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Topic: Thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike....
Monica Manzolillo
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Thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike....
on: April 19, 2019, 16:44

Here we are to the second part of our forum. The next posts will be dedicated to a very interesting short-story (at least in my opinion 😉 ): R. Kipling's "Mary Postagate".

Here is a link where you can download it:


https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kipling/rudyard/diversity/chapter27.html


As we have done for the previous story, we will start with a brainstorming so just read it and say what you think about it: Did you like it or not? Why/why not? What are the major themes which are presented in your opinion? In which way do you think that this short-story is related to the general topic of your English Literature IV course?

Let us know your personal reactions and then we will analyze the text in details.

Please dont forget to fill in the entry questionnaire both in the website home page and in the forum home page.


Thank you so much and have a wonderful Easter Time 😀 😀 😀


Virginia Vicidomini
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Re: Thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike....
on: April 22, 2019, 21:03

Hi! I have read the short-story written by Kipling and I enjoyed it, I liked the rhythm and how the narration developed. However, I have to say that at beginning I was quite taken aback and somehow, I could not really understand the figure of Mary Postagate, because there were moments in which I could not figure out her actions. At the beginning of the text, Lady McCausland tried to describe Mary Postagate and said that she was ‚Ëthoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable and ladylike’. I am not sure, but by reading the text, I got the impression that she does not have a personality, she is quite plain and ‚Ëcolourless’, in fact she listened to everyone but answered only with ‚ËHow interesting!’ and ‚ËHow shocking’, she did not express her own opinion as if she just goes with the flow. I reckon that she seems imperturbable, nothing disturbed or shocked event though at the end I changed my mind. She was very zealous and obsessed with her routine; in fact when Miss Fowler wanted to stop Mary Postagate from burning the stuff because it was raining, she also said ‚ËIt’s raining again but I know you won’t be happy till that’s disposed of’ and at the end of the text it is written that ‚Ëshe scandalised the whole routine by taking a luxurious hot bath before tea’, so I thought that she was used to follow her routine but something happened and changed her attitude and only in this occasion Miss Fowler, after seeing her figure lying on the sofa, described her as ‚Ëquite handsome’. She may seem imperturbable, in fact, she did not have a real emotional reaction to Wyndham Fowler's death or to Edna’s death. However, I reckon that in the text there are some hints which showed the opposite. When Wyndham died she just reported it to Miss Fowler, but it is written ‚ËThe room was whirling round Mary Postagate, but she found herself quite steady in the midst of it’, so maybe she was a bit shocked by the death of Wyndham, even if it is just for few seconds before she took the control of herself again. Also, when Edna died, it is written that ‚ËThe sheet fell aside and for an instant, before she could shut her eyes, Mary saw the ripped and shredded body’, so maybe she could not keep her cold behaviour and wanted to avert her eyes and not to see Edna’s dead body. Moreover, when she met a bareheaded man sitting under oak, it was an interesting episode, because when Mary recognised the man as an enemy, she got in the house to bring a revolver, even though she hated pistols. This episode could be seen as an act a revenge, maybe Mary, after seeing the death of the little Edna, wanted to kill the man, but she did not, she simply did not help him and left him to die. And, again she did not take action or react, she left the thing as they are because as she says to herself ‚Ëone mustn’t let one’s mind dwell on this things’. I think that Mary Postagate is a war propaganda text against Germans, because when the bareheaded man appeared in front of Mary, it is said that there is no doubt about his nationality, which is not openly clarified. Even though, Mary was the only one to speak in German while the man spoke in French, I think that some of his words like ‚ËLaty’ and ‚Ëtoctor’ were pronounced with German pronunciation.


Mariagrazia Poppiti
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Re: Thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike....
on: April 23, 2019, 17:25

The title character, Mary Postgate “who is the personal maid to Mrs Fowler – is a complex and suprising one, especially for the unexpected and shocking end.

She is introduced as thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companiable, and ladylike colourless as her eyes or her hair; she seems to be emotionless and she can listen unflinchingly to everyone and simply say at the end How interesting or How shocking.

She has no enemies, she provokes nether jealousy nor gossip and she is considered a sort of public aunt to very many small children of the village street.

When Mrs Fowler takes in her eleven-year-old orphan nephew, Mary Postgate takes responsability of his education. She loves him and tolerates his ungratefuness when he mistreats her and calls her Gatepost Posey or Packthread or when he says You look more or less a human being You must have had a brain at some time in your past A sheep would know more than you do, Postey.

Mary Postgate seems to exist only in relation to other characters and , even though the story focuses on her, we know her only from the outside.

