‘The Fashion Plate’ by Rhys Davies

The Fashion Plate by Rhys Davies, 1944

The magic trick:

Building a tension so intense that even negative release is welcomed by the reader

My sincerest thanks to my Aunt Jacqui who gave me the Penguin Book Of Welsh Short Stories some years ago. I’ll be drawing stories from the collection all week, starting with “The Fashion Plate,” a story she particularly recommended.

I see now why. It’s not one you soon forget after reading.

The tone is ominous from the start. Mrs. Mitchell, mocked by the people of the small Welsh town where she lives as “the fashion plate,” is clearly not cut out for this kind of locale. Immediately, we see her desperation to define her life and ambitions beyond the limitations of the people around her.

Then we see that desperation taking the form of what is an oddly needy relationship with a young neighbor boy. When we meet her husband and see the pure nastiness that is their marriage, that desperation veers toward tragedy. Not good.

The reader has an intensely palpable feeling that something awful is bound to happen here. So palpable that I think there is almost a feeling of relief – or at least a release of tension – when that something awful does in fact happen.

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

The selection:

Suddenly footsteps sounded on the stairs, descending with pronounced deliberation. And Mrs. Mitchell seemed to draw herself in, like a slow, grateful snail into its shell. The door opened, and Mr. Mitchell stood there in a bowler hat and overcoat, bulky and glowering. Even his ragged moustache looked as if it was alive with helpless anger – anger that would never really shoot out or even bristle. ‘Am going out,’ he said, in a low, defeated growl. Of Nicholas he took no notice. ‘Going out,’ he repeated. ‘Yes.’

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