Amy Foster and the blindfolded woman.
It is just over a hundred years since Joseph Conrad wrote "Amy Foster." Yet most readers still describe it as the story of Amy's husband, Yanko, a tragic victim. Moreover, the work is seen as autobiographical, telling the story not only of Yanko, but of Conrad himself, recording his supposed disappointment with his wife and his agonies as an immigrant. Even the most recent writers see the story as profoundly personal, and pessimistic--even cynical. (Epstein 229; Brzozowska-Krajka 175; Griem 130; Batchelor 123) (1) Ian Watt set the pattern, defining the story as a reflection of its author's own misery:
Conrad's abiding sense of personal loneliness is suggested in his story "Amy Foster," which tells how an emigrant who seems to come from Poland is shipwrecked and cast up on the Kentish coast, marries a local girl, and is eventually driven to madness and death because the barriers of language and custom prove insurmountable. (24)
Jeffrey Meyers simply introduces the story as "the autobiographical 'Amy Foster'" (213). "Conrad portrayed his hostility to marriage and fear of abandonment in [...] 'Amy Foster'" (Meyers 145). He even seems to apply to Conrad Kennedy's elegy for Yanko: "cast out mysteriously by the sea to perish in the supreme disaster of loneliness and despair" (Meyers 147).
Most dismiss Amy Foster herself with insulting comments. Amy is dull-witted and callous, ugly and cruel. Borrowed from the two narrators, these insults sometimes include Jessie Conrad. The story of Conrad, sick and raving in Polish, frightening Jessie on their wedding trip, is repeated in virtually every work: "'Amy Foster,' Conrad's most personal story, portrays Jessie's negative qualities, their intellectual estrangement and the fierce undercurrent of his isolation, loneliness, and despair" (Meyers 145). Yet a few commentators do remark that Amy is the heart of the mystery (Epstein 229). And the consecutive titles of the story--"A Castaway," then "A Husband," then "Amy Foster"--show Conrad bringing into focus his conception of who the central character of this story would be (CL 2: 330). This is the mystery I would like to examine. I think it is important to discuss "Amy Foster" in its context with Conrad's other works of the time in order to demonstrate briefly that this story deals with its author's ongoing concerns, and is not the result of a period of depression, much less of a disastrous married life. Far from being profoundly personal, it is an important glimpse into Conrad's worldview.
It is still usual to refer to Conrad's world as one organized, dominated, and given its significance by men. Conrad's narrators' patronizing comments about the irrelevance of women to the "real" world, about women's "nature," have been so often repeated that I will refer only to the most familiar one here: "They [women] live in a world of their own. [...] It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset" (Heart 504). Such remarks should alert the reader to treat a narrator's analyses cautiously, yet scholars seem to accept these pronouncements as for the most part Conrad's opinions. At one extreme, Peter Hayes says that Conrad "identifies unequivocally with Marlow's most 'misogynistic' statements" (100). As Valerie F. Sedlak comments: "many scholars see the female characters [in Heart of Darkness] as a barometer of Conrad's hatred of, fear of, and obsession with women; they simply prove that Conrad had psychological and sexual problems" (443). At best, we are told, women's humanitarianism and optimism can inspire the active race (men) to do great deeds, or perhaps just to refrain from doing horrible ones. (Hayes 107, 109). Yet Conrad at least proposed the idea, in "Amy Foster" and other stories, that it is women who determine everything. A crucial point here is that they are somehow entitled to do so. They are not scheming to snatch the power that rightly belongs to men.
In "Amy Foster" Conrad goes to the source of all cliches about women, to a time before history or "civilization," much less feminism or "The Woman Question." This is Saint-Jean Perse, writing about Conrad to Jean-Aubry: "He would also surprise me by his imaginative taste for the life of society, for a very 18th century curiosity for the role of the woman behind the course of events" (17). The figure here is of woman controlling events in which she does not appear, or is fleetingly glimpsed, or does appear but in a misleadingly trivial or ceremonial role. This is a situation that Conrad uses repeatedly in his work, although it seems to be rare for readers to notice or acknowledge it, beyond noting that Marlow's aunt sends him to the Congo.
Heart of Darkness records a recent time when white men believe that they have safely established civilization--the "life of society" in the widest sense. As Walter E. Anderson says of the Hermanns in "Falk," the Europeans "embody civic virtues so long taken for granted that nearly all notions of our remote beginnings on this planet have been relegated to their collective unconscious" (104). The power of women has sunk from view and from the knowledge of men (males). Yet here women are controlling history and the fates of individuals and races. Marlow's aunt sends him to the Congo ("'I got my appointment--of course'"), the gorgeous tribal woman takes over the territory after the little Russian refuses the power, and the Intended gives Kurtz his final triumphant win (Heart 603). And Kurtz's mother, giving her last instructions, literally doesn't bear thinking about, so Conrad doesn't ask us to, except to note her existence in the hierarchy (Heart 594). Women thus control past, present, and future, with commentary by the presence of the knitting ladies and warnings by the portrait of the blindfolded woman. Her appearance coincides with Marlow's realization that his aunt is still controlling events and the information that Kurtz had been impeded at that point (Heart 523-24). A powerful woman, who can't see what she is doing: in Heart of Darkness, a chilling apparition. I propose that this figure is repeated throughout Conrad's work, and is most evident in "Amy Foster."
One might reword all the critics' references to men as "the active race," to say that women make the decisions and men carry them out. But decisions is not the correct word. The supernatural implications come at least in part from the fact that the women are "blindfolded," like the powerful figure in Heart of Darkness (523). Consequently, they have different degrees of perception of the power they wield. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow's aunt knows all the wrong things; the knitting fates in Brussels, if they are real, know everything, and the "barbarous" woman who is taking over in the heart of darkness certainly knows, since she has been trying for that power for some time (Heart 588). The other extreme is The Intended, whose obvious innocence, ignorance, and purity propel Marlow, against his nature, into lying. To judge by Kurtz's triumphant shout which closes the story, Marlow's fatal lie has ensured her cooperation, necessary in some unknown way for the survival of Kurtz and his evil. The Intended regrets that she does not, perhaps, understand (Heart 601). Here we do not have the cliche of women inspiring men to action. The Intended ("perhaps") does not know what actions she will originate, or how (Heart 601). Most readers guess that she is truly ignorant. In other of Conrad's stories we cannot even guess. Some of his women know their power and some don't, which appears to mean that whether they know or not doesn't matter much.
