December 24, 2013

A Discovered Pearl: unconventional romance

“Who was that?” he heard some one say. “I don't know,” said another.

Gilman Marlow walked on December 24, Christmas Eve, through the snow-covered streets of his home town, which he hadn't seen in 20 years, in "A Discovered Pearl" by Mary Eleanor Wilkins (later, Mrs. Freeman). The story, collected in the book A New England Nun and Other Stories (1891), is suspenseful, and just as awkward as the main male character (or, perhaps, other holiday homecomings after years away). It is unclear why Gilman has come back to his town after so long, now walking with a limp and wearing clothing which displays his poverty.

Trudging through the snow for five miles, he finally arrives at his family homestead, now boarded up and empty. He barely recognizes his next-door neighbor Lucy Glynn, who greets him with sadness. Gilman's father has died, she tells him, and invites him into her own house so she can retrieve the key to the Gilman home which she has kept.

Once inside her home with her elderly father, Lucy treats Gilman to tea and a warm fire. It is only then that Gilman realizes his fatigue and he is invited to spend the night rather than go back to his cold home next door. While preparing to sleep, he sees a picture he vaguely remembers; it was one he had given Lucy two decades before. Slowly, he recalls: "they had thought they were in love with each other, though little had been said about it."

The next day, Christmas morning, Gilman learns that Lucy has paid off his family's mortgage and annual property taxes by making money as a dress-maker. After settling legal matters on the estate, he comes back to his home to find Lucy already there, cooking a meal. He now thinks of her as a pearl, whose beauty had been growing all this time, with him unawares. Can their relationship be rekindled, even though he had forgotten her for so long?

It had stopped snowing, and there was a clear, yellow sky in the west. A flock of sparrows flew whistling around one of the maples. A sled loaded with Christmas greens was creaking down the road. One could hear children's voices in the distance. Lucy Glynn sped along. Whether wisely or not, she was full of all Christmas joy. She had given at last her Christmas gift, which she had been treasuring for twenty years.

Like many of Wilkins's stories, "A Discovered Pearl" highlights an old-fashioned, "any town" in New England. She often considers the passing of time and a haunting past, highlights unconventional romance stories, and offers a heavy focus on a main female character. The ending is somewhat ambiguous, too; if a marriage between Lucy and Gilman occurred, it is not depicted, nor explicitly stated.

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