‘A Young Girl Can Spoil Her Chances’ by Maeve Brennan

A Young Girl Can Spoil Her Chances by Maeve Brennan, 1962

The magic trick:

A particularly intense scene in which Rose’s mother tries to warn Hubert off of marrying her daughter

We just did a week of Maeve Brennan stories this past spring, but they’re so good, I figured why not dive back in. The stories we looked at back in April were the series about the Delia and Martin Bagot family. The batch we take on this week focuses on Rose and Hubert Derdon.

Both couples live in Dublin. Both marriages are troubled. All of the stories are slow and detailed and notable for their pure humanity. They’re not always page-turners, but they’re remarkable documents of how people live and ache and get along and struggle. Nearly perfect stories.

The Derdon stories tend to be longer, and that is among the reasons I prefer the Bagot stories. “A Young Girl,” for example is long and has many scenes and ideas. Which is great. I just like the way the Bagot stories usually focus more on one feeling at a time.

Of all the scenes here, the one that really stuck with me was the flashback to when Rose’s mother warns a young Hubert off of marrying her daughter. It’s crushing. She tells Hubert that Rose is flighty, always changing her mind, susceptible to influence from whoever is in the room with her. Just brutal stuff. And Rose is right there! She’s doing all this in front of Rose.

The saddest thing, of course, is that the rest of the story’s context shows us that Mom was right. Maybe not in all of her negative assessments of Rose. But certainly her notion that the young couple should wait a while longer before they marry seems confirmed. The couple is not happy in their middle age. It’s just painful to see it laid so bare in that scene.

And that’s quite a trick on Brennan’s part.

The selection:

“Oh, Mother, don’t be talking like that to him,” Rose cried. “It’s not fair. You’ll be giving him a bad picture of me. It’s not a bit fair.”

“I don’t want any of you back answers Rose,” her mother said. “And now, to prove that I’m right, I’m going to give Hubert an example of what I mean.”

“Oh, well, then, there’s nothing I can do,” Rose whispered.

“Here’s what I mean,” her mother went on. “And I’m telling you, Hubert, so that you’ll know and so that nobody can be laughing at you behind your back. Do you know the lane that runs alongside the Children’s School over on Patrick Street? Well, you wouldn’t know it, being a stranger here, but it’s there, and there’s nothing at the end of it but a disused stable with a broken door. The door got broken about a year ago when some young hooligans got in there one night, for what reason nobody knows and nobody likes to think, and they were never found, although we all have our ideas as to who they were. No decent girl would go down that lane by herself, and at night no girl would go down there with anybody if she had any respect at all for herself, but the tenth of June last, Rose slipped out of here when my back was turned and waited there at that stable for over two hours at night, from half past eight until nearly eleven, waiting for a young fellow down the street, a young fellow, a young rascal that’s not good enough for Rose to wipe her boots on, or wasn’t good enough until she let him wipe his boots on her.”

“Oh, Mother!” Rose cried.

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