And whether they know or not, they are usually silent. It is Conrad's men who travel the world telling stories to each other. Using the narrative technique that would culminate in Nostromo, Conrad presents Amy and Yanko in a story that can be told in a number of different ways, which can in fact be several different stories. At least two of these stories are credible. The one that Kennedy is telling is not. I will discuss his narrative first.
Kennedy tells a maudlin story that Conrad would not have told, a story about a poor attractive immigrant who is mistreated by an English community and by his brutish, unattractive wife: a story "as pathetic [...] as can be found in literature" (Gissing 41). Critics, believing Kennedy's every word but unable to find evidence that Conrad hated England, have used "Amy Foster" as thinly disguised evidence that he hated his wife (Guerard 49; Meyers 145; Nadelhaft 76). (2) This comment is not too strong.
Susan Jones, writing about Chance, says "The epistemological issue--how to know the woman--lies at the heart of the narrative's structure" (Conrad 118). She speaks of the various narrators as a "network of voyeurs" who, in spite of their "obsessive" curiosity about Flora, never arrive at an accurate description of her (Jones, Conrad 118). She observes that "[t]hroughout his writings, Conrad explored the theme of 'appearances,' the relationship of observer and observed, to illustrate the range of human perception and misunderstanding" (Jones, Conrad 222). Chance has much satire at the expense of the chivalrous male and the male who sentimentally worships. Marlow does try to be objective in what he records, although his preconceptions interfere with his assessments of women. But Kennedy is a complete nonstarter: the contemptuous, dismissive male. He is introduced to us as a scientific man: "[h]is papers on the flora and fauna made him known to scientific societies" ("Amy" 156). But like the narrator of "Falk," and even young Jukes, "he is [...] too securely a member of a club" (Batchelor 122). Although the outer narrator describes him as "of an investigating habit, and of [...] unappeasable curiosity," Kennedy presents Amy as though there were literally nothing to know ("Amy" 156). What curiosity he does demonstrate is directed toward his fellow male. Incredibly, it is Amy's presumed lack of understanding he feels most superior about. He provides what we must assume to be accurate observation, along with incorrect interpretation--such minor contributions to the truth as to be properly called mistakes rather than reflections.
Although Conrad was widely read in current science and used many descriptions from the work of fashionable scientists, his contempt for their powers of interpretation is noted by Alan Hunter. He quotes the devastating comment in The Secret Agent about a facial expression "seldom observed by competent persons under the conditions of leisure and security demanded for thorough analysis, but whose meaning could not be mistaken at a glance" (Secret 211; also qtd. in Hunter 186). Thus we notice with the first thing Kennedy says about Amy that the doctor's diagnosis is wrong. His own expensive and rigidly limited education suggests to him that she must be something primitive, and primitive to him means the earliest "civilized" attitude of which he is aware. The outer limit of his awareness is the Greeks. He tells us that her father ran away with the cook of his widowed father, and describes this as a suitable motive for Greek tragedy ("Amy" 157). It would not occur to anyone else that running away with your father's cook bears the slightest resemblance to Greek tragedy. I would propose that Conrad could not have made the narrator's unreliability more obvious nor done it sooner.
Kennedy then attributes his idea of Greek mentality to Amy, saying that, in love, she would become a "pagan worshiper of form under a joyous sky" ("Amy" 160). This of course is ludicrous. She is about as far from that as one could get. She works all the time in a menial job. Her vacation and entertainment is to go home to kiss and feed the children and wash up the dishes ("Amy" 160). She gives her family her wage ("Amy" 185). And if she had any notion of "form," she would not have dressed like that ("Amy" 160).
The narrators and their partisan critics bury Amy under an avalanche of insults, and their contempt infects the whole story, even to the point of hinting that her name--the most caring name that Western Europe could provide--is a sarcasm. She is described as a "dull face, red [...] as if her flat cheeks had been vigorously slapped, [...] squat figure, the scanty, dusty brown hair"; "passive"; "red hands hanging at the end of those short arms. [... S]low prominent brown eyes [reveal] the inertness of her mind"; "Shortsighted eyes, those dumb eyes"; "dull blurred glance"; and "dull brain" ("Amy" 157, 188, 190, 191). Most of these comments are in our introduction to Amy, both narrators joining in! It is enough to say that the doctor doesn't know what Yanko saw in her ("Amy" 184).
Conrad never tells us what Amy is thinking, but Kennedy frequently does. The most insulting remark relates to her discovery of the survivor later to be called Yanko Goorall. This is his explanation of Amy's immediate compassion for Yanko: "Through his forlorn condition she had observed that he was good looking" ("Amy" 174). Yanko is covered with mud and matted hair; everyone else in the village has identified him as a "'horrid looking man,'" but Amy with her slow, shortsighted, dull, dumb, blurred eyes has of course noticed instantly what a woman would consider the most important thing ("Amy" 168). This appears to be the only thought Kennedy can conceive of her having in her maiden state: "She and I alone in all the land, I fancy, could see his very real beauty. He was very good-looking" ("Amy" 184). Of course he does not testify that Amy ever told him this.
But throughout this nonsense about pagans and joyous skies, the outer narrator is subliminally perceiving something much older than the Greeks, something that even antedates Kennedy's "flora and fauna" ("Amy" 156). He sees strata so primitive as to be undifferentiated: there is hardly any distinction between flora and fauna, locomotion or habitat, copulation or landscape. He sees the windmill with "shattered arms"; the brow crowds the street against the wall, which defends it; the tower is "squatting"; a patch of bottom is "trustworthy"; "'mud and shells' over all" ("Amy" 155). The sun "touched familiarly" the rise ("Amy" 158). It is "as though the powdered clods had sweated out in minute pearls of blood the toil of uncounted plowmen. [... Finally], the clumsy figure of the man plodding at the head of the leading horse projected itself on the background of the Infinite with a heroic uncouthness" ("Amy" 158). This description of landscape should prepare us for the companion story "Falk"--in which the half-woman-half-statue accepts the half-man-half-boat--and eventually for the imagery of Nostromo.
