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Like a lot of twentieth-century writing, Janet Frame's fiction often attempts to come to terms with death and its implications for the human condition in an age lacking religious faith. Several of her short stories explore this issue from outside conventional Christianity. 'Prizes', a story about the importance of prize-winning to a child growing up in a small New Zealand town, examines the vanity of living for personal achievement in the certainty of death's utter annihilation. Despite details of her prizes won, the narrator does not manage to leave the reader with even so much as her own name by the final paragraph. 'Prizes' was first published in 1963 in the prestigious New Yorker magazine and was then collected in The Reservoir: Stories and Sketches.(136) Frame's biographer, Michael King, has noted that it seems to be based on real experience.(137) Indeed, a remarkable number of the incidents and objects cited in the story reappear in Frame's autobiography, so that although Frame's stories often seem to have a personal point of origin, 'Prizes' appears more personal than most.(138) Partly because of this, and partly from its concern with material rewards, the story is particularly rich in New Zealand bric-a-brac. Vantage and Double Duke, the brands of tennis racket Frame refers to, were popular at the time of the story's publication, as were the sweets listed in the story. The New Zealand Agricultural and Pastoral Society, the John Bull Printing Set and the locked-box Post-Office Bank in 'Prizes' all existed in New Zealand in the early 1960s. It is something of a tribute to Frame's skill that these parochial references did not prevent publication overseas, though the general nature of the story's theme, also common in other literatures, undoubtedly assisted overseas readers in appreciating the story's merits. It is also remarkable that in the 1960s Frame's international publishing successes and growing overseas readership counted for so little in New Zealand, a provincial country which seemed, at times, desperate for overseas recognition. But due to its Anglo-centric outlook, in the mid-twentieth century New Zealand (and even its literary scene) set surprisingly little store by success in America.(139) By the 1960s, however, American magazines such as The New Yorker had become by far the most important venues for short fiction in the world.
The major writers of New Zealand short fiction who were Frame's predecessors and contemporaries had a mixed reception overseas. Katherine Mansfield, who was already well established in Britain when she wrote the mature stories of her New Zealand childhood, found her antipodean stories were read by the British as depicting semi-rural British settings. This may be a comment on the still very British nature of much of New Zealand society at the time in which Mansfield grew up. Frank Sargeson, writing from the 1930s, produced stories in a more strongly New Zealand idiom and with down-and-out characters, but he was successful at writing the sort of seemingly homespun, simple tales which matched overseas readers' views of what a rough-hewn, colonial story should be. Maurice Duggan, a stylist, wrote urbane short fiction that seemed to compete with overseas stories on their own terms, and he was sometimes patronised by overseas reviewers and sold indifferently away from New Zealand. Only his children's story, Falter Tom and the Water Boy, was an unqualified success overseas. Like Duggan's works, Frame's stories are complex, but they do not make the mistake (for overseas readers) of appearing too sophisticated on the surface. Her poetic style and language are usually expressed as from a child's or a neurotic's point of view. Her faux naif touches suggest both the homespun and the exotic. Moreover, Frame's stories frequently offer a simple reading while containing a darker, more complex meaning somewhere below the story's surface, buried in the movement of imagery and the subconscious of the characters. In fact, the surface reading and the buried meaning of a story are often at odds with each other. In this respect Frame's stories seem similar to the pre-Modern, late-Victorian poetry of writers like Browning and Tennyson, poetry that Frame was surrounded by in her own childhood. 'Prizes', in particular, is a story which offers a radically different reading below its account of childhood awards and tribulations. But, perhaps uniquely to 'Prizes', this buried meaning arises from what is absent in the story. Much is missing from the narrator's tale, and what is not said is usually more significant than what is.
'Prizes' proceeds on the assumption that death must be faced as the end of consciousness. However, 'Winter Garden' attempts to define the difference between the states of being alive and being dead and, from this, to examine the possibility that death may not be an end to existence. A man's wife falls into a coma and he struggles to find in her some indication of continuing life, while his own world is reduced to a deadened monotony. 'Winter Garden' is one of Frame's later stories, also published in The New Yorker, in 1969, and collected in You Are Now Entering the Human Heart.(140) King's biography notes that it also appears to be based on a real experience: from Frame's observations of her neighbour at work in his garden, which included a rowan tree.(141) But the story's origin may further lie in the anxiety Frame felt, while overseas in 1963, on hearing that her sister had suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma. Her sister was not expected to recover, although eventually she did.(142) 'Winter Garden' has no New Zealand references, though perhaps this lack of local features results from the isolation of its protagonist from society. However, it is also a story without a specified geographical setting or time, and it is almost without any exposition of character. Only Mr Paget (the protagonist), his wife, and some neighbours, Mr and Mrs Bambury, have names in the story. They form two pairs of characters--each pair consists of someone ill and a spouse--but despite their patterned contrasts the reader learns next to nothing about the characters' personalities or personal histories. They are ciphers in a story designed solely to examine the conundrum of unconsciousness and death.
'Prizes' opens with a response to the problem that, in the face of death, 'all is vanity'.(143) Its opening sentence proclaims a possible attitude towards life: that it is achievement, acknowledged in the form of prizes received, which makes life worthwhile. But though such a view could seem virtuous, it is undermined by the lugubrious opening expression 'Life is hell' and by the qualification that 'at least' there are prizes. From the story's first sentence achievement is presented as, at best, something like a consolation for the human condition, and even this is further undermined with an implied repudiation from hindsight in the next sentence, 'Or so one thought'. In the opening paragraph the narrator uses the impersonal pronoun 'one' to generalise her statements about life, prior to the particular examples from her own life which follow. But the repeated use of 'one' also lends a pretentious tone of superiority to the writing which implies that the narrator is vain, both in the sense of being conceited and of being ultimately without real worth. She says that even as a child she knew of death to come, and she describes death as a 'pit' in which 'grownups' lie as in coffins. Thus, despite the impersonal opening, the use of the children's word 'grownups' and the momentary appearance of a child's point of view foreshadow the childhood story that will dominate most of what is to follow. In this dense opening paragraph the narrator appears to be somehow working at conjuring up her own individual youth once more--working from the merely impersonal to the personal pronoun.
The narrator describes people in their (apparent) graves as 'rewarded, arranged, and faded', and at first such vague and figurative language may evoke a reading of a conventionally religious and even literary type: the dead being sent either to heaven or hell, assigned a position in an appropriate circle (as in Dante's Divine Comedy) and gradually passing from human memory. But this reading seems in some contradiction to the image of death as a pit. In the context of this image, the adjectives 'rewarded, arranged, and faded' can also be read more simply and brutishly as referring to the mass disposal of bodies through a funeral ceremony, a burial and a forgetting, performed with the ruthless efficiency of, for example, the interring of war-dead. In fact, any ambiguity in reading this passage is next resolved with the narrator's expressed regret that the once vigorous dead were 'so long ago bright as poppies'--and with what this implies. For throughout the twentieth century poppies have been associated with soldiers killed in the First World War, and in New Zealand the poppy forms a badge commonly worn to commemorate the war dead on 25 April, Anzac Day. The origin of this symbol is the famously patriotic First-World-War poem 'In Flanders Fields', where poppies grow 'Between the crosses, row on row' on the war graves.(144) Moreover, the speaker in this poem addresses the reader from the point of view of the youthful dead, lying in their graves. The final paragraph of 'Prizes' makes it clear that the story's narrator is also speaking from the 'pit' of the grave, and thus the story seems to repudiate any conventional notion of an afterlife.(145) What dubious life the dead may manage in speaking from the grave in 'In Flanders Fields' comes from the unquiet sleep they claim they should feel if the living 'break faith with us who die'.(146) In the poem's context, breaking faith means failing to continue the patriotic fight; in the story's, it means failing to heed the narrator's message on the futility of prizes and then continuing to live for social and material ends (which the reader is almost certain to do, thus guaranteeing the unquiet narrator's existence). References to war, the human activity most associated with killing and death, appear frequently in the background of 'Prizes' as something of a leitmotiv, in the same way that death remains constantly in the background of all human lives.
The narrator then claims a second attitude towards life for herself: the virtue of facing up alone to the fact of death, so that 'one learned to take one's own deserved place on the edge, ready to leap'. A life made up of the largely solitary consolations of striving for achievement is contingent upon this attitude. The narrator scorns those who prefer to 'hang back' from death and live for human relationships, the sort of 'status-free huddle' that focuses life on friendship and community rather than individual success. She sees such a form of living as merely comfort seeking and fear-response. In contrast, the narrator argues, it is precisely because life is short that 'Therefore, one learned to win prizes'. But despite her scorn for other people's inglorious way of living, prize-winning is also a form of comfort for the narrator and her goal-oriented life is similarly a response to the fear of death. Furthermore, her virtue is not quite as she proclaims it. Her mention of a 'deserved' place at the edge of death's pit offers a loophole, allowing the self-important the right to a place well to the back of any queue. Finally, her argument is not as clear-cut as she would like it to be. Plainly, the narrator is offering a judgement on the life she will soon describe, and also, less obviously, attempting to direct the reader's judgement in advance. The narrator's repeated placement of the word 'learned' near the centre of the paragraph helps her argue that the attitude which she learned in response to death led next to her learning an interest in achievement--one followed naturally from the other. But her use of the inference word 'Therefore' allows no chance for the reader to consider the opposite line of argument: that it may have been the narrator's overweening interest in prize-winning achievement which in turn led her to face up, alone, to death.(147)
Nevertheless, the result of this learning process (however it may have operated) was that the narrator's developing desire for prizes became intense. Even in sleep, where desires appear as dreams, she could not remove herself from the 'ordinal numbers' of prize-ranking. She grew accustomed to ceremonies where--with her display of her best outward self reflected in her 'best clothes' and her position literally elevated above others on 'platforms'--she received the tokens that denote prizes: medals, memorial books and certificates. Each of these examples of prizes is worthlessly non-functional in its own way. The medals are attached to ribbons too gaudy to be worn simply as ornaments, the books are for show and even their appearance evokes cliche, and the certificates are not flat and thus hard to display. The narrator can conclude her opening paragraph by suggesting that, in any event, frequent prize-winning gives the achiever a state of constant, 'incandescent' excitement; but instead she chooses to undermine this with the sardonic phrase 'from habit', implying that even exciting moments of achievement become debased by over-familiarity. With this, the narrator is proclaiming a third attitude to life. It is clear from the narrator's disenchantment that this is indeed to be a cautionary tale on vanity, whether or not the reader accepts as a whole the narrator's complex, indirect and, at times, confused preliminary diagnosis and judgement of her fate.
