That s a potentially rich incredibly rich scenario for a story, and there were many ways the story could have gone Garnett for the most part chose the most obvious and the least memorable path But that s not necessarily a criticism I was expecting a story that perhaps leant heavily into social satire, or brought out the comic absurdities greatly I suppose I was thinking of how this might go if the story were by Saki, or indeed by Cabell, whose almost exactly contemporaneous own novel, Jurgen, I ve only just read.
And indeed, there is satire here, and there is absurdity, and wit But for the most part, Garnett focuses on the pathos, and he does it through precise, transparent realism, avoiding excesses of style or content that might distract from the basic humanity at the core of his story His style is casual, in the formal manner in which an English gentleman of the era might be casual, and despite the strikingly modern moment of surrealism at the story s core Lady into Fox was published only a few years after Kafka s The Metamorphosis was published, and long before it became famous , his approach is largely conservative The fantasy, like most earlier but little later fantasy, is shrouded in a dislocating frame, in this case the conventional, by then perhaps even traditional, Victorian ghost story declaimer, an entire page spent stressing how the author has heard this from unimpeachable sources and is otherwise a skeptical man not prone to believing fanciful stories etc etc This frame is made a little personal by the fact that the author does not overtly divide himself from the narrator, happy even to identify himself by name at one point There s something of a newspaperman s approach here, a plainspoken verity that has no time for artistic airs and pretences I wonder whether even that title, the oddly curt Lady into Fox , may be intended to suggest the clipped headline of a newspaper report or magazine article.
Yet despite the pretence of unpretentiousness, Lady into Fox is a piece of art, and not only because of the implausible central conceit, that of a lady transformed into a fox and not, Garnett take pains to stress, in a believable, piece by piece, drawn out, organic manner, but in a flash, as a fait accompli, the way that Gregor Samsa simply wakes up one morning to discover himself the victim of a metamorphosis No, the true metamorphosis here is the way that what is presented as a story is really a political position paper.
Of course, all stories are symbolic, particularly those involving elements of fantasy The Metamorphosis is symbolic But Lady into Fox is symbolic in a much all encompassing, honest, way It is, quite plainly, a fable, and there is no doubt here that we are to consider what may be the Moral of the Tale It is perhaps precisely because of the author s political intent that he so eschews overt manipulations and authorial cadenzas he is trying to show us the case as it is, matters as they are, to point us to a conclusion for all that he is doing so through symbols and analogy Anything that instead called attention to the work as a work of art, or worse as a work of craft, would detract from its objective.
But it s not quite so simple On the surface, Lady into Fox is a direct analogy forthe rest of the review you can read on my blog.
Short version It s a small and simple, but very attractive little fable that undisguisedly, but lightly, presents the Bloomsbury worldview, but in a way that relies on the strength of the story itself, rather than distracting from it It s too slight to really consider a masterpiece, and it s a little roughhewn around the edges Garnett is an articulate and literate writer, but not an exceptional stylist , but it s a beautiful book that is well worth the hour or two required to read it This edition bears original illustrations by the author s wife these are pretty, but inessential His vixen had at once sprung into Mr Tebrick s arms, and before he could turn back the hounds were upon them, and had pulled them down Then at that moment there was a scream of despair heard by all the field that had come up, which they declared afterwards was like a woman s voice than a man s But there was no clear proof whether it was Mr Tebrick or his wife who had suddenly regained her voice When the huntsman who had leapt the wall got to them and had whipped off the hounds, Mr Tebrick had been terribly mauled and was bleeding from twenty wounds As soon as I saw Paul s review I knew that I had to read this book Why you may ask Well I am an avid Bloomsbury Group lover and have been for over two decades We are dealing with a group of individuals here who were quite unique to our life on earth, be it as novelists, painters, economists, etc They had it all they were avant garde the forerunners of our modern society today These individuals were dreamers, romantics, they lived for the present, they saw a world that they could change and they did try The paintings of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant continue to this effect, as do the literary works of Virginia Wolf, Lytton Strachey, the economist Maynard Keynes and the outsiders in the group such as Aldous Huxley A world that I wish I could have been a part of A truly golden era and one that I m so proud that I stumbled across through a rather erudite friend He didn t think that I would take to all of these works but I did indeed like a duck to water I have read so many biographies on these iconic and yet mesmerizing individuals Never to be forgotten in fact They lived for their beliefs, be it as conscientious objectors after the First World War but also they created a remarkable, invigorating presence that lives on today.
As for this work Well how does one interpret it It is dedicated to David Garnett s former lover Duncan Grant who had shared a house with Vanessa Bell for many years, in fact until her death She knew Duncan s sexual inclinations, was prepared to put up with it, she even had a child by him called Angelica, who subsequently married David Bunny Garnett Duncan Grant being the father All very convoluted I must confess but it appeared to suit them The value of love has different levels with certain individuals and Vanessa was known as the mother figure, very wise and with a sister, Virginia, who had a very nervous disposition They all got on very well indeed I really cannot imagine why Bunny dedicated this book to Duncan It was a very strange relationship Bunny was heterosexual but felt sorry for Duncan and so went along with his sexual proclivities He was also really taken with Vanessa too, even though she was older than him and so it was a rather strange relationship but everyone was apparently quite happy to participate in it It was the norm for them The love that Vanessa had for Duncan never disappeared until her death and she was prepared to put up with his infidelities The fact that Bunny married Angelia when he prophesized many years before that he would marry her at twenty rather unnerved me, I must confess.
