Frank O'Connor (Irish short story writer): LSI
- from Literary Experiences (Volume Two); p. 145 [“Darcy in the Land of Youth” by Frank O’Connor (One)]: During the War when he was out of a job Mick Darcy went to England as clerk in a factory. He found the English as he had always supposed them to be: people with a great welcome for themselves and very little for anyone else.
Besides, there were the air-raids, which the English pretended not to notice. In the middle of the night Mick would be wakened by the wail of a siren and the thump of faraway guns, like all the windowpanes of heaven rattling. The thud of artillery, growing louder, accompanied by a faint buzz like a cat’s purring that seemed to rise out of a corner of the room and mount the wall to the ceiling, where it hung, breathing in steady spurts, exactly like a cat. Pretending not to notice things like that struck Mick as a bit ostentatious: he would rise and dress himself and sit lonesome by the gasfire, wondering what on earth had induced him to leave home.
- pp. 146-147: Next day the boss sent for him, but it was only to ask his advice about something, and Mick gave it in his forthright way. If Mick had a weakness, it was that he liked to hear himself talk.
But he still continued to get shocks. One evening he had supper in the flat that Janet shared with a girl called Fanny, who was an analyst in one of the factories. Fanny was a good-looking dark haired girl with a tendency to moodiness. She asked how Mick was getting on with Mrs Penrose.
“Oh,” said Mick, “she still calls me ‘Mr Darcy’.”
“I suppose that’s only because she expects to be calling you something else before long,” said Fanny gloomily.
“Oh, no, Fanny,” said Janet. “You wouldn’t know Penrose now. She’s a changed woman. With her husband in Egypt, Peter posted to Yorkshire, and no one to play with but George, she’s begun to talk about the simple pleasures of life. Penrose and primroses, you know.”
“Penrose?” Mick exclaimed incredulously. “I never thought she was that sort. Are you sure, Janet? I’d have thought she was an iceberg.”
“An iceberg!” Janet said gleefully, rubbing her hands. “Oh, boy! A blooming fireship!”
Going home that night through the pitch-dark streets, Mick really felt at home for the first time. He had made friends with two of the nicest girls you could wish for—fine, broad-minded girls you could speak to as you’d speak to a man. He had to step into the roadway to make room for two other girls, flicking their torches on and off before them—school-girls, to judge by their voices. “Of course, he’s married,” one of them said as they passed, and then went off into a rippling scale of laughter that sounded almost unearthly in the silence and darkness.
A bit too broad-minded at times, perhaps, thought Mick, coming to himself. For a while he did not feel quite so much at home.
- pp. 148-150 (Two): “Pity about Fanny,” she said when they were drinking beer in the inn yard later. “We could be very comfortable in the flat only for her. Haven’t you a friend who’d take her off our hands?”
“Only in Ireland.”
“Tell him I’ll get him a job here. Say you’ve a nice girl for him as well. She really is nice, Mick.”
“Oh, I know,” said Mick. “But hasn’t she a fellow already?”
“Getting a fellow for Fanny is the great problem of my life,” Janet said ruefully.
“I wonder if she’d have him,” said Mick, thinking how nice it would be to have a friend as well as a girl. Janet was as good as gold, but there were times when Mick pined for masculine companionship.
“If he’s anything like you, she’d jump at him,” said Janet.
“Oh, there’s no resemblance,” said Mick who had never before been flattered like this and loved it. “Chris is a holy terror.”
“A holy terror is what Fanny needs,” Janet said grimly.
It was only as time went by that he realized she was not exaggerating. Fanny was jealous; there was no doubt of that. She didn’t intend to be rude, but she watched his plate as Janet filled it, and he saw that she grudged him even the food he ate. There wasn’t much, God knows, and what there was, Janet gave him the best of, but all the same it was embarrassing. Janet did her best by making her feel welcome to join them, but Fanny only grew moodier.
“Oh, come on, Fanny!” Janet said one evening. “I only want to show Mick the Plough in Alton.”
“Well, who’d know it better?” Fanny asked darkly, and Janet’s temper blazed up.
“There’s no need to be difficult,” she said.
“Well, it’s not my fault if I’m inhibited, is it?” asked Fanny with a cowed air. Mick saw with surprise that she was terrified of Janet in a tantrum.
“I didn’t say you were inhibited,” Janet replied in a stinging voice. “I said you were difficult.”
“Same thing from your point of view, isn’t it?” Fanny asked. “Oh, I suppose I was born that way. You’d better let me alone.”