In the second paragraph the narrator's voice has transformed itself into a more direct, personal, but still unnamed 'I', with which she commences her account of winning 'my share of prizes'. But she begins by describing one drawback to competitive achievement, that concern with winning means sometimes being the loser, and her example is of failing 'year after year'. At the show organised by the grandly named New Zealand Agricultural and Pastoral Society, at the Onui Drill Hall, the narrator's annual entry for the 'Gentleman's Buttonhole' is never even displayed.(148) One morning a woman in an official-looking white coat comes to the narrator's school and makes a speech. Partly from connecting her with the drill hall, the narrator describes her as 'militant', but the woman's reported words are presented as aggressively officious. She 'accused too many people' of competing in the Buttonhole Section and 'advised' the children not to make buttonholes, 'as they were an art beyond our years'. In fact, this aggressive tone seems to be something superimposed by the narrator later in response to the speech (she soon admits feeling 'antagonistic' to the woman). The woman's words in direct speech appear milder: '"It has never been explained [...] why so many children enter buttonholes in the Flower Show."' It may even be that the woman's complaint is a mere comment in a more general speech and that the narrator has taken personal offence. For at the point in the story where the narrator might put the woman's speech into useful context, the narrator instead offers an aside in parentheses in which she criticizes Bertie Dowling, the boy who usually plays the kettledrum before the children enter their classrooms.(149) Playing the drum is Bertie Dowling's special achievement and the narrator is jealous of his evident success. Though she allows that he is 'clever at it', she psychologically displaces her feelings of comparative inadequacy by expressing contempt for his physical appearance.
The narrator's reaction after the woman makes her speech is to persist in entering the Buttonhole Section, where she continues to be a loser. She is motivated now by resentment of those whom she perceives as seeming better than her, so that every year she 'surrendered' her exhibit--the narrator's choice of the word implies both compulsion and a giving up of something valuable to hostile powers. However, the now adult narrator attributes her excessive determination only to failing to understand 'the futility of my struggle', though this does not account for the fact that, even as a child, the narrator understood she lacked talent. In the same long sentence the narrator hurries on and her tone changes, first into sardonic exaggeration (as she describes the talent of others 'in the short list of those blessed with the power to make gentlemen's buttonholes'), and then into her own patronising display of superiority (as she places the winning buttonholes at only the 'table at the Flower Show in the Drill Hall'). This demonstration of sour grapes, like the displacement of jealousy at the end of the previous paragraph, seems the result of feelings in childhood that still register strongly as an adult. But what the status-conscious narrator did not want to acknowledge as a child (and still does not) is that the essentially unfair distribution of talent in life means that such competitions are rarely contests among equals, and so prizes reward the development of individual talent (much like the acknowledgement of Bertie Dowling's playing of the kettledrum) but do not indicate any fundamental superiority over others.
After a break that indicates a jump in time, the narrator describes another drawback to competitive achievement, namely, the difficulty of extending one's sense of gratification beyond merely personal satisfaction. The story recommences with 'I won six and fourpence for handwriting', in a perfunctory manner that suggests this was an easy triumph which did not involve overcoming difficulties. The narrator claims 'At that time, I was in love with my parents', and that 'therefore' she decides to buy her mother a china tea-set with the money. But unlike the story's opening, this time her use of the inference word 'therefore' cannot disguise an alternative line of argument from the reader. The sardonic tone in 'I was in love with my parents', arising from the deliberately misplaced use of the romantic expression 'in love', has already implied that this gift is an act of sycophancy by which the narrator hopes to increase her reward: first winning some prize-money and then winning even more praise for sacrificing it in a act of filial piety. She admits a liking for sweets, and her list of them and her detailed description of chocolate fish suggests the extent of her forbearance. But the narrator's plans misfire when her mother's reaction is not what she expects. Her mother says 'You shouldn't have' and then, appearing to her daughter to mean this literally, puts the tea-set away in a cupboard with other things which are never used. The narrator's reaction to this behaviour is confusion. She describes some of the other objects kept out of everyday use in the cupboard, as if unsure how the tea-set belongs among them. But she also asserts 'It was best china, too' as an argument for its use, even marshalling the salesman to her cause. She cannot understand that her mother has reacted to the gift according to the customs of an adult--albeit a repressed middle-class adult--rather than as another child might.
The narrator supplies the answer to her own repeated questioning as to why the tea-set is not used, that her mother 'always said she was keeping the set for when she could really use it'. The adult narrator then goes on imagine a pleasant but unexceptional situation in which her mother might really use the set, and thereafter to pillory her mother's imagination in making a false distinction 'between using something and really using it.' The narrator's sardonic tone rises to a pitch as she notes that her mother eventually died without ever discovering an occasion when she could use the tea-set. She finishes by restating the tea-set's value as a 'six-and-fourpenny gift', making clear that, after all, it would not have mattered it if was damaged. These are easy points to score. But this mention of monetary value hints at how little genuine emotional value the gift had for the narrator, even as a child, when she gave it to her mother, and thus at how she failed to understand the great sentimental value it had for her mother all through her mother's life. The narrator located the value in the gift in enjoying its use; her mother located it in the motive of the giver. Ultimately, however, the narrator's selfish motive in giving the gift contrived the very misunderstanding which robbed her of any extra sense of reward. Furthermore, the now grownup narrator still does not seem to understand the poetic justice in this. As was the case with the buttonhole contest, her confused feelings persist into adulthood. The disconcerting possibility arises that it may through such continuing childish resentments that the narrator fell out of love with her parents. Certainly, even after death the narrator does not want to acknowledge that the habit of always presenting herself in the best light has never been lost.
Another break in the narrative moves the story forward an unspecified distance in time. A further drawback to winning prizes is that the reward itself may soon amount to nothing of lasting value, even to the winner. The narrator's skill at handwriting has now burgeoned into a prize-winning poem. But the narrator deprecates her own work as unrealistic and, in a note of dramatic irony (since the narrator is later revealed as dead), says it shows 'my touching disbelief in change'. Clearly, her poem succeeded in competition due to its na´ve sentimentalism. The narrator quotes the ending to show its clumsy hyperbole and to prove her point--though the poem does not actually display a lack of scientific knowledge (the sky does indeed not fall) or disbelief in change (a failing of the poet's love for nature is possible but unlikely). In addition, the narrator's self-deflation conceals more pride than appears the case on first reading. It is only the conclusion of her poem that she criticises, and she gives no details of the contest she won, thus making it impossible for the reader to gauge how gifted for her age she may have been. She also proceeds to describe how the poem is read out on the radio, where it ranks artistically somewhere between a genuinely successful Romantic work in which powerful feelings overflow (Tchaikovsky's 'Waltz of the Flowers') and a work of manipulative kitsch (David and Dawn in Fairyland).(150) The narrator further chooses to explain that her prize-money was a sum large enough to arrive by postal order: ten shillings. The already lengthy sentence that describes her success now trails on even further, into a somewhat breathless description of how she spent her winnings.
This time the narrator attempts to spend her prize-money on self-cultivation, but again the results misfire. The diary she buys proves 'unsatisfactory', probably because the same sensibility that created such a mawkish poem can find nothing of interest to write about in everyday events. The narrator then buys a printing set, and although once again she does not explain why her purchase is a dud, this is probably because it is essentially British ('a John Bull Printing Set'). Such a received form of expression will not allow the antipodean narrator to express herself properly. She can get no further than her name, rhymes so unsophisticated that they are merely rude, and insults to the rest of her New Zealand family. The remainder of the money the narrator saves in her Post-Office Bank, in a character-building deferment of pleasure. But she soon gives in and breaks into her bank to buy something non-cultivating that she really wants: a swimming cap. The narrator's list of failed attempts at self-cultivation ends by implying that she wasted her prize-money in a selfish materialism. But with this third example of the various drawbacks in living for achievement, the narrator once more fails to acknowledge something significant to the reader. In this case it is the ordinariness of her behaviour. The quotation from the narrator's poem indicates that she won her prize not so much for exceptional poetic gifts as for satisfying the popular prejudice of the judges. She omits details of the contest which would help the reader to gauge her talent. Her prize-money is spent on ordinary things, with ordinary results, by a child who may herself possess no particular genius.
In the next section the narrator meditates on prizes. Previously she has dealt with sporadic awards, but now she focuses on prizes as part of a social ritual, at the annual end-of-school prize-giving ceremony. Because they are expected--only their quantity is unknown--these school prizes can be 'waited greedily'. The narrator even knows what they will be in advance: books with a school motto inside and the inscribed reason for her winning. Thus the motto on the books, 'Pleasure from Work', becomes ironic--for the narrator pleasure lies in the prizes themselves. Furthermore, because prize-giving is a predictable ritual the reasons for winning, written at length in the books in a 'cramped, detailed' hand, seem merely contrived. The true purpose of the prize-giving ceremony has become lost. The narrator notes sardonically that 'no school had yet learned to distribute prizes at random', and she contrasts the ceremony with her mother handing out snacks at random among her children. The narrator's analogy also scornfully implies that her mother's is an even more effective approach to the same issue: giving pestering children what they want. She names some books she has received, and these fall into three types. The first is a list of three literary classics ('Treasure Island; Silas Marner; Emma'), though there is no indication that the narrator ever read them. The second group lists three works which merely reinforce the narrator's prejudices concerning her own world: the romantic poetry of the poet Longfellow, specifically his epic of an exotic 'heart-throbbing' love, The Song of Hiawatha; a book about India in which even the illustrations of the strangely coloured people are coloured in an inferior manner, 'as if with cochineal'; and a book about becoming famous as a result of one's actions in childhood.(151) These books are described solely in terms of their titles and illustrations, as if they were only glanced through.(152) The third class consists of a book received 'during the war, when books were scarce'. The narrator has plainly discounted its appearance and read it carefully. It is a book of what, from the subject matter, appears sentimental poetry. The poems themselves are so unremarkable that the narrator cannot recall anything beyond trivia and the typeface (the book's title is also forgotten). But she remembers snake designs lurking in the capital letters, an emblem of the danger inherent in such insincere writing. This is all the social ritual has given her.
The narrator's meditation re-starts with the remembrance that, if some people were habitually included as prize-winners in her school's contest of intelligence and character, there were also some who were habitually excluded. The narrator names two of them. She does not explain why the first, Dotty Baker, never wins a prize, but she notes contemptuously that the girl has 'greasy hair' as if this failure of outward appearance were a reason. Her explanation why the second girl, Maud Gray, receives no prizes is less facile, though it comes only as a passing comment, that Maud Gray 'found it hard to read even simple sentences aloud'. This suggests something more serious than mere low intelligence. The narrator further reveals that Maud Gray's difficulty made her the object of school bullying, and the narrator admits that she participated in this--though not before claiming that she was just one of many students who were, anyway, following their teachers' example. She then continues to rationalise her behaviour by resorting to the same argument that, she felt, explained Dotty Baker's exclusion (this time with more detail and forced comparisons). Maud Gray's outward appearance is unattractive. But such reasoning displays only the narrator's lack of intelligence and character in childhood, despite her prize-winning, and it indicates a visceral dislike of her two schoolmates which the adult narrator still feels.
However, this appraisal of Dotty Baker and Maud Gray has only been the foreshadowing of an elaborate scene which climaxes the story's first half. Without a break in the narrative, the narrator suddenly alters both the time scheme and her relationship to the setting. She is visiting Onui after many years. The narrator is poor--she wears a 'dirty old gabardine' coat and 'dowdy clothes'--and she is lonely, as she walks 'desolately'. In a small version of the pathetic fallacy, it is raining on her. Although nothing is ever stated directly, 'Prizes' contains a number of hints that the narrator may have grown up to become a poet. The purely circumstantial evidence for this includes: the narrator's early poetic facility in producing a poem of such prize-winning quality that it is read over the radio; the adult narrator's attitude to this poem, a combination of embarrassed criticism and residual pride; her detailed quotation from Longfellow and her careful reading of an old prize-book of poems; the narrator's production of poems (mentioned in the second half of the story) in sufficient quantity to win two guineas; her prize essay on 'the Visit to the Flour Mill' (also in the second half); the narrator's erudite tone and the use of 'In Flanders Fields' to help structure her story; and her lack of material success after growing up. Nevertheless, the narrator does not identify herself as a poet. She does not mention any other form of work either; her adult life is described only in this brief, central section, and any mention of her later achievements is conspicuously absent from the story. It is possible that this is because she was unsuccessful, never managing anything that could validate her sense of truly being a poet. A lack of lasting poetic success may also contribute to the narrator's expressed belief in the vanity of a life of achievement. But all this comes merely as speculative inference.
