A Voyage To Cythera by Margaret Drabble, 1967
The magic trick:
Turning a chance encounter into a quest for intimacy
Time for more Christmas stories!
We’ve read many stories about writers for this SSMT project. Many of them couldn’t be more direct; the protagonist’s profession literally is writer. Some may try more subterfuge; the protagonist is some kind of artist like painter or architect, but of course we see through it and understand immediately that they are simply stand-ins for the writer.
Today’s story is a little bit of a twist on that premise. This story goes a layer deeper into what a writer looks for in the world.
Our protagonist (profession unknown) believes that every trip out of the house – no matter how mundane – can be an adventure; every interaction – no matter how fleeting – a memorable, romantic exchange worth analysis.
This is the essence of a writer’s mindset when writing fiction, isn’t it?
And so this story tests that theory – magnifying a mundane interaction, on a train between our protagonist and a stranger, in search for meaning. I shouldn’t even say it’s a search for meaning, actually. It’s not meaning. It’s different than that – and perhaps even more writerly.
For our protagonist, the brief interaction on the train begets a quest for intimacy, a quest for more knowledge about the people involved.
It’s why most people write fiction, I would imagine.
Certainly, it’s why we read.
And that’s quite a trick on Drabble’s part.
And as she stood there, out there in the cold, and watched, she felt herself stiffen slowly into the breathlessness of attention: because it seemed to her that she had been given, freely, a vision of something so beautiful that its relevance could not be measured. The hints and arrows that had led her here took on the mysterious significance of fate itself: she felt that everything was joined and drawn together, that all things were part of some pattern of which she caught by sheer chance a sudden hopeful sense: and that those two women, and their children, and the man on the train, and the bright and radiant uncurtained room, and island in the surrounding darkness, were symbols to her of things too vague to name, of happiness, of hope, of brightness, warmth, and celebration.
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