‘The Blood of the Lamb’ is a humorous short story penned by Booker Prize-Winning Welsh author Bernice Rubens. Bernice Rubens was the first woman to win the Booker Prize in 1970. In this comic short story, the narrator, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, narrates how her friend Rose inherits a lot of wealth and expensive linen and silverware from her otherwise irritating mother. The mother, Mrs. Feigal, passed away, leaving her daughter Rose with costly things that spoke of wealth which she never gave Rose when alive. In a partly confessional manner, the narrator narrates her feelings about Mrs. Feigal and the way Mrs. Feigal treated her daughter before she passed away. The narrator humorously deals with her jealously of Rose’s inheritance, her disapproval of all the unnecessary things Rose had to care for now, and how unfair it was that Rose was now extremely wealthy while she was not. The narrator’s comical insecurities and her envy of her once good friend make an otherwise simple event seem very meaningful and, therefore, entertaining to read. Note the way the narrator or Bernice Rubens narrates the story’s events in a manner partly confessional and partly reflective. At its best, this is period comedy: the narrator promised to call her mother after 6:00 pm because it was expensive to make a simple telephonic call in England before 6:00 pm. The peculiar relationships between the possessive English mothers and their devoted daughters are hilarious and pleasant to read and reflect upon.
The story gets its title because Rose only became rich because her mother passed away due to anger and bitterness. On dying, she bequeathed to Rose all her wealth, including her most expensive fur coats. One of them, which the narrator of this story covets, is an expensive ancient Persian Lamb coat. It indicates that though Mrs. Feigal was irritating and possessive of her daughter Rose, she still loved her ‘blood’ and bequeathed her ‘Persian Lamb’ to Rose. This also indicates that because of a ‘death’ per se that the ‘blood’ relative Rose inherited the ‘lamb’ coat. Notice how the narrator exaggerates the fear she too has about the ‘lamb’, indicating that she fears her own mother’s death and that one day she will be left with silverware and expensive coats like her friend Rose. The narrator is greedy and materialistic at heart. She does not mind the inheritance but does not want to change as a person and so prays throughout that her mother may never die. This is despite the fact that the narrator’s mother was as possessive, complaining, and a nag as Mrs. Feigal was.
The skewed mother-daughter relationships are very much highlighted. To create a comic effect, Bernice Rubens narrates the drawbacks of the upper-middle-class mothers and how they used to dictate terms to their overly timid and dutiful daughters. Using the guilt complex, Mrs. Feigal had managed to force Rose to stay with her until Rose was thirty years old. In England, even in the 1970s, it was out of character for young girls to remain unmarried for so long. Mrs. Feigal was a widow, and so probably to keep her company, Rose decided to stay with her mother. However, Mrs. Feigal started to exert her overbearing bitter personality on Rose, who detested it. She started nagging and questioning Rose about the men she went out with, the late hours she returned home at night, the clothes she wore, and the reason why Rose had to wear her glasses all the time.
Rose, an independent thirty-year-old woman with her own mind, decides one day to leave her mother for good because of the oppressive atmosphere in the house. Notice that the mothers in question were quite well off but did not mind seeing their daughters struggle all their lives in a middle-class setting; this is something that we are not accustomed to seeing in Asia. The daughter would be given her mother’s wealth only when she passed away. In a way, the daughters hated the idea of having to change their lifestyles and becoming rich in a very outdated, almost early twentieth-century mold but, they didn’t mind the conveniences of being rich. Rose though uncomfortable in her mother’s Persian Lamb coats and diamonds, is still happy to give up her old bookish life and live off the money Mrs. Feigal has left her. She is sad because of the death of Mrs. Feigal but hardly grieves because her mother had been a tough person to live with. Slowly, Rose realizes that Mrs. Feigal, though challenging to live with, had curtailed her expenses to save money for her daughter so that she could live a comfortable life. Therefore, knowing her mother’s sacrifice, Rose, towards the end, starts intoning that her mother was a ‘dear mother’ and ‘May God rest her soul’, which the narrator or Bernice Rubens feels are highly middle-aged phrases to use. The narrator is scandalized by the change in her friend Rose who now looks like her mother and is ten times richer than she is. However, where the narrator is concerned, she has mixed feelings about her own mother. She is alive and a woman who is always complaining and very thrifty. The narrator does not want her mother to die. She does not want to be a hypocrite and inherit her old-fashioned mother’s ‘lamb’ coats. At the same time, she envies Rose’s new position in life. We see this very materialistic yet emotive tussle of the narrator handled with a lot of humor. Both daughters in this story cared for their mothers. Still, both knew the difficulties of earning a living. So, where Rose was concerned, she happily adopted the goods and wealth of her deceased mother. At the same time, the narrator or Bernice Rubens tries not to think about the subject because she knows she too is greedy for wealth and good clothes.
