Christmas Eve by Maeve Brennan, 1972
The magic trick:
Using the hallway of the family home as literary device
This is a simple little story, a snapshot really. Brennan checks in on the Bagot family – regular cast members in her work – at Christmas time. Nothing much happens, but the story manages to resonate, particularly her use of the family home’s hallway.
The hallway stands in as many things. It physically separates the husband and wife, the father from the family. It also acts as a kind of reminder that Christmas time can return worn-down, tired adults to the joy and innocence of childhood, if even for one night. The hallway, too, Brennan writes, is a means by which the house can be seen by visitors. Visitors like the reader, or even Brennan’s narrator.
That’s like three literary devices for the price of one! And that’s quite a trick on Brennan’s part.
The hall was quite narrow, and was covered with linoleum, and it served its purpose very well, both as an entrance to the house and as a vantage point from which the house could be viewed and seen for what it was – a small, plain, family place that had a compartmented look now in winter because of all the doors being closed to keep whatever heat there was inside the rooms. In the hall there was a rack with hooks on it for coats, and there was an umbrella stand, and a chair nobody ever sat on. Nobody ever sat on the chair and nobody ever stood long in the hall. It was a passageway – not to fame and not to fortune but only to the common practices of family life, those practices, habits, and ordinary customs that are the only true realities most of us ever know, and that in some of us form a memory strong enough to give us something to hold on to to the end of our days.