As Robert J. Andreach notes, Kennedy repeatedly hints that the events he describes cannot be explained in terms of natural causes (30-38). But natural causes are exactly what they are--as a scientist, of all people, should know. In apologizing to J. B. Pinker for the length of the new story (apparently "Amy Foster"), Conrad says "I am afraid it is just over 9,000 [words]. But the subject is big too" (CL 2:333). The most powerful of the stories within "Amy Foster," and the first credible one, is an evolutionary parable, a parable of the movement of evolution, of the development or degradation of species. (3)
By the time Conrad wrote "Amy Foster," evolution had become "a legitimate subject of conversation" ("Amy" 170). In the mass of contemporary writing that used evolution as a metaphor, most present conditions for observing human culture. "Amy Foster" presents conditions for going back further than that. In fact, evolution here is Conrad's subject, not his metaphor. "Amy Foster" came in between Heart of Darkness and Conrad's early work on Chance, and it was published with "Falk" and "Typhoon." This places "Amy Foster" in what Allan Hunter calls "the most energetic period of Conrad's anthropological speculation" (6). Conrad's knowledge of and use of current writings on evolution is extremely detailed, as Hunter points out: "I note direct debts of Conrad to most of the major writers on evolution in his day, and it is quite obvious that not only is Conrad using their findings, but also he is in most cases extending and re-writing their rather theoretical works" (6).
Although Conrad disavows in the famous preface to Nigger of the "Narcissus" any attempt to do the work of the scientist or the thinker, Conrad's concerns in "Falk," which he described as the clou (key) of its collection, are ethical and philosophical (Nigger 145; CL 4:145; see also To RBCG). This subject he had also approached philosophically in Heart of Darkness, which looks at evolution over vast distances, describing how the evolutionary process can suddenly and catastrophically slip backwards, or inwards. Now, in "Amy Foster," Conrad uses the smallest possible scale. After several forays into regression, he approaches the crucial subject of transition.
Darwin believed that evolution could go with great suddenness and speed backward, but denied that nature could make great and sudden leaps forward (Descent 325). He insisted on "transitional gradations" (Darwin, Descent 325). In On the Origin of Species, under the heading "Difficulties of the Theory," Darwin devotes pages to answering the charge that transitional forms are so hard to find (see chs. 6, 11, and 15). "Amy Foster" suggests some of the answers. Ursula Lord, in discussing the influence of Darwin on Conrad's work, remarks that
Darwin was at pains to describe a process that involves a sense of the universe unfolding as it happens to, rather than as it should, retaining those unwilled adaptations that are most successful at surviving in a given environment simply because of their success without suggesting that their success is part of a pre-ordained plan. [...] He struggles with the inherent tendency of language to imply agency, volition and intention. (12)
It is hard to avoid, as Lord points out, such words as "forward" and "advancement" (Lord 12). Conrad takes care to underline the fact that there is nothing divine or determined about evolutionary movement; nor does this movement entitle its participants to self-congratulation, except on the issue of survival itself. No doubt this accounts for his choice of cannibals as examples of what Anderson, discussing "Falk," describes as "evolutionary emergence" (103). The cannibal Christian Falk is as hypnotized by his lady as Amy is by Yanko, but the most idealistic reader cannot mistake the story for a romance. However, since Conrad "had begun to explore evolutionary thought in order to understand the mechanism rather than lament its workings," genuine tragedy is also excluded, in spite of Kennedy's storytelling (Hunter 12). Indeed, "emergence" is perhaps the closest to a neutral description of "the mechanism" (Anderson 103; Hunter 12). The "emergence" in "Amy Foster" is physical (Anderson 103). Amy's father says it the only way it can be said: "And there's the child" ("Amy" 191).
Yanko enters the scene by chance. Darwin saw chance as merely our lack of knowledge: "[Chance], of course, is a wholly incorrect expression, but it serves to acknowledge plainly our ignorance of the cause of each particular variation" (Origin 119). He does acknowledge that change can come from outside, but not in a sudden revolutionary manner: "[v]ariations may be divided into two classes: those which appear to our ignorance to arise spontaneously, and those which are related to the surrounding conditions, so that all or nearly all the individuals of the same species are similarly modified" (Descent 486). (4) Yet a conception of nature that denies intent must allow that the operation of chance is crucial, even while admitting that it cannot (at the moment) be explained. George Levine, in Darwin and the Novelists notes that "Conrad draws most heavily on those aspects of Darwin that emphasize chance and disruption and the irrational bases of nature from which all spirit has been excluded" (265).
Redmond O'Hanlon, in Joseph Conrad and Charles Darwin: The Influence of Scientific Thought on Conrad's Fiction, remarks that "Conrad writes with a pre-Freudian, Lamarckian conviction, of the terrible exertion of will needed to struggle upwards from one stratum of the social evolutionary past to another" (132). In Yanko's case, it is obviously a terrible exertion of terror. He is like an early amphibian or amphibian-to-be, crawling out of the water and gasping up the beach, surrounded by the bodies of the others who did not make it or could not simulate lungs. The survivor then tumbles into some sheltered place, out of sight of possible predators, to rest awhile before introducing a new creature to the earth. This newly arrived creature is itself the result of mutation or of displacement. Its survival will depend entirely on what reception awaits it. What will be provided in the way of food, climate, air, shelter, company, sex?
Yanko's arrival is told in exactly the words of these familiar images: "[hie came from there"; him "who knew nothing of the earth"; "cast out mysteriously by the sea" ("Amy" 161, 191). As Kennedy says, "I admit it is improbable, but there was the man" ("Amy" 173). Before arriving on earth "he had been traveling a long long time" ("Amy" 164):
[C]rawling in the dark over the sea wall, he rolled down the other side into a dyke, where it was another miracle he didn't get drowned. But he struggled instinctively like an animal under a net, and this blind struggle threw him into a field. ("Amy" 162) He fought his way against the rain and the gale on all fours, and crawled at last among some sheep huddled close under the lee of a hedge. [... H]e did not arrive unattended by any means. Only his grisly company did not begin to come ashore until much later in the day. ("Amy" 162) A "miry creature" he had been "taken out of his knowledge" ("Amy" 167, 173).
Yanko is and remains "separated by an immense space from his past and by an immense ignorance from his future ("Amy" 182).
The ship that rammed Yanko's ship also carried doomed creatures. The idea of the missing link fascinated the general readership of the day as well as scientists. That ship "had gone out, unknown, unseen, and fatal, to perish mysteriously at sea. [...] It was death without any sort of fuss" ("Amy" 172). (5) Later on, Yanko, like all of us, does not like to be reminded of the original laboratory, the primal struggle: "Only the memory of the sea frightened him, with that vague terror that is left by a bad dream" ("Amy" 182). Eventually, even this fear will fade as memory fades.
