His Monkey Wife: Or, Married to a Chimp by John CollierHis Monkey Wife: Or, Married to a Chimp by John Collier

His Monkey Wife: Or, Married to a Chimp

byJohn Collier

Paperback | May 1, 2000

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When Alfred Fatigay returns to his native London, he brings along his trustworthy pet chimpanzee Emily who, unbeknownst to Fatigay, has become civilized: literate, literary - and in love with Fatigay himself. After Emily meets Alfred's fiancee Amy Flint, a 1920's "modern woman," she sets out to save her beloved from Amy's cold grip.A novel about a strange, wondrous, and often hilarious love triangle."A work of genius."- The Boston Globe "He's a pure pleasure to read."-Michael Chabon"From the first sentence of the novel the reader is aware that he is in the presence of a magician... [Collier] casts a spell and he does so always with a smile."-Paul Theroux"A wayward masterpiece.... Whatever this volume has cost you, it is, believe me, a great bargain." - Anthony Burgess&nbsp
John Collier (1901-1980) was born in Britain, but spent much of his life in the U.S., where he wrote screenplays for Hollywood (The African Queen, Sylvia Scarlet, and I Am a Camera among them) and short stories for The New Yorker and other magazines. He was also a poet, editor, and reviewer.
Title:His Monkey Wife: Or, Married to a ChimpFormat:PaperbackDimensions:214 pages, 8.4 × 5.3 × 0.6 inPublished:May 1, 2000Publisher:Paul Dry BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0966491335

