EnglishLiterature NotesM A English

Summary of the short story The Diviner by Brian Friel.

By: Naeem Sulehri, M.Aslam Warriach


By: Naeem Sulehri, M.Aslam Warriach

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"The Diviner” is the story of the life of a woman Nelly who was for twenty-five years married to a heavy drinking man who could not hold a job.  Drinking to excess was considered a sin and it was a shame on the wife of a drunkard and she was also considered a figure of pity.  One day the drunken husband falls down from his bicycle and is crushed by a van.

After her husband’s death, Nelly has to go to work as a charwoman (cleaning lady). She is such a good work and of such a high character that she is soon working for some of the very best families. All of her time is spent among these houses. The families with whom Nelly works are: the bank manager, the solicitor, the dentist, the doctor the McLaughlins of the Arcade.

Then one day he goes to the priest of the town father Curran and tells him that she is going to marry again. She tells the priest that the man she is going to get as her husband is Mr. Doherty. Mr. Doherty is a retired person. Though aged but a fresh-looking person, Mr. Doherty does not belong to the County Donegal.

“He is from the West, father, said Nelly, smoothing down the hem of her skirt.”

Thus, she marries a man from outside of County Tyrone.  Nobody knows him but he seems nice and respectable and everyone is happy for the woman. Like her earlier husband Mr. Tom Devenny, the present one, Mr. Doherty is also a sort of mysterious and reticent person. Mr. Doherty does not meet with anyone in the community. He lives with her wife Nelly in her hut at the outskirt of the village. The people are busy in speculations about Doherty’s age, his social rank in his community, and his family background but they find no answers to their questions.

Just after three months of his marriage with Nelly Mr. Doherty, on one Sunday, dies by drowning in the bog-black water of Lough Keeragh. Father Curran goes to Nell’s hut to break the sad news of her husband’s death. On hearing this terrible news Nelly says to father Curran:

 “As true as God, Father, he was out at first Mass with me”, as if he had accused her of having a husband who skipped Mass for morning fishing.”

Father Curran takes Nelly in his car to the lake where her husband has drowned. He parks the car at right angles to the shore where Nelly sits and keeps watching the search for her husband’s dead body. She sits in the front seat of the car through that afternoon and evening and night, never once moving. Father Curran kept saying his rosary while the search was on.

Not only the members of the families where Nelly works but also the whole folk of the village are busy in doing one thing or the other to search out the dead body. Led the men of the village aside, even the women are busy. They have set up a canteen in Dr. Boyle’s boathouse to provide the workers with snacks and tea. Now and then some of the women go to the place where Nelly is sitting to console her. To make their work easy the people have divided the mile-long lake into three strips. Most of the men engaged in the work are unskilled so the work slow as well as frustrating. Soon the night starts falling and the people manage every available vehicle in the village to line up at the shore of the lake. They keep working but of no avail. Even the mountainy Meenalaragan men try to search the dead body but fail and return home in the darkness.

At last, McElwee, the postman floated the idea of bringing the diviner. He says that he knows a little about the diviner living somewhere in the north of County Mayo. Men present there agree with McElwee. Dr. Boyle suggests informing and consulting father Curran about the issue of bringing the diviner. He goes to the priest and tells him about the idea. Father Curran agrees but reluctantly.

Mr. McElwee along with another man goes to bring the diviner to the County Mayo. McElwee returns with the diviner who is a tall and a bit fleshy fellow. The diviner is wearing black clothes like that of Nelly and the priest. After a short discourse with father Curran, the diviner gets to his work. When he starts his work, Nelly first time leaves the car to watch as if she were confident of this time’s search executed by the diviner.

At last, the diviner succeeds in searching the dead body of Mr. Doherty laying twenty feet of water.  The body is brought out to the shore and laid in front of father Curran’s car. Mr. McElwee knees beside the body; closes the eyes and the drooping mouth and knits together the fingers of the rough hands. He also places the two feet of the dead body together. The priest standing beside the car door, close to the women surrounding Nelly says: “ He was a good man who lived a quiet life and loved his God and his neighbors,……….At this moment he is enjoying his just reward. At the hour of his demise, he was carrying his rosary beads-am I correct, McElwee?”

Someone hands the wallet and the watch to the priest who gives these articles to Nelly. The body is found but with two bottles of whiskey in his pocket. One of the bottles was empty. Mr. McElwee hides the bottles from others present at the scene. When he is asked about the bottles, he replies that he has found them but does not tell that they belong to the dead man. The funeral scene is just heartbreaking. “While they prayed, Nelly cried, helplessly, convulsively, her wailing rising above the drone of the prayer. Her’s they knew, were not only the tears for twenty-five years of humility and mortification but, more bitter still, tears for the past three months, when appearances had almost won, when a foothold on respectability had almost been established”  

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