Review: “A Wonderful Woman”, Arthur Machen, 1890.
In 1890, 27-year old Arthur Machen was still writing society tales.
But they won’t be for the St. James Gazette anymore. According to James Machin’s “’All Manner of Mysteries’: Encounters with the Numinous in The Cosy Room and Other Stories”, Machen’s friend Oscar Wilde liked “A Double Return”. Readers, however, were “annoyed and enraged”.
St. James Gazette wasn’t going to be buying any more Machen.
So this story got published in another magazine, Whirlwind.
The story uses a familiar plot device – the reuniting of old lovers who did not part on the best of terms.
It starts with two old acquaintances meeting again after seven or eight years. One is Villiers, a bachelor, and the other the older Richardson. (No, this is not the same Villiers of Machen’s “The Great God Pan. Machen tended to use the same surnames over and over again for his characters.) The latter has gotten involved with the Indian trade and made some money.
Villiers, like many another Machen protagonist, likes to wander around London making his studies. He could have inherited his dad’s China trading company, but he sold his interest.
Richardson married three months ago. Villiers congratulates him and wants to meet his wife. So they go to Richardson’s house.
Villiers is shocked when Richardson’s “pretty, though demure-looking” wife enters the room. She is cold to him.
Villiers thinks back on one Mary Reynolds and gay parties. Richardson is oblivious, but he does make some remarks on the beauty of his wife’s jewelry and suggests she show it to Villiers after dinner.
She replies Villiers is not interested in such things.
As Villiers leaves, Richardson tells him he didn’t seem quite himself.
At home, Villiers thinks back on Mrs. Richardson’s brooch which “he knows too well”. (Machen never comes out and says Mary Reynolds and Mrs. Richardson are the same woman, but it’s obvious.)
Villiers goes to Richardson’s office and asks if he can visit his house again. Richardson embarrassedly tells him that his wife Agnes is particular and
has evidently heard some stories about you. I am afraid, Villiers, you have never lived a very strict life.
.She doesn’t want Villiers in the house.
Villiers laughs in amusement at this and tells Richardson, with irony, “you have married a wonderful woman”.