One of my personal challenges for 2010 was to read more short stories. So far I haven’t been making much progress, but I made up for it this week by reading two very different short stories: The Brazilian Cat by Arthur Conan Doyle and The Drover’s Wife by Henry Lawson.
The Brazilian Cat by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I don’t use any real method in choosing which short stories to read. At the rate I’m reading them (only six so far in 2010!) there are enough available online to keep me busy for years, so I’ve just been selecting one or two pretty much randomly. As I’ve never read any of Conan Doyle’s works other than some of the Sherlock Holmes books, I decided to try one of his stories from Tales of Terror and Mystery (published 1922).
The Brazilian Cat, one of the “tales of terror”, is a quick, easy read. Marshall King, heir to Lord Southerton, has been invited to stay at the home of his cousin Everard, who has recently returned to England from Brazil. Everard has brought a menagerie of animals and birds back to England with him, including a peccary, an armadillo, an oriole…and a Brazilian cat.
“I am about to show you the jewel of my collection,” said he. “There is only one other specimen in Europe, now that the Rotterdam cub is dead. It is a Brazilian cat.”
“But how does that differ from any other cat?”
“You will soon see that,” said he, laughing. “Will you kindly draw that shutter and look through?”
What exactly is a Brazilian cat? Why does Everard’s wife seem so desperate for Marshall to leave Greylands Court? And why is Everard receiving so many mysterious telegrams? You’ll have to read the story to find out.
As a short horror story I wouldn’t say it was terrifying, but it was suspenseful with the tension building at a steady pace throughout the story. There’s nothing very deep or profound about The Brazilian Cat, nothing complex or thought-provoking, but it’s entertaining and worth reading if you have a few minutes to spare.
The Drover’s Wife by Henry Lawson
Henry Lawson has been described as one of Australia’s greatest writers but until now I had never read any of his work.
The Drover’s Wife (1892) is the story of an unnamed woman who lives in the Australian bush with her husband and four young children. Her husband is a drover and spends very little time at home; at the time of our story he has been away for six months. When the children spot a snake slithering into the house, their mother makes a bed for them on the kitchen table and sits up all night watching over them. During the long hours of darkness she reflects on her life “for there is little else to think about”.
Although the story is very short and contains very little action, it manages to leave a lasting impression of the hardships, obstacles and overwhelming loneliness faced by a woman living an isolated life in rural 19th century Australia. The drover’s wife’s lifestyle has made it necessary for her to become independent, brave and resourceful. As she sits in the kitchen waiting for the snake to emerge, she remembers all the times in the past when her husband has been absent – on one occasion she had to fight a bush fire on her own; on another she fought a flood. She has also had to defend herself and her home from “suspicious-looking strangers” and “crows and eagles that had designs on her chickens”.
And yet the drover’s wife has grown accustomed to being on her own and is making the best of her lot in life:
“All days are much the same for her; but on Sunday afternoon she dresses herself, tidies the children, smartens up baby, and goes for a lonely walk along the bush-track, pushing an old perambulator in front of her. She does this every Sunday. She takes as much care to make herself and the children look smart as she would if she were going to do the block in the city. There is nothing to see, however, and not a soul to meet… But this bushwoman is used to the loneliness of it. As a girl-wife she hated it, but now she would feel strange away from it.”
I recommend reading this story as it’s an important piece of Australian literature. Having read some of the essays and analysis online however, it seems there’s more than one way to interpret the story. Some people consider it to be anti-feminist because it implies that all of the drover’s wife’s pain and suffering is caused by the absence of her husband. This is interesting because on my first reading I had seen it as a straightforward portrayal of a woman’s courage and bravery; yes, it would have made things easier if her husband had been around to help her, but she was doing the best she could to take care of herself and her children – husband or no husband. I can see I’ll have to give it some more thought. Have you read the story? What was your interpretation of it?
I’ll try to make more progress with this personal challenge and post my thoughts on some more short stories soon!
Pictures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Henry Lawson both in the public domain