Saturday, June 3, 2006


I just read one of Kate Chopin's (1850-1904) stories, a very short one called "Fedora", first published in 1897.

The title character, Fedora, is a single woman of thirty.  I love this account of an encounter with Young Mathers:

One day when he stopped before her out in the gravel walk to ask her some question pertaining to the afternoon's sport, Fedora, who was tall, had to look up into his face to answer him. She had known him eight years, since he was a lad of fifteen, and to her he had never been other than the lad of fifteen.

But that afternoon, looking up into his face, the sudden realization came home to her that he was a man - in voice, in attitude, in bearing, in every sense - a man.

In an absorbing glance, and with unaccountable intention, she gathered in every detail of his countenance as though it were a strange, new thing to her, presenting itself to her vision for the first time. The eyes were blue, earnest, and at the moment a little troubled over some trivial affair that he was relating to her. The face was brown from the sun, smooth, with no suggestion of ruddiness, except in the lips, that were strong, firm and clean. She kept thinking of his face, and every trick of it after he passed on.

From that moment he began to exist for her.

Since I'm virtually incapable of being concise, I have great admiration for short sentences that speak volumes.  It took her three paragraphs to set it up.  But, "From that moment he began to exist for her," is just a masterpiece of brevity.  How many pages of narrative are compressed into that short sentence?

It reminds me of a song by the Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly, called "When I First Met Your Ma".  It opens:

When I first met your mother
I was playing in a bar
She walked in with my girlfriend
My foolish girlfriend brought her there

"My foolish girlfriend brought her there".  That tells a story in six words that would take me about twenty pages of text to tell.

The song continues:

She looked so pretty and dangerous
As she brushed back her hair
And I was not the only one
Taking notice in that bar

It reminds me of a night quite a few years ago in New Orleans ...

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