Certain period pieces in the text indicate the story’s setting to be the latter half of the twentieth century. Otherwise, ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ is an evergreen story. It is significant for mother-daughter relationships even in our present times. The period pieces in this text are:
- A lot of money was charged during the twentieth century when people wanted to make a simple telephone call. After 6:00 pm, the call charges were cheaper because the working class people came home and made so many calls. However, to call anyone in the middle of the day meant that you had to pay a lot of money. The narrator’s mother scolds her for calling at such an unthrifty hour and acting like a rich person or a Rothschild. It was twenty pence a minute for a call. So humorously, the narrator states that people typically never spoke about themselves in detail to terminate the call quickly.
- The fact that silverware could fetch the narrator’s mother enough money to go to America several times on holiday indicates how expensive they were compared with the imitation silverware we find today.
- Lastly, Rose offers the narrator a slice of costly cake as a coffee cake. It was called lace d’oyly or Lace Doily cake, an old way of making tea-cakes.
Basically, you use a doily or piece of lace as a stencil. A light dusting of sugar or cocoa powder through the lace creates a delicate, and surprisingly detailed, pattern on the cake. That is how it was made.theviewfromgreatisland
Coming to the fact that Bernice Rubens was Jewish, it is indicated that probably because these two young ladies, Rose and the narrator, were Jewish, their mothers were so rich. It is a fact that where Bernice Rubens was concerned, her being a Jew resurfaced very much in her fiction. Still, other than the fact of wealth, there is no indication of any Jewish trait that a reader can identify in the story ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ other than the Jewish or Biblical connotation of the title itself.
The relationship between Rose and the narrator is strained and, in the end, ruined because of Rose becoming rich. The narrator is jealous, and when she accidentally spills coffee on one of Rose’s mother’s linen chests, Rose scolds her vehemently. Her reaction is understandable as stains on expensive linen never go easily. It only goes after a good scrubbing that spoils the linen’s original beauty. Notice the paradox of life. Why would anyone want to break their heads over table linen that gets stained so easily when tea-time accidents happen all the time! The narrator is disgusted with Rose and so walks out of her house. There is a rift between them, and money has caused that rift. Rose will only befriend the narrator again if the narrator too inherits money and wealth from her dead mother. This is indicative that, per se, their friendship was not genuine because it changed the moment money entered their lives.
The narrator keeps referring to the fact that she fears the ‘lamb’. She is indicating that she fears turning into her mother by caring for things like expensive silverware and linen, which ages a person, and which were things she did not even care for. Therefore, she does not want her mother to pass away and ‘fears the lamb’ or the change that will come over her making her into another younger version of her irritating mother. The daughters in this story titled ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ tend to put their own desires aside for the sake of their mothers. Where Rose was concerned, she set her bookish life aside for the sake of her inheritance from her mother. The narrator only promises to make a telephone call to her mother after 6:00 pm. They both love their mothers but seem to love their mother’s riches even more. The story ends with the narrator losing a close ‘coffee friend’. She returns to her middle-class world knowing that Rose will only accept her back the day she, too, like Rose, will ‘inherit the lamb’.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing the story titled ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ by Welsh author Bernice Rubens. I hope to read, review, and analyze more of Bernice Ruben’s works soon. If you are interested in reading a classic comic novel, you can check out my book adapted for children and young adults titled The Diary of a Nobody, originally written by the Grossmith Brothers. This book is part of my Rare Classics series. Another humorous but emotional ghost story is my adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost. I hope to read and review more British short stories soon.
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