‘A Family Man’ by V. S. Pritchett: Short Story Analysis
‘A Family Man’ is penned by V. S. Pritchett who was a talented and highly acclaimed short story writer in twentieth-century England. He is well known for his ironic short stories which mostly depict the comical things that happen to people. This is one such ironic and comical story of a middle-class promiscuous man called William Cork with the pet name ‘Bunny’. He is a womanizer, a professor at a college, a married man with children, and a compulsive flute player. He has affairs with numerous women. The story is told from the viewpoint of one of his mistresses from the college, a jewelry designer called Berenice. In the story, Berenice comes face to face with Florence Cork, the obese wife of William. Mrs. Cork has come across a letter sent to William in secret and she presumes Berenice is the sender.
Notice the sly sexual innuendos used in this story between Berenice and Mrs. Cork. The surname ‘Cork’ itself is comically sexual in itself especially when it keeps on being repeated in this story to create embarrassing sentences. A few other sexual innuendos found here are:
- According to Mrs. Cork, Berenice was ‘fixing her husband’s flute’, where the flute is taken to mean the promiscuous penis of William who has been brazenly cheating his softheaded wife and even Berenice for that matter.
- Berenice mentions that the flute of Mr. Cork’s was quite in need of repair because it ‘had a blow’. Mrs. Cork confirms that indeed her husband, Mr. William Cork’s flute had had a ‘blow’ because she threw it at him.
- When Mrs. Cork realizes that Berenice’s home is in such a mess and that there are ‘so-called’ other people presumably living in the apartment she wonders ‘where do they do it’ and that ‘they must do it somewhere’.
- The pet name of William ‘Bunny’ is very indicative of the Playboy symbol literally and metaphorically. It sounds so ridiculous coming from the plus-size Mrs. Cork’s mouth that one cannot help but laugh out loud.
- When Berenice thinks to herself of the possibility that William, Mrs. Cork’s ‘Bunny’, after having sex with his many lovers may have even gone to their garden naked ‘bold as brass’ along with his brass flute and played the instrument there. Berenice had this notion because that was exactly what William used to do after he had sex with her; however, in their case, he used to dress into his clothes and then go into the garden with the flute.
- Berenice pictures in her mind and therefore makes us picture in our minds the nearing middle-age middle-class man ‘going around half the gardens of London’ playing his ‘flute’.
- Mrs. Cork when told a lie by Berenice about a certain Rosie who was another mistress of William, mentions in a matronly manner that ‘Her Bunny is a pusher and goes deep’.
These are a few of the many hilarious sexual innuendos that are spread throughout the story titled ‘The Family Man’. William is anything but ‘a family man’. He is said to have never spent a penny on his family and wife and has affairs with so many women that Mrs. Cork had to keep the houses on a watch. Berenice in a way is also duped by William. Berenice thought that she was the only mistress of William. This made her feel special. She also felt special when she presumed that since William called his wife ‘very beautiful’ that she too must be ‘very beautiful’ herself. Her estimation of William and his words falls to nothing when she sees the balloon of a woman that is Mrs. Florence Cork. Berenice realizes that while she thought she was the only mistress of William, he was also having an affair with another person from the college called Rosie who was older than all three of them – Berenice, Mrs. Cork, and Bunny! It is Rosie’s letter that has fallen into Mrs. Cork’s hands which asks William or rather ‘Bunny’ to get Berenice the jewelry maker to quickly make the necklace for her and to also bring the flute. Rosie needed the flute as Bunny would not be satisfied after sex if he was not able to play his flute.
So, Berenice as well as Mrs. Cork were duped. However, Berenice did not take the treachery badly. She was an independent and single woman gaining in years but was also a person considered to be a ‘necessary secret’ among her circle of acquaintances probably because of her free sex life. She takes the news of the treachery of ‘Bunny’ very well. In fact, she saves William the trouble of an angry wife because she tells a lie to Mrs. Cork that Rosie wrote the letter in connection with her second marriage on which occasion Rosie wanted the necklace she would wear to be done by Berenice. Bunny would have to play his flute at the wedding. Mrs. Cork is pacified by the lie and even has tea with Berenice after that. She leaves Berenice with sincere words of apology and with good wishes that one day Berenice too would have a good husband like ‘Bunny’.
Berenice tells a lot of lies, some puny and some big in this short story titled ‘The Family Man’. She protects the marriage of this middle-class family man and lands up with a spoiled love affair. The affair was not much of an affair in itself as William was an erratic guest at Berenice’s home. However, he is patriarchal and ancient enough to demand that Berenice pretend that she has her father living with her. This he wants her to do so that no one should have the misconception that she lived alone and therefore could be taken advantage of.
Mrs. Cork is desperate to prove herself right in the first part of the story. She believes Berenice to be the lover of her Bunny and is ready to even attack Berenice with her husband’s flute which was lying on the wall in the hall. She feels highly embarrassed when she realizes that she has made a mistake and that her Bunny was only trying to collect money for the second marriage of an elderly woman called Rosie at college. I loved that line where Pritchett mentions that the ‘chasm between Berenice and Mrs. Cork gets closed up’ when Berenice is shown the letter of Rosie. Shows that now both are riding in the same boat, that is infidelity. Mrs. Cork has been married to her Bunny for thirty years. She looks up to him, finds him a deep thinker, and can’t bear the fact that she was cheated for a younger girl like Berenice. There is this paradoxical difference between a married woman’s status in society and a single woman. When the married woman is cheated her life is ruined. Where the single woman is concerned, her life in itself is ruined until she finds a husband as soon as possible.
William, the reason for all this commotion and the title of this story, doesn’t appear in the story at all. He, however, has a funny habit of playing the flute in his mistresses’ gardens. Where Berenice is concerned, because of his flute playing, she has got complaints from her neighbors’ indicative of the terrible music. Berenice was unsure about how to feel or emote her feelings about William’s flute playing. When Mrs. Cork leaves her, we see a dejected Berenice lost in her thoughts going to a married couple’s place who wish her to get married soon as she was getting on in years.
Overall, this was a really funny story. It was a sheer pleasure to read V. S. Pritchett’s short story titled ‘The Family Man’. I have his biography of ‘Chekhov’ who is another one of my favorite short story writers. I hope to read it soon once I’m done with the ten books, I’m reading at one time (I’m the insane owl, remember!). I hope to review more of V.S. Pritchett’s books and short stories soon.
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