John Collier, a contemporary English author, was born in London, England on May 3,1901 and lived his last years in Palisades, California where he died of a stroke on April 6, 1980. Collier was a writer of the 1920's era, educated in post-Victorian England, and according to Anthony Burgess in the London Times. He was known for "literary allusiveness and quiet wit" (Contemporary Authors 111). A collection of his most memorable works was published in 1972 entitled The John Collier Reader. His literary style reached beyond his native country and became popular in the United States.
John Collier's writings are full of surprises. His short stories combine an element of horror as well as love which are focused on the relationships of the young and old. Collier is notable for lightly carried erudition, literary allusiveness and quiet wit, according to Anthony Burgess. Anthony Burgess, a novelist, said though not a writer of the very first rank, he possessed considerable literary skill and a rare capacity to entertain (Contemporary Authors 111). Collier's readers are involved in his writings by trick endings or "take away endings" in which readers are given all clues but asked to finish, the story on their own (Critical Survey 1169). His subject manner is often the line between logical or psychological meaning. The subject contains an irony that is well balanced between an element of horror and humor. His short stories are based on relationships of the young and old. Collier's characters are hoping to fulfill their dreams and they do have them fulfilled but only to discover they have been dreaming the wrong thing.
"The Chaser" is a story that deals with a man's dream of gaining a woman's love through a potion. The man wants the love of this woman so badly that he wants to purchase a potion to gain her love. The old wise man that owns all these potions is a man who has experienced much about love in his life. This woman to the young man is everything. He will go to all limits to have her care about him. With this potion the old man says "She will care intensely. You will be her sole interest in life." this is when the young man says "That is love." we can see here how desperate of a dream to have the love of this woman is to him (Collier 48). When the woman drinks the potion she will have total adoration for the young man and will want nothing but him. This story is very typical of John Collier with the whole story being summarized in the last line. The last line said by the old man is "Au revoir" meaning until or for we meet again. These words leave the reader thinking that the young man will return for the glove cleaner (Collier 49).
The relationship between characters of the old man and the young man is one based on knowledge and desires. The knowledge is of the dream that the character has the desire is o fulfill this dream. The young man in this story has dreams of obtaining the love of a woman yet the old man knows that he is going about it the wrong way for it will not work and the young man will be back to purchase the other potion just like the men before him. In the ending of the story we know the young man's immediate dream is fulfilled by his purchasing the potion, yet we are left to decide if the young man must return for the 5,000 dollar potion to correct his dream that has gone bad.
Love in a relationship is also the basis of the story "De Mortius". Young and old is once again portrayed in the relationship of this story. The characters of this piece question the relationship between the doctor and his young wife. The man is old and his wife is young and full of life unlike himself. This couple is at the two far ends of the spectrum. He is one with deep thought while she is as the man states " she's stupid."(Touch of Nutmeg 17). One might think that such extreme devotion would cause him to hate her. Especially when the one character says "A decent, straightforward guy comes to a place like this and marries the town floozy, and nobody'll tell him. Everybody just watches."(Touch of Nutmeg 17). All the little things add up in this relationship for the characters to believe that the doctor would kill his wife. The ridicule of the townspeople would lead one to want to escape from such an irrational relationship. If it was not for the observation of the neighbors here in this story this relationship would most likely not be in jeopardy. In the story these two men approach the doctor one day to see if he would like to go fishing. When they find the doctor at his house they discover that he has been doing some concrete work in the basement, the men thinking that he was possibly burying his wife. From that this story has all the details to turn the relationship into horror. His wife shows up at the top of the stairs while the doctor is working in the basement. The ending in this totally exemplifies an unpredictable ending when the doctor says to his wife when she is at the top of the stairs, "I'm afraid I'll have to take it all up again." Then he says "Come down here, my dear, and I'll show you."(Collier 18). One is left to ponder the question: so Does the doctor really bury his wife in the basement later or not?