Whatever her circumstances, nostalgia has further reduced the narrator mentally to a low ebb. She feels fifteen (the age she would have been at a school prize-giving ceremony) instead of her current age, twenty five. In the street she sees two women wheeling prams and notes their outward beauty and pride. The narrator herself makes the connection with the 'superior parading of the victorious' that she felt characterised her own behaviour when she received school prizes. When the narrator next recognises that the two women are Dotty Baker and Maud Gray, she is shocked at how the women's babies have given them a special grace. The babies are 'treasure', as the narrator acknowledges. Yet she cannot bring herself to describe the babies themselves, merely to mention their 'cocooned, quilted, embroidered' surroundings, much as she was concerned solely with externals when describing Dotty Baker and Maud Gray in childhood. In fact, the narrator is too shocked even to marshal her resentment. She now feels so thoroughly defeated as a rival that she cannot assert any 'superiority' by reminding the women of their childhood. The narrator can only imagine whispering to the other women of their inadequacies at school ('You cheated in history'), their lack of cultivation ('you couldn't learn poetry by heart') and their failure at gaining status ('you never had your name in the paper'). Even this deteriorates into merely reminding herself that she was 'First in geometry, French, English, history'.
School is a world away, as is emphasised when the women smile at the observing narrator, perhaps without genuine recognition. But their smiles are also the sort of vague acknowledgement that may contain the possibility of a snub to follow--significantly, the narrator does not allow her tale to proceed beyond this point. Instead, the narrator elaborates on the tableau already presented. She mentions that the three of them 'shared the pit, each in her place', but this certainty of death is all they seem to share. Their places in the pit of death will be different, and the narrator mentions, for the second time, 'the bed of crushed poppies between us'. This is partly because the adult narrator is now already dead, and partly because poppies can be read as an emblem of lives that have been wasted (as the narrator feels hers to be). In contrast, the two women have produced issue. The babies, whom Dotty Baker and Maud Gray have kept 'cocooned' and have protected with quilts and celebrated with embroidery, are bulwarks against death. The babies indicate that the women have formed human relationships and participate in a community, the sort of 'status-free huddle where bodies were warm together and the future darkness seemed less frightening' which the narrator affected to patronise at the story's start, when she described her own experience of life as hell. Three times, always considering their prospective places in the pit, the narrator proceeds to emphasise her distance from these women: once by describing the 'bed of crushed poppies' as between them; a second in explicitly mentioning the women's unmistakable 'delicacy and distance' from the narrator in the face of death; and a third in alluding to the women on the other side of the street as on 'their specially reserved side of the world'. While the narrator attempts to show that she can see through these women's outward appearance, since she describes their pride as 'cloaks' and implies a sense of transaction in their relationship with the world by calling them 'clients of love', this analytic approach soon goes nowhere. What she is discovering below the women's victorious show still seems like a lasting happiness. In any case, the narrator began by explicitly acknowledging that she 'grudged' them this--even if it were only happiness of some superficial sort. The narrator's childhood achievements, her prizes, are her 'only retaliation'. As at the end of the previous paragraph, the narrator is reduced to listing her prizes to herself. The narrative, like its narrator, has become paralysed. The last word of the paragraph, 'remembering', suggests that she is recalling her past awards both as a twenty-five-year-old visiting her hometown and as the now dead narrator of the story. It also suggests, once again, that this conjured-up event and the emotions it once aroused still register strongly with the narrator, like an unhealed wound.
After a break in the narrative, the second half of the story returns to an unspecified time in the narrator's childhood. Whereas the first half of the story dealt largely with the drawbacks of prize-winning, the second half examines the motives behind achievement. As at the start, the story recommences by exploring the narrator's attitude to life. In a flurry of success, she publishes enough poems in a children's newspaper to win two guineas. Since it is necessary to collect marks for the poems in order to gain the money, simple arithmetic reveals that the narrator contributed at least ten poems, probably more. In addition, since the money is 'the usual prize' and it is the marks rather than the poems that are focused on, it appears that the narrator's prolific output was little more to her than the cynical means of securing a financial result. With one guinea the narrator's father buys her a tennis racket, but unfortunately it is not the type of racket all the other girls at school use. The narrator's racket has black strings; it looks like an emblem of the social black-sheep which the narrator fears becoming. She seldom uses the racket because she feels her potential shame so keenly. This occurs partly because, as the adult narrator can now acknowledge, 'The prestige of owning things mattered so much'. As another instance of this, she proceeds to describe her social embarrassment over the poor-quality wireless she has at home. But simple materialism is not the only reason for this embarrassment. Since no one is likely to see the narrator's wireless, as her schoolmates' enquiring conversations in fact make clear, the radio does not create the same sort of problem as the use of the tennis racket. The ultimate source of the narrator's embarrassment is that, in the face of conformism, she is interested only in keeping up appearances--just as at school she was interested solely in the outward appearance of Dotty Baker and Maud Gray. This is an unfortunate tendency of mind for a fledgling poet, and the narrator's perversion of her poetic instincts in order to get herself two guineas has already confirmed this tendency. Success as a true poet, at least in Frame's fiction, is incompatible with worldly success. Thus it may also be significant that when the narrator encounters Dotty Baker and Maud Gray again at age twenty five, she still attempts at first to examine them through their outward appearance. The narrator's sort of achievement, it is implied, is about winning in order to manage a superior worldly show; it does not require forming relationships, or participating in a community, or being happy within. Instead, the narrator hopes to gain acceptance by impressing people.
The consequences of such an attitude are inevitably damaging to the cultivation of an inner life, as the story goes on to demonstrate. With her second guinea the narrator has 'the unexpected fortune' of managing to become the pupil of Hessie Sutton, a local music teacher. It is the first occasion that one of the narrator's prizes seems to lead to genuine self-improvement, as she now buys something abstract: a teacher's time. Preparing her story for its description of the troubles that follow, however, the narrator is careful when introducing Hessie Sutton to prevent the reader from developing too much respect for the music teacher. She notes that the teacher has a white parrot which makes a notoriously cacophonous noise--Hessie Sutton's tastes, the narrator hints, may be suspect. Nevertheless, the narrator observes in a second paragraph that Hessie Sutton's front room has an appropriately fine outward appearance, with attractively exotic windows. And the narrator's inner self actually appreciates the sounds of Hessie Sutton's piano. She responds artistically to its music, describing the notes it produces as 'clean' when they spring 'from their green bedding'. These sounds she absorbs as 'opulence and cleanliness'; she compares them to rich milk pouring into her and observes, 'I swallowed.' The repeated comparisons with cleanliness and richness suggest that something soiled is being removed from the narrator's inner self and replaced with something finer. The notes also emerge 'bravely', suggesting an admirable lack of self-consciousness. In contrast, the narrator says, there is no piano at all in her own home, and the piano at her aunt's house is so neglected that it looks ugly. But more important than its outward look, the narrator can observe that the music from her aunt's piano is itself narrow and sickly, resulting in 'an invalid petulance and stricture'. For all the merits of Hessie Sutton's piano, however, in a third paragraph Hessie Sutton herself shows a disappointing interest in outward appearances. She displays her own 'petulance and stricture' by erroneously claiming that 'You will never be able to play the piano if you bite your nails!', thereby losing credibility as a teacher. The narrator begins to think of her not as artistic but as a hostile figure, a spy. This third paragraph, like the introduction of the teacher, casts Hessie Sutton in a suspect light, bracketing and thus closing off the passage where the narrator has responded artistically to the stimulation of music. The narrator's new response, to the complaint about the look of her nails, does not involve changing her inner behaviour. She merely tries to hide her fingers.
'Prizes' is about the vanity of action, and as the narrator attempts to cultivate her inner life, her character itself now becomes vain. At school she is snobbish and over-competitive about learning music. It is important to her that she performs better than other people, such as Dotty Baker or Maud Gray. In an echo of her earlier description of Maud Gray's face as pale ('like milk on the turn'), the narrator claims that the playing of the other girls is 'mostly' pale and raw, 'like uncooked pastry'. She does not mention anyone who may be an exception. Her own playing, she implies by comparison, includes a good-looking 'gold finish'. But while the narrator may still respond well to sounds she makes herself, her developing egotism means that she displays little interest in hearing music made by others. She complains that she is cold and miserable while listening to a 'Marche Militaire' at the Music Festival. She mocks the performances she hears in two ways, by emphasising that the players are schoolgirls and by comparing their playing to the activities of dentists and carpenters. (In fact she runs these together into an artistically clumsy image.) The narrator lacks the humility to acknowledge that she, too, is a schoolgirl and, as a beginner, no better than the players she criticises.
'Puck' is the title of the first piece of music that the narrator is to learn to play. Usually associated with Shakespeare's mischievous but likeable fairy in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck's character seems almost the opposite of the narrator's artificial personality. When the narrator goes to buy her sheet music at the stationer's, she carefully observes the face of the boy at the store who serves her. She is so observant that she even compares the colour of his blushing face to 'a dock leaf in autumn'. (This is a third instance in the story of her egotistic tendency to make unflattering comparisons about others.) She divines that the boy is embarrassed at having to go ask his parents if it is all right to give the narrator's family more credit. Observing someone's outward appearance in order to deduce what that person is thinking or feeling is natural human behaviour. The narrator has previously been judgemental of Dotty Baker, Maud Gray and even Hessie Sutton, based on what she could observe. (She was overly concerned, too, about others judging her own appearance over her black-stringed tennis racket.) However, carrying the newly purchased music on her way home, the narrator is offended when Hessie Sutton encounters her and does the same thing as the narrator has done in the shop. The music teacher interprets the narrator's shy and excited smile and returns 'an understanding smile' of her own. In a neat paradox, it is actually by the narrator's divining the reason for Hessie Sutton's 'understanding smile', that is, by once more judging from outward appearances, that the narrator is offended at what she sees as an invasion of privacy. It is possible that the narrator's anger at this encounter is partly a displacement of her embarrassment during her encounter with the boy at the store, but above all the narrator's shyness has grown from her obsession with appearances and achievement. This is the weakness that accompanies her personal vanity. In her vanity, what the narrator objects to from her encounter with Hessie Sutton is the give-and-take of mutual understanding that comes through normal human relationships. She will later feel defeated as a rival in an exchange of smiles with the adult mothers, Dotty Baker and Maud Gray. The narrator would prefer such understanding of the inner self to be a one-way action only, as when the narrator reveals herself through her achievements, impressing other people whom she sees passively admiring her in turn. The narrator cannot control the terms of an active, two-way process of understanding. Her reaction to Hessie Sutton's smile is entirely defensive. She feels violated. This is reflected in three short sentences of emotional outburst. The narrator complains twice 'How dare she!' and then 'How I hated her!'.
