Welsh poet and writer of short stories and screenplays.
Patricia, Edith and Arnold, first published in the collection Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog in 1940.
Available to read online here.
This is the first of eight stories in the volume Points of View to be given the style classification by Moffett and McElheny of Biography, or Anonymous Narration – Single Character Point of View. From their introduction: “The authors of the next stories do not refer to themselves or tell us how they know what they know. But, of course, there is no narrative without a narrator. True, he does not identify himself, but the materials, the way they are put together, and the choice of words are all his.”
Spoiler alert – if you haven’t read the story yet and want to before you read the summary of it below, stop now!
Patricia, Edith and Arnold
Our narrator is fully preoccupied with the playing and games of a young boy, backing his invisible engine into the coal hole, saluting a fireman, being King of the Castle; whereas the boy is occupied with the secret conversations between Patricia, who is looking after him, and Edith, the maid who lives next door. They’re both anxiously planning about how to meet Arnold. Arnold is a young man who has been stringing them both along, seeing Edith on Fridays and Patricia on Wednesdays, writing them both love letters without having any idea that they knew of each other’s existence.
They take the boy to the park – it’s snowing and he’s excited to make a snowman. He’s also quietly curious about meeting Arnold. And while the two women confront the man about his duplicity, the boy runs around teasing, playing and calling out names. Much to Edith’s remorse, Patricia forces Arnold to confirm that it’s she whom he really likes. But when the boy later realises he has left his cap behind, he quietly discovers Arnold reading Edith’s letters, turning them over in his hands; he doesn’t see the boy, and the boy doesn’t tell Patricia what he saw.
This is a subtle, introverted little tale, where the substance of what actually goes on is related to the reader at a tangent to the boy’s games. He doesn’t fully appreciate the truth behind the meeting between Arnold and the two women, and he doesn’t understand why it appears to have such a profound effect on them. It’s just one of those little moments in childhood when you get swept up in an adult activity that you know is important and significant, without having the experience or insight to grasp it fully.
Delicately written and occasionally deliberately obscure, it’s a curious, satisfying read about a domestic, romantic crisis seen through the opaque understanding of the boy. Perhaps it’s even more curious that Dylan chose to not to have the boy narrate the story himself; the presence of the unnamed narrator adds a further dimension of distancing from the nub of the action.
The next story in the anthology is the second to be classified by Moffett and McElheny as Biography, or Anonymous Narration – Single Character Point of View, Horses – One Dash by Stephen Crane.