From his first arrival, there are preliminary soundings of reference to children and babies, a motif that will come to dominate the story. Amy still looks after her younger siblings. Yanko is accompanied to shore by a child who does not survive; his speech sounds at first like baby talk ("Amy" 162, 167). And if one avoids the bathos of Kennedy's interpretations, parts of "Amy Foster" are very funny, although the humor is characteristically tough. This is one of the wittiest images of evolution that I can recall: a lady pushes a perambulator past a man hammering on a heap of stones. The man himself seems to be an emerging primate of some sort: "the old chap, taking off his immense black wire goggles, got up on his shaky legs to look where she pointed" ("Amy" 169).
Conrad emphasizes again that nothing supernatural is happening. His contemporaries were fired by the ancient idea of the glamorous stranger, to be worshipped or sacrificed as a god or king, in a universe with attitude. (6) But Yanko doesn't become king: nor, despite superficial impression, is he sacrificed. In Conrad's literal rendering of the stranger, Yanko arrives to be hit on the head "courageously" by a lady with an umbrella ("Amy" 169). And here there is no disguised supernatural power, certainly not Amy. Despite the fact that she gives Yanko back his life, she does not remind anyone of a goddess incognito, or even a witch.
Yanko has "something striving upwards in his appearance," unlike the local men who are "leaden of gait" ("Amy" 161). The carter tries to make him "drop down in the mud a jolly sight quicker than he had jumped up" ("Amy" 168). Mr. Smith, like Kennedy, "had room in his brain for only [...] one idea," but his idea is lunacy ("Amy" 170). Smith "made more than one step backwards" ("Amy" 170). He finds Yanko's voice "discomposing" ("Amy" 170).
An interesting point is that Conrad is careful not to have two mysterious, "outlandish," visitors-from-elsewhere in the story ("Amy" 177). Gail Fraser shows that Conrad extensively revised Kennedy's speech to make it more regional, more obviously local (184). Equally disqualifying, Kennedy is sterile, apparently having no family, retiring from exploring: "[t]he penetrating power of his mind, acting like a corrosive fluid, had destroyed his ambition, I fancy" ("Amy" 156). He is comfortably isolated in the community and, also, he is not the one who supports Yanko. Yanko is established by the Swaffers.
In unscientific terms, those creatures who survive to evolve are generally described as open to the new, either physically or attitudinally. In the community in which Yanko finds himself there is a family, the Swaffers, who have this curiosity and openness, the patience to explore the "outlandish": "[Mr. Swaffer] has been known to drive miles in the rain to see a new kind of rose in somebody's garden, or a monstrous cabbage grown by a cottager" ("Amy" 177). Mr. Swaffer, archetype of dominance, "great breeder of sheep," a sort of Father Nature, decides that he will "keep" Yanko ("Amy" 177, 176). Mr. Swaffer remarks to the doctor: "Quite a curiosity, isn't he?" ("Amy" 176). Yanko comes to consider him "in the light of a father" ("Amy" 185). Swaffer's openness protects his own bloodline, as it must have done for millennia past, since Yanko with his "good eyes" saves Swaffer's descendant's life ("Amy" 180).
(Now and then, a student remarks, with a plaintive note in his voice, "But he didn't save the family. It's a girl." So I will use the word "genes" although I assume that to be an anachronism.) Swaffer's genes will still carry on, thanks to Swaffer's own curiosity.
Kennedy's misogyny dims the fact that even Miss Swaffer is much more helpful than he allows. Her comment "[h]e certainly won't get any other girl to marry him" is not necessarily contemptuous ("Amy" 186). Though prevented from breeding herself, she is credited (but not by Kennedy) with supplying Yanko and Amy with a cottage and providing Amy and Little John with an income after Yanko's death ("Amy" 186, 191).
Yanko was fit enough for the first stage of his task--arriving alive. He belongs somewhere in what T. H. Huxley called "the great bulk of the moderately 'fit'" (Huxley 42). But there must have been other "specimens," possibly more desirable in any number of ways, who almost made it ("Amy" 165). Chance seems to have played the major role throughout. Apparently, Yanko has survived because he was on deck being sick. Here also there is, like a little cold touch from Heart of Darkness, a mystery: his mother has arranged, with a vow, for him to be saved ("Amy" 165). An important revision refers to the passage on Yanko's mother. Fraser notes "Conrad made additions and alterations so that the final version includes Yanko in his mother's prayers" (Fraser 188). The mysterious vow, not explained in the story or, apparently, by the revisions, is distinguished from her prayers. Everyone in "Amy Foster" is religious. It seems to be a common denominator. But although religion tells Yanko that he and the villagers are the same species, it is also the sign of divergence--Catholic, Jew, Church, Chapel. He does not find a home and human contact by means of religion.
Kennedy says of Yanko and Amy: "It was love as the ancients understood it: an irresistible and fateful impulse--a possession" ("Amy" 160). He does not understand how truly he speaks, but his idea of "ancient" is not what is appearing here ("Amy" 160). The attraction between the two is not of the Pagan-Greek persuasion. Nor is it the cliche of visible sexual attractiveness that Kennedy assumes to be a universal truth. The attraction is apparently aural, very birdlike. Both have an oddity of speech--in fact that is the only oddity to be discovered in her. "'The only peculiarity I perceived in her was a slight hesitation in her utterance, a sort of preliminary stammer which passes away with the first word'" ("Amy" 158-59). His voice is very odd to the villagers: "pleasant, soft, musical--but [...]--so excitable, so utterly unlike anything one has ever heard"; "a voice light and soaring, like a lark's, but with a melancholy human note, over our fields that hear only the song of birds"; "that singing, soft and at the same time vibrating intonation [...] as if [familiar words] had been the words of an unearthly language" ("Amy" 176, 182, 167). Nor do the villagers ever get used to it. His singing gets him ejected from local company, as does his habit of shooting straight up in the air, both over stiles with his "rapid skimming walk" and on pub tables ("Amy" 181). The question was, to paraphrase Marlow in Chance: What could she have seen in him? (146-47).
The idea that female choices could drive evolution might not have appealed to most Victorian readers, although Darwin stresses it in the cases of, particularly, birds (Descent chs. 13 and 14, especially 486). And it is Yanko's voice that we see Amy paying attention to, never his face. He whistles when he is near Amy, "a couple of bars of a weird and mournful tune [...]--and she would run out to his call" ("Amy" 184). The intensity of Amy's awareness of Yanko when she hears his approach, his whistle (always the same tune), is familiar from Darwin's descriptions. It is the same as the hypnotized attention of a female bird selecting a mate from a group of glamorous males, males who are jumping up and down and whistling. No observer can understand how she makes her choice, and makes it so quickly.