To the reader, such an encounter may seem trivial, and so Frame expands and elaborates on it further, to emphasise its importance to the narrator and also to draw out the narrator's humiliation. The narrator claims for herself a 'sense of shame', which Hessie Sutton now heightens. As often in her short fiction, Frame follows the Modernist tactic of having the style of her writing match its content. The narrator feels her shame keenly, and this is intensified through the immediacy of a passage of dialogue and descriptive narrative. At this point of crisis Hessie Sutton will not let the matter of their encounter rest, and the story's language similarly dwells on the event through repetition. Three times Hessie Sutton announces, 'I saw'. She exclaims, 'I guessed how excited you were!'--her use of 'excited' repeats the exact word which the narrator used earlier to describe her own way of smiling at her music teacher, 'shyly and excitedly'. And soon Hessie Sutton expands 'I guessed' into an emphatic 'I knew!' Interspersed among the dialogue are three narrative passages where the narrator directs the reader's response: by insisting on her shame, by implicitly comparing Hessie Sutton to an animal that 'pounced' and by explicitly comparing her to a detective. The narrator's weak response to all this is to say, 'I wasn't caring at all'.(153) Her response seems all the weaker because the reader already knows from the narrator's own confession, in the form of the story, that she does care a great deal. It seems a curious paradox that the narrator, who insists on secrecy in dealing with Hessie Sutton, is prepared to confess so freely to the reader; but, crucially, in telling her own story the narrator can feel that she controls the process of revelation. Frame herself has admitted in her autobiography to an almost chronic social shyness, and here she implicitly admits that writing fiction is a useful outlet for shyness, accommodating its need for both secrecy and confession.
The adult narrator, having for the third time conjured up the sort of unhealed emotional wound which still registers with her strongly, now intrudes with three sentences which aim to rationalise why she felt so offended. In the first, the narrator says of her teacher, 'I did not understand why she should appear so triumphant, as if by seizing on a momentary aspect of my behavior she had uncovered a life of deceit in me'.(154) She explains that it is the excessiveness of Hessie Sutton's behaviour now which is offensive, in relation to such a small event. This is an inversion, in fact, of the narrator's excessive anger earlier at what was merely Hessie Sutton's 'understanding smile'. In the next sentence the narrator then resorts to exaggerating Hessie Sutton's attitude in order to demonstrate its absurdity. She repeats the content of the previous sentence by expanding the word 'triumphant' into an extended, pseudo-Homeric simile of Hessie Sutton as a mythic soldier-hero, trumpeting success (bringing back the golden horn) and new knowledge (having proof of the secret activities of the princesses). Finally, having argued that Hessie Sutton's behaviour was inexcusable, the narrator excuses her own angry reaction as simple gaucherie, saying 'I did not realize that people's actions are mysteries that are so seldom solved.' The narrator's language in each of these sentences crackles with unconscious ironies, such as 'uncovered a life of deceit' and 'brought back [...] from the underworld'. The final sentence's phrase, 'peoples actions are mysteries', is ironic in the light of what the narrator suppresses from the story. To the extent that these manoeuvres establish the narrator's apparent reasonableness, then the dramatic reappearance of Hessie Sutton in dialogue, saying 'I knew' yet again, seems shrill. Her repetitions of 'I knew' mean that she uses the phrase a total of three times, the same number as for 'I saw'. The possibility that Hessie Sutton's insistence may be nothing more than a compensatory reaction to the narrator's sullenness is never broached; even as an adult, the narrator does not seem able to consider it.
Until the story's climax at this point, with the narrator's anger at Hessie Sutton, 'Prizes' has been told primarily as reminiscence in the voice of the mature narrator. However, the climactic exchange between the narrator and her teacher occurs in a more immediate dialogue and descriptive narrative, with recourse to free indirect style, as the story enters and illustrates the younger narrator's state of mind. This change of style also occurs because this incident appears to have been a decisive moment in the narrator's life, and so the adult narrator has tried to conjure it up in its entirety. But now the narrative returns to reminiscence. Repeating her earlier complaint that Hessie Sutton's observations of her are an extension of invasive observations by the world at large, the narrator says, 'I was weary of being spied upon'. She begins to rail against being observed too closely. Despite her concern with keeping up appearances (or perhaps even because of it), she implies that, when observing her, other people do not see her mental development but merely the outward growth of her body, and that they do not see her individuality but merely attribute parts of her to other relatives. Even the narrator's smile, with which she had tried earlier in the story to interact with Dotty Baker and Maud Gray and then Hessie Sutton, the narrator claims other people would say is not her own. This complaint the narrator now intensifies in a new paragraph which begins with a direct appeal to the reader: 'You see how derivative I was made out to be?'. The narrator is extending her grievance into an argument that she is not allowed to be original or individual; she has to exist in relation to other people. But this steady, defensive escalation is, in fact, a developing obfuscation of the narrator's reason for her eventual withdrawal from true social contact. The narrator's cry that neither her body nor, now, her feelings 'belonged' to her is at heart a complaint about her inability to control how others see her--hence her use of the word 'spying', three times in the story, to describe another person's simple attentiveness. She even wonders if people's attentiveness is really a form of aggression, whereby they 'stake their claim in other people' in order to prevent other people from staking any claim in them first, described obliquely with an image of 'the bailiffs' arriving in their own house'.
The narrator's unsatisfactory encounter with Hessie Sutton is a decisive moment in the narrator's life because it causes her to abandon her interest in music and also, it would appear, in the give-and-take of human relationships. It sets the narrator irrevocably on the path of compensation through solitary achievement, which leads to her unhappy encounter with the grownup Dotty Baker and Maud Gray. By turning her away from people and confirming her obsession with worldly show, it even sows the seeds of eventual artistic failure. Thus it is no exaggeration that the narrator may feel 'in despair', though such knowledge of the nature of this despair comes only from hindsight for the adult narrator and the reader. The younger narrator's actual despair, at the time of the story's climax, comes from a realisation that the prize-winning achievements which she has previously employed as a 'fortress' against entering mutual human relationships have already been proved inadequate--and yet, she still cannot manage to change and move herself away from this path of behaviour, any more than she could give up biting her nails. Her non-functional rewards (bound books and scrolled certificates) and her superfluous productions (a prize essay, mentioned for the first time and thus indicating there may be more writing to go with the poems in the children's newspaper) will never be sufficient to control other people's interest in her. The narrator understands the distressing fact that, just as she seeks to control other people's view of herself through prize-winning achievement, so others will always seek to invade her through direct observation, carrying away their insights into her as prizes of their own. But the narrator also sees further mental and even physical withdrawal from her community as the only option she has, if she is not to change herself fundamentally. The narrator has learned all this as an adolescent from her encounter with Hessie Sutton, but in this penultimate paragraph she is also reminding herself of these facts as an adult. Crucial to her adult rehearsal of this event is the continuing impression it leaves for the reader that the adolescent narrator had no other course of action than further withdrawal. But whether it is ultimately compelled or chosen, as the story's complex, backward-folded time-frame has already made clear, this withdrawal will not bring happiness. The reader already knows that on meeting the grownup Dotty Baker and Maud Gray the narrator will be left exchanging smiles at a second decisive encounter, this time in a gesture largely devoid of communication, only to grudge others their places on 'their specially reserved side of the world' and to remind herself that 'My only retaliation was prizes'.
In the final paragraph the narrative moves forward again across another unspecified gap in time, which also returns it to the situation at the beginning of the story. The impersonal 'one' who spoke from the pit of death at the story's start, beginning without apparent regret in the announcement that 'Life is hell, but at least there are prizes', has now become a personalised 'I' with a history and has explained why she began so. The narrator lies in the pit 'finally arranged, faded, robbed of all prizes'. Death levels out all achievement, and the 'spoils of the dead' are the last words of the story. Such spoils are merely those trinkets left behind which are divided up, repeatedly, by the people 'still under every human sky'. The narrator makes a metaphoric comparison with the carrion left after a battle--the carrion itself spoiling--which is then endlessly picked over by crows. This closing reference to the war dead of 'In Flanders Fields' is intensely gloomy, making it clear that the 'spoils' of life are both worthless and to be appropriated, in any case, by others. After death, the destruction of a life is total. And yet there may be an irony in the narrator's final claim that 'I lie in the pit'. Certainly, the narrator seems to be mendacious by omission, because her story has an obvious loose end. The moment of self-comprehension felt by the twenty-five-year-old narrator on re-encountering Dotty Baker and Maud Gray as mothers would probably, at last, make her want to change her withdrawn way of life.(155) But this apparently does not happen, because the narrator makes it clear from the beginning of the story that she has been goal-oriented throughout her life until her death--and even beyond, when examining her life from the pit. Change is not in her nature. As with the possibility of the narrator having become a poet, nothing is ever stated directly but 'Prizes' contains a number of hints that, instead of changing her life, the narrator committed suicide shortly after meeting the adult Dotty Baker and Maud Gray.
The evidence for this claim of suicide is, again, purely circumstantial. The narrator does not mention her life after the age of twenty five. She still feels childhood hurts strongly and reacts to them in a childish way--even speaking from beyond the grave, she cannot resist inserting a jealous aside on Bertie Dowling's playing of the kettledrum at school in which she attacks his outward appearance. Despite her interest in prizes the narrator mentions only childhood achievements, yet she seems to have remained goal-oriented until her death. In the opening paragraph she speaks of life as 'hell', and of facing the pit of death as taking 'one's own deserved place on the edge, ready to leap'. The narrator's references to poppies and the poem 'In Flanders Fields' also refer by implication to the prematurely dead, and references to war appear in the background of the story as a leitmotiv. When the narrator recalls re-encountering the grownup Dotty Baker and Maud Gray, she twice mentions herself and the women as being on either side of a bed of poppies--as if the narrator will die on the youthful side of life and the women on the other. Dying prematurely, without literary achievement, would also explain why the narrator does not feel able to describe herself as a poet.
Again, this is all speculative inference--the sort of inference from spying observation that the narrator complains about--made possible only by the absences in the text. It also suggests, in this story of the vanity of human actions, that not only the adolescent narrator is vain but also the adult narrator telling the story after death. (Even the adult narrator's cautionary tale on vanity itself is thus, ultimately, in vain.) She will not allow herself to confess her suicide, only to examine its cause and imply that it was an unavoidable fate, hence the complex, indirect and even confused argument of the story's opening paragraph. The narrator's tale appears to be a plotless musing upon a theme, but in fact it is a construction that aims artfully to conceal its omissions. Furthermore, because of the story's unusually large number of references to events in Frame's life, there does indeed seem something especially personal about 'Prizes'. As a tale of its narrator's poetic failure and youthful suicide, it is a story of the life Frame could have led--and almost did, as her autobiography makes clear, but for a few twists of fate. For while it is comforting to believe that talent and will were enough to save Frame from disaster, her autobiography shows that she was partly saved by luck. She could easily have become a 'mute inglorious Milton', just as men may sometimes be sent off to war by their country's version of Cromwell and die tragically young in battle.(156) Oscar Wilde wrote cynically, 'The secret of happiness is to choose one's parents carefully.' The cynical truth lying below the surface of 'Prizes' is that the only way one can live well in the face of death's certainty is to be lucky. Some people have lives that are long, happy and fulfilling, and manage achievements that last even beyond the grave. But as 'Prizes' shows, they are ultimately just lucky. In the face of life's inevitable and crushing vanity, they cannot deserve their lives or benefit from their achievements any more than anyone else.
