"The Daughters of the Late Colonel"

"The Daughters of the Late Colonel" - from The Garden Party (1922)

This is the story of two middle-aged women - Constantia and Josephine - lamenting the death of their father but haunted by the possibility that he may return. They imagine him hiding in the chest of drawers and about to tell them off for having buried him: "'Buried. You two girls had me buried!' she heard his stick thumping." They are immersed in elaborate fantasies, of "two black dressing-gowns and two pairs of black woolly slippers, creeping off to the bathroom like black cats" and "the desert, to where that line of camels unwound like a thread of wool." The women are terrified of their father and are haunted by the manner in which he died, with one eye open: "But no - one eye only. It glared at them a moment and then... went out." Even to one another, they make all the dutiful remarks - "we miss our dear father so much" - as though trying to dilute their lasting impression of him. He has had a dominating role in their lives for a long time and the two women have as a result not been allowed to grow up, having spent their life "trying not to annoy father." Their immaturity is suggested by their squabbling on attempting to enter their father's room: "'You go first.' 'No, Jug, that's not fair. You're eldest.' 'But you're the tallest.'" The story is indeed saturated with flashbacks to their childhood. Towards the end, they begin to images of freedom and of being alive - young sparrows that "chirped on the window ledge" and the sunlight that "flashed its light over the furniture and the photographs". They finally believe that the Colonel has really gone, and begin to see him in a more positive light: "If mother had lived, might they have married?" However, they are still living in a fantasy world, and cannot put their feelings into words, as Constantia's last line suggests: "I can't say what I was going to say, Jug, because I've forgotten what it was... that I was going to say."

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