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The Story Of Lucy Gault English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2118 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The novel is dramatic from the outset and begins with the introduction of the story’s framing device, the wounding of a child by Lucy’s father, Everard Gault, during the political unrest in Ireland during the 1920s. This immediately draws the reader into the text by evoking curiosity regarding the motive behind the shooting. An analepsis then follows, the narrative discourse of which is an overt narratorial voice that is used to give expository information that explains both the origins of the Gault family, and subsequently, the possible reasons behind the family’s position of being driven from their home. The initial exposition also includes historical details relating to the era and provides social, cultural and political information, therefore providing world to text knowledge and preventing the possibility of a cultural divide between text and reader (Gavins, 2007).

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Although the significance of the opening chapter can only be fully appreciated later in the novel, the origins of story’s main themes are established, such as Heloise’s nationality, Horahan’s attack on the family and even Bridget’s failure to expose Lucy’s solitary visits to the sea, allowing the focus to move towards Lucy Gault, the protagonist. The story has the feel of a German Bildungsroman, (Cuddon, 1999), as it progresses through six sections, each depicting a period in her life. The passage of time is signalled through the use of references to historical events, for example the Anglo-Irish hostilities and the later outbreak of World War II, although, the simultaneous preservation of Lahardane demonstrates Trevor’s subjective expression of a country trapped in the past.

The novel’s overall chronology does not follow a strictly linear structure, with the family’s separation resulting in a need for Trevor to employ parallelism (Schirmer, 1990). For example, while Lucy remains at Lahardane, her parents live in self-induced exile in Italy. The device is also used to interlink the themes that underpin the moral decisions controlling the providence of every character, such as Lucy’s decision to live a largely solitary life until the point at which she can request the forgiveness of her parents and Horahan’s persistent efforts to escape the nightmares that plague his sleep. Although some readers may find this structure perplexing, it is vital to the development of the multiple vignettes that prevent the story from becoming one-dimensional and, subsequently, tedious.

Similarly, Trevor avoids the possibility of the narrative becoming tiresome by using situational irony to drive the plot forward, and to urge the audience to read on in search of an agreeable conclusion. For instance, despite numerous opportunities for the family to be reunited, the Gaults deliberately choose to oppose logical decisions and so prolong the family’s separation. Trevor uses this irony to evoke pathos throughout the novel and, despite being regarded by some as ‘fanciful’ (Pepinster, 2002), to delay the denouement of the story. By provoking passionate reactions, the tragedy also draws readers closer to the text by exploiting the emotions felt by many parents, ensuring a more empathetic view of the family. However, whether the prolonging of the tragedy is an effectual plot will largely depend on the acceptance of the novel as a work of fiction, and not as a conventional representation of life.

In addition to the uncertainty regarding the realism of the novel, the historical representation of the era has also been questioned by critics Martin & Mackenna (cited in Del Río-Álvaro, 2007) who suggest that the images of Ireland are outdated as a result of Trevor’s migration to England. It can be assumed, however, that Trevor draws on both his cultural heritage and observations made during his travels, and with the focus of the novel being on the underlying themes, the critic’s reservations must be regarded as somewhat irrelevant. Moreover, Trevor’s descriptions, whether accurate or not, clearly enable the visualisation of each setting, such as the imagery used to portray the beauty of Lahardane and the atmosphere surrounding the arrival of Il Duce, and lets Trevor’s interest in all four countries remain a dividend, to simply enjoy.

It has also been suggested that his travels have given Trevor the ability to write about characters that are considered as outcasts (Pepinster, 2002), such as Timothy in ‘The Children of Dynmouth’ (1976), and this is supported by his own declaration that he often feels ‘like a stranger in several countries’ (Schirmer, 1990). However, despite this admission, Trevor does not regret his native Irish background, instead regarding his multi-cultural status as beneficial to him as an author. Furthermore, his repeated use of Ireland as a setting for his stories, as in The Distant Past (1979) and Fools of Fortune (1983), advocates that he maintains a connection with his native country, also symbolised by his metaphorical depiction of the bond between Everard Gault and Lahardane, describing Ireland as being ‘as much a part of Everard Gault as the features of his face’. In contrast, Heloise Gault regrets her English nationality and identifies it as the reason for her family being targeted. It is possible, however, that it is either the family’s ownership of Lahardane (Dudley Edwards & Hourican, 2005), their Protestant faith or the Captains previous role of an officer in the British army, (Jackson, 2010) that cause them to be under attack at the beginning of the novel.

