“The Marriage of Phaedra” by Willa Cather

Ace of Diamond

I drew the Ace of Diamonds this week which corresponds to the short story “The Marriage of Phaedra” by Willa Cather.  While this isn’t the first of Cather’s work that I’ve read, it’s the first short story.

The Marriage of Phaedra is the title of an unfinished painting by the deceased Hugh Treffinger, a London artist.  A man known simply as MacMaster arrives in London to conduct research for a book about Treffinger.  He maintains an amicable relationship with a man named James, the caretaker of Treffinger’s work and studio.  His relationship with Lady Ellen Treffinger, the artist’s widow, is a little more strained.

The story unravels the less than perfect marriage between Hugh and Ellen Treffinger as well as the relationship between James and Hugh.  It seems that James had a significantly higher appreciation for Treffinger’s art than the artist’s wife did.  Ultimately, Lady Ellen sells the studio including the unfinished painting.

The story reads more like a newspaper article.  While stories don’t have to pack an emotional wallop in order to be good, this story seems to intentionally lack emotion.  James’ attempt to stop Lady Ellen from selling the unfinished painting could be considered somewhat touching.  Something in the story keeps me thinking about it.  The fact that an artist’s work can become so treasured by some intrigued me.  This also happens to be the third story in a row in my Deal Me In Short Story project that has something to do with art (sculpture or painting).  Interesting.

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