Passivity seems to be her distinctive feature: when Mrs Fowler asks Mary would you ever been anything except a companion? she answers I dont imagine I ever should. But I have no imagination, Im afraid.

Even when Wyndham dies in a trial flight we can only guess her emotions: The room was whirling round Mary Postgate, but she found herself quite steady in the midst of it Yes, she said. Its a great pity he didnt die in action after he had killed somebody.

It is only when Mary witnesses little Edans death that she objectifies Wynns death and repeats Wynns words about the enemy. This anticipates the shoking end when Mary finds an injured man lying in the garden where she is burning Wynns things. The man asks for help, he needs a doctor: Cass¨e, Che me rends. Le m¨dicin! but Mary believes he is responsible for the the bomb which has caused Edans death , uses the little German she knows and says Ich haben der todt Kinder gesehn. Deliberately she decides to let him die without calling for a doctor ; she stays there while everything connected with Wynn was lumping and rustling The thing beneath the oak would die too She would stay where she was till she was entirely satisfied that it was dead The pleasure Mary feels in this moment represents the climax of the story which lends to different interpretations.


Sara Pallante
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Re: Thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike....
on: April 24, 2019, 16:19

I read the short story and I found it rather interesting. As my colleagues, Virginia and Mariagrazia, said before, the story presents Mary Postgate as an ambiguous character. From the the description we find throughout the text we perceive that she has no personality, no personal inclinations, not even distinctive physical traits: she is "as colourless as her eyes on her hair". Even the epithets Wyndham used to give her, for example"sheep", "dowey old cassoway", "white mouse", recall rather peaceful and passive animals.


However there are two particular things that struck me in this short story:


– The relationship between Wyndham and Mary

– Mary's view on the role of the woman mentioned in the final part.


Whyndham is not presented as a positive character, he definitely does not represent the ideal soldier/hero. He is spoiled, arrogant, rude and he is particularly inclined to belittle Mary. There is a short passage in the short story that made me presume he did not even had projects and aspirations because it is said that the war took many young men who had projects before being recruited like "going into business with his elder brother", someone else was "on the eve of fruit-farming inn Canada" but, on the contrary we are said that Wynn only "announced on a postcard that he had joined the Flying Corps and wanted a cardigan waistcoat".

Despite the offensive language and behaviour he often uses with her, Mary seems to be rather attached and devoted to Wynn. It is said that "Her heart and interest were high in the air with Wynn" and when she learns that he is dead "the room was whirling round Mary Postgate". But then the ambiguity of this character emerges because she tells Miss Fowler she cannot cry for Wynn but "It only makes me angry with the Germans".

I believe this is a hint that suggests us that Mary Postgate is not as plain and insignificant as it may seem at first.


In the final part, in fact, we see a woman who, despite having been a companion and "nothing else" all her life long, shows absolutely no mercy for the injured German soldier and leaves him to die. Here we find an interesting statement: Mary says that, although she did not believe in "those advanced views of woman's work in the world", and despite not being neither a wife nor a mother, it was a fact that "A woman who had missed these things could still be useful – more useful than a man in certain respects" because it was her work, or her duty, not to show pity for the enemy. She is not like a man, in the measure that she is not a "sportman" who would bring the soldier to the house and call a doctor, but here we see someone completely satisfied with the fact that the enemy is dead, like it was a sort of revenge for all the dead caused by the Germans and maybe even the injustices she was subjected to.

There is nothing of the plain, cold and passive lady that it is described in the beginning of the story, here Mary "ceased to think. She gave herself up to feel. Her long pleasure was broken by a sound that she had waited for in agony several times in her life. She leaned forward and listened, smiling".


Nunzia Pappacena
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Re: Thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike....
on: April 26, 2019, 13:28

I found the reading of this short story very pleasant and interesting. The theme is in line with what we are facing during our lessons with Professor De Giovanni, because in my opinion one of the main themes is that of the trauma related to war and its horrors.

Mary Postgate is presented to us as a woman who acts and speaks in relation to other characters, as if she did not have her own personality and thought. She is a woman attached only and exclusively to her routine, which must not be affected by any event, not even by the death of little Edna, who in any way leaves her mark, like that of Wynm himself.

One of the most significant passages in my opinion is when the two women decide to burn everything that is connected to Wymn, so as to eliminate from their sight everything connected to him.

Of note, of course, is also the final scene, when Mary lets the German soldier die without trying to help him: indeed that soldier might not have done anything 'bad' (as far as could be possible during a war), but Mary blames him every horror carried out by all the Germans and then lets him die like this, enjoying even his death.


