A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories: Complete Short Stories

Hardcover | November 7, 2013

byMargaret Drabble

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Margaret Drabble's novels have illuminated the past fifty years, especially the changing lives of women, like no others. Yet her short fiction has its own unique brilliance. Her penetrating evocations of character and place, her wide-ranging curiosity, her sense of irony-all are on display here, in stories that explore marriage, female friendships, the English tourist abroad, love affairs with houses, peace demonstrations, gin and tonics, cultural TV programs; in stories that are perceptive,sharp, and funny. An introduction by the Spanish academic Jose Fernandez places the stories in the context of her life and her novels. This collection is a wonderful recapitulation of a masterly career.

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Margaret Drabble's novels have illuminated the past fifty years, especially the changing lives of women, like no others. Yet her short fiction has its own unique brilliance. Her penetrating evocations of character and place, her wide-ranging curiosity, her sense of irony-all are on display here, in stories that explore marriage, female...

MARGARET DRABBLE is the author of The Sea Lady, The Seven Sisters, The Peppered Moth , and The Needle's Eye , among other novels. For her contributions to contemporary English literature, she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2008.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:256 pages, 8 × 5 × 1 inPublished:November 7, 2013Publisher:Houghton Mifflin HarcourtLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0547550405

ISBN - 13:9780547550404

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  Les Liaisons Dangereuses It was the kind of party at which nobody got introduced.The room was dark, lit only by candles in bottles,and although a certain amount of feeble shuffling was goingon in the centre of the floor, most of the guests were groupedaround yelling in a more or less cheery fashion to peoplewhom they were lucky enough to know already. There wasa lot of noise, both musical and conversational, and the generaltone seemed to Humphrey to be rather high, a kind ofcross between the intellectual and the artistic. He couldhear from time to time words like ‘defence mechanism’ and‘Harold Pinter’ being bandied about above the deafeningbody of sound. He supposed, upon reflection, that one mighthave expected this kind of thing from his host, a young manwhom he had met in a pub the week before, who had beenmost pressing in his invitation, but who had hardly seemedto recognise Humphrey at all when he had duly arrived,some time ago. Now, after half an hour of total neglect, hewas beginning to feel rather annoyed. He was in many waysa conventional young man, and had not the nerve to go andaccost a group of strangers, who anyway seemed to be gettingon quite nicely without him, simply in order to add hisown unoriginal views on Harold Pinter. On the other hand,he did not really want to leave. The situation was made even more annoying by the factthat everyone looked so interesting. That was why they wereall getting on with each other so splendidly, of course. Theonly people who were not shouting or shuffling were extremelyboring-looking people like himself, who werepropped up sadly in dark corners. And the girls, one couldnot deny it, were most impressive. He liked artistic and intellectual-looking girls, himself; he could never see what otherpeople had against all these fiercely painted eyes, these longover-exposed legs, these dramatic dresses. They all lookeda little larger and brighter than life, and talked with a morethan natural intensity, and laughed with a more than naturalmirth. He found them most exhilarating. He gazed withfrank admiration at one exotic creature with long pale hairand a long maroon velvet dress: her legs were not over-exposedbut on the contrary totally enclosed, though she madeup for this modesty elsewhere, displaying to the world a vastextent of pallid back, where angry pointed shoulder-bladesrose and fell as she gesticulated and discoursed. All he sawof her was her active back: her face and front were bestowedupon others. Even she, though, had nothing on a girl he could see atthe other side of the room, far away and perched on top ofa book-case, whence she was holding court, and whence shesmiled serenely above the heads of others and above the seaof smoke. Her slight elevation gave her a look of detachedbeauty, and her face had a cool superiority, as of one whoinhabits a finer air. She too was surrounded, naturally, byhordes of friends and admirers, who were plying her withchat and cigarettes, and constantly refilling her glass. Andshe too, like the pale girl, had long hair, though hers, as faras he could distinguish, was not pale, but of a dark and fieryred. He decided that he would cross the room and distinguisha little more closely. This decision was sooner made than executed. It was remarkablyhard to cross the room: instead of parting to lethim pass, people seemed to cluster closer together at his approach,so that he had to force them asunder with his barehands. They did not seem to object to this rough usage, butcontinued to ignore him altogether, and managed to talk uninterruptedlyas though he simply were not there, as thoughhe were not standing on the foot of one and sticking his elbowinto another’s chest at all. He steered his course by takingthe face of the red-haired girl as his beacon, shining dimlyfor him above the raging social waters, and finally, a little battered,he reached her vicinity. When he got there, he foundthat his luck was in: by squeezing himself into a small gapbetween the book-case and a table, he could get very closeto her indeed, though he was of course directly behind her,with no view of her face at all, and with his head on a levelwith her waist. Still, he was near, and that was something; sonear that he could have stroked with ease her long descendinghair. Not that there would have been any future in such agesture. In an atmosphere like that she would not even havenoticed. In fact, now he had got there, it struck him thatthere was not much future in anything, that this was really asfar as he was likely to get. He had given up hope that somebodywould come along with those oft-scorned but now desiredwords, ‘Hello, Humphrey old chap, let me introduceyou to a few people.’ This lot were clearly far too avantgardefor a bourgeois convention like introduction. He wonderedhow they had all got to know each other in the firstplace. What was one supposed to do? Surely one couldn’t goup to someone and say, ‘Hello, I’m Humphrey, who are you?’It seemed, apart from anything else, a positive invitation torudeness. The red-haired girl seemed to be called Justina. Thename suited her, he thought: there was something finely dramaticand vital about it, and yet at the same time somethingsuperior. As well as remarkable hair and a remarkable face,she was the lucky (and conscious) possessor of a remarkablevoice, which she was not at all afraid of using. From where hewas standing, directly behind her, he could hear every wordshe uttered, so deep and clear and vibrant were her tones.She seemed to be fond of brave abstract assertions like, ‘Well, in my opinion, the abstract is a total bore, anyway.I like things that happen, I don’t like talk, I think that action isthe only true test, myself.’ He was so entranced that he was content to listen to thiskind of thing for a few minutes, but then he began to get alittle restless, for, like Justina, he preferred action to talk,especially when the talk in question wasn’t directed to him.He began to think of imaginary witty replies, things that hemight have said had he not been such a non-participant. Heeven thought at one point that he might say one of them,loudly, just to see if Justina and her admirers would turnround, but by the time he had summoned up the couragethe remark was no longer appropriate, and he had to startthinking up a new one. Then he wondered what would happenif he really took action, and pushed her offthe bookcase.That would make them notice his existence, at least.She might even like it. Or perhaps he might just grab herfrom behind and shout gaily ‘Hello, let me introduce myself,I’m Humphrey.’ And then again, he thought, perhaps not. Sadly, for the twentieth time that evening, he reachedfor a consolatory cigarette and put it in his mouth, the miserablelast of a miserable pack. And he didn’t seem likelyto get offered any more, either. When I’ve finished this, hesaid to himself, I’ll go home. Then, reaching for a match,he found he had lost his box: for some reason the eternalintroduction of ‘Have you got a light’ never even crossed hismind, occupied as it was on far more desperate levels, andhe reached to the table behind him for one of those candlesin bottles that served as illumination and decoration to thewhole dreary scene. He lit his cigarette and stood there, candleand bottle in hand, staring gloomily into the small waveringflame. Thoughts of dramatic calls for attention continuedto flow before him: what about that chap he had once knownwho had put a cigarette out on the back of his hand becausesome girl said he was a physical coward? He had been drunkat the time, of course, and it had left a horrible scar, butthe girl had been most impressed: indeed she had screamedloudly and burst into tears. Humphrey reflected glumly thathe could have put out all twenty of his cigarettes all over hisperson and nobody would have batted an eye-lid. One had tobe introduced first, before one could embark on that kind ofthing. One had to have an audience. When it happened, it happened so suddenly that he neverquite knew whether it was inspiration or accident. As he didit, he did not quite know what he expected to happen: clearlyhe could not have hoped that she would go up in a sheet offlame, nor even that she should sustain any injury, howevermild, for he was a kind and unmalicious person. She did notgo up in flame, anyway: hair is not a particularly flammablesubstance, not even long flowing fiery-red hanks of it, andhe did not apply the candle with much violence. But it didsinge and scorch, with a most alarming and dangerous smell,strong enough to cause a great commotion. ‘Good Lord, Justina,’ said one of her admirers, ‘you’reon fire!’ and he only just had time to put the candle down beforeshe twisted round to clutch at the singed ends, shriekingwith dismay and delight, and lost her balance and fell into hisarms. ‘You did it,’ she said, challengingly, from a breath-takingproximity. ‘You did it, you set me alight.’ And he, reading in her face nothing but pleasure at havingcreated so large a disturbance, held on to her tight and said: ‘Let me introduce myself, my name is Humphrey.’  ‘What did you do it for?’ she cried, in a positive blaze ofadmiration, the kind of excitement kindled by duels or theRape of the Sabine Women or indeed any violent and decisiveaction taken in the cause of passion. ‘Oh well,’ he said, with nonchalant pride, as thoughsuch inspirations came to him every day of the week, ‘I justwanted to attract your attention, that’s all.’(1964)

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction ix
Note on the Present Edition xxi
Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1
Hassan’s Tower 7
A Voyage to Cythera 23
Faithful Lovers 41
A Pyrrhic Victory 53
Crossing the Alps 63
The Gifts of War 85
A Success Story 103
A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman 115
Homework 141
The Merry Widow 151
The Dower House at Kellynch:
A Somerset Romance 169
The Caves of God 193
Stepping Westward:
A Topographical Tale 207

Editorial Reviews

Smooth, reflective prose? Drabble's fans will savor these bite-sized examples of her humane intelligence."- Kirkus Reviews "