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Mrs. Golightly and Other Stories [Paperback]

Ethel Wilson , David Stouck

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Book Description

Sept. 21 2010 0771094809 978-0771094804
The eighteen pieces collected in Mrs. Golightly and Other Stories bring together the many and subtle voices of Ethel Wilson, demonstrating her extraordinary range as a writer. From the gentle mockery of the title story to the absurdist reportage of “Mr. Sleepwalker,” Wilson exerts unerring narrative control. Revealing what is “simple and complicated and timeless” in everyday life, these stories also venture into irrational realms of experience where chance encounters assume a malevolent form and coincidence transmuted into nightmare.

First published in 1961, Mrs. Golightly and Other Stories is a diverse and rewarding collection, unified by Ethel Wilson’s distinct and engaging wit.


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About the Author

ETHEL WILSON was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in 1888. In 1898, she moved to Vancouver to live with her maternal grandmother. In the 1930s Wilson published a few short stories and began a series of family reminiscences, which were later transformed into The Innocent Traveller. Her first published novel, Hetty Dorval, appeared in 1947, and her fiction career ended fourteen years later with the publication of her story collection, Mrs. Golightly and Other Stories.

DAVID STOUCK is a professor of English at Simon Fraser University.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Mrs. Golightly and the First Convention
 
 
Mrs. Golightly was a shy woman. She lived in Vancouver. Her husband, Tommy Golightly, was not shy. He was personable and easy to like. He was a consulting engineer who was consulted a great deal by engineering firms, construction firms, logging firms in particular, any firm that seemed to have problems connected with traction. When he was not being consulted he played golf, tennis, or bridge according to whether the season was spring, summer, autumn or winter. Any time that was left over he spent with his wife and three small children of whom he was very fond. When he was with them, it seemed that that was what he liked best. He was a very extroverted sort of man, easy and likeable, and his little wife was so shy that it just was not fair.
 
At the period of which I write, Conventions had not begun to take their now-accepted place in life on the North American continent. I am speaking of Conventions with a capital C. Conventions with a small c have, of course, always been with us, but not as conspicuously now as formerly. In those days, when a man said rather importantly I am going to a Convention, someone was quite liable to ask What is a Convention? Everyone seemed to think that they must be quite a good thing, which of course they are. We now take them for granted.
 
Now Mr. Golightly was admirably adapted to going to Conventions. His memory for names and faces was good; he liked people, both in crowds and separately; he collected acquaintances who rapidly became friends. Everyone liked him.
 
One day he came home and said to his wife, “How would you like a trip to California?”
 
Mrs. Golightly gave a little gasp. Her face lighted up and she said, “Oh Tom . . . !”
 
“There’s a Western and Middle Western Convention meeting at Del Monte the first week of March, and you and I are going down,” said Mr. Golightly.
 
Mrs. Golightly’s face clouded and she said in quite a different tone and with great alarm, “Oh Tom . . . !”
 
“Well, what?” said her husband.
 
Mrs. Golightly began the sort of hesitation that so easily overcame her. “Well, Tom,” she said, “I’d have to get a hat, and I suppose a suit and a dinner dress, and Emmeline isn’t very good to leave with the children and you know I’m no good with crowds and people, I never know what to say, and –”
 
“Well, get a new hat,” said her husband, “get one of those hats I see women wearing with long quills on. And get a new dress. Get twenty new dresses. And Emmeline’s fine with the children and what you need’s a change, and I’m the only one in my profession invited from British Columbia. You get a hat with the longest feather in town and a nice dinner dress!” Mr. Golightly looked fondly at his wife and saw with new eyes that she appeared anxious and not quite as pretty as she sometimes was. He kissed her and she promised that she would get the new hat, but he did not know how terrified she was of the Convention and all the crowds of people, and that she suffered at the very thought of going. She could get along all right at home, but small talk with strangers – oh, poor Mrs. Golightly. These things certainly are not fair. However, she got the dress, and a new hat with the longest quill in town. She spent a long time at the hairdresser’s; and how pretty she looked and how disturbed she felt! “I’ll break the quill every time I get into the car, Tom,” she said.
 
“Non-sense,” said her husband, and they set off in the car for California.
 
Mrs. Golightly travelled in an old knitted suit and a felt hat pulled down on her head in observance of a theory which she had inherited from her mother that you must never wear good clothes when travelling. The night before arriving at Del Monte a car passing them at high speed side-swiped them ever so little, but the small damage and fuss that resulted from that delayed them a good deal. The result was that they got late to bed that night, slept little, rose early, and had to do three hundred miles before lunch. Mrs. Golightly began to feel very tired in spite of some mounting excitement, but this did not make her forget to ask her husband to stop at the outskirts of Del Monte so that she could take her new hat out of the bag and put it on. Mr. Golightly was delighted with the way his wife was joining in the spirit of the thing. “Good girl,” he said, which pleased her, and neither of them noticed that nothing looked right about Mrs. Golightly except her hat, and even smart hats, worn under those circumstances, look wrong.
 