Yanko's courtship of Amy is again birdlike. He presents her with a piece of ribbon: "I don't suppose the girl knew what to do with it, but he seemed to think that his honorable intentions could not be mistaken" ("Amy" 183). One of her chosen accoutrements is a black feather, which perhaps "could not be mistaken" as well ("Amy" 183). Still pursuing the idea of physical human beauty, the Greek ideal, Kennedy builds on that to read Amy's mind again: "for you need imagination to form a notion of beauty at all, and still more to discover your ideal in an unfamiliar shape"; "her shortsighted eyes, [...] her dumb eyes, that once in her life had seen an enticing shape" ("Amy" 159, 188). He constantly stresses their "incompatible" appearances: "I wonder whether he saw how plain she was" ("Amy" 184). This is Kennedy's idea of objective reporting: "They could be seen on the roads, she tramping stolidly in her finery--gray dress, black feather, stout boots, prominent white cotton gloves that caught your eye a hundred yards away; and he [...] pacing by her side, gallant of bearing" ("Amy" 184).
Kennedy has already told us that Amy's "want of charm, in view of Smith's well-known frivolousness, was a great recommendation" ("Amy" 159). This flippant remark is important. We now see the reason for her charmless appearance. Her "want of charm" gives her protective coloration ("Amy" 159). She is the peahen, or the female bird of paradise ("obscurely colored and destitute of all ornaments") protected by her "want of definiteness" from the predatory Mr. Smith as well as from any curiosity the narrators might be capable of feeling (Darwin, Descent 467; "Amy" 158). This is a masterful use of the unreliable narrator. Kennedy has possibly known her for years, but she has completely maintained her invisibility. Although "he [has] the talent of making people talk to him freely," he cannot give us any true idea of her thoughts or intentions ("Amy" 156). She has remained under his radar and beneath his notice. (Though if her white gloves are a broken wing maneuver, that certainly works. Kennedy can spot them "a hundred yards away" ("Amy" 184). She is also protected from critics, who believe Kennedy, and note that she does not have the proper appearance for a title character.
Amy herself inherits acquired evolutionary potential. Like Jewel in Lord Jim, she is possibly a third generation of unorthodox marital choice. Her father once had what it took to be "outlandish" in evolutionary terms ("Amy" 177). But sadly, he has seemed, in his generation, to be regressing: "from a small farmer [he] has sunk into a shepherd" ("Amy" 157). His daughter has inherited the need (or courage) to dare a new relationship. Amy is one of Darwin's points of transition. Her choice may precipitate further regression, or it may not. Likewise, Yanko's jumping about could indicate regression, could identify him as one of Darwin's "microcephalous idiots" (Descent 271). The habitues of the pub certainly think so. But it is not necessarily so. Darwin invariably uses the word antics to describe the courting behavior of male birds before the females: "[t]he males sometimes pay their court by dancing, or by fantastic antics performed either on the ground or in the air"; "they likewise perform strange antics before the females (Origin 81; Descent 451, 477, 455, 463). (7) Thus one can only say that this venture is not doomed from the start. As Amy's father, that master of noncommittal speech, will say: "I don't know that it isn't for the best" ("Amy" 191).
In contrast to the insults heaped upon Amy, both Kennedy and most readers heap compliments on Yanko, the "protagonist" of a story that is not named after him (Krajka, "Introduction" 4). (8) Gissing speaks of him as "a man of dreams and subtle joys" (41). Brzozowska-Krajka speaks of his moral superiority: he is "poetic"; he incarnates "romantic vitality"; he is a child of nature (he hugs trees); he is "morally pure and spiritually superior" (174). These and other readers offer to persuade us that Yanko's home culture is also superior to that of the villagers, that he came from a society richer and finer in every way than the one he finds himself in. Elsa Nettels says "the spirit of Yanko, his piety, his attachment to the language and the traditions of his homeland [...] attest to the vitality of the culture he struggles to preserve" (187). (9) But in fact, whatever riches of past culture his community had are now gone. The young and the families are trying to flee. The people are so desperate to get out that they are the victims of massive frauds, giving up, in every sense, their patrimony. And they are no more attractive or happy than those he finds himself among, where "all the men [are] angry and all the women fierce" ("Amy" 174). This passage is often quoted, but his compatriots who are washed up on the beach are no more engaging: "rough looking men, women with hard faces" ("Amy" 173). These are not passing expressions, even in the living. Yanko, like Amy, has been born into a community both primitive and moribund, atrophied by isolation, poverty, and intolerance--intolerance not only of outsiders but also of each other. Escape, for either sex, is next to impossible, most often a path to destruction rather than to survival.
Kennedy pompously speaks of the fossil of Yanko's cross in the marriage register as "the only trace of him that the succeeding ages may find" ("Amy" 183). But of course there are living traces, of those who chance to have descendants. "'Physiologically, now,' [Kennedy] said, turning away abruptly [from the sea], 'it was possible. It was possible"--after a comment on "his difference, his strangeness" ("Amy" 187). The doctor's remark is twice interrupted by profound contemplation. This comment doesn't refer to heart attack or lung disease, for why should there be any doubt about that? Here is another major determination of Darwin's researches--breeding among species that are close enough to breed but not too close, and also different but not too different. Perhaps this is what Conrad cunningly meant when he said the "idee" of "Amy Foster" is "difference essentielle des races" (CL 2:399).
In Yanko's new community, inbreeding has reached dangerous levels. Miss Swaffer fortunately missed uniting with "one of the innumerable Bradleys," who was eliminated in the nick of time: "on the eve of the wedding day" ("Amy" 178). Now Miss Swaffer, still "Church," is not quite daring enough to break the mold, although she looks thoughtfully at Yanko several times ("Amy" 178, 180). However, late Victorian writers seem to have been interested in the fact that when creatures of the same species grow too unlike they can no longer interbreed. In "Amy Foster" there is even a slightly dicey joke about this scientific point: Yanko is "very good with sheep, but was not fit for any girl to marry" ("Amy" 185). But, like Amy's father and grandfather, Yanko and his community are aware of being at least the same species. Paul B. Armstrong says "the community finds his strangeness disturbing, [...] only because it senses continuities with him" (117n14). Amy and Yanko do produce a viable child, his real contribution to "the succeeding ages" ("Amy" 183).
