Lit. NotesShort Story

Critical Analysis of A Woman How Had Imagination

A village choir travels to a country estate for a music festival, where the young son of the choir director is drawn to a resident of the estate, a mesmerizing and mysterious young woman. Only on the return trip does he learn that she is married to the aged don of the house; as one choir member exclaims, “it needed a bit of imagination to marry that old co…….”

The many details of the choir outing may reflect in some respects Bates’ youth, as his father Albert Bates was a passionate singer and choir director. Graham Greene, reviewing the collection first containing the story “The Woman Who Had Imagination”, wrote that “I cannot enough admire the title story…The dresses and slang…the heat of the afternoon striking up into the crowded break from the country road, the return at night… this frame, in the setting of the country house, is an odd romantic episode. But the sureness of Mr. Bates’ tact is seen in this: the unusual…is kept in its place and is not allowed to do more than to throw into relief the lovely realism of the choir’s outing.”

Bates was already finding his narrative voice, his subject matter, and his methods; his major concerns were with character, mood, and the evocation of a sense of time and place. He was to insist later as he has said, “I never had the slightest interest in plots the idea of the plot is completely foreign to my conception of the short story.”

“The Woman Who Had Imagination” has been divided into three parts which can easily be titled: ‘On the Brake’, ‘In the Mansion’ and ‘On the Lake’. The story is an excellent example of the psychological study of the two major characters: Henry Solly and Maddalena. Henry during his journey to the mansion remains immersed in his thoughts. He does indulge in the trivial conversation going on between the other members of the choir “Orpheus Male Voice Glee Singers”. When he reaches there, he finds a person like his own sort i.e., Maddalena. She has been, perhaps, forced to live with and read stories to the old man. The jealous nature of her old husband shows that she can do nothing freely on her own. She is acting in the house as Henry has to act at his father’s draper shop. He sits there and keeps waiting and counting. It is a forced sort of life imposed on him by his father.

There is a great hustle and bustle in the story. The choir members on the brake talk in a gay mood. They have their wives and mistresses with them. There is a great gathering in the mansion too where people sing, play, eat and drink. There are bluffers like the fishmonger who has no aim in life except drinking and gossiping. But, along with this atmosphere of festivity, there is penetrating loneliness. This solitude is apparent in the characters of Henry, Maddalena, and the old man. Henry is not only alone at his shop, but also a victim of aloofness during the journey. At the mansion, he mysteriously sneaks away and begins to saunter in the rooms and passageways until he finds another embodiment of mystery and loneliness viz. Maddalena.

The old man is also staying away from the festivity and is fully engrossed in his being. He is quite a mysterious fellow who is not only facing loneliness but is also in confrontation with ‘grethe en-eyed monster’ of jealousy. As the fishmonger tells Henry, “…. The old man went mad. Raving mad, all because she’d gone. Jealousy! That’s all. Mad with jealousy. …….. He is jealous of her. He never wants her out of his sight. And she is so young. And then she is a woman of great imagination.”

Though the story has been titled “A Woman Who Had Imagination” but we, for most of the narration, find that it is a young boy of twenty who is engrossed in imagination. During his journey to the mansion with the members of the choir, he is absorbed in thoughts and is unaware of what is happening around him. He dwells deep into thinking about the woman who had imagination. He thinks to find that why does she invite him to the lake. What relationship does she have with old man? We see him lost in thoughts on his way back home. As the text goes: “Henry sat silent, only half-conscious of what the voice about him said. He was thinking of the woman: he could see her in the room with the old man, he could see her crying by the lake and half-waving her hand. He could see her clearly and could hear her voice unmistakably, yet he felt at times that she had never existed.”

He is silent on his way back home as he was on the way to the mansion.  The only change that has occurred is that now his object of thinking has changed. He is silently thinking about Maddalena who has possessed his mind.

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