Her Table Spread by Elizabeth Bowen, 1930
The magic trick:
Building the story toward an epiphany
“Her Table Spread” delivers a moment of epiphany for Mr. Alban, whom we are told in the very first sentence isn’t so keen on marriage. Now, despite the cinematic setting – an elaborately decked out seaside castle in Ireland – the gist of the epiphany is standard-issue. Essentially, you don’t appreciate what you have until you don’t have it anymore. Not exactly earth-shaking stuff for the reader. But that’s not really the point. We read for the drama; the buildup to the epiphany ratchets up the stress and panic among the characters, giving the reader a satisfying story experience. And that’s quite a trick on Bowen’s part.
But she put her two hands over the lantern, then smothered it in her dress. She had a panic. Supposing she should prefer Mr. Graves?
She had heard Mr. Graves was stocky, but very merry; when he came to supper at Easter he slid in the gallery. He would teach her to dance, and take her to Naples and Paris . . . Oh, dear, oh, dear, then they must fight for her; that was all there was to it . . . She let the lantern out of her skirts and waved. Her fine arm with bangles went up and down, up and down, with the staggering lights; the trees one by one jumped up from the dark, like savages.
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