Ted Billy remarks that "[Conrad] often provides counterfeit endings that seem to offer a consoling and satisfying denouement, while nevertheless conflicting with other elements in the discourse" (223). I suggest that in "Amy Foster" the ambiguity may be the other way around. Yanko has, in fact, been what modern scientists call a successful male: he has ensured that his genes will carry on. Even in nonscientific, and nonreligious, terms, Yanko has experienced a series of miracles. He has escaped from a terminal society, has been the only survivor of the obliteration of a ship full of people (or, we are given to suspect, two ships) and has attracted a wife despite being incoherent, strange-looking, unemployed, and illiterate in any language. Saving three families from possible extinction, he has been spared to continue his own line, and perhaps enable the genetic survival of two moribund communities. With these facts in mind, one might even argue about the significance of the word Kennedy thinks he hears as Yanko dies--"merciful" ("Amy" 190). Although he has failed to raise up the fat and the lame, he has been revolution and evolution in himself--but only because of Amy. (10)
Myrtle Hooper's remark is typical of the criticism inside and outside the story. She proposes that Amy finally joins her community "to share its bigotry and narrow-mindedness, its contempt for, hatred and rejection of the intruder" (Hooper 51). This is another set of five things we are told that Amy is thinking or feeling. Conrad was aware of favored theories of the time which posited that human ethics, feelings, and altruism originated with women (Hunter, ch. 2). (Most of these theories were both circular and misogynistic, asserting that people learned altruism from women, thus distinguishing between women and people.) Hunter believes that Conrad "seems exceptionally reluctant to turn his attention to the altruism of the family" (86). But Conrad does not see women's actions as necessarily altruistic any more than he sees the movement of evolution as invariably forward. Amy personifies evolutionary ruthlessness in the female as Falk was to portray it in the male, Conrad's most explicit treatment of the will to survive. Hers is the attitude that creates the human race, in fact the races of all creatures--He tried to get at the baby. (In her moment of weakness we are reminded of what first attracted her to Yanko: "'Oh, I hope he won't talk!'" ["Amy" 189]). Her calling is neither moral nor religious. Amy can foster anything that has a future, anything that is viable--not, for example, a parrot with a human voice. (The parrot is also described as "outlandish" ["Amy" 159] but is apparently an example of the experiments that don't attract fostering.) (11)
Certainly, not all of Yanko's characteristics will survive. Some of the attributes he expects to see in his child are apparently not needed for future generations. Adult male solo dancing, for example, if it ever existed on the coast of Kent, is vestigial here and can be dropped. The locals not only don't desire this cultural item but seem to fear it as a genetic aberration ("Amy" 181). As for Yanko himself, this amphibious creature develops, of course, lung trouble. "I dare say he was not acclimatized as well as I had supposed" ("Amy" 187). This is indeed the clue to why Yanko didn't survive. Although he has, thanks to Amy, managed to survive long enough to breed, he himself is, in Darwin's words, "but little liable to modification" (Origin 315). The cruel and alien society some readers posit has given him, literally, a local habitation and a name, also a family and a job. But far from adapting, he seems to have had a try at adapting the locals to him: "he tried to show them how to dance" ("Amy" 182). Even if his chosen pupils had not been lame and fat, he is trying to persuade the least likely people in the least likely place to learn leaping and finger snapping, dancing among the glasses and uttering "wild and exulting cries" ("Amy" 182).
Some commentators feel that Yanko's failure turns upon linguistic misunderstanding, or "linguistic deprivation" (Harpham 148). Yet language is one of Yanko's few measures of adaptation. He can learn enough to give Kennedy the evidence of what he is thinking that Kennedy doesn't bother to seek from Amy. (Yanko will even speak English in his death throes.) That, ironically, makes his refusal to adapt undeniable. The birth of his son seems to give him the good news that he doesn't have to adapt. He continually refers to "his own country" ("Amy" 187). Kennedy remembers all this in detail: "[t]here was a man now (he told me boastfully) to whom he could sing and talk in the language of his country, and show how to dance by and by":
His wife had snatched the child out of his arms one day as he sat on the doorstep crooning to it a song such as the mothers sing to babies in his mountains [....] He expected the boy to repeat the prayer aloud after him by and by, as he used to do after his old father when he was a child--in his own country [.... H]e longed for their boy to grow up so that he could have a man to talk with in that language that to our ears sounded so disturbing. (187, 186-87)
Other readers see the baby as a throwaway item. Hugh Epstein speaks of "[Amy's] fear of life" and "fear of otherness that stops her ears to 'human accents'" (228-29). Presumably the baby has "human accents" also, but for the baby those accents are appropriate (Epstein 228-29). But Yanko's ambitions for his son read like a list of the "acrobat tricks" that disgust the villagers most ("Amy" 182). Had the child learned them, he would certainly have been rejected from the start. Now, despite the boy's birdlike and fluttery manner, the herd will not automatically gather around him to tear him to pieces, emotionally or physically ("Amy" 191). He will not be persecuted or even disadvantaged. This of course does not mean that a perfecting principle is at work. Much can go wrong for him and with him, but Amy has fostered him successfully so far. He is "Amy Foster's boy" ("Amy" 191). (It seems Amy and Little John are not called Goorall.) For better or worse, the baby is "one of us" (Lord 243). The story ends with a close picture of the little boy's face: like his father, (miraculously) "cast out [...] by the sea" ("Amy" 191).
And even after Yanko's death, narrators and critics do not relent. Kennedy settles for assuming that Amy's "blank" mind has completely forgotten her husband, a preposterous conjecture: "his memory seems to have vanished from her dull brain" ("Amy" 191). Critics follow faithfully along: "nor has he left any mark on Amy's mind. His memory disappears from her dull brain" (Gillon 56). We are now to understand what is not in her mind. We see finally that she is also shielded from the curiosity of scholars.
By the time Conrad reaches Chance, the lady vanishes altogether. Jones comments that Flora in Chance "struggles into being in spite of the misrepresentations of the narrators" (Conrad 132-33). She points out that Conrad subverts all the current literary cliches of womanhood, of how women are "seen" (Jones, Conrad 133). But Amy doesn't need or want to be "seen" as anything by the males telling and hearing the story (Jones, Conrad 133). In fact she obviously doesn't need narrators at all, since they can't tell us anything about her. She does not depend on others to be "in being" (as Yanko literally does; he has to be repeatedly fostered to stay "in being") (Jones, Conrad 132).