All the way out Janet was silent, and Mick saw she was still mad, though he couldn’t guess why. He didn’t know what Fanny meant when she said she was inhibited, or why she seemed to speak about it as if it were an infectious disease. He only knew that Janet had to be smoothed down.
“We’ll have to get Chris for Fanny all right,” he said. “An exceptional girl like that, you’d think she’d have fellows falling over her.”
“I don’t think Fanny will ever get a man,” Janet said in a shrill, scolding voice. “I’ve thrown dozens of them at her head, but she won’t even make an effort to be polite. I believe she’s one of those women who go through life without even knowing what it’s about. She’s just a raging mass of inhibitions.”
There it was again! Prohibitions, exhibitions, inhibitions! Mick wished to God Janet would use simple words. He knew what exhibitions were from one old man in the factory who had gone to gaol because of them, but if inhibitions meant the opposite, what was there to grouse about?
“Couldn’t we do something about them?” he asked helpfully.
“Yes, darling,” she replied mockingly. “Take her away to hell and give her a good roll in the hay. Then bring her back to me, human.”
Mick was so shocked he did not reply. By this time he was used to English dirty jokes, but he knew this wasn’t just one of them. No doubt Janet was joking about the roll in the hay—though he wasn’t too sure she was joking about that either—but she wasn’t joking about Fanny. She really meant that all that was wrong with Fanny was that she was still a virgin, and that this was a complaint she did not suffer from herself.
The smugness of it horrified him as much as the savagery. Put in a certain way, it might be understandable and even forgivable. Girls of Janet’s kind were known at home as “damaged goods” but Mick had never permitted the expression to pass. He had a strong sense of justice and always took the side of the underdog. Some girls hadn’t the same strength of character as others, he supposed; some were subjected to great temptations. He had never met any, to his knowledge, but he was quite sure that if he had he would have risen to the occasion. But a girl of that kind standing up and denouncing another girl’s strength as weakness was too much for him altogether. It was like being asked to stand on his head.
Having got rid of her tantrum, Janet cheered up. “This is wonderful,” she sighed with a tranquil pleasure as they floated downhill to Alton and the Plough—a pleasant little inn, standing by the bridge. Mick didn’t feel it was so very wonderful. He had begun to wonder what Fanny had meant by asking who would know it better than Janet, and why Janet had lost her temper so badly. It sounded to him as though there had been some dirty work in connexion with it.
- pp. 151-154: Mick was struck by the similarity of Janet’s views with those of the people in the pub, and he felt you really couldn’t expect much from any of them.
“Isn’t it lovely here?” she said when he brought out the drinks.
“Very nice,” Mick said without much enthusiasm. You couldn’t feel very enthusiastic about a place while you were wondering who else had been there with your girl.
“We must come and spend a few days here some time,” she said, and it made him more depressed than ever. “You don’t think I’m too bitchy about Fanny, do you, Mick?”
“It’s not that,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about Fanny in particular. Just about the way everybody in the factory seems to behave—fellows and girls going off together, as if they were going to a dance.”
“Having seen the factory, can you wonder?” she asked, and took a long drink of her beer.
“And when they get tired of one another they go off with someone else,” he said dryly. “Or back to the number they started with. Like Hilda in the packing shed. She’s tired of knocking round with Dorman, and when her husband comes back she’s going to drop him. At least, she says she will.”
“Isn’t that how these things usually end?” she asked.
“Oh, come on, Janet!” he said scornfully. “You’re not going to pretend there’s nothing else to it.”
“I suppose like everything else, it’s just what you choose to make it,” she said with a shrug.
“That isn’t making much of it,” he said, beginning to grow heated. “If it’s only a roll in the hay, as you call it, there’s nothing in it for anybody.”
“And what do you think it should be?” she asked with a frosty politeness that seemed to be the equivalent of his heat. He realized that he wasn’t really keeping to the level of a general discussion. He could distinctly hear how common his accent had become, but excitement and a feeling of injury carried him away. He sat back stubbornly with his hands in his trouser pockets.
“But look here, Janet, learning to live with somebody isn’t a thing you can pick up in a weekend. It’s not a part-time job. You wouldn’t take up a job somewhere in the middle, expecting to like it, and intending to drop it in a few months’ time if you didn’t.”
“Oh, Mick, don’t tell me you have inhibitions too!” she said in mock distress.
“I don’t know what they are and I don’t care,” retorted Mick, growing commoner as he descended further from the heights of abstract discussion. “And most of the people who use words like that have no idea of their meaning either.”
“Scruples, shall we say, so?” she asked, yielding the point.
“Well, we can agree on what they are,” he said.
“But after all, Mick, you’ve had affairs yourself, haven’t you?” she added.