The literary origin of 'Prizes', with its narrator's emphasis on submitting to fate, lies perhaps in Juvenal's tenth satire on the subject of vainglory. There is certainly, as in Juvenal, something pre-Christian about the story's treatment of death, and even in the story's pessimism. Samuel Johnson's 'The Vanity of Human Wishes' is a conscious imitation of Juvenal's tenth satire, yet it ends with a religious affirmation. Frame's story does not. But the inherent problem in accepting death as an absolute annihilation is that it makes absolutely everything bleak and pointless, including human relationships and a sense of community--and even bothering to speak about the vanity of life. Furthermore, as existentialist philosophers have noted, total annihilation makes suicide a logical response to life's pain. When death is the guaranteed end of everything, then there is no case against death. However, if the origin of 'Prizes' seems pre-Christian, so too the spirit of 'Winter Garden' seems derived from Plato's Phaedo, his account of the last hours of Socrates and of the famous pre-Christian debate between the philosopher and his followers on the possibility of life after death.
'Winter Garden' begins with a long, heavily patterned paragraph. This contributes almost nothing new after its first sentence, which also states the most important fact in the main character's life: 'Mr Paget's wife had been in a coma for two months.' Socrates argued that the body and soul are essentially separate and are permanently parted at death, and this concept was later explored in more depth by Descartes as mind-body dualism.(157) By making the mind, or soul, distinct from the body, such dualism makes life after death a possibility, but a comatose condition seems to blur this sense of clear boundaries. A coma is a state mysteriously suspended between life and death, and it calls into question any distinction between them. Thus the remainder of the opening paragraph describes not so much Mrs Paget's mysterious and changeless condition as the effects it has on Mr Paget's ordinary life. Mr Paget visits the hospital each afternoon, but his wife is so unresponsive that he has to tell her who he is and 'I'm here with you'. The paragraph's second sentence begins with an adverbial phrase of frequency and then lists three actions performed by Mr Paget in relation to his wife (visiting the hospital, sitting by the bed and not speaking except once); it quotes his actual words and then finishes with three instances of his wife's lack of response ('not moving, her eyes closed, her face pale.') The use of triples is a common device in Frame's fiction, but it is everywhere in the opening paragraph of 'Winter Garden' and frequent in the story as a whole, where it serves both as an intensifier and as a stylistic equivalent of the ordered life that Mr Paget has adopted. For Mr Paget has become so bound to his routine that it seems as if his wife's suspended condition has infected him, too.
The paragraph's third sentence is patterned in the same way as the second. It also begins with a frequency adverb and then lists three actions performed by Mr Paget on leaving his wife (kissing her, withdrawing his hand and patting the bedclothes). At its centre, the sentence moves into something similar to the immediacy of dialogue by describing Mr Paget's self-conscious sense of 'freedom and movement' as he leaves, and it finishes with his three habitual actions in response (going home, having a meal and working in the garden). Mr Paget's routine is so constricting that it becomes clear he is just as much in a mental trap as his wife is in a physical one. Indeed, if Mrs Paget's coma arises from a paralysis of her mind affecting her body, Mr Paget's condition of habit-induced stasis comes from the paralysis of his wife's body affecting his mind. Almost nothing is revealed of Mr Paget's life beyond his reaction to his wife's illness, in order to make him as colourless as possible. The omniscient narrator does not enter his mind at the story's start except to mention that Mr Paget is 'conscious of his own privileged freedom and movement', a phrase sandwiched between instances where he is not free. Instead, the narrator observes Mr Paget's external life and reports the comments of the neighbours upon it. Even the narrator's tone is deliberately distant. In the story's second sentence Mr Paget announces that his first name is Alec, yet the narrator follows the convention of the other characters in referring to him by his surname only. The paragraph's fourth sentence, again beginning with adverbial phrases of frequency, merely repeats that Mr Paget is in his garden every day, hinting that because he 'found work to do' it is a form of compulsion. The fifth sentence, at the centre of the paragraph, re-emphasises hospital visits and gardening as the twin centres of Mr Paget's life and lists three items in his garden, 'his flowers, lawn and olearia hedge.'(158) The structure of the second half of the paragraph is then a mirror version of the first. It lists Mr Paget's activities at home, just as previously it listed his actions during hospital visits, and in the same heavily patterned manner. It then moves into the immediacy of Mr Paget's consciousness twice and ends, as it began, with him contemplating his wife's condition.
The paragraph's second half begins with the neighbours observing Mr Paget's three activities in managing his flowers, lawn and hedge ('digging, clipping, or mowing') and it quotes their response: '"Poor Mr Paget. His garden must be a comfort to him."' The narrator presents the neighbours' words without overt comment, but it is the first of three instances in the paragraph where Mr Paget's relations with other people lack any satisfactory inter-communication. Each case is initiated by one of Mr Paget's habitual actions. The second case comes in the next sentence, a replica of the previous sentence, which describes the neighbours observing that Mr Paget watches television in the evening. It then presents their response: '"Poor Mr Paget. The television must be a comfort to him."' All this shows that the neighbours are sympathetic but distant, much like the narrator and, as a result of the story's monotonous tone, even the reader. Mr Paget's third habitual activity also provides him with no real inter-communication: he often telephones the hospital and learns that his wife's condition shows 'no change'. The phrase 'no change' is repeated three times, as an intensifier indicating both Mr Paget's habit and his wife's continuing condition. 'No change, no change' is also a brief moment of free indirect discourse. It is the first time the narrative has completely entered Mr Paget's mind (his previous sense of 'freedom and movement' was reported), though this is only to repeat a hospital cliche. Mr Paget's response to the phrase is muted; he has learned, presumably from habit, that there is no value in questioning what is in effect a meaningless expression. He is left to interpret it for himself, although his reported explanation, 'no nearer living or dying', could just as well apply to his own situation.
The end of the paragraph describes Mr Paget's view of his wife's coma. He is aware of 'fluctuations' in her condition but understands that these are 'ripples only, this way and that'. They are variations within a pattern that indicate something more like his own habitual actions than real change. The image with which Mr Paget describes this to himself is of the sea, where the easily observed appearance of surface movement is actually separate from the true movement of the tides, which is not easily perceived. This (a tidal movement is also a changeless pattern) he then summarises pessimistically with the third appearance of the hospital cliche, 'No change', as the narrative begins to enter his mind for a second time. But now at the very close of the paragraph, Mr Paget's frustration breaks out, in 'How intently he watched her face!'. And then he acknowledges what was made clear at the paragraph's start, that he cannot provoke a response from his wife. The final sentence is again patterned in three parts (Mr Paget strokes his wife's face, her eyelids do not blink, he compares them to shells). The paragraph began with a hospital visit, but this time as recollection Mr Paget is once more staring into his wife's eyes. The final simile, comparing his wife's closed eyes to 'lamp shells' on a beach, shows that there is no change even in his own thinking: he continues to compare his wife's condition to the sea.
The story's large and over-structured opening paragraph seems to contain ever more instances of patterning as the reader examines further. Making the reading experience mimic the action of the story, Frame's opening paragraph is the verbal equivalent of an elaborate paralysis. Its deliberate over-writing and repetition make it seem deadened, and this is reinforced by the narrator's detached tone of observation. For 'Winter Garden' is pre-eminently a story of minute observation, and always with minimal reward. Mr Paget watches his wife intently. Where they can, the neighbours watch Mr Paget. The impersonal narrator, bringing in the reader too, watches the watchers--all with little result that can be unambiguously deduced. Similarly, though the story's patterning is on display everywhere and constantly invites observation by the reader, it is almost meaningless. It does little more than reinforce the story's inertia. In fact it is the exceptions to the patterning in the story that tend to be significant. Many of Frame's stories use a double perspective to gain depth, an adult first-person narrator recalling childhood events or, in a third-person narrative, an event which resonates as a repetition of something that happened earlier. In 'The Bath', for example, an elderly woman taking a bath has had trouble getting out from her tub before, and the recollection of that experience colours and deepens her current sense of crisis. But the main action of 'Winter Garden' turns out to be a unique moment. This--along with the obvious lack of detail about setting or the characters' personal lives--operates to rob the story of poetic depth, highlighting the patterns on its surface while at the same time denying them a deeper significance. It also tends to inhibit the reader's sense of identification with the main character, concomitantly increasing the reader's sense of being an observer.
In the second paragraph the focus shifts from Mr Paget's wife to his garden, almost as if the story itself is shying away from Mr Paget's dilemma and focusing instead on some form of comfort. Mr Paget's garden is admired by his neighbours. Taking up the same three items which the neighbours observed Mr Paget working on in the first paragraph, the merits of Mr Paget's flowers, lawn and hedge are explained from his neighbours' point of view. It is the seemingly perfected state of Mr Paget's garden, exemplified by his roses, which the neighbours appreciate. They see his garden as something like nature brought to completion, and thus changeless and, ultimately, artificial. Untouched by diseases or insects, his roses are unnaturally fine. His lawn is compared to shining fur. Thirdly, in a hideously unnatural image, his well-trimmed hedge is compared to 'a long smooth plump slice of yellow cake'. The neighbours see only the results of Mr Paget's effort, not a process. Their perception of the hedge (and, by implication, of the garden as a whole) is limited, as the narrator gently begins to show in the paragraph's second half. The hedge is not static: 'it moved'. The narrator goes on to give three examples of how the hedge's beauty is actually changeable and natural. Its leaves crackle in the wind. The narrator compares this to the sound of a fire starting, and though this is an image of destruction it seems more vital than the description of unnaturally healthy roses. In the morning the hedge appears 'varnished a glossy green', which seems a less contrived description than the comparison of the lawn's sheen to fur. Moreover, the hedge changes over time, so that in the evening light it seems 'pale lemon', a more realistic and less forced description than any comparison with a slice of cake. In fact, the hedge is so changeable that at sundown it seems capable of transforming itself into another object altogether: it appears 'under the mass of house shadow as lawns do sometimes'.
It is the garden's changeability in his static world which is the likely source of its attraction for Mr Paget. He is 'tending' his garden as a psychological displacement for tending his wife. This may even have occurred through an unconscious verbal association, since she is now in a 'vegetable' state. The critic David Norton has noted the frequent interchange in the story of the language appropriate for taking care of a garden and the language appropriate for human beings, and that this interchanging is vital to the story's final success.(159) An example appears in the next paragraph: the rowan tree which is Mr Paget's 'pride' has berries beneath its 'protecting' leaves. As his pride and joy, for Mr Paget the tree is the apex of his efforts at tending his garden. It too is changeable, altering with the seasons, and so vital that its berries glisten and the metaphor of its leaves protecting the berries does not appear forced. Thus Mr Paget seems 'cheered' by the berries as he works in the garden; they provide both comfort and support. In fact, the same sentence which describes him as cheered lists his gardening activities as 'trimmed, mowed, staked, planted', an out-of-pattern group of four rather than three. Earlier Mr Paget had 'made up his mind' not to bring flowers to the hospital because he associated them with funerals, and his mind had stayed unchanging; but now he appears to have associated the rowan berries sufficiently with 'tending' to take action--'impulsively' he changes his routine and picks a cluster of rowan berries for his wife. The changeable rowan tree (and by extension the garden) seems to be having a positive effect on Mr Paget's mind. Thus for the first time he now unites his two interests: the tree and his wife.
