisdom'?
Suitable context for rags and pranks?
A way of bringing together competitive men at a function?

Why the age difference?
Air the question of love and it's basis?
Show people who don't quite fit in?
Contrast love and intellect?
Raise the question of jealousy?

Trevor once said that there are just two kinds of people, those who have imagination and those who do not?

Saturday, 19 October 2013





"I did some research this afternoon .
The Mourning Looks to have been first published in the New Yorker in September 1997.
Michael Collins, the film,  was released in 1996 , a year that saw 2 major IRA atrocities on the UK Mainland – explosions in the London Docklands and the Manchester shopping centre.So it seems not unreasonable to give a time setting of the story around this time.
A ceasefire took place and largely held from 1997 on."

I  also checked the reference to 1921 on page 199, and found this
A movement for Irish home rule gained momentum in the late 19th century, and in 1916 Irish nationalists launched the Easter Rising against British rule in Dublin. The rebellion was crushed, but widespread agitation for independence continued. In 1919, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) launched a widespread and effective guerrilla campaign against British forces. In 1921, a cease-fire was declared, and in January 1922 a faction of Irish nationalists signed a peace treaty with Britain, calling for the partition of Ireland, with the south becoming autonomous and the six northern counties of the island remaining in the United Kingdom.

Michael Collins was involved in the Easter Rising of 1916, along with several of the other men mentioned in the story, and later involved the foundation of the IRA.  Also the founding of the Irish Free State.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Reading some William Trevor Short Stories

Session One:   On ‘A Friendship’

Kids’ tricks
We begin with the boys playing a trick on their father, which they must know is cruel.  If they really think it’s a ‘joke’, then they lack sensitivity, surely, even love.  

His response is not to look at what could be wrong with his relationship to them, nor to reprimand them directly.  He focuses on their mother’s alleged negligence.  Is that easier  for him?    The marriage is threatened (first time), by their both avoiding their own parenting issues.

Their ‘trick’ on their mother about the death of Miss Martindale’s mother is also insensitive, and seems designed for them to be able to laugh at her for being so gullible.   It’s Margy who sees the lying, and then Francesca tries to pass the problem on to  Philip as a matter of punishment and discipline, which he doesn’t deal with properly.  

Friendship and Marriage
Margy is more perceptive, but also more manipulative, than Francesca.   She’s never had a stable ‘weary’ relationship, and there’s a suggestion that she dislikes Philip out of jealousy.  Francesca seems to be the one stable thing in her life.   Their friendship is longer, and deeper, than Francesca’s marriage.

Philip is ‘stable’ because he is tradition and profession and class and gender bound.  He has no vitality.  He controls, and perhaps stifles Francesca who doesn’t seem to mind that, and is willing to be dominated.   In his stability he is the opposite of Margy, but he is like her in dominating Francesca, though she does this more subtly than he does.

Philip is able to hold in  his feelings in the manner of the British gentleman.  This makes him seem cold, boring, and limits his ability to show affection to Francesca, and perhaps more destructively, to the boys.   He is, it seems, genuinely hurt by Francesca’s unfaithfulness.   But it doesn’t threaten the marriage.

His dislike of Margy is very much unspoken, though she knows it’s there, and perhaps they are jealous of each other in relation to Francesca.   She is innocent in that she takes people at their word, things as they seem, and so is led into an affair with Sebastian, though how this exactly happens is left unexplored.  As also the temporary ‘depth’ of her feelings.  You may think that such a wife would be unlikely to do such a thing.  Or perhaps she’s na├»ve enough to be drawn to it by Margy and then weak enough for Sebastian to take advantage of her, as everybody else in the story does.

Why does Philip demand his ‘pound of flesh’ at the end?   He can at last get rid of Margy.   Her friendship with Margy is surely deeper than her love for Philip, though she seems to understand neither.   The friendship leaves both women in a dungeon of loneliness.

Trevor always treats the crises in the story  in a retrospective way, not directly described, by as reported by a character.  This is true of Philip’s discovering the cemented golf bag,  Francesca and Philip’s row,   Sebastian’s seduction of Francesca and their affair,   Philip’s discovery of her infidelity,  Philip’s demand that Francesca drop Margy.   There is only one ‘face to face’ climax, which is  where the friends part.  

Point of View
The treatment of the crises in retrospect allows Trevor to give one or other character’s point of view of it.  But throughout the story he shows this or that moment from a particular character’s point of view.   Sometimes he does this conventionally.

He hated her, Francesca thought

Sometimes it’s almost imperceptibly done through free indirect discourse.  When Trevor describes ‘the stuff he dabbed on his underarms’ (my italics) this is the viewpoint of Margy, a symptom of her lessening affection for him.  And there’s also irony.  In the same passage, we get

‘Handsome,’ Margy remarked, referring to the commode.  

Wider Themes
·         People don’t know much about each other or themselves?
·         Nothing happens until the end of the story.  Other happenings are mainly ‘offstage’?
·         Do we ‘like’ any of the characters?  Do we just lament human beings’ behaviour?
·         Loneliness and our fear of it and attempts to evade it?
·         Kinds of deception?
·         Lack of love anywhere in the story?