Lucia Rosa Attianese
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Re: Thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike....
on: April 26, 2019, 16:17

Hi everyone,

I really liked this short story because of the main characters ambiguity (that is Mary Postgate) and of its way to focus on how civilians might feel during the war. It is said that this war was different from the others, indeed it intruded on everyones life. It took the Rectors son who was going into business with his elder brother; it took the Colonels nephew on the eve of fruit-farming in Canada. Even Wynn Fowler, Miss Fowlers nephew, joined the army, in particular the Flying Corps. He will be killed by the enemy during a fight trial. However, what does not make him a hero is the fact that he did not kill anyone before having been killed. Indeed, Miss Fowler says I never expected anything else,but Im sorry it happened before he had done anything. Strangely both Miss Fowler and Mary Postgate cannot cry, but then Miss Fowler claims that there is nothing to cry for because he had just done his duty as everyone else who had enjoyed the war and had given the life for the homeland. This is what a propaganda text should communicate: sacrifice yourself for the good of your country, it has given you life and it can take it back. Actually, there are some details that suggest us that Mary is suffering a lot for Wynns death, even though she appears not to cry for it. For example, when she finds out that he has been killed, it is said: the room was whirling round Mary Postgate, but she found herself quite steady in the midst of it. I had the impression that she did not want to admit what she really felt because, apparently, what was important was the fact that Wynn had given his life for his country. However, she admits to being angry with the Germans. As I said before, I liked this story also for the ambiguity of the main character, that is Mary, who is always described as someone without personality and imagination. Wynn often says very rude words about her but she does not seem to mind. We know that she did not have any enemies in the village and that nobody had ever gossiped about her. So she also seems to be a peaceful person. Nonetheless, in the last part of the story, something surprised me. Mary is going to burn all Wynns things in the open-air furnace because it was Miss Fowlers decision. Suddenly, she realises that there is a man in a uniform behind a laurel, who appears to be in terrible conditions. When he starts to speak, he reveals his nationality Laty! Laty! I think that his pronunciation allowed Mary to understand he was a German man. After that, she decides to come in to take the pistol: she is determined to kill him because she is angry with enemy. Then it is time for her to take a revenge. She seems to be a different person from the one who was described before: she is now determined to do something very important for her. Actually it is also said that Wynn had told them that using a pistol against civilian enemies was forbidden by the laws of the War. When Mary recalls these words, she immediately comes in to take the weapon. Germans were generally known to have often broken the rules (indeed they invaded a neutral country in order to attack France). Then I suppose that Mary wanted to use the pistol not only because she wanted to kill the enemy, but also because probably the German man would have used his pistol to kill her (in Marys view). As far as the enemy is concerned, he is often animalised or described as a sort of monster (this is what propaganda texts usually did in order to convince people to enlist). For example, when little Edna dies because of the collapse of Mrs Gerritts stable, both Nurse Eden and Mary put the blame on the Germans, thinking that the collapse was caused by the explosion of a bomb. Nurse Eden calls the enemies filthy pigs, while Mary will call the man in a uniform bloody pagan. She also refers to him using the pronoun it because she considers him an object, rather than a human being. In the end of the story there is an important passage that reveals to us another side of Marys nature. She is not that colourless woman, without imagination or personality but she behaves bravely and is determined to face the enemy, without running away to fetch help. There is a sentence that she always repeated to herself when she thought about the war: dont allow your mind to dwell upon these things. In this final scene, we know what she refers to. Family, children are the only things it is worth dwelling upon because the only duty of a woman is to take care of her husband and her children. However, she is different from the others, she did not achieve this goal in her life but she realises that it does not matter because women can still be useful even when they do not have a family to take care of. I had the impression that she wanted to free herself from all sorts of conventions in a way. There is also another important detail: for the first time she wont respect her routine. Indeed she decides to have a hot bath before tea time. Personally, this sudden change made me think about the suffragette movement and its ideas, because Mary realises that she needs to get her independence. She wants to demonstrate that women should not be restricted to the work connected with the home and children and that she can do more than what others expect from her (she is able to destroy the enemy showing that she has done her duty, what everyone should do).


Alessandro Pinto
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Re: Thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike....
on: April 27, 2019, 16:22

Hello everyone,


I have read the short story by Kipling and I can say that, while reading the incipit, it was somehow difficult for me to have a precise idea of the character of Mary. Indeed, the initial details about this figure contribuite to creating an image of this character as someone who lives her life passively, unscattered by the events of life, almost detatched from her own personality: as my colleagues have mentioned, she actually seems to have no personality at all: "Mary was not young, and though her speech was as colourless as her eyes or her hair, she was never shocked […] she had no enemies; provoked no jealousy even among the plainest; neither gossip nor slander had ever been traced to her".