This explanation of Heloise’s guilt illustrates the tragic flaw that is subsequently attributed to almost every character, and generates the thematic patterning of the novel. For example, in addition to Heloise carrying the burden of believing that she caused death of Lucy, the family’s housekeeper and earlier persecutor, Horahan, both also consider themselves to blame for the unfolding tragedy. However, unlike with Heloise, Trevor uses repetitive designation to mask Horahan’s significance in the plot, until the point at which this foreshadowing has allowed the development of the more prominent characters. Trevor’s decision to understate Horahan’s role within a subplot, facilitates the development as him as a character, and emphasises the need to make intratextual inferences. Moreover, the use of a story within a story, is symbolic of everyday life and allows the introduction of the issue of Horahan’s mental illness, giving him a resemblance to Mary Louise, the protagonist from Trevor’s ‘Reading Turgenev’ (2004a). Despite being satirical in tone, the outcome of portraying Horahan in this way is an amplified concern for him, resulting in him becoming a victim of circumstance, in company with the members of the Gault family.

This example illustrates Trevor’s ability to explore alternative ways of portraying personal misfortune, and is undoubtedly one of the key strengths of this and many more of his novels. A further example of this is his decision to portray protagonists, such as Lucy, as orphans in order to give them an air of vulnerability, for example the character Ellie from the novel ‘Love and Summer’ (2009a). Although, unlike Ellie, Lucy Gault is not actually an orphan, she lives the life of one up until her Father’s return, and therefore experiences the same difficulties with expressing love that can be the consequence of a troubled childhood. This development of Lucy’s personality allows Trevor to explain the nonchalant way in which she responds towards her male admirer, Ralph. Moreover, it is an example of the way that the presentation of characters from different perspectives, prevents the reader from simply sharing ‘in their discomfort’ (Bonaccorso, 1997:5) and achieves the goal of maintaining a balanced viewpoint. Nevertheless, while some may feel either sympathy or respect for her, others might see her as self-pitying and even begin to find her ongoing self sacrifice rather tiresome. This is unlikely, however, since Trevor uses the reactions of supporting characters, namely the children in the schoolhouse and grocer Mrs McBride, to explain Lucy’s inner turmoil and to sustain her portrayal as that of a victim, encouraging the continuation of an empathetic view of her character.

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Lucy bears similarities to Aimee, the ill-fated protagonist in Trevor’s ‘My House in Umbria’ (2004b), who also finds herself alone and being temporarily cared for. Similarly, Lucy’s mother resembles Aimee’s carer, Mrs. Delahunty, who absconds to Italy to escape painful memories of the past. Both stories are representative of Trevor’s preference for writing about woman which he says is, ‘because I’m not a woman and I don’t know what it’s like’ (2010), although some might argue to the contrary (Shriver, 2011). In The Story of Lucy Gault, he not only chooses for Lucy to dominate her relationship with Ralph, the man she eventually falls in love with, but also portrays Lucy’s mother, Heloise, as being the governing influence in the path taken by both parents. Therefore, Trevor uses the balance between his portrayal of them as influential characters, and the vulnerability attributed to women, for example the isolated child being a girl and the effect of a mother losing her child, to maintain an objective tone, thus preventing the novel from becoming too morose and consequently arduous to read.

The immensity of the tragedy of the Gault family is also controlled through the use of dramatic irony, such as knowing that her parent’s absence has prompted Lucy to discard the possibility of a future with Ralph despite the death of Heloise initiating Everards return to Lahardane. This example of variable focalisation, in addition to providing privileged details relating to each parallel twist in the plot, clarifies the further theme concealment and the consequences that emulate from failing to communicate. However, this use of irony can be both productive, by illustrating Everard Gault’s failure to send letters to Lahardane because of his devotion towards his wife, and frustrating, knowing that the letters could spell an end to the family’s separation. Whether ironic or simply irritating, the use of analogy to present the parents devotion as a tragic flaw does not undermine the poetic way in which Trevor encapsulates their love, and results in a more convincing acceptance of the tragedy’s concluding chain of events.

Everard’s eventual return to Lahardane initiates the closing sequence that culminates in the denouement of the story. Trevor resists the urge to digress from the solemn tone of earlier chapters, opting instead to bring closure to the story in a way that dilutes the sadness felt throughout the book, and generates a catharsis for both the characters and the audience. Although romanticists will be disappointed to discover that Lucy remains unmarried and childless despite her love for Ralph, and, may therefore infer a didactic theme to explain the absence of a conventional ‘happy ending’ (Kaler & Johnson-Kurek , 2006:4), the majority will appreciate the way in which the closing chapter makes certain that the story remains as an allegorical representation of the influence that emotion can have in determining fate. Moreover, Lucy’s final aphorism, that she should have died when lying on the rocks, is a symbol of the paradoxical themes dominating her life, and encapsulates the novel’s tragic theme with poetic style.

The Story of Lucy Gault was shortlisted for both the Booker and Whitbread prizes in 2002 and is an example of the literary talent possessed by William Trevor. The award winning author describes himself as “a short-story writer who happens to write novels. Not the other way around” (2009b) and many of his publications, for example ‘After Rain’ (1997) and ‘Cheating at Canasta’ (2008) are collections of his short stories. Trevor says he enjoys having a, “connection with the reader I haven’t met but feel I know because of having shared an experience: the story” (2011), and it is clear from The Story of Lucy Gault, that he has achieved his ideology by sharing a dramatic story that forever remains a haunting experience.


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