The Blind Twin Sister
The blind twin sister appears with her sighted twin sister at the restaurant where Laura and John are having lunch in Torcello, Italy, near Venice. She is from Edinburgh, has a shock of white hair, and often stares toward John as though she sees him. John guesses that she is in her mid-sixties. She is the psychic one, according to her sister, and has studied the occult for many years. During lunch in Torcello, she “sees” Christine sitting between Laura and John, describing her right down to one of her favorite dresses, and adds that Christine is doing well and is happy. The blind sister tells John that he, too, has a psychic gift and can see into the future. The sighted sister often speaks for the blind sister and helps her walk.
Christine is John and Laura’s daughter, who has died from meningitis at age five. She is described as a “waxen, dark-haired sprite.” According to the blind sister, Christine is always with her parents and is usually happy. But later in the story, Christine, according to the blind sister, is worried about her father and the danger that awaits him if he stays in Venice.
When John first sees the dwarf, he mistakes her for a young, frightened child running through the streets wearing a hooded jacket. John’s second sighting of the dwarf is at the end of the story. He follows the dwarf into a room and, thinking that he has rescued the frightened child of the day before, he bolts the door. With a closer look, John realizes that the child is actually a small woman, barely three feet tall, with gray hair. She laughs and suddenly throws a knife at him, which hits him in the throat and kills him.
John is married to Laura. While he is not a heartless man, he has trouble sympathizing with the depth of Laura’s grief over the death of their child. He has brought Laura to Venice because this is where they spent their honeymoon, and he hopes the trip will lighten her mood. Laura’s eagerness to believe the twin sisters’ stories about Christine makes John uncomfortable at first and then angry later when the twins show up again at dinner.
When their son Johnnie becomes ill, John is not as anxious, or as eager to return to England, as is Laura. He believes that the headmaster and his wife will take care of his son just as well as he and his wife would. His major concern is that Laura and he have some time to relax and be together as a couple.
John tries to protect his wife as if she were a fragile creature. When John hears a cry on the street and first sees a hooded character that he assumes to be a child in distress, he is glad that Laura is not around. He is worried that such a sight would ‘ ‘have a disastrous effect on her overwrought nerves.” His response to Laura’s wanting to believe that the blind sister has seen Christine is conciliatory and almost paternalistic.’ ‘He had to play along with her, agree, soothe, do anything to bring back some sense of calm,” he believes.
Johnnie is Laura and John’s school-aged son, who develops appendicitis while the couple is vacationing in Venice. He is described by John as “a tough one… someone in his own right,” separated from Christine by a number of years.
Laura is John’s wife and is most likely in her twenties or thirties, as their physician notes that she and John are “both young still” and that she can bear another child. She is on vacation in Venice with John to get over the death of her youngest child, Christine, from meningitis. Laura and John also have a son, Johnnie, who is in school in England. She and John seem to be comfortably middle-class because they have traveled overseas a number of times, own a car, and can afford to send their son to a boarding school.
Laura desperately wants to believe the blind twin’s story that she has had a vision of Christine, laughing, sitting between Laura and John at lunch. Her grief and guilt over Christine’s death are somewhat mitigated by the thought that her child is happy and doing well, even though she is not living on Earth. Her grief at losing Christine exacerbates her response to the news that Johnnie may have appendicitis. She tells her husband that she has lost one child and does not want to lose another and wants to return to England immediately.
Laura seems to be at her best when she is in control of what is happening. Her mood improves when she has something to do that is constructive, such as when she must arrange to return to England to take care of Johnnie or when she follows a guidebook to learn about the art in a cathedral.
The Sighted Twin Sister
The story begins with John noticing twins having lunch at a nearby table. The sighted twin is a physician from Edinburgh, tall and dressed in a slightly masculine fashion, and is responsible for her blind sister. According to John, she looks exactly like her blind sister except that her hair is less white. She is forgiving, and although she is upset that John has accused her and her sister of some wrongdoing in the case of Laura’s disappearance, she accepts John’s apology and has no intention of filing a complaint against him. In a vision of the future, John sees the sighted twin and her sister with his wife on the boat going back into Venice.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Daphne du Maurier – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.