How impressive it was to Mrs. Golightly, supported by her hat, to approach the portals of the fashionable Del Monte Hotel. Large cars reclined in rows, some sparkling, some dimmed by a film of dust, all of them costly. Radiant men and women, expensively dressed (the inheritors of the earth, evidently), strolled about without a care in the world, or basked on the patio, scrutinizing new arrivals with experienced eyes. Mrs. Golightly had already felt something formidably buoyant in the air of California, accustomed as she was to the mild, soft and (to tell the truth) sometimes deliciously drowsy air of the British Columbia coast. The air she breathed in California somehow alarmed her. Creatures customarily breathing this air must, she thought, by nature, be buoyant, self-confident – all the things that Mrs. Golightly was not. Flowers bloomed, trees threw their shade, birds cleft the air, blue shone the sky, and Mrs. Golightly, dazzled, knocked her hat crooked as she got out of the car, and she caught the long quill on the door. She felt it snick. Oh, she thought, my darling quill!
 
No sooner had they alighted from their car, which was seized on all sides by hotel minions of great competence, than her husband was surrounded by prosperous men who said, “Well Tom! And how’s the boy! Say Tom this is great!” And Tom turned from side to side greeting, expansive, the most popular man in view. Mrs. Golightly had no idea that Tom had so many business friends that loved him dearly. And then with one accord these prosperous men turned their kindly attention to Mrs. Golightly. It overwhelmed her but it really warmed her heart to feel that they were all so pleased that she had come, and that she had come so far, and although she felt shy, travel-worn and tired, she tried to do her best and her face shone sweetly with a desire to please.
 
“Now,” said the biggest of the men, “the boys are waiting for you, Tom. Up in one three three. Yes in one three three. And Mrs. Golightly I want you to meet Mrs. Allyman of the Ladies’ Committee. Mrs. Allyman meet Mrs. Tom Golightly from British Columbia. Will you just register her please, we’ve planned a good time for the ladies, Tom . . . we’ll take good care of Tom, Mrs. Golightly.” And Mr. Golightly said, “But my wife . . .” and then a lot of people streamed in, and Tom and the other men said, “Well, well, well, so here’s Ed! Say, Ed . . .” and the words streamed past Mrs. Golightly and Tom was lost to her view.
 
A lump that felt large came in her throat because she was so shy, and Tom was not to be seen, but Mrs. Allyman was very kind and propelled her over to a group of ladies and said, “Oh this is the lady from British Columbia, the name is Golightly isn’t it? Mrs. Golightly I want you to meet Mrs. Finkel and Mrs. Connelly and Mrs. Magnus and – pardon me I didn’t catch the name – Mrs. Sloper from Colorado. Oh there’s the President’s wife Mrs. Bagg. Well Mrs. Bagg did you locate Mr. Bagg after all, no doubt he’s in one three three. Mrs. Golightly I’d like to have you meet Mrs. Bagg and Mrs. Simmons, Mrs. Bagg, Mrs. Finkel, Mrs. Bagg, and Mrs. Sloper, Mrs. Bagg. Mrs. Golightly is all the way from British Columbia, I think that’s where you come from, Mrs. Golightly?” Mrs. Allyman, speaking continually, seemed to say all this in one breath. By the time that Mrs. Golightly’s vision had cleared (although she felt rather dizzy), she saw that all these ladies were chic, and that they wore hats with very long quills, longer even than hers, which made her feel much more secure. However, her exhilaration was passing; she realized that she was quite tired, and she said, smiling sweetly, “I think I’d better find my room.” The hubbub in the hotel rotunda increased and increased.
 
When she reached her room she found that Tom had sent the bags up, and she thought she would unpack, and lie down for a bit to get rested, and then go down and have a quiet lunch. Perhaps she would see Tom somewhere. But first she went over to the window and looked out upon the incredible radiance of blue and green and gold, and the shine of the ethereal air. She looked at the great oak trees and the graceful mimosa trees and she thought, After I’ve tidied up and had some lunch I’ll just go and sit under one of those beautiful mimosa trees and drink in this . . . this largesse of air and scent and beauty. Mrs. Golightly had never seen anything like it. The bright air dazzled her, and made her sad and gay. Just then the telephone rang. A man’s strong and purposeful voice said, “Pardon me, but may I speak to Tom?”
 
“Oh I’m sorry,” said Mrs. Golightly, “Tom’s not here.”
 
“Can you tell me where I can get him?” asked the voice very urgently.
 
“I’m so sorry . . . ,” faltered Mrs. Golightly.
 
“Sorry to troub . . .” said the voice and the telephone clicked off.
 
There. The Convention had invaded the bedroom, the azure sky,...

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