I was walking Frankie, one of my dogs today and met a grandfather out with his brightly adorned grandaughter, who spotting ‘Frankie’ on her lead, held up her string-gloved hands and told Frankie: ‘Did you know my thumbs fit?’
I am not sure Frankie did know very much about the thumbs, but she had the good grace to look interested and the grandfather smiled rather proudly at this triumph of thumbs over acrylic. As I carried on walking, I remembered a wonderful, rather similar moment in Katherine Mansfield’s short story, At the Bay, where a small child named Lottie, is trying to negotiate the hazards of climbing up and over a country stile. Her slighter older sister Kezia,who is kind, endeavours to help her and after much advice Lottie succeeds in crossing over the stile:
She managed it at last, and once it was over she shook herself and began to beam.
” I’m getting better at climbing over stiles, aren’t I, Kezia?” Lottie’s was a very hopeful nature.’
Manfield’s recognition of Lottie’s contentment here, is both witty and compassionate. Like her hero Dickens, Mansfield paid acute attention to the expressiveness of children. The ‘vignette’ is not sentimentalised, nor does it over reach its intention. It does not clumsily strive for its effects. It combines speech with description and narratorial declaration in a very concise, and knowing way.
For the resonance and touching power of this scene are perfectly discovered through the verb ‘beam’ and the juxtaposition between Lottie’s articulated pride in her athleticism over the stile and the gentle irony of the third person narrator who seems convincingly mixed up with Kezia’s perspective too.
Look as well as the artful use of the comma after the pronoun, ‘I’, and before Kezia’s name and question mark. The ‘self’is being carefully explored and defined by Lottie’s surge of confidence and pride. Lottie is giving new weight to her personage and this indicates an evolution in her identity.
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