ISBN - 13:9780966491333

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Read from the Book

Chapter OneIf thou be'st born to strange sights and if you don't mind picking your waythrough the untidy tropics of this, the globe, and this, the heart, in orderto behold them, come with me into the highly colored Bargain Basement ToyBazaar of the Upper Congo. You shall return to England very shortly.The tall trees on the edge of the clearing have here and there, it seems,lifted their skirts of scrub, giving us the same sickening drop from ourexpectations as shopwindow ladies do, when their dresses are opened at backor placket, and we shall see only wire and emptiness. So dead are thesevistas into the dark jungle, that if there emerged from them, into the sun'sspotlight at their entrance, one of those sights we still absurdly expect;an elephant, say, with a leopard hanging as banderillo from his slatyshoulder, but sliding down, leaving red tracks grooved in that slatiness,sliding down to be crushed of course, we should feel that it was just aturn, Great Xmas Treat, materialized from some dressingroom-like pocket inspace, and not native to those scaffoldings and canvas backs with hangingropes and sterile floor and darkness. There are birds, naturally of allsizes and qualities. Their penetrating whistles and clockwork screech andchatter add to the illusion, whichever it is.This path leads straight to the bungalow of Mr. Fatigay You see, he hasintroduced some English plants into his garden. His is the only white man'shouse in Boboma, and this is just as well. The large man, with his roundschoolboy jacket and his honest puzzled eye, appears to greater advantagealone here among the infant blacks, to whom it is his vocation to bringliteracy and light, than he would if there were other white men about, whosecoarser codes he might too readily take on. But that is the way with most ofus. Sitting on the wide veranda, however, almost alone, his personalityexpands naively and something quite poetic appears in the twilight of thathour and of his nature, like the sweet but inconsiderable bloom on a raggednocturnal weed.I have said almost alone in order to prepare you, lest, hearing his voicerise and fall with more point and direction than a man employs who idlymutters to himself, and noticing, as we draw near enough to see into theshadows of the veranda, that no other white-clad figure is stretched outthere, you should conclude that he is mad. This is not quite so. LikeVaughan, he is least alone when most alone. He has not noticed it, but he,whose shyness limits his conversation to a string of Empire-builder'scliches when he is in the company of his compatriots, he becomes positivelyfluent and individual only when in the presence of that which moves in thecorner behind his chair. He becomes quite a chatterbox. What is it thatmoves? Look! It's Emily! Here she comes!Do you wonder, when you see her emerge into the shaft of lamplight, smilingher Irish smile, brushing the floor with the knuckles of her strong capablehands, do you wonder that the branches of the great tree, that which shadesthe bedrooms from the aching moon, are sometimes torn asunder, when a darkfacejuts out over a straining hairy torso [Henry's face, who has shared herarboreal infancy, a face all convulsed in the puzzled clown-grief thePrologue speaker plays on us in Pagliacci: 'A word! A moment.."] But no wordcomes, naturally and the moment is lost, and the heavy boughs press inwardand close, drowning that woeful face in a flurry of white blossoms andshining leaves, as if in moon-breaking water. Can you wonder that on thesilvered grass-patch her mother and sisters sometimes stand, tangled in eachother's comforting arms till they look like a Laocoon group cut from a briarroot, wondering if she sleeps well, that winsome baffling creature who hasleft them for a life set farther beyond the scope of their simple minds thanis that of Hollywood from the filmstar's folks, Mamma and Poppa in somelittle hometown on the prairie.Can you wonder that, petite, dark and vivacious, she is the life and soul ofthe lonely bungalow, so that the passing trader or Colonial Office man hasno sooner thrust out his legs into the cool comfort of his evening's rest,than he says, "Now then, old man, where's that chimp of yours? Let's seeEmily Ho! Ho! Ho!"But as she ambles forward on such occasions, turning a somersault, perhaps,as slowly and gravely as day and night, see! her smile dawning at the end ofit has something of trouble and strain splintering under its sensitiveflexibility Loyal in her support of Mr. Fatigay quixotically hospitable inher determination to give such guests what they are most fitted to enjoy sheis nonetheless ill at ease. Yet she masks it. This generous hypocrisy is thefirst sweet ferment of the noble savage heart. It is civilization. Thischimp is civilized.She had not been so before she had come into the possession of the goodschoolmaster. That was a year ago, before her captor, an anthropologist,whom she had revered rather than loved, had exchanged her to Mr. Farigay forthe more conveniently portable possession of a five-pound note. Then, thougheminently deserving of that second-rate sort of praise implicit in suchadjectives as "well-grown," "sagacious," and the like, she gave no sign, andwas herself unconscious, of any claim to esteem in terms less niggardly andlow. What seeds lay latent in her of qualities with such a claim, sproutedonly under the sunshine of Mr. Fatigay's smiles, and the gentle waunmonotonous rain of the evening monologues, in which, when work was done, heexpressed his hopes, dreams, ambitions to the friendly dumbness by his side.'Ah, Emily!" he would say with something of the gesture as well as of theonomatopoeia with which he habitually strove to make English clearer to theinfant natives, "How nice to be at ease again!" lolling his head, and then,in mild explosion, "What a day! What a day!" And he would continue with amonosyllabic expressiveness which I, who have never taught the young, amquite unable to imitate. From simple allusions to physical fatigues andpleasures, he would proceed to higher matters, and would sometimes havedaubed in a very fair self-portrait, rather larger than life, before anawareness of his reflection, gesticulating in the dark mirror-bright eye ofthe chimp, would bring him back to self-consciousness."Why Emily!" he would say fondly but with an uneasy titter. 