As for the book I believe it is a tribute not only to Duncan but also to Bunny s life with Vanessa, and latterly Angelica.
The plot Richard Tebrick had married Silvia n e Fox bizarre in 1879 They were recently married and all was well and then one day she was transformed into a fox in front of his eyes Imagine that What a shock He cared for her as a loving husband even while she slowly transformed into a fox of the wild, eventually giving birth to five foxes in her earth and Mr Tebrick or less adopted them even though he had met the male fox Now that to me is true love His favourite fox was Angelica his future wife and life continued in this rather odd vein All the neighbours thought that he was quite mad as he had withdrawn so much from society.
A beautiful book which resonates within one s soul.
As an added note, my delicious little hardback is a sixth impression published in 1923, after the first publication in October 1922 It makes one wonder how many copies were in each print run The wood engravings by R A Garnett are an added bonus but the true beauty of this book is that handwritten note on the frontispiece with L.
H which I understand stands for Lady Margaret Hall, one of the Oxford colleges It seemed right to read that, I don t know why A true social document.
These old books have such a sense of age about them Strikingly short, clear as clear water, and none of the above, all at once Garnett s book conjures old style fairy tales or bedtime stories, where simple elements resonate, and even the inevitable outcome is also a little confounding, a little mysterious.
Short version, 1922, English dude s wife turns into a fox one day, flips him right out In the tradition of the truly chilling ghost story, however, we re not done there Somehow we re kept in a kind of trance, along with the protagonist, who just cannot fathom what he s going to do about this soul shattering development But as with everything else in life as we know it, little things accompany big things, night follows day, and no crying over spilled milk We as readers are led into the surreal assurance that a logical investigation, an explanation, will only naturally follow, and it never does One night long into the predicament of his wife having changed, the narrator dreams that she is a human woman once again But the price of this return is incalculable After an hour or two the procession of confused and jumbled images which first assailed him passed away and subsided into one clear and powerful dream His wife was with him in her own proper shape, walking as they had been on that fatal day before her transformation Yet she was changed too, for in her face there were visible tokens of unhappiness, her face swollen with crying, pale and downcast, her hair hanging in disorder, her damp hands wringing a small handkerchief into a ball, her whole body shaken with sobs, and an air of long neglect about her person Between her sobs, she was confessing to him some crime she had committed but he did not catch the broken words, nor did he wish to hear them, for he was dulled by his sorrow.
That the story is an allegory of anything in particular, the author disputes that it may touch chords of fidelity and abandonment he will allow Where the reader is led, on this obvious unsettling trail, is down the same paths as other deeply sorrowful torch songs in literature of Tam Lin, whose true love must hold him fast as the witches transform him into beast, serpent and flame of Kwaidan, where the faint touch of fingertips from the next world is always present and of Poe s Annabel Lee, whose dark seaside spirits infuse their author with infinite, rueful sadness One of the simplest, saddest things I ve ever read.
5 I accidentally did things the wrong way round a few months back I read Sarah Hall s Madame Zero, which includes the BBC National Short Story Prize 2013 winner Mrs Fox, clearly modeled on Garnett s half charming, half horrible fable In both, an upper middle class marriage is derailed when the wife turns into a fox Here Mr Tebrick sends away the servants and retreats from the world to look after Silvia, who grows increasingly feral To start with the vixen will wear clothing, sleep in a bed, play cards and eat table scraps, but soon she s hunting birds outdoors Before long she s effectively a wild creature, though she still shows affection to Tebrick when he comes to visit her den.
Anyone in a partnership will experience a bittersweet sense of recognition at how Tebrick and Silvia try to accommodate each other s differences and make compromises to maintain a relationship in defiance of the world s disapproval and danger Beware unsentimental animal peril throughout.
Magical and sad Great wood cuts illustrate the story throughout Yay foxes But the strange event which I shall here relate came alone, without companions into a hostile world, and for that very reason claimed little of the general attention of mankind For the sudden changing of Mrs Tebrick into a vixen is an established fact which we may attempt to account for as we will What happens when partners in a love relationship are faced with a shocking event that has no explanation or remedy Do they continue as man and wife considering the core changes that now separate their lifestyles, preferences, and needs Their life story, now between different species is unheard of and unbelievable It is also dangerous.
This is an engaging tale of choices, commitments, and intimacy between a man and his wife who has been transformed into a fox Outwardly, when disorder is everywhere, can internal feelings come to rule
A lovely set of symbols that is perhaps best enjoyed at face value.
There s a certain elusive quality here which manages to pull the reader in many directions in turn wonder, tragedy, farce, tedium, contentment Also a testament that great books, having been unjustly buried, are still able to enthrall new generations of readers I read the McSweeney s edition edited by Paul Collins and was pleased to find that another publisher has recently chosen to reprint this one The recent cover art is viewable at Vulpes Libris.