Posted in Short Stories

Jean Stafford: The Interior Castle (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 20)

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She believed that she had reached the innermost chamber of knowledge and that perhaps her knowledge was the same as the saint’s achievement of pure love. It was only convention, she thought, that made one say “sacred heart” and not “sacred brain”.

Jean Stafford knows nose surgery. At least based on the amount of nose surgery detail she includes in her short story “The Interior Castle”, one can assume she knows nose surgery.

Her protagonist Pansy Vanneman waits in the hospital after a bad car accident for an operation on her nose that will allow her to breath through it again. While lying in bed, and while in surgery, Pansy’s mind rambles in streams of consciousness and maybe even streams of unconsciousness.

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If one tries to reign in Pansy’s thoughts, which might not be what Stafford intends a reader to do, they would fall under the ideas that pit the physical outward self against the inner thoughtful self. The reader doesn’t get to know all the details of Pansy’s accident but they are made aware that her face has been severely injured – not just her nose. Pansy’s thoughts also are infatuated with her brain, well maybe not her own brain specifically, but the brain as an organ in general.

Stafford tells the story in third person mostly from Pansy’s point of view but in an odd move we briefly get the surgeon’s point of view.  It shouldn’t be a surprise, though, because it’s an odd little story. It was worth reading and I would recommend it but is it a favorite? Probably not.

“The Interior Castle” is included in my copy of The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. I read it when I selected the Six of Clubs for Week 20 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.



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