With his berries Mr Paget arrives at the hospital early, again breaking away from routine. But the collection of tending instruments he finds already on the bedside next to his wife is dispiriting at first. In an interchange of language, he observes the 'tools' that are being used by hospital staff to care for his wife where he cannot. This is in opposition to the previous paragraph, where Mr Paget could take care of the rowan tree. Initially, this impression causes him to consider his wife as 'apparently lifeless' and to feel he can find no room for his own healing berries. But after hesitation Mr Paget finds a place on the locker, beside an ugly tube. This is an unconscious though probably appropriate choice of place, since the epithet 'gaping-throated' makes the tube appear to be a feeding-device. Mr Paget is then able to think more hopefully that his wife might notice the berries, somehow taking them in, while he imagines her condition (again in an interchange of language) as 'lying in the strange secret garden where those instruments tended her'. Earlier Mr Paget thought of his wife's condition in terms of a changeless sea. Thinking of her condition in terms of a garden is a significant alteration of mind, since a garden has change--and Mr Paget has brought proof of this with him from the garden he manages and included it among the hospital instruments. In literature the concept of change over time, usually characterised as mutability, is almost always seen as negative: the inevitable decline of people and objects towards death and destruction. In 'Winter Garden', however, change is seen as positive evidence of life's process, and thus as confirmation of not living in a changeless state of death or death-in-life.
At this point the story itself changes and appears to open out, moving into the immediacy of a passage of dialogue and descriptive narrative, in which events happen. A nurse, entering, notes Mr Paget's change of routine and quickly begins to take charge of the situation. Her speech, unqualified by any use of the word 'said', seems to break into Mr Paget's wandering thoughts. Unfortunately, just as Mr Paget has accustomed himself to the instruments beside his wife by thinking of them as tending her in a garden, the nurse announces she will take away the tray of tools, and then also that she will take away the berries to put in water. When she asks if the berries are from Mr Paget's garden, he can only manage to nod in reply. But his reticence is actually characteristic. Throughout the story, Mr Paget is always close to silence. His speech is limited to monosyllabic replies of yes or no, or to mere phatic communication (such as reciting to others that there has been no change or politely offering a stock expression). This is as colourless and passive as might be expected from a man whose life is reduced to something like in a version of his wife's coma. But it is also part of Frame's artfulness that this further evidence of Mr Paget's incommunicative death-in-life appears in the story at the same time that the narrator has begun to enter Mr Paget's thoughts at any length. Mr Paget's suspicion on arrival at the hospital that its staff members are excluding him from tending his wife now returns and expands. He observes the nurse tucking in his wife's bedclothes 'as if to arrange a blanket defence against the living, speaking creature who had invaded her vegetable peace'; the 'as if' indicates that this imaginative interpretation is Mr Paget's own. He feels the nurse sees him as an enemy, since it is her job to maintain Mrs Paget in hospital just as he maintains his own garden at home. He feels the nurse arranges a 'blanket defence'--this is at once literally that of a blanket tucked in tight on the bed and also 'blanket' in the sense of 'general'--because she sees it as her task to defend Mrs Paget in her comatose state against outsiders. It is, in fact, true that Mr Paget would like to change his wife from her vegetable state, but mostly his is an emotionally strained response to the prospect of losing the healing berries he has brought. Feeling that the nurse is his enemy by imagining that she feels he is hers, he waits until the nurse is gone before trying to communicate with his wife.
But when Mr Paget does communicate with his wife, it is to revert halfway towards routine, repeating half of his usual speech to his wife by saying 'Miriam, it's me, Alec'. He takes her hand and feels her pulse, comparing it to 'a memory gone out of reach'. This comparison comes from his projecting onto the sensation of his wife's pulse a mixture of her mental state (that her memory and mental powers have somehow slipped beyond her reach) and also of his own powerlessness (that he is unable to take care of his wife and that even the berries have now been taken out of reach by the nurse). Mr Paget strokes his wife's fingers, in an echo of his ineffectual stroking of his wife's face in the first paragraph. That prior action of stroking led to an emotional outburst on his part, and so it does on this occasion. He feels his habitual, 'familiar' sense of hopelessness; but this time, since he is at a halfway stage between routine and genuine freedom without the other restraints of habit to hold the feeling in check, he is 'overwhelmed'. He wonders openly to himself whether his wife would be better off dead than in a coma. Mr Paget describes her state in three expressions that equally fit his own condition: 'silent' (he says almost nothing); 'unknowing' (he cannot understand his wife's condition); and beyond 'reach' (the rest of the world seems unable truly to communicate with him).
The nurse re-enters with the berries and puts them on the windowsill. The expression 'where they made a splash of colour' seems to be a reporting of her spoken words after they have entered Mr Paget's mind, while he is lost in thought. The berries are now further away from Mrs Paget than before, and Mr Paget observes them as having lost their healing power and become emblematic of the desirable death through mercy-killing that he has been thinking about. They are 'skeleton-shaped' and 'like spears'. The nurse interrupts his thoughts, making conversation, and Mr Paget now listens properly. She says that since winter is on the way the deciduous leaves of the rowan tree will turn and the number of berries will decline. Although this implies that the onset of winter will mean the end of growth and change, Mr Paget merely answers with a passive 'Yes'. He is so passive that the nurse is left to guess at what he is thinking. She assumes that he is wondering about his wife's condition--wrongly, he has been thinking that his wife would be better dead--and so she says with mistaken sympathy, 'There's been no change'. Trying to say the right thing for the occasion, the nurse adds that Mrs Paget is not suffering. Mr Paget responds with the right thing, a further passive 'No' in agreement. In fact it is difficult to gauge the true degree of Mrs Paget's suffering since she cannot be communicated with, and Mr Paget's passivity makes it difficult for others to gauge his suffering too. Just as the nurse tried to guess his thoughts, now he anticipates her next words, which he imagines will be what others say to him when trying to be sympathetic: death will be a 'happy release'. These words always feel like blows to him because they deny any final possibility of hope: 'happy' suggests that his wife may indeed be suffering in her coma, and 'release' confirms his thought that she would be better dead.
But the nurse does not actually say this, and when she leaves the room Mr Paget watches the 'afternoon light', which is reduced by the window frame to a narrow ribbon. The light has 'bound' itself, like something as entrapped and limited as the human span, across the pane, the sill and the berries in the room. The word 'afternoon' may refer to the gradual fading of the day, but it may also be an allusion to Tennyson's 'The Lotos Eaters', a poem describing the languid wretches in the Odyssey who are reduced to a perpetual half-life in lotus-land. Theirs is a world 'In which it seemed always afternoon.'(160) Looking at the window, Mr Paget notices that the berries are now coming out of their glass of water 'like tiny bubbles of blood', another interchange of language and a lugubrious image that suggests Mr Paget has lost any residual faith in them. Having reached a mental low, he gives himself over to his gloomiest of thoughts. He thinks fearfully not only of his wife's inevitable death but of his own as well, wondering what it will be like. And it is possible, because of some dangling remembrance from the previous paragraph, that he may be about to feel that death will be a happy release for him, too. This point in the story, in terms of the number of words, is approximately halfway through 'Winter Garden' (although in terms of structure the halfway point of the story comes later). From here Mr Paget's thoughts revive.
In the next paragraph, Mr Paget looks at his wife's hand and briefly notes her soft, new skin. He then strokes her, for the third time in the story, and again feels a burst of emotion. His heart 'quickened'--and after Mr Paget's previously death-laden thoughts, it is no accident that 'quicken' can mean 'come to life'. He feels joy as he as confirms for himself that his wife's skin is new, her fingernails cut and therefore growing, and her hair also growing and cut. This suggests to him that Mrs Paget's body is changing and regenerating itself. It is therefore possible that her mind will too. David Norton has noted that the language in this paragraph also seems to quicken after the inert, even-paced prose in the story prior to it.(161) Frame adroitly follows the flow of Mr Paget's thoughts in free indirect style: his understanding of the importance of new skin on the second occasion of his thinking about it; his gradual realisation that cut fingernails imply that they are still growing; his uncertainty about his wife's hair; and his confirmation and then joyous reconfirmation that it has indeed been cut. Mr Paget's sudden happiness is then threatened when he remembers that 'even after death the hair and fingernails may grow and need to be cut', and so he questions his own basis of thinking, because such growth (and change) might be 'more a sign of death than of life'. But his answer to this doubt is an unambiguous 'no'. It is an outburst so crucial to Mr Paget's well-being that he says it aloud twice, again breaking away from the story's patterns of triples, and with 'no' emphasised by the rhyming word 'oh'. This is the only occasion in 'Winter Garden' when Mr Paget speaks out emphatically, rather than in polite response to the words or expectations of others, though there is no one present to hear him except his wife.
The paragraph that follows is essentially a repetition of what has come before. In free indirect style it shows Mr Paget organising his thoughts and intensifying them into a belief. In her coma Mrs Paget would need to have her fingernails and hair cut, and her body washed in order to remove old skin. Completing a list of three activities the hospital staff would have to perform, her bodily evacuations would also have to be removed. Her body is still functioning, and thus 'each day was different'; Mrs Paget is undergoing change at the most fundamental level. Mr Paget feels disappointed that he has not realised this earlier, and he feels cheated that the nursing staff did not tell him. He feels they have been misinforming him with the cliche 'no change'. Even the light from the window, which he previously thought of as a 'narrow ribbon', Mr Paget now thinks of as an active 'wide blade', moving across his wife's face and making her temperature rise or fall. His conclusion is, 'She was alive, in the light'. Mr Paget reasons this because none of these changes occur to a corpse in a grave, where there is 'no sun, no shadow, touching of hands, washing of body.' However, this conclusion is partly the result of emotion as well as of reasoning. Mrs Paget is 'in the light' but she is not sensitive to it; her eyes are closed. Similarly, the 'touching of hands' has no connection to the body's regeneration and is merely an emotive addition prompted by Mr Paget earlier feeling his wife's pulse. In fact, Mrs Paget does not respond when he touches her hand. Significantly, it is unclear to what extent Mr Paget is fooling himself about his wife's condition, though it is clear that this line of thought proves a welcome fillip for Mr Paget himself. He smiles happily as he says goodbye to his wife (both the smile and the spoken expression are further departures from his routine). The nurse is startled and she thinks, 'Poor Mr Paget'. The appropriateness of Mr Paget's thinking is difficult for the reader to judge, and in just the same way it is unclear whether the nurse's response is appropriate. Is she right to pity what may be Mr Paget's self-deluded cheerfulness about his wife, or should she be pleased that he has managed to become happy?
With a break in the narrative, 'Winter Garden' has reached its second halfway point, this time in terms of structure. What follows is a mirror image of the structure of the first half of the story: another section of dialogue and descriptive narrative, then another passage of narrative in which Mr Paget is observed externally, with comments on him by the neighbours. Mr Paget continues his work in his garden, but this evening, after his revelation, it seems less like an act of habit and he takes 'special care'. He seems pleased with gardening for its own sake, and he has a self-conscious pleasure in everything he does. His activities each correspond roughly to his attention to flowers, lawn and hedge at the beginning of the story--but now in reverse order, with funereal flowers replaced by berries. Mr Paget is so pleased at the extra neatness with which he trims his hedge that he puts even the clippings in a neat pile. He enjoys the 'chatter-chatter' sound of the mower so much that he imagines it 'gossiped' to him in a form of communication, producing not words but 'green minus-marks of grass.' Breaking into his routine of phoning the hospital and watching television, before going inside he picks some berries 'in a spurt of extravagant joy', acting so impulsively that he picks not one but two clusters to take with him.