In the story "Little Momento" the old and young are once again drawn together. We have the relationship between the husband and the wife being questioned by both the husband and the old man who is an observer. The young couple in this story is from the East and have moved to a much more homely environment which is the countryside. The problem with the relationship is that the wife is always taking trips. The husband has no real idea where she could be going but does not really think twice about until the old man brings it up. It is the hobby of the old man that is bit of a surprise. He collects items that may seem as junk or just plain odd but they all represent human characteristics. The old man's hobby of collecting items that represent human characteristics is what brings the attention of this relationship that is in possible turmoil. This relationship is in question due to the old man asking the younger man how his wife enjoys her new setting. When the old man says "I thought you and Mrs. Gaskell were very great friends of Captain Felton." (Touch of Nutmeg 30). This has the young man thinking about his wife and her little trips. The young husband does not really know except that she is always leaving to get away. After hearing from the older that "Felton is one for the ladies" and how he likes to amuse himself he proceeds to think more about his wife's little trips and where she may really be going (Collier 31). Then the man asks if the captain is in town or out. The answer is that he is in town. We then discover that the old man says that he saw the captain pass by no more than an hour ago in his red car which was so obviously noticed in this town but he also states that there was another red car following. The young man who so dearly wants to have his dream of the perfect family life puts two and two together and leaves the old man to possibly find out what is going on with his life. We are left not knowing whether there is another guy or does she just take these trips to ease herself from these new surroundings which she is not used to due to the countryside being much slower then the East. It may just be that the wife has the dream of keeping her East coast lifestyle alive no matter where she is. Is this relationship of husband and wife doomed like the man's dreams of a more quiet life. Most likely it is doomed.
"Ah, The University" is a story that is once again based on the diverging relationship between the young and old. The father and son have different points of view on attending the university. The father knows how great of an experience the university is but feels that it can be surpassed for it is not as important to him as sacrificing his own luxuries. The son on the other hand just wants the opportunity to attend the university as his father did. If the father did not speak of the university so highly then maybe the son would not feel as bad by not attending but since the father did basically overdue how great of an experience it was. Therefore the father teaches the son the game of poker instead of sending him to the university for schooling which is what the boy intended to do with his life. The reason for this is that the father states "My expenses have mounted abominably and I shall have very little to leave you..." basically he wants to save his money for his own luxuries (Touch of Nutmeg 201). So the boy learns the game of chips from his father over the time period of two years. He then sets out and finds himself in a game with a pot of huge value one that he cannot afford. The boy calls his father from Paris to ask his advice on the game. The father hearing of how definite the win will be and how much of a profit he will make decides to fly over and join in for his son. What turns out is that the father does join in and he does not even look at the cards and proceeds with betting some large sum that is basically all the old man has. The old man loses due to the son mistaking a lower suit card for a higher suit card which causes them to lose. Therefore the father asks if the son is now going to go to the university which the son answers yes. Then the father storms out not knowing that they were playing high-low. So in that case the son actually wins and makes out with half the pot which is a very large sum of money in itself. The ending when the father says "curse the day that I ever became the father of a damned fool!" is ironic since the son is know fool (Touch of Nutmeg 203). The son set up his father, since his father was being such a selfish cheap skate by not sending him to the university in the first place. The father's dream of having his money for his own luxuries and to have his son become a card player is the wrong one for his son's dream is to go to the university and that should have therefore been the father's as well. The son, who is no fool, uses the winnings to enroll in the university.
John Collier was a very versatile writer. In every story there are surprises, in details, symbols, and subtleties of plot and outcome. In the story "De Mortius" is the involvement of irony and a trick ending. It has been described as "a kind of extended joke, on everybody in the story." (Critical Survey 1170). Collier persuades us not of the reality of his tale but of the probability that real men and women might feel and do such evil things. Not all of Collier's critics who have recognized his antifeminism judge him so harshly. He has been largely ignored by scholars and reportedly predicted his own literary extinction. I feel that the realism of his characters' dreams which always seem to be right for the character but seem to be the wrong one in the long run is the dominant plot that is worked upon in these four short stories that were written by John Collier.
Contemporary Authors. Ed. James G. Lesinak, 54 vols. Detroit: Gale Research Company,1983. Vol. 10.
Collier, John. "The Chaser." 75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World's Literature. Ed. Roger B. Goodman. New York: Bantam Books, 1961.
Collier, John. The Touch of Nutmeg and More Unlikely Stories. Ed. Clifton Fadiman, New York: The Press of the Reader's Club, 1943.
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