'One would thinkyou understood every word I said."And, indeed, Emily had soon come to understand the more concrete terms heused, her comprehension falling back only when he soared into abstractionsbeyond her experience and his expressiveness. Yet it was in the course justof these, she noted, that his rare fits of enthusiasm would come upon him,and having seen him thus transformed and shining, she longed restlessly toknow what it was he said then. She had seen the same light play but rathermore coldly like an aurora borealis, over his prism and silent face when hesat sometimes with a dry and unattractive object in his hands, evidentlyvoyaging through strange seas of thought, alone. Emily could not read.She was, however, a schoolmaster's pet, and on the frequent occasions onwhich she had accompanied him to the schoolroom, she saw pictures enough ofcats with the letters C A T printed beside them. Is it so hard to understandhow she came by a curiosity as to the nature of letters, and even, perhaps,of the abstracter function of literature? Our scientists may think so, whohave chosen to measure the intelligence of the chimpanzee solely by itsreactions to a banana. They suspend the delicacy from the ceiling of a cage,and assess the subject's mentality in terms of the number of boxes he or shewill pile one upon another in order to secure it. They fail to see thatnothing is revealed except the value which that particular chimp chooses toset upon the fruit. And, beyond a certain low limit, this surely is ininverse ratio to intelligence. What boy of ten would not pile up a dozenboxes in an attempt to climb within reach of it? How many would Einsteinclamber upon? And how many would Shakespeare? Emily though a fruitarian bynature, would have disdained an eagerness capable of more than two and ajump.If you would arrive at a juster estimate of the potentialities of her race,study Emily's conduct following upon her first uncertain inklings as to thenature of the printed word. She now never missed an opportunity of followingher master into the schoolroom, where her attention became mostconcentrated, though unostentatiously during the elementary reading lessons.With her, the first steps were more difficult by far than they were for hersooty classmates, but the later ones were less so. She was stimulated,moreover, in the powerful effort demanded of her in the early stages, by anew sensation, a feeling of being slightly inflated by a gas lighter thanair whenever certain thoughts or memories crossed her mind. These werealways connected with Mr. Fatigay This chimp was awakening to love.Full consciousness of it, like motor headlights suddenly leaping up behind anightwalker in a private and violent dawn, came on her one sultry afternoon."What makes the lamb love Mary so?"The children all did crychirruped the infant blacks in voices which still echoed so strongly thehollow clicks of their tribal lingo that they sounded as if sticks werebeing drawn along a wooden paling.And,"Oh! Mary loves the lamb, you knoi'The teacher made replycame Mr. Farigay's virile tones in response.A choking gurgle, sadly out of tune, arose from Emily's corner. The sound ofhis voice, rough and sweet to her as wild honey took possession of thewilderness of her heart like a John the Baptist. The words, freelytranslated as to sexes and species, seemed to fill that desert with thesuggestion that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Her spirit, a caged larkwhich hears another in the sky beat madly against her bars and roof ofdumbness. It seemed that only one more effort was needed for her heart tospurt forth a clear, low, wood-sweet voice to harmonize with that resonantbass. A blank agony of concentration resulted. The striving creature darednot abate it, even to inhale. Ar what seemed the opening of realization,darkness crashed down upon her, like a cloth flung over a birdcage, and shefell forward in a momentary swoon.As she came up out of it, into the light of consciousness and memory shepaused a little before opening her eyes, in order that she might reassemblethe potent impressions which had immediately preceded her collapse. Adifferent, and a sweeter, dizziness was superimposed upon the physical one.Still she kept her eyes fast shut, waiting, like the Sleeping Beauty and itseemed for a hundred years, for her Prince Charming tenderly to awaken her.Then, far away falling as from a height infinitely above the near-unnotedstridulations of the little blacks, she heard the awaited voice:"Drag her out by the legs, and throw a bucket of water over her."Emily swooned again, and this time more deeply her spirit, like Ibsen'swounded wild duck, clinging to the cold dark mud in the depths below herconsciousness.The impact of the cold drench revived her, and having now nothing to waitfor, nor finding any pleasure in arranging her