Now, this was a question Mick dreaded to answer, because, owing to a lack of suitable opportunities for which he was in no way to blame, he had not. For the matter of that, so far as he knew, none of his friends had either. But coming from a country where men’s superiority—affairs or no affairs—was unchallenged, he did not like to admit that, so far as experience went, Fanny and he were in the one boat. He was even beginning to understand why poor Fanny felt such a freak.
“I’m not pretending I haven’t,” he said casuistically.
“But then there’s no argument, Mick,” she said with all the enthusiasm of a liberal mind discovering common ground with an opponent.
“No argument, maybe, but there are distinctions,” he said knowingly.
“Oh, between playing the fool and being in love,” he replied as though he could barely bother to explain such matters to one as inexperienced as herself.
“The combination isn’t altogether unknown either, is it?”
“The distinction seems to be, quite a bit,” he replied. “To me, Penrose is one thing and you’re another. Maybe I wouldn’t mind having an affair with Penrose. God knows it’s about all she’s good for.”
“But you would with me?” she said, growing red.
“I would,” Mick said, realizing that the cat was out of the bag at last. “I suppose it’s a matter of responsibilities. If I make a friend, I don’t begin by thinking what use I can make of him. If I fall in love with a girl I’m not going to begin calculating how cheap I can get her. I don’t want anything cheap,” he added earnestly. “I’m not going to rush into anything till I know the girl well enough to try and make a decent job of it. Is that plain?”
“Remarkably plain,” she said icily. “You mean you’re not that sort of man. Let me buy you a drink.”
“Then I think we’d better be getting back,” she said, rising and looking like the wrath of God.
Mick, crushed and humiliated, following her at a slouch, his hands still in his pockets. It wasn’t good enough. At home a girl would have gone on with an argument like that till one of them fell unconscious, and in an argument Mick had real staying power, so he felt that she was taking an unfair advantage. Of course, he saw that she had some reason. However you looked at it, she had more or less told him she expected him to be her lover, and he had more or less told her that he was not that sort of man, and he had a suspicion that this was an entirely new experience for Janet. She might well feel mortified.
But the worst of it was that thinking it over, he realized that even then, he had not been quite honest. In fact, he had not been honest at all. He had not told her that he already had a girl at home. He believed all he had said, but he didn’t believe it quite so strongly as all that—not so as to make exceptions. Given time, he might easily have made an exception of Janet. She was the sort of girl most men made an exception of. It was the shock that had made him express himself so bluntly; the shock of realizing that a girl he cared for had been the mistress of other men. He had reacted that way more in protest against them than against her.
But the real shock had been the discovery that he cared so much what she was.
- pp. 154-155 (Three): They never resumed the discussion openly, on those terms at least, and it seemed at times as though Janet had forgiven him, but only just. The argument was always there beneath the surface, ready to break out again if either lost his temper. It flared up for a moment whenever she mentioned Fanny—“I suppose one day she’ll meet an Irishman, and they’ll spend the rest of their lives discussing their inhibitions.” And when she mentioned other men she had known, like Bill, with whom she had spent a holiday in Dorset, and an American called Tom, with whom she had gone to the Plough in Alton, she seemed to be contrasting a joyous past with a dreary present, and became cold and insolent.
Mick, of course, gave as good as he got. He had a dirty tongue when he chose to use it, and he had considerably more ammunition than she had. The canteen was always full of gossip about who was living with whom, and whose wife (or husband) had returned and found him (or her) in bed with somebody else, and he passed it on with an air of amused contempt. The first time she said “Good!” in a ringing voice: afterwards, she contented herself with a shrug. Mick suggested helpfully that perhaps it took all those religions to deal with as many scandals, and she retorted that, no doubt, one religion would be more than enough for Ireland.
- pp. 155-156: . . . no wife or sweetheart could have shown more devotion in the last week before his holiday, and when they went to the station together and walked arm-in-arm to the end of the long draughty platform, she was stiff with unspoken misery. She seemed to feel it was her duty to show no sign of emotion, either.
“You will come back, Mick, won’t you?” she asked.
“Why?” Mick replied banteringly. “Do you think you can keep off Americans for a fortnight?”
Janet spat out a horrible word that showed only too clearly her familiarity with Americans and others. It startled and shocked Mick. It seemed that the English had strong ideas about when you could joke and when you couldn’t, and this was apparently not a time for joking. To his surprise, he found her trembling all over.
At any other time he would have argued with her, but already he was, in spirit at least, halfway home. Beyond the end of the line was Cork, and meat and butter and nights of unbroken sleep. When he leaned out of the window to wave goodbye she was standing like a statue, looking curiously desolate.