It seemed to me that Mary lives her life following a routine of thought which does not allow feelings to be taken into account, in order to favour a totally rational and controlled way of thinking: when Miss Fowler asks her "what do you ever think of, Mary?", expecting the woman to share some details about her private ideas on her life, Mary answers back by mentioning the tasks that she has to carry out for Wyndham, stating that she has no imagination to picture her ideal life.


As a matter of fact, several times during the narration Mary is associated with or called names that refer to her as less than human: "her underlip caught up by one faded canine, brows knit and nostrils wide". These references throughout the text clearly hint at Mary as someone who, just like animals, "never had a voice".


As the narration goes on, Mary's passivity and stiffness, together with her usual approach to distressful events of trying not to be emotionally involved (she "did not dwell on these things"), are considerably challenged.


The first sign of change can be detected, in my opinion, right after the death of Whyndham. While Mary feels it would be natural to cry for the death of a family member, she notices her emotions to be somehow "stuck" and unable to be expressed: when Miss Fowler asks Mary "have you cried yet?", the woman answers "I can't. It only makes me angry with the Germans". Even though Mary is not able to get in touch with her feelings, her approach to the events changes when she has to burn the object which once belonged to Wyndham; in that case, Mary finds herself thinking about the connection all the objects had with the guy, almost giving this action of burning things a cerimonial feeling: "The shrubbery was filling with twilight by the time she had completed her arrangements and sprinkled the sacrificial oil […] she lit the match that would burn her heart to ashes".


The climax and break of Mary's passive way of thinking can be detected at the end of the short story, where the character finally faces her interior problems: if on the one hand Mary admitts that her own path in life does not resemble the stereotypical path women were supposed to undertake at the end of the 19th century ("a woman's business was to make a happy home for – for a husband and children"), on the other hand she realises that a woman who had missed this one life could still be useful and have a purpose. This is why, in my opinion, Mary tries to find courage after her small epiphany by saying "Go on […] that isn't the end".


Francesca Micca
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Re: Thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike....
on: April 28, 2019, 20:27

I read the short-story and I found it really interesting.

Like my collegues stated previously, Mary Postgate is a really difficult and ambiguos character. At the beginning she appears like a plain woman, without a personality and ambitions, she does only what others tell her to do, she thinks that can't do anything else besides the maid; she's been described as "conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike". However the character will change in the course of the story: at the end she is totally another person. Mary knows that she's a woman and that a woman should only take care of the children and her husband but she lives in times of war and she's a pride english civilian first of all. So, when the supposed german soldier goes to her in terrible conditions, she let him die without calling a doctor because he's the enemy. Here the propaganda against the germans plays an important role: the soldier has been described like a monster, an animal, germans are horrible creatures. It's german's fault if the little Edna and Wynn died so that soldier has to pay for these atrocious crimes. It's a fair decision for Mary and here she changes, she demonstrates that a woman can be very useful, more than a man. She rebels against the society who forces women to stay at home with children, who considers women weak. Mary feels strong accomplishing her duty, she feels like she's not inferior to no man so when she came back home Mary doesn't respect her lovely routine and she take a bath before the tea of the evening and when she sit on the sofa for relaxing, Miss Fowler said "quite handsome!" who's an adjective (handsome) that usually is used for men. So, that's nothing a woman can't do.


GerrySalvati
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Re: Thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike....
on: May 5, 2019, 10:43

Thank you for your comments. I agree with you when you say this is a very nebulous and intricate story. Moreover, you have underlined the complex personality of the main character and, as the story unfolds, Mary's psychological issues become increasingly clear. Nevertheless, it remains ambiguous and debatable if her actions result from her psychological issues or anti-German sentiments. What do you think about that?


Monica Manzolillo
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Re: Thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike....
on: May 7, 2019, 17:54

Quote from GerrySalvati on May 5, 2019, 10:43

Thank you for your comments. I agree with you when you say this is a very nebulous and intricate story. Moreover, you have underlined the complex personality of the main character and, as the story unfolds, Mary's psychological issues become increasingly clear. Nevertheless, it remains ambiguous and debatable if her actions result from her psychological issues or anti-German sentiments. What do you think about that?


Yes this question is very interesting thank you Gerry.

I have seen that many of you focused on the main character because she is such a mysterious and ambiguous personality. But what can you say about the other characters, the structure of the short-story, the contrast between the beginning and the end?


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