returning thoughts, she roseto her feet in uncertain haste, and staggered blindly from the aridplayground, heedless of the hoots and guffaws of her leaping classmates, whohad all too eagerly administered the restorative. For what was suchinfantile derision to one on whose bowed and nakedly twitching head thelaughter of the whole universe was being poured?The chimpanzee cosmology is highly animistic, and it seemed now to Emily asif the slumbering personality of things had awakened and stood up a moment,to jeer and laugh. The bungalow grinned and looked out of its windows ather; the grass huts were doubled up and shaking. The very airs joined handsand danced in their mean mirth, and the trees threw up their top branchesand rained down on her the silvery tinkle of a myriad sun-echoing leaves.For the sun's brazen laughter was the worst of all, and to escape it thepoor chimp shuffled in under the cascade from the quivering trees. Like thewater of certain high falls, however, this had broken up in its long descentand had become rain, then mist, then nothing, before it reached the ground.Here, in the dark dry-rottenness of the lower jungle, Emily found escapefrom the externalized form of her reverse. Here, with the powdering log, andscaly life, woodlouse and small serpent, the bright hot blood fountains fromher wounded heart congealed. Soon their brittle larvae flaked away each sobloosening a little, leaving the subject anemic but sane. It was a suddenlymature chimp that came home from those antifebrile shades, but, tight-lippedand steady-eyed, neither a shattered nor an embittered one.There is a satisfaction in the bankruptcy of hope and self-esteem, if onlyit is complete enough. With only the unassailable core of the ego left, oneis eased of the intolerable unconscious burden of the debt one's faultinessowes to fortune for preserving its absurdly disproportionate, and nervous,superstructure of greed and pretension. The chimp was aware of this, havingheard the schoolchildren sing, "He that is low need fear no fall," and,indeed, having seen some of the elder ones demonstrate it very heartily inone narrow interpretation at least.Who would have thought, seeing the trim little brown figure trip soself-containedly through the village, or describe such a suave arc on theend of the swinging bough that landed her pat, here, back again at Mr.Fatigay's feet, as he sat at dinner on the veranda; who would have thought,seeing all this, that beneath that rather Charlotte Bronte exterior, therewas actually a Charlotte Bronte interior, full of meek pride, hopeless hope,and timid determination. At one moment, in fact, it became positively EmilyB., and that was when Mr. Fatigay swallowing the last mouthful of his yam,said, with unwonted coarseness:"Well, Emily here you are again! I thought you'd got skittish. Thought theremust be a tom about, you know, and you'd gone off for the night."And, in his blindness, the foolish fellow actually hummed a bar or two fromthe suggestive chorus of his latest syncopated record, "Those BABoon Blues."Emily turned her face to the wall. She little thought, as neither did Mr.Fatigay that this unusual gaucherie of his was expressive of his pleasure atseeing her safely back again. She tried to concentrate on the idea that he,like lesser men, was at heart just a great big boy with a boy's capacity forthe sudden careless blow. This, while it assisted, but perhaps unnecessarilyin repressing any impulse towards anger, did little to salve the new hurt inthe barely stanched wound of that afternoon.As she sat motionless in the gathering darkness, and watched her childhood'shome, the jungle, she pondered once more the advisability of withdrawal. Thecloudy smoke-blue billows of that forest washed up almost to where they weresitting, as the sea did to the palace steps in The Little Mermaid, and withthe same tremendous appeal of depth on depth on depth to dissolve in. Itappeared to go on so far that the actual horizon was lost in it, and themoon, which then began to lift directly opposite them, rose like a silverbird from a twiggy blue nest. As the moon rose it got smaller, and time,which it took up with it, got smaller also, and the forest swept on infiniteand eternal beneath. Large enough to be a grave for sorrow. A timelesscloudy sea to melt memory away."Switch on the light," said Mr. Fatigay and it was gone.Before the chimp was a white-painted handrail, a bamboo table with pipes, awhiskey and soda, and the Overseas Daily Mail. Beyond these was a wall ofdarkness in which the moon hung like a word of reminiscence which must passunnoticed. The white rail and the table stood at the threshold of a newlife, stretching beyond her vision, but full, as far as she could see, ofstrangeness and of pain.

From Our Editors

With his pet chimp Emily in tow, Alfred Fatigay returns to London to confront his coolly modern and somewhat merciless fiancée, Amy Flint. Literate and literary, Emily has her own problems - she`s human enough to have fallen in love with her owner, who`s helpless in the grip of the mercilessly cold Amy. Emily`s inferior status and her reasonable, emotional voice in the wilderness of cold modern life is more than just John Collier`s clever device - she represents the society and culture she finds herself in with His Monkey Wife, as an African servant and an intelligent female in a man`s world. Eva Brann, a professor at St. Johns College, Maryland, writes the introduction for this novel. 

Editorial Reviews

“The whole is written with sly humor throughout and is illuminated by splendid similes and metaphors which mark the author as a true humorist.” —The New York Times