- pp. 157-159: Next morning, in bed, Mick got a letter from Janet that must have been written while he was still on the train. She said that trying to face things without him was like trying to get used to an amputated limb: she kept on making movements before realizing that it wasn’t there. At that point, Mick dropped the letter with a sigh. He wished English people wouldn’t write like that. It sounded so unreal.
He wished he could remain at home, but didn’t see how he could do it, without a job. Instead, he started to coax Chris into coming back with him. He knew that his position in the factory would guarantee a job for anyone who did. Besides, he had grown tired of Ina’s brothers telling him how the Germans would win the war. He had never been very interested in the war or who won it, and was surprised to hear himself replying in Chris’s cynical drawl, “They will, and what else?” Ina’s brothers were equally surprised. They had not expected Mick to turn his coat so quickly.
“People here never seem to talk of anything only religion and politics,” he said one night to Chris as they were walking up the Western Road.
“And what better could they talk about?” asked Chris. “Damn glad you were to get back to them! You can get a night’s rest anyway.”
“There’s no one to stop you,” Mick said.
Chris stared at him, uncertain whether or not Mick meant what he seemed to mean. Like most other friends, they had developed throughout the years along a pattern of standard reaction in which Mick had played the innocent, Chris the worldly one. Now, Mick seemed to be developing out of his knowledge entirely.
“Go on!” he said with a cautious grin. “Are they as good-natured as that?”
“I didn’t want to say it,” said Mick modestly. “But I’ve the very girl for you.”
“You don’t say so!” Chris exclaimed, with a smile of a child who has ceased to believe in Santa Claus but likes to hear about it just the same.
“Grand-looking girl with a good job and a flat of her own,” said Mick. “What more do you want?”
Chris suddenly beamed.
“I wouldn’t let Ina hear me talking like that if I was you,” he said. “Some of them quiet-looking girls are a terrible hand with a hatchet.”
At that moment it struck Mick with cruel force how little Ina or anybody else had to reproach him with. They were passing by the college, and groups of clerks and servant girls were strolling by, whistling and calling. He was sure there wasn’t another man in Ireland who would have behaved as stupidly as he had done. He remembered Janet at the railway station with her desolate air, and her letter, which he had not answered, and which, perhaps, she had really meant. A bloody fool!
Suddenly everything seemed to turn upside down on him. He was back in the bar in Alton, listening to the little group discussing the dead customer while he waited to carry the drinks out to Janet on the rustic seat in the garden, feeling that she was unreal and faithless. Now, it wasn’t she who seemed unreal, but the Western Road and the clerks and servant girls who just didn’t know what they wanted. They were a dream from which he had wakened; a dream from which he had wakened before without even realizing that he was awake.
He was so shaken that he almost told Chris about Janet, but he knew that Chris wouldn’t understand him any more than he had understood himself. Chris would talk sagaciously of “damaged goods”, as if there were only one way a woman could be damaged.
“I have to go back to town, Chris,” he said, stopping. “I just remembered a telephone call I have to make.”
“Fair enough,” Chris said, with an understanding that surprised him. “I suppose you might as well tell her I’m coming too.”
- p. 161 (Four): “Good?” he asked Chris.
“The beer isn’t much, if that’s what you mean,” said Chris, who still specialized in not being impressed.
In the late evening they reached their destination, and dismounted in the cobbled yard of an inn where, according to Janet, Queen Elizabeth was supposed to have stayed. At either end of the dining room there was an oak dresser full of willow-ware, with silvery sauceboats on the shelves and brass pitchers on top.
“You’d want to mind your head in this hole,” Chris said resentfully.
“But this place is four hundred years old, man,” said Mick.
“You think in that time they’d make enough to rebuild it,” said Chris.
He was still acting in character, but Mick was just a little disappointed in him. Fanny had been thrown into such a panic that she was prepared to hit it off with anybody, but Chris seemed to have lost a lot of his dash. Mick was not quite sure yet that he would not take fright before Fanny, but he would certainly do so if he knew what a blessed innocent she was. Whenever Mick looked at her, her dark sullen face broke into a wistful smile that made him think of a Christian martyr’s first glimpse of the lion.
-p. 165: As a man of the world he was a complete wash-out. He would have liked to remain a man of the world at least for a few months until it came natural to him, and he could scoff at conventions and pretensions from some sort of background of experience.
But it wasn’t in his character, and you couldn’t escape your character wherever you were or whatever you did. Marriage, it seemed, came more natural to him.
I'd say the character of Janet might be Se-ESTp, and Fanny might be IEI.