This story about a woman who finds, after waiting for her betrothed for fourteen years, that she no longer wants to get married, is set in a small village in nineteenth-century New England. Critics have often remarked that the setting is particular but also oddly universal as are the themes Freeman chooses to treat. This village is populated with people we might meet nearly anywhere in rural America.
Point of View
“A New England Nun” is told in the third person, omniscient narration. That is, the narrator is not one of the characters of the story yet appears to know everything or nearly everything about the characters, including, at times, their thoughts. For example, the narrator tells us that, after leaving Louisa’s house, Joe Dagget “felt much as an innocent and perfectly well-intentioned bear might after his exit from a china . . . Read More
Choices and Consequences
One important theme in Mary Wilkins Freeman’s “A New England Nun” is that of the consequences of choice. Louisa is faced with a choice between a solitary and somewhat sterile life of her own making and the life of a married woman. She has waited fourteen years for Joe Dagget to return from Australia. During this time she has, without realizing it, “turned into a path, smooth maybe under a calm, serene sky, but so straight and unswerving that it could only meet a check at her grave, and so narrow that there was no room for any one at her side.” If she marries Joe, she will sacrifice a great deal of her personal freedom, her quiet way of life, and many of her favorite pastimes. On the other hand, if she chooses to remain single, she faces the disapproval of the community for rebelling against custom (women were expected to marry if they could); the villagers already disapprove of her use of . . . Read More
Caesar is the old yellow dog Louisa Ellis keeps chained securely to his hut in her yard. “Fat and sleepy” with “yellow rings which looked like spectacles around his dim old eyes,” Caesar “seldom lifts] up his voice in a growl or bark.” The pet of Louisa’s cherished dead brother, Caesar bit someone when he was a puppy and has been restrained ever since. Although he has become, over the years, just as placid as Louisa herself, his reputation as a ferocious, bloodthirsty animal has taken on a life of its own. He has become something of a village legend and everyone except Joe Dagget, Louisa’s fiance, firmly believes in his ferocity.
Joe Dagget, Louisa Ellis’s fiance for the past fifteen years, has spent fourteen of those years in Australia, where he went to make his fortune. He has returned and he and Louisa are planning to marry. . . . Read More
“A New England Nun” opens with Louisa Ellis sewing peacefully in her sitting room. It is late afternoon and the light is waning. We see Louisa going about her daily activities calmly and meticulously; she gathers currants for her tea, prepares a meal, feeds her dog, tidies up her house carefully, and waits for Joe Dagget to visit. Joe and Louisa have been engaged for fifteen years, during fourteen of which Joe has been away seeking his fortune in Australia. Louisa has been waiting patiently for his return, never complaining but growing more and more set in her rather narrow, solitary ways as the years have passed.
During his visit, both he and Louisa are described as ill-at-ease. Joe sits “bolt-upright,” fidgets with some books that are on the table, and knocks over Louisa’s sewing basket when he gets up to leave. He colors when Louisa mentions Lily Dyer, a woman who is helping out Joe’s mother. Louisa becomes uneasy when Joe handles . . . Read More
If you have come away from “Mrs. Bathurst” more than a little confused and frustrated by its complexity, then rest assured that you are neither the first nor the last to do so. Since its growing popularity as one of Kipling’s most complex stories, “Mrs. Bathurst” has received a barrage of critical response, most of which takes for granted that the story is at once “obscure and puzzling,” filled with “misinformation,” “uncrackable,” and, as though Kipling were pleased by his audience’s frustrations, “teasingly ambiguous.”
In fact, even those most familiar with Kipling’s art have chosen to summarize “Mrs. Bathurst” before venturing to interpret its meaning, as though describing “what happens” is, in itself, an interpretive feat. Those who have refused to search out some meaning in the story have done so on the grounds that it is cryptic to the point of . . . Read More
Science and Technology
The end of the nineteenth century brought many developments in science and technology that had a direct impact on the everyday lives of millions of people in Europe and America. The telegraph, photograph, and cinema were all products of the time. These inventions and others changed in fundamental ways how people communicated with each another, especially in urban centers. The rise of photography and cinema, in particular, produced new art forms that were capable of communicating the themes usually addressed by literature in less time and to a wider audience than ever before.
Novelists and painters reacted in varying ways to the development of these new media. Kipling’s “Mrs. Bathurst” includes a scene in which the image of Mrs. Bathurst is projected onto a movie screen in Cape Town. The effect of this image on Mr. Vickery is one of the central episodes of the story, since it leads him to . . . Read More
“Mrs. Bathurst” is set in an isolated railway car on a beach in Glengariff Bay, South Africa, where the narrator has gone after missing his ship. It is somewhat surprising, then, that Mr. Pyecroft and Sergeant Pritchard stumble onto the brake-car by accident and proceed to tell the story of Mrs. Bathurst and Mr. Vickery to the narrator and Mr. Hooper. It is relevant that the story takes place near the ocean, since it revolves around sailing and sailors. Moreover, the story takes place immediately after the Boer War (1899-1902) and the circumstances of this war provide a constant subtext to the story (such as when Vickery goes to collect ammunition for the Navy). The Boer War was a conflict between the Dutch colonists in South Africa and the countries of the British Commonwealth, including England and Australia.
The story of “Mrs. Bathurst” is told by a . . . Read More
Art and Experience
“Mrs. Bathurst” explores, among other things, the relationship between experience and its artistic representation through language. The central story of the tale is told second-hand, by Mr. Pyecroft, with help from Sergeant Pritchard. Readers must evaluate the relative positions of all of the narrators in the story in order to understand that each of their perspectives on the story is only one of many. Mr. Pyecroft addresses this issue when he says, ”I used to think seein’ and hearin’ was the only regulation aids to ascertainin’ facts, but as we get older, we get more accomodatin.'” In other words, he realizes that his narrative, like many, relies on lived experience reconstructed through language, and that there is always room for discrepancy between what actually happened and how events are later remembered.
Moreover, since details of the central plot in “Mrs. . . . Read More
Mrs. Bathurst is one of the central characters in the story. She is the subject of a story told by Mr. Pyecroft and Sergeant Pritchard to Mr. Hooper and the narrator. Her name does not appear until almost midway through the story. She is the manager of a hotel and restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand, where she earned a reputation for beneficence toward sailors like Pritchard and Pyecroft. She is the main subject of fascination, however, for Mr. Vickery (“Click”), who (again, as told through the story of Pritchard and Pyecroft) has an affair with her and deserts his ship when he sees her a fleeting image of her in a movie.
See Mr. Vickery
Mr. Hooper is an inspector for the South African railway who meets the narrator in Simon’s. Mr. Hooper fingers an unknown object in his pocket throughout the story; some readers have . . . Read More
“Mrs. Bathurst” takes place in Glengariff, South Africa, in the years following the Boer War (1899- 1902). The main story is told through a conversation between three men and the narrator; the four men discuss the tragic tale of Mrs. Bathurst, a hotel owner in New Zealand, and her lover, Mr. Vickery (also known as “Click”). The preface to the story is an excerpt from a mock-Jacobean tragedy written by Kipling entitled Lyden ‘s ”Irenius” that narrates a dialogue between a prince and one of his subjects. The themes of the epigraph—disinterested fate and accidental providence—carry over into the story.
The story begins with the narrator running into his friend Mr. Hooper, who is an inspector for the Cape Government Railways. The two men hitch a ride down the tracks on a chalk-car that is being repaired. Mr. Hooper starts to take something out of his pocket to show the narrator, but is interrupted by the shouts of Mr. Pyecroft, . . . Read More