‘Scylla and Charybdis‘ and ‘A Glimpse of Katey’, by Mary Lavin.
The two short stories named above in the title refer to Mary Lavin’s writing of girls, Katey, from A Glimpse of Katey, and Pidgie, the heroine of Scylla and Charybdis. Both stories were published in Lavin’s The Patriot Son, although there is a vast array of Lavin books to choose from.
Mary Lavin is today’s Saturday Woman Writer on Poethead. The Patriot Son edition that the excerpts are taken from is a 1956 Hardback, publ. Michael Joseph 1956. Other recommended reads by Lavin include In a Café and Tales from Bective Bridge. This treasured edition contains within it my favourite Lavin story The Chamois Gloves, which I referred to in the Island Women piece (which is linked to at the base of this post).
A Glimpse of Katey .
“In the elms the birds were making preparations for the night; circling around the tree-tops as if about to settle there, and then darting away again capriciously to take a last flight in the glowing clouds. But each time the flock circled down on the trees a number of birds settled down for the night, and every time they flighted away again there were less and less of them, until soon only one or two rose from the branches, and these only ventured a short distance, and came back with nervous fluttering and a great amount of nervous chirruping. When the last bird seemed to have settled down and the leaves were no longer fluttered by shaken wings , there was silence everywhere, except for occasional faint and single notes that broke the air at random and which seemed to come from the sleepy throat of some sleepy bird already hovering the air of dreams. Katey lay and listened, and then her own day suddenly slipped away from her , and left her body lying on the old four-poster bed, as the feathered bodies of the birds clung upon the damp tree-boughs, while her spirit with theirs was gliding away into the branchy lands of dreams.”
Katey, like Pidgie is a stubborn and spirited little girl , whose beautiful dreaming is abruptly shattered by her need for food at midnight. The preceding tale had outlined her refusal of sustenance before going off to bed and her awakening into the bright, boisterous land of the older women of the house as a result of the hunger pangs.
Scylla and Charybdis
Pidgie, much like Katey is a spirited and obstinate child whose trials and adventures bring her right down from her fantasy world to the station in her life that she had rejected. She is Cotter’s daughter , a servant-girl , whose natural ability and intelligence is not recognised by the golden birds of the house whose light-shattering tendencies as they seek her out of the basements draw her Prosperine-like into the sunlight of the world ‘above-stairs’, only to have her catapult back again when the rite which will equalise the servant and the lady is utterly shattered forever,
” out they went into the passage, Miss Gloria first, and Pidgie fluttering after her. And although the passage was dead level, as Pidgie’s little feet flew along after Miss Gloria it seemed to her that every minute she was being borne upward , out of darkness and cold into ever higher and higher reaches. The very air seemed to waft warmer around her until they flashed out into the main hall, where the doors stood open on all sides, showing the gilt and white rooms with their sparkles of mirror and splashes of flowery chintz”.
Gloria is described variously as a golden bird, Pidgie lives in the dark-dungeon and experiences her self as being snatched into the beak of the bird. Lavin’s women and girls are often described thusly, she adores and gently coaxes her characters into their freedoms , only to smack their little hands and put them right back into their places as they deal with their choices. Both girls , like the Heroine of The Chamois Gloves get their epiphanies and mostly the knowledge they bring isn’t welcome to them. Katey dreads the morning and Pidgie retreats to the dungeon but regains her cheeky character as a result of her brush with the reality of her life.
- From Mary Lavin’s The Patriot Son Publ 1956, Michael Joseph
- Related Link : Lavin’s Island Women