Then Mr Paget is interrupted by a neighbour, Mrs Bambury. In contrast to Mr Paget's spontaneous actions she immediately arranges 'the appropriate expression of sympathy' on her face. Her speech, like the nurse's in the first half, is not qualified by the word 'said' as it seems to break into Mr Paget's thoughts. When the neighbour asks after Mrs Paget, Mr Paget answers as usual that there is no change. He is retreating, as in his encounter with the nurse, towards some halfway stage between routine and freedom. The narrative offers no deeper clue as to why Mr Paget does not tell Mrs Bambury his inmost thoughts about his wife's condition. Perhaps it is because he understands that her enquiry is a simple politeness, perhaps because he lacks confidence in his own revelation and fears that exposure to others will spoil it. Nevertheless, still self-conscious, he is aware of the 'despair' in his voice. But in his newly hopeful state Mr Paget no longer really feels despair, and so he enquires after Mrs Bambury's husband's health; Mr Bambury has been ill. Furthermore, this newly communicative question is put 'sympathetically', and unlike his neighbour's 'expression of sympathy' there is no suggestion that Mr Paget's feelings are forced. When Mr Paget hears that Mr Bambury's arteries are to be stripped tomorrow he also hears 'a jubilant consciousness of action in Mrs Bambury's voice'. He can detect this because he understands its cause: Mr Bambury's condition is changing. He feels a natural sense of envy, but Mr Paget is able to get himself out of its 'dark void' and revive his 'new joy' by reminding himself that his wife's condition is changing too, despite what he has just said.
Mr Paget's mood is such that he does not want to play polite social games but wants to make real human contact. He smiles at his neighbour and hopes to say something comforting to her--in the story's first half the nurse tried to offer sympathy to Mr Paget and then smiled--but he feels inadequate due to his own lack of knowledge about what stripping a person's arteries involves, and he tries to imagine what it might be like from verbal clues. He thinks of 'stripping' as somehow leaving a 'resulting nakedness'. This seems unpleasant to him, and he suddenly feels grateful when he makes a comparison with his wife's condition--it is a remarkable emotional turnaround from his situation at the story's start. He imagines Mrs Paget, in contrast to Mr Bambury's troubles, as only 'enclosed in sleep', and he is glad that her arteries do not need the exposure of stripping. The epithets that he chooses to describe his wife's own arteries to himself, 'secret and unyielding', perhaps indicate his unconscious awareness that he has, nevertheless, held back the main piece of information he could have offered Mrs Bambury to effect genuine communication. As a result he is unable to say anything more to his neighbour than the somewhat banal, '"I hope everything will be all right with Mr Bambury."' It is the neighbour, rather, who is able to offer further information, that despite some risk her husband has a 'very strong chance of recovery.'
Mrs Bambury then returns to the topic of Mrs Paget and thus also reverts to mere social politeness again, saying that she hopes for a change in Mrs Paget's condition. Mr Paget is aware that he has reduced himself to 'playing the game' and so his reply is said 'humbly'. He finds himself repeating that 'there has been no change', in spite of his true thoughts. The neighbour asks for and gets confirmation of this, and so the dispiriting mantra 'no change' is repeated three times in the text before the neighbour departs. However, with the neighbour gone Mr Paget is once again able to take comfort from his garden. He looks 'tenderly' at the grass clippings, the hedge clippings and the hedge itself, because he cares for the garden and also because he is supported by it as a psychological displacement for taking care of his wife. The first two items he notices, piles of clippings, reflect change in the garden, and they echo the cutting of hair and fingernails which Mr Paget construed was evidence of change in his wife's condition. The golden hedge itself seems 'succulent'. This is Mr Paget's word and he probably has in mind its botanical use, indicating a sappy, vital plant.(162) Nevertheless, in an unconscious extension of his use of 'succulent', he goes on to notice the roof-shadow 'eating' into the hedge. The roof-shadow is changing the hedge, in an echo of the first half of the story where the house shadow made the hedge look like a lawn. But the word 'eating' is also an ominous reminder that even change, too, can be ambiguous. It can also mean mutability, where something is consumed away.
And then Mrs Paget's condition does, without doubt, change. After a second break in the narrative, she is dead. The final section of the story begins, as the first did, with a simple declarative sentence about Mrs Paget which is the principle action of the paragraph. Once again, everything that follows is about the effects on Mr Paget. The final section changes tense into the immediacy of the present, and the paragraph's second sentence states that it is winter. Just as Mrs Paget is gone, so the berries which Mr Paget felt might have helped her condition are also gone. Berries cease appearing with a change of season, but a list explains how they are removed from the tree. Each item emphasises loss and each is progressively more wasteful. The berries are eaten by birds, in an echo of the hedge being consumed by the roof-shadow. The berries are 'picked' by a personified wind. Finally, the berries are scattered by uncaring neighbourhood boys, unconcerned about the loss. Change arbitrarily involves both destruction and renewal, and it not Mrs Paget but Mr Bambury who is restored to health. His arteries are stripped, but he is in 'a luxury of possession rather than deprivation' as he recuperates--in contrast to Mr Paget and literally on the other side of the street. The opening paragraph of the story was one of enormous paralysis, but this first paragraph of the final section contains rapid changes of tense, topic and point of view. Mr Paget appears only at the end, observed through the neighbours' comments (as at the start of the story) as being busy with his garden. In fact, of the three characters named in this paragraph (Mrs Paget, Mr Bambury and Mr Paget) he is only character whose situation seems not to have changed. But while at the story's start the neighbours commented that Mr Paget's garden 'must be a comfort to him', now their view is the opposite. It, too, has changed and they say 'Mr Paget is tied to his garden'. They see his continuing activity as joyless.
As at the story's start, pathos is avoided by maintaining a distant tone. The narrator, in fact, last entered Mr Paget's mind at the end of the previous section, when Mr Paget said 'goodbye' (ostensibly to Mrs Bambury) and then seemed to focus entirely on his garden. Other neighbours notice his obsession with his garden, so Mr Paget is gradually becoming a local oddity. The narrative reports their view that Mr Paget 'seems now to spend all his waking time in the garden', and then the neighbours are even quoted saying this again, offering repetition as emphasis in the same way as at the story's start. But next, without any overt judgement from the narrator, comes a bald recording in direct speech of the neighbours' bewilderment at why Mr Paget should spend so much time among his trees and plants. The neighbours note that nothing grows in winter but 'a few late berries', and then in an intensifying repetition even the late berries are dropped in the statement, 'Nothing grows in the garden in winter.' The narrator offers no clue to the mystery, having largely withdrawn any presence from the story to leave the reader with only the neighbours' view of Mr Paget. This is also similar to the story's start, in which the narrator's initial presence was limited to observing Mr Paget's external life and offering the comments of his neighbours upon it.
According to the neighbours, a garden in winter is utterly static. Their bewildered view of Mr Paget's activities in his garden once again divides into a triple. First he stands, not moving but only looking. Mr Paget observes three things, each of which is prefaced with an epithet, supplied by the neighbours, suggesting loss: 'dead' twigs, 'leafless' shrubs and 'vacant' flowerbeds. (The flowerbeds are also cannily compared by neighbours to 'dark eyes', in an echo of Mr Paget's earlier comparison of his wife's comatose, lidded eyes to 'lamp shells'). Then Mr Paget's second activity in his garden is that he 'potters about', a seemingly aimless action. And in this, the penultimate sentence of the story, it is explicitly stated that the neighbours think Mr Paget is in 'a dead world where nothing seems to change.' Thus, in the neighbours' view Mr Paget is in a death-in-life, and this (most appropriately since it matches Mr Paget's own view of change) they characterise by its paralysis. Nevertheless, although in his death-in-life Mr Paget appears to have once again fallen back into a situation which mimics his wife's condition, one more observation from the neighbours remains. This is Mr Paget's third and final activity in his garden. Sometimes he kneels down and puts his cheek 'against the skin of the earth'.
The metaphor 'skin' is arresting. It is, technically, the neighbours' image, generated from sympathy over Mr Paget's bereavement. But it also seems, against textual logic, to be Mr Paget's choice of word. This is partly because it is an unusual yet convincing extension of the tenderness with which Mr Paget looked at his garden after saying goodbye at the end of the previous section. Furthermore, it contains a faint echo of the action of Mr Paget stroking his wife's face at the end of the story's first section, in an effort to raise a response from her. And regardless of whether the choice of word is ultimately the neighbours' or Mr Paget's, the image fits the patterning of the narrative. It does not appear forced because there has already been so much interchange in the story between the language appropriate for gardening and for human beings. But finally the image succeeds in the narrative precisely because it is arresting--since the action of placing one's cheek against the earth is itself strange. In fact, it is so odd that the neighbours think this is evidence of Mr Paget's increasing madness. Presumably they surmise that, after his earlier displacement of caring for his wife by caring for his garden, Mr Paget has now wholly substituted his garden for his wife, and that he is 'tied to' his garden just as he was tied to his wife in her coma: helplessly trying to raise some response. He is a depressive who has allowed himself to be argued out of his mental state briefly, only to have the patterns of depressive thought and behaviour descend once more. The neighbours' view is certainly a plausible reading of this action at the end of the story and, without any direction offered by the narrator, the reader is left free to join the neighbours in interpreting Mr Paget's behaviour in this psychological way. But the story's ending is ambiguous. Another more positive, philosophical view is possible: that to the extent that Mr Paget is mad, his is a form of divine madness. It may be that he is searching for something, and even detecting something, not normally vouchsafed to ordinary people. But since the end of the story is left open, the reader cannot be sure. The reader is, in fact, reduced to observing and trying to interpret, just as the neighbours are.
Simply cultivating one's garden is itself the best response in the face of life's misfortunes, according to the close of Candide.(163) But what could Mr Paget be discovering? Plato's Phaedo describes human souls gathering in an underworld after death, and possibly, in the pagan spirit of the story, Mr Paget is hoping to communicate with the soul of his wife in Hades.(164) But more likely he is searching for and finding minute evidence of change in his garden--perhaps he sees that it is not a 'dead world' but rather a winter garden, just as the title suggests. (A winter garden is, technically, an ornamental garden of trees and flowers which are able to flourish in winter). And even if Mr Paget's garden does not have trees and flowers which can grow in the winter season, in his activity Mr Paget may be searching for signs of the regenerative growth of spring. For nature, even when it appears inert to observers, is always in a state of process. The neighbours see the garden in winter as static, but they also mistakenly thought of the flourishing garden, earlier in the story, as in a perfected stasis. Spring inevitably follows winter. The regeneration of the seasons has long been used as an image in literature for life being an unending cycle. Shelley, when seeking to unite himself imaginatively with the west wind, arrives at the prophetic conclusion, 'If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?'(165) Socrates, in the Phaedo, uses the same form of argument by analogy to show that there must be life after death.(166) In this view, Mr Paget's strange behaviour becomes insightful: the realisation that change is what distinguishes life from non-life, even though, through death and regeneration, it paradoxically encompasses the process of dying as well as living. And since change never stops in nature, life goes on beyond death.
