Given the status her family once held in the town of Moher, Miss Banderry is most likely Anglo-Irish, a group in Ireland that made up the governing class. Her family was in the milling business and owned a profitable farm nearby. After her brother lost control of the family mills, she gained ownership of all the homes in the terrace, some property in another part of town, as well as a profitable farm. Although she is probably one of the wealthiest inhabitants of Moher, her house has a “faded air of importance.” Presumably, she has lost the power her family once had when Barbie describes the oil portraits that hang from the walls of her home, depicting the “vanished Banderrys.” Her controlling, selfish nature becomes evident in her treatment of her “hopeless” brother, who sold the family business. After she demanded her share of the profits, he was unable to meet his debts and hanged himself. Later in the story, she callously compares him to Barbie’s uncle, insisting that the two were quite “busy” men, ignoring the fact that she drove her brother to suicide.
Aware of her advancing years, she tries desperately to convince others that she is still desirable, as when she greets Barbie with a “racy, indulgent smile, to counteract the impression she knew she gave.” She continues to insinuate that she and Barbie’s uncle have an intimate relationship by insisting when she sees his thumbprints on her magazine, “I’d know those anywhere!” Later, she suggests, with distinctly sexual undertones as she “rub[s] her palms on her thighs,” that Barbie’s uncle often asks her for favors, referring to him as “my lord” and insisting that he must come to her himself.
She also cruelly taunts Barbie, whom she realizes is in love with her uncle. At times she plays along with the game as Barbie pretends to offer her tokens of her uncle’s affection. Just as quickly, though, she tries to undermine Barbie and her uncle’s relationship by insinuating that Barbie is too young and inexperienced to maintain his attention.
Fifteen-year-old Barbie has an innocent view of love before she goes to visit Miss Banderry. When she meets her, she is “unread,” her “susceptibilities were virgin.” She admits that she is in love with her uncle, and so will do what she can to “stand between him and trouble.” Whenever Miss Banderry tries to attack his character, she defends him, even if it means she must lie to her. Barbie describes her feelings for her uncle as a slow process of transition, like beech trees turning from pink to purple. She is the one who sits in his chair and watches “the lassitude of his hand hanging caressing a dog’s ear.” Miss Banderry’s insinuations about her own relationship with the uncle as well as Barbie’s, however, soon fill Barbie with dread and make her reevaluate her views on male/female interaction. Miss Banderry makes her feel defensive about her relationship with her uncle, so much so that she twice swears that she felt no guilt about their feelings for each other. Later, though she admits that they “played house together on the margin of a passion which was impossible” and that “convention was [their] safeguard,” suggesting a certain danger.
She continues to feel a sense of danger and dread when she leaves Miss Banderry’s, feelings that are reinforced by the appearance of her uncle at the hotel. Barbie longs to return to the innocence she felt before that afternoon but recognizes that she cannot get “out of reach” of the risks of sexuality. When her uncle touches her elbow as she gets into the car, she crosses over into the darker world of experience.
The widowed Nan is Miss Banderry’s niece, who greets Barbie at the door of her aunt’s house and shows her out at the end of the visit. She reinforces the dark, cynical view of sexuality that her aunt relates to Barbie. Nan, “ready to be handsome, wore a cheated ravenous look.” While Nan waits for her inheritance from her aunt, the older woman has reduced her into servitude. Nan scoffs at the “overblown” roses that Barbie brings and doubts that they came from her uncle. Apparently Nan makes it her business to know everyone else’s. She tells Barbie that her uncle is at the hotel, thinking that he is waiting to drive home his niece, glancing “conspiratorially” at the girl. Nan claims that Barbie is “mad” for not wanting to ride home with her uncle.
Most of the information readers gain about Barbie’s uncle comes from her discussions with Nan and Miss Banderry. He does not actually appear until the end of the story. He obviously relies on Barbie, as she appears used to standing “between him and trouble.” The “winning, versatile and when necessary inventive talker” appears to be a charmer, who likes having relationships with women but hates “to tax his brain.” Barbie had felt comfortable in her relationship with him until her visit with Miss Banderry. She recognizes that he was fond of her companionship. After Miss Banderry’s cynical insinuations about her uncle, Barbie feels a sense of danger about her relationship with him that she had not previously felt. This danger is reinforced when she meets him after her afternoon with Miss Banderry. Her uncle has been at the hotel, and Nan suggests “conspiratorially” that he may have been waiting there for Barbie. His surprise when he sees her, however, indicates that he was at the hotel for another reason, perhaps a secret assignation since he never explains to Barbie what he is doing there. He appears almost sinister at the end of the story as he touches her elbow as she gets in the car.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Elizabeth Bowen, Published by Gale Group, 2010