The Furnished Room by O. Henry

August 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

I loved The Furnished Room by O. Henry so much that I can’t not share some of it. The descriptions are so lush and vivid.

One by one, as the characters of a cryptograph become explicit, the little signs left by the furnished room’s procession of guests developed a significance. The threadbare space in the rug in front of the dresser told that lovely women had marched in the throng. Tiny finger prints on the wall spoke of little prisoners trying to feel their way to sun and air. A splattered stain, raying like the shadow of a bursting bomb, witnessed where a hurled glass or bottle had splintered with its contents against the wall. Across the pier glass had been scrawled with a diamond in staggering letters the name “Marie.” It seemed that the succession of dwellers in the furnished room had turned in fury – perhaps tempted beyond forbearance by its garish coldness – and wreaked upon it their passions. The furniture was chipped and bruised; the couch, distorted by bursting springs, seemed a horrible monster that had been slain during the stress of some grotesque convulsion. Some more potent upheaval had cloven a great slice from the marble mantel. Each plank in the floor owned its particular cant and shriek as from a separate and individual agony. It seemed incredible that all this malice and injury had been wrought upon the room by those who had called it for a time their home; and yet it may have been the cheated home instinct surviving blindly, the resentful rage at false household gods that had kindled their wrath. A hut that is our own we can sweep and adorn and cherish.

This description is exactly what Chekhov meant by ‘Don’t tell me that the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

The lodgers are no longer there; they may never have been there. The imprints the previous occupants have left behind scratch ghost memories into the fabric of the room, but they exist in full colour within our imaginations.

The point is to help the reader to see it for themselves, hint at a glimmer of beauty through sometimes sad or destructive mundanity. Suggestion sparks our minds alight.


Joyce, Poe, and Other Short Stories

August 19, 2015 § Leave a comment

…watching the evening invade the avenue.”

That’s from Eveline, a short story by James Joyce. I didn’t know that until this morning, when I read my fourth email from Highbrow, a magnificent entity that sends out bite-sized portions of its ‘courses’. My chosen subjects are great cities and short stories; the latter is working out just peachy so far.

I’ve never loved short stories. In fact, I haven’t really delighted in any since Chekhov’s, which I read when I was a teeny 10-year-old borrowing the hardest books I could find from my grandmother’s local library to alleviate the heaviness of summer in a bungalow with two siblings. I remember sitting on a hill overlooking the sea, thinking about the lady with her little dog.

My issue with modern short stories has always been that there isn’t enough beginning, middle and end. I’m left unsatisfied. They’re the one-liner of the literary world: a cheap laugh for punters with short attention spans. They just try so hard to be clever.

I’ll classify modern as post-Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl (1979). Now those are some short stories. The shortness only adds to their stark brutality – you’re left feeling like perhaps the monster is lingering still, following you to the next tale.

I’ve enjoyed every one of the short stories I’ve so far been served by Highbrow, to my surprise. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really. After all, they’re old. Poe, Joyce, de Maupassant. Some are translated, giving us that delightfully OTHER tone that manages to escape through translators’ careful fingers.

Five minutes a day of complete immersion in another time and place. It’s so blissful.

Favourite bits

They trod noiselessly upon a stair carpet that its own loom would have forsworn. It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase and was viscid under the foot like organic matter.

The Furnished Room, O. Henry

The drawing-room was small, full of heavy draperies and discreetly fragrant. A large fire burned in the grate and a solitary lamp at one end of the mantelpiece threw a soft light on the two persons who were talking. She, the mistress of the house, was an old lady with white hair, but one of those old ladies whose unwrinkled skin is as smooth as the finest paper, and scented, impregnated with perfume, with the delicate essences which she had used in her bath for so many years. He was a very old friend, who had never married, a constant friend, a companion in the journey of life, but nothing more.

The Log, Guy de Maupassant

Mrs. Harding was a gentle, sad-eyed woman, lacking a left foot.

A Vine on a House, Ambrose Bierce

New words

Demirep: a woman whose chastity is considered doubtful

Fugacious: tending to disappear, fleeting

Girt: surrounded, encircled (past participle of gird)

Cilia: slender protuberances that project from a larger body (from the Latin for eyelash)


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