Wednesday, 19 November 2008

On the ending of a short story

A few months ago I read a Portuguese XIX century short story collection entitled “Contos ao Luar”, by Júlio César Machado, which translates as “[Short] Stories in the Moonlight” or "Stories by the Moonlight" (either translation works). I bought the book because I liked the title and the look of it (lovely blue hardcover from 1889 I think – photo to the right), but the author was a complete unknown to me. The stories weren’t very good, nor were they particularly bad and they abused ellipsis (the three dots or "reticências", if you're Portuguese speaking), probably to create a little pause before the punchline, which invariably wasn't terribly good. However, the ending of the first one, "Os Noivos" (roughly "The Newlyweds") struck a chord with me for some reason.

The plot is banal – young and married pretty thing married is courted by womaniser, who happens to be really in love with her. Everything is blameless and rather platonic, but obviously it doesn’t really appear as such (oh dear…). She also has a mother and a sister which is very virtuous. Anyway, this gentleman gets obsessive, and the husband starts to suspect something. Meanwhile the mother dies, and one when the married couple and the sister go to the cemetery, the other man is there. In order to prevent a scandal, the virtuous sister quickly persuades the man that he must marry her to save everyone’s face.

I warned you of the banality of it. But the ending has struck a chord (it is presented as if selflessly motivated) and for some reason I think the interesting story is to know what would have happened next.

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