But by making the ending ambiguous, and by using a detached narrator, Frame offers no final comment on the truth of this insight. The reader is left observing the neighbours who are observing Mr Paget who, in turn, observes the earth. 'Winter Garden' is a non-didactic story, designed not so much to promote a philosophical view as to leave the reader with his or her own conclusions about the finality of death. In contrast to the dogmatism of Beckett's Pozzo, who claims: 'They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more,' and who is usually thought of as speaking for his author, Frame offers hope, but not certainty, of life after death without resorting to conventional Christian beliefs.(167) Without recourse to faith, one is left minutely observing the world for hints of transcendence and, inevitably, with minimal reward. Perhaps the only hint Frame gives of her own view in the story is in the title, with its implication of growth in winter. But even the title, perhaps, is there to support Mr Paget's views rather than the author's. Nevertheless, there is also the structure of the story to consider. Unusually, 'Winter Garden' has two halfway points--the first in terms of the story's number of words, and the second in terms of its structure--and it is the first which offers the major turning-point in the story. At the first halfway point in 'Winter Garden', when Mr Paget loses faith in the healing powers of the rowan-tree berries, he sinks to a mental low and for the first time in the story feels afraid. Sitting beside his wife, he wonders how being dead will be: 'What will it be like [...] when death comes and I am with her?' No answer is given, except that this is not the end of the story. The story continues, and in fact it is next that Mr Paget enters a period of sustained joy, as he realises that his wife is still changing with him, and still alive. Furthermore, since Mr Paget's realisation of change is the main action of the story, there seems little need for Frame to bother with the story's second half after Mr Paget leaves the hospital, except to create this subtle back-loop: a buried meaning below the story's surface reading. Thus, if many of Frame's stories have darker meanings below their surface, so that dark can be said to sneak in, then in 'Winter Garden' dark sneaks out. Mr Paget's love for his wife is presented without qualification. His love and perhaps life itself continue beyond death. What looks like Frame's bleakest story finally turns out to be her most optimistic.
It was Anton Chekhov, the architect of the Modernist short story, who made the first rule of his art: 'Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature.'(168) Like 'Prizes', 'Winter Garden' is a cleverly organised story, and it is perhaps in the story's formal beauty rather than its content that its claim to originality lies: in its mix of patterning and organic structure, its self-referential echoes, and its poetic use of language. There is nothing of particular New Zealand experience about 'Winter Garden'; it has no social comment or special characterisation. This might also be said about 'Prizes'--despite its references to New Zealand objects, British or American objects might just as well have been substituted. For although Frame is sometimes thought of as a writer working in the Romantic tradition of self-expression, 'Winter Garden' and even 'Prizes' are both instances of a more Neo-classical aspect of Modernist formalism: producing 'what oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed'.(169) Here Frame seems essentially a Modernist stylist, like her contemporary in New Zealand short fiction, Maurice Duggan. In their political-social-economic views neither Frame nor Duggan differs fundamentally from Frank Sargeson, who wrote his own pioneering short fiction a generation earlier; and arguably, in their lack of interest in such matters they are little different from Katherine Mansfield. As Modernists Frame and Duggan inherit Sargeson's attitudes, extend his subject matter and, as stylists, they advance upon his approach. 'Prizes' and 'Winter Garden' are examples of beautifully made artefacts, and perhaps they are necessary as such. It is doubtful that a provincial literature must develop through certain predetermined stages, or even that metaphors like growth and development are apt when describing what happens as a country's literature accumulates ex nihilo. But it may be that until a national literature has created its own formally-strong body of work on the great themes of other literatures, such as the case against death--complemented by explication and commentary--a nation cannot easily see those aspects of its own culture which stay stubbornly outside the forms it has imported.
136. The New Yorker, 10 Mar. 1962: 44-6. The Reservoir: Stories and Sketches. New York, Braziller, 1963: 19-26.
137. King, Michael. Wrestling With the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame. Washington DC, Counterpoint, 2000: 220.
138. Much of the story and elements of 'Prizes' reappear in volume 1, chapter 24, entitled 'Faust and the Piano'. [Frame, Janet. To the Is-land: An Autobiography: Volume One. Auckland, Century Hutchinson, 1982: 189-195.] This chapter includes: Frame's prize-winning childhood essay 'My Visit to the Flour Mill' [p189]; winning prizes for handwriting but not for the Gents Buttonhole at the Agricultural and Pastoral Show [p189]; winning a guinea for a poem and spending it on music lessons with Jessie C., who lived with her mother and a white parrot [p190]; the music teacher telling Frame not to bite her fingernails [p191]; buying "Puck" as her first piece of music [p192]; an embarrassing meeting with Jessie C., who guesses Frame's excitement as Frame returns home with her sheet music [p192-3]; Frame's shyness [p194]; and the poor condition of Frame's aunt's piano [p195]. Frame also recalls elsewhere: 'Seized by a longing to play tennis, I used the pound note from my "marks" for poems in the Children's page of the Truth to pay for the frame of a tennis racquet, which someone Dad knew had offered to string for a reduced rate, but when the racquet was complete, my shame was overwhelming when I found the strings were black instead of cream.' [Frame, op. cit.: (chap 28) 230.]
139. The requirements for New Zealand fame in the mid-twentieth century might cynically be listed as: 1) a success that included recognition in the motherland, Britain; 2) success at an activity which other New Zealanders felt they could attempt; 3) a return home that confirmed one's unequivocal allegiance to New Zealand origins; 4) an ostentatious modesty, which explicitly confirmed for the public that any typical New Zealander might achieve the same. At that time, Frame fulfilled none of these requirements.
140. The New Yorker, 29 Mar. 1969: 134-8. You Are Now Entering the Human Heart, Victoria University Press, Wellington, 1983: 188-92.
141. King, op. cit.: 306.
142. King, op. cit.: 244.
143. Ecclesiastes, 1.2.
144. McCrae, John. 'In Flanders Fields', line 2. In her autobiography Frame recalls reading the poem 'year after year in the School Journal'; she also recalls Anzac Day ceremonies and her shock at the outbreak of the Second World War, particularly in the light of her mother's religious pacifism. [Frame, Janet. To the Is-land: An Autobiography: Volume One. Auckland, Century Hutchinson, 1982: (chap 27) 218.]
145. Acknowledgement should be made, however, of the Christadelphian faith of Frame's mother, and that this faith exerted a strong influence on Frame throughout her childhood. Christadelphians believe that 'when you died, you died, staying in your grave until the Second Coming and the Resurrection and Judgment Day.' [Frame, Janet. To the Is-land: An Autobiography: Volume One. Auckland, Century Hutchinson, 1982: (chap 15) 123.] For a discussion of the influence of Christadelphian beliefs on Frame's writing, see: Leaving the Highway: Six Contemporary New Zealand Novelists. Williams, Mark. Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1990: 30-35. It should be noted, too, that Frame's dead narrator has carefully chosen the word 'hell' in the opening sentence to describe life, sardonically implying that any form of death may still be a better state.
146. McCrae, op. cit.: line 13.
147. The narrator further undermines her own argument for this contingency by introducing her attitude to prize-winning before she introduces her attitude to death.
148. Onui does not exist, but it is usually understood as referring to Oamaru, where Frame grew up. It also bears some resemblance to the French word ennui.
149. In her autobiography Frame recalls a boy named Ernest Calcott beating 'upon a kettledrum strapped around his neck' before the first assistant to the headmaster marched everyone into class. [Frame, Janet. To the Is-land: An Autobiography: Volume One. Auckland, Century Hutchinson, 1982: (chap 15) 121.]
150. In her autobiography Frame recalls listening as a child to the radio serial David and Dawn in Fairyland, which was introduced by 'The Waltz of the Flowers'. [Frame, Janet. To the Is-land: An Autobiography: Volume One. Auckland, Century Hutchinson, 1982: (chap 22) 175-176.]
151. In her autobiography Frame recalls receiving Boys and Girls Who Became Famous as a school prize. [Frame, Janet. To the Is-land: An Autobiography: Volume One. Auckland, Century Hutchinson, 1982: (chap 20) 168.] She also recalls choosing a book of Longfellow poems as a prize, with an illustration of a 'bronzed handsome Hiawatha'. [Frame, op. cit.: (chap 27) 222.]
152. The quotation from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is from The Song of Hiawatha, part 10.
153. 'Prizes' was published in 1963. New Zealand readers of this time would have been well acquainted with Ian Cross's acclaimed novel The God Boy, published in 1957. In the novel, a boy named Jimmy Sullivan describes his troubled family background and its murderous consequences while he repeatedly insists, 'I don't care'.
154. The spelling of 'behavior' is quoted from the only book in which 'Prizes' is collected, The Reservoir: Stories and Sketches (New York, Braziller, 1963: 26), in which American spellings are used throughout.
155. To the extent that the twenty-five-year-old narrator learns about herself from meeting Dotty Baker and Maud Gray again, she may take a linguistic hint from the women's names: dotty, meaning crazed; and maud being short for maudlin.
156. Gray, Thomas. 'Elegy. (Written in a Country Churchyard)', lines 59-60.
157. Plato. Phaedo. Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy: VI. In 'The Bath' Frame has also called into question the concept of mind-body dualism and any concomitant implication that the soul survives death. [See note 31.] Mr Paget's concern over whether the continuing growth of hair and fingernails after death is an indication of life in a corpse, or possible future life, would no doubt be of interest to Christadelphians. The critic David Norton has also suggested that 'The Bath' and 'Winter Garden' are companion pieces. When both stories were collected in You Are Now Entering the Human Heart (in 1983, after Norton's paper was published), the stories were placed next to each other. [Norton, David. 'Life on the Edge of Death: Janet Frame's "Winter Garden", Joy Cowley's "The Silk", and Maurice Gee's "A Glorious Morning, Comrade"', Climate 29 (Autumn 1979): 54-67.]
158. The Dictionary of New Zealand English describes olearia as 'A mainly Australasian evergreen shrub; in New Zealand any one of over 30 native species of the Olearia genus...having clusters of variously (creamy-)white or purplish flowers.' In the second paragraph Frame describes the colour of Mr Paget's hedge as yellow--it is unclear whether Frame is referring to another species of olearia or whether she is implying that the leaves and white flowers of the hedge seem yellow in the sun.
159. Norton, op. cit.: 57.
160. Tennyson, Lord Alfred. 'The Lotos Eaters', line 4.
161. Norton, op. cit.: 58.
162. Perhaps this reading of the word may also echo (and structurally counterbalance) the neighbours' comparison of the hedge to 'a long smooth plump slice of yellow cake', though Mr Paget cannot actually be aware of the neighbours' comment.
163. Voltaire. Candide, 1759.
164. Plato. Phaedo. The Phaedo ends with an extensive cosmology. The ancients traditionally located the souls of the dead underground.
165. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. 'Ode to the West Wind', line 70.
166. Plato. Phaedo. Socrates uses the analogy of sleep and waking, rather than the seasons.
167. Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot, Act 2.
168. Chekhov, Anton. Letter to Alexander Chekhov, 10 May, 1886.
169. Pope, Alexander. 'Essay on Criticism', line 298.
Copyright Ian Richards, 2004. This article was originally published in book form in Dark Sneaks In: Essays on the Short Fiction of Janet Frame, Wellington, Lonely Arts Publishing, 2004.
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