Here the third story, the second credible one, moves into the foreground. Kennedy has romanticized and made maudlin the story of an incompetent immigrant. This immigrant has not appreciated what he has been given. Nor does Yanko have the excuse of emigrating involuntarily, as a refugee. He was planning to go to America, "where true gold could be picked up on the ground," to work for the Kaiser ("Amy" 167).
Sue Finkelstein says of Conrad: "the pathos of the story and especially of Yanko's fate suggest diminished vigilance against revealing himself as a victim" (20). There is no doubt that Conrad used some of his own feelings as an immigrant in the creation of Yanko, but the story is not autobiographical. In spite of the gloominess of Conrad's letters at the time, Yanko is not Conrad. In fact, Yanko is the direct opposite of Conrad. Striking out to sea can be done successfully. The operative word in early evolutionary theory is adaptation (Darwin, Origin, ch. 5; Descent 342-45). Conrad himself was supremely "subject to modification" (Darwin Origin 315, "Recapitulation"). He fell in love with a country and a language he hadn't seen or heard, became a distinguished man in his adopted culture, and gained worldwide fame in his third language ("Personal" ix). He chose a mate as fast and as absolutely as did Amy or Falk (no observer could understand how he made his choice or made it so quickly). He often spoke of Jessie as keeping him "in being" ("Personal" 101). This moderately fit man did survive. With Jessie he produced two English gentlemen who did not dance on tables in public houses. Nor, more surprisingly, did they speak Polish. "Amy Foster" is a story about a transitional baby, written by a man who has recently fathered one and knows how to let it grow. It would be hard to maintain that he felt his own life to have been wasted by homesickness and marriage failure.
I want to keep considering "Amy Foster" in context, as I would not be misunderstood to say that caring for babies and moderately fit husbands is the "value" Conrad assigns to women. So far I have discussed what we might call Conrad's "cave-dweller" cluster of stories, of proposed times and situations in which the power of women might become visible or might at least be suspected (Chance 38). We are told in Chance that
the late Carleon Anthony, the poet, sang in his time of the domestic and social amenities of our age with a most felicitous versification, his object being, in his own words, "to glorify the result of six thousand years' evolution towards the refinement of thought, manners, and feelings." Why he fixed the term at six thousand years I don't know. [...] But in his domestic life that same Carleon Anthony showed traces of the primitive cave-dweller's temperament. (38)
The narrator of "Falk" is much kinder to Falk's lady than Kennedy is to Amy: "She inspired you somehow with a hopeful view as to the prospects of mankind" ("Falk" 167). And just as the comfortable narrator of "Amy Foster" imagines he can enter the "primitive" mind of Amy, the comfortable narrator of "Falk" imagines that he knows what would be "cricket" for a cannibal: "You were then so lucky in the drawing of lots?" ("Falk" 131) And Captain MacWhirr, arriving in the world with Amy and Falk, is the comic version of "evolutionary emergence," his fostering female a ship (Anderson 103). His newly evolved attitude is typical of Conrad's men. When he is having his first experience of imagining something, he says of the ship that holds his life: "I wouldn't like to lose her" ("Typhoon" 275). (Though women students object to the male habit of calling machinery "she," they agree to make exception for the Nan-Shan.)
Speaking of Winnie in The Secret Agent, Hunter says "the centre of this novel is still largely unexplained, the motivation obscure. [... I]t seems that Conrad is actually unable to proceed any further in his exploration" of female altruism (214). Hunter continues: "What is remarkable about Winnie is that she is all but unfathomable" (215). He says her unfathomability is "a genuine insight," and so it is (Hunter 215). Conrad does not offer to explain female power, or the power of the sea, or of duty, or of the Heart of Darkness, some of the central mysteries of the universe. His approach is Shakespearean: to show it is not to explain it. His concern is to make us see that it is there. Yet in some stories--I would propose "Amy Foster" particularly--there are clues to how women determine outcomes large and small. They act "behind the course of events," under the notice and beneath the lofty attention of eminent scientists, world travelers, famous tellers of tales and other distinguished persons to whom Conrad's narrators speak (Perse, "Visit" 20). Sometimes a woman can be seen to be consciously directing history; sometimes she is blindfolded: she does not (perhaps) understand. When H. G. and Jane Wells sent their appreciation of "Amy Foster," Conrad modestly replied, "I can't help thinking that I have tried to make too much of a simple anecdote" (CL 2:391-2). (12) But that is the nature of parable, as of course he knew.
"Amy Foster." Unsigned review. Academy. 9 May 1903. Rpt. Conrad: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Norman Sherry. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973. 154.
Anderson, Walter E. "'Falk': Conrad's Tale of Evolution." Studies in Short Fiction 25.2 (Spring 1988): 101-8.
Andreach, Robert J. The Slain and Resurrected God: Conrad, Ford and the Christian Myth. New York: New York University Press, 1970.
Armstrong, Paul B. The Challenge of Bewilderment: Understanding and Representation in James, Conrad and Ford. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987.
Batchelor, John. The Life of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.
Billy, Ted. A Wilderness of Words: Closure and Disclosure in Conrad's Short Fiction. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1997.
Brzozowska-Krajka, Anna. "Yanko Goorall: A Waxwork from the Wax Museum of Polish Romanticism." Krajka, Joseph 165-82.
Conrad, Joseph. "Amy Foster." Zabel 155-91.
--. "Author's Note." A Personal Record. New York: Doubleday, 1926. vii-xiv.
--. Chance: A Tale in Two Parts. New York: Doubleday, 1926.
--. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. 7 vols. Eds. Frederick R. Karl and Laurence Davies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983-.
--. "Falk: A Reminiscence." Sea Stories: "Typhoon ", "Falk", and The Shadow-Line. New York: Penguin, Wordsworth Editions, 1998.82-153.
--. "Heart of Darkness." Zabel 490-603.
--. Joseph Conrad's Letters to R. B. Cunninghame Graham. Ed. C. T. Watts. London: Cambridge University Press, 1969. [Cited as To RBCG]
--. Lord Jim. London: J. M. Dent, 1953.
--. The Nigger of the "Narcissus." New York: Norton Critical Edition, 1979.
--. A Personal Record. New York: Doubleday, 1926.
--. The Secret Agent. London: Penguin, 1963.
--. "Typhoon." Zabe1 192-287.
--. Victory: An Island Tale. London: Penguin, 1963.
Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. Great Books of the Western World no. 49. Chicago: William Benton, 1952.253-600.
---. On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: Oxford University Press, 1902.
Epstein, Hugh. "'Where he is not wanted': Impression and Articulation in 'The Idiots' and 'Amy Foster.'" Conradiana 23.3 (1991): 217-32.
Finkelstein, Sue. "Hope and Betrayal: A Psychoanalytic Reading of 'Amy Foster.'" Conradiana 32.1 (2000): 20-30.
Fraser, Gail. "Conrad's Revisions to 'Amy Foster.'" Conradiana 20.3 (1988): 181-93.
Gillon, Adam. Joseph Conrad. Twayne's English Author Series, no. 333. Boston: Twayne, 1982.
Gissing, George. A Portrait in Letters: Correspondence to and about Conrad. Conradian Ed. J. H. Stape and Owen Knowles. Atlanta: Editiones Rodopi, 1996: 41.
Griem, Eberhard. "Physiological Possibility in Joseph Conrad's 'Amy Foster': The Problem of Narrative Technique." Conradiana 24.2 (1992): 126-34.
Guerard, Albert J. Conrad the Novelist. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1958.
Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. One of Us: The Mastery of Joseph Conrad. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Hayes, Peter. "Conrad, Male Tyranny, and the Idealization of Women." Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 28.3 (July 1997): 97-117.
Hooper, Myrtle. "'Oh I Hope He Won't Talk': Narrative and Silence in 'Amy Foster.'" Conradian 21.2 (Autumn 1996): 51-64.
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--. "Representing Women: Conrad, Marguerite Poradowska, and Chance." Ed. Andrew M. Roberts. Conrad and Gender. Conradian. Eds. J. H. Stape and Owen Knowles. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993.59-74.
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--. Joseph Conrad: East European, Polish and Worldwide. Ed. Wieslaw Krajka. East European Monographs No. 547. Lublin: Maria Curie-Skodowska University, 1999. Columbia University Press, 1999.
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Lord, Ursula* Solitude Versus Solidarity in the Novels of Joseph Conrad: Political and Epistemological Implications of Narrative Innovation. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1998.
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(1.) According to Hugh Epstein, changes of title insist "on the essential pessimism of the tale" (229). Anna Brzozowska-Krajka claims that "[t]he fictional world of 'Amy Foster' is created as godless, or governed by a malicious demiurge (reflecting Conrad's profound, pessimistic conviction about the senseless and unethical world)" (175). For Eberhard Griem, the story reflects "Conrad's own conviction about an absurd, godless and unethical world, hostile to man" (130). John Batchelor says only "this short story about a sex war in which a man is tortured like an uncomprehending animal by a woman" (123).
(2.) For Albert J. Guerard, "Amy Foster" is "the most personal of his works since it dramatizes an obscurely unsuccessful marriage" (49). Meyers claims that "Jessie refused to recognize the resemblance between herself and the biographical heroine of 'Amy Foster.' She was even deliberately misleading" (145). Susan Jones, in Conrad and Women, has dismissed most of such accusations, but they are still repeated, even though several of the essays her book contains were earlier published, in 1993, in "Representing Women."
(3.) One of the earliest reviewers said "The simplicity of ['Amy Foster'] leaves no room for side issues. [...] Here is bare life--life free from any kind of sentimentality, bare to the nerve" ("Amy Foster," unsigned review, qtd. in Sherry 154).
(4.) In 1902, on sending a gift to H. G. Wells's son, Conrad wrote, "we are sending him by this post, in a card board box, a remarkable example of Evolution; a dog belonging to a species which has developed (in consequence of transference to the new habitat of Nurseries) a small metal wheel under each paw. [...] In our search for the specimen we have been greatly assisted by the energetic efforts and the sage advice of our son Borys" (CL 2:469).
(5.) Darwin somewhat grumpily remarks that "these means of transport are sometimes called accidental, but this is not strictly correct: the currents of the sea are not accidental, nor is the direction of prevalent gales of wind" (Origin 327).
(6.) Andrew Mozina sees Conrad's work as a progressive analysis of human sacrifice and "Amy Foster" as autobiography (112, 115).
(7.) "Love Antics and Dances" (Darwin, Descent 451, 463-77).
(8.) Krajka says his own essay, "Multiple Identities," "surveys multiple interpretations of the protagonist of 'Amy Foster'" ("Introduction" 4; italics mine).
(9.) Also Richard Ruppel, "Yanko" 128.
(10.) Several critics feel that this tree-hugging, table-dancing apparition is a Christ figure. Elsa Nettels remarks that "Yanko's last hours are represented by Dr. Kennedy as a bleak, reductive parody of the Crucifixion," an insight she praises (185).
(11.) Darwin cites a parrot as an example of a developmental dead end: "the sole living creature that could speak a word of the language of a lost tribe" (Descent 350).
(12.) Half a century later, Rebecca West, who had been Wells's mistress at the time "Amy Foster" was written, published what appears to be her own version of the story. Building from a real news event, she describes a young woman, Mrs. Hume, in a courtroom attending her husband's trial. West prefers a different definition of protective coloration for her Amy, one that makes the courtroom spectators suspicious of her, and even does come close to endangering her. She describes the young wife as beautiful but colorless, yet attractive to all men, primarily because of her voice.
[T]he suspicious imagined that she was thinking, "How terrible it was that night I helped him to wash out the bloodstains in the apartment [...]" But those who knew her [...] were aware that at such times she was pondering such thoughts as these: "This apartment is not very convenient now we have a baby. I wish we had a proper house, with a garden. [...] It will be nice taking the baby up [to the park] in the summer, when the band plays." (223-24)
Her husband is not a stubborn castaway: he is on trial for murder.
It was very difficult to make people believe that what seemed interesting to her about her life at present was not that her husband had been caught disposing of a corpse, but that she had just had a baby. Yet, when the bloodstained facts of history are considered, it is apparent that this must have been the standard feminine attitude throughout the ages. (223-24)
When her husband was imprisoned,
[o]f her own knowledge she was for the most part silent; she has a great faculty for silence. [... T]hese matters did not, of course, touch on the really important point. The baby upstairs was putting on the right amount of weight now. It was everything that a baby should be. Her mother would bring her up so that she was an attractive girl, very like any other attractive girl. The snarl in Hume's genetic line would be disentangled. (230)
That is the concluding point of West's story.
EVE M. WHITTAKER
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
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|Author:||Whittaker, Eve M.|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2007|
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