‘Marjorie Daw’ by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Aldrich, Thomas Bailey 1869

Marjorie Daw by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, 1869

The magic trick:

Making the narrator speak for the town but not necessarily with the town

This is an epistolary story – a series of letters written between two men. As such, it should be a pretty static experience for the reader. The two men write the story; we read it. Simple.

Except it’s not simple. While there are two letter writers, essentially all the action takes place on one end: through the letters of Edward Delaney. John Flemming is laid up in bed with a broken leg. So the reading experience isn’t so neutral as it first appeared. We, the reader, are actually in the exact same position as Mr. Flemming, minus (hopefully) the bum leg. We are isolated from the action, even as we seem to have full access to the story, making us wholly reliant on Delaney’s account. And that’s quite a trick on Aldrich’s part.

The selection:


August 11, 1872.

Your letter, dear Ned, was a godsend. Fancy what a fix I am in–I, who never had a day’s sickness since I was born. My left leg weighs three tons. It is embalmed in spices and smothered in layers of fine linen, like a mummy. I can’t move. I haven’t moved for five thousand years. I’m of the time of Pharaoh.


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