Summary: Part VII

As Dr. Jordan leaves the Governor’s house he considers the significance of Grace’s fainting spell, which appears to be the first example of a gap in her memory. He also wonders if there have been other gaps, covered up by “the very plenitude of her recollections” and hence invisible to him. He walks and considers the mystery of the mind.

Dr. Jordan goes to speak with Reverend Verringer about his progress with Grace. Reverend Verringer grows interested when Dr. Jordan describes Grace’s lapse of memory, but the doctor insists on not jumping to conclusions. The men discuss Susanna Moodie’s account of Grace’s earlier bout of hysteria as well as Moodie’s tendency to “embroider” her report with melodramatic language drawn from literature.

The next time they meet, Grace continues telling her story to Dr. Jordan, starting with Mary’s modest burial in a nearby Methodist cemetery. Grace describes how she sought out new employment following her friend’s death and worked in several other households over the ensuing months. While employed by a woman named Mrs. Watson, Grace met Nancy Montgomery, a friend of Mrs. Watson’s cook who had come to the house for a visit. Nancy told Grace that she worked as a housekeeper for a man named Mr. Thomas Kinnear in a country village called Richmond Hill and that she needed another servant to help her with her duties. Nancy reminded Grace of Mary, and she offered a substantial wage, so Grace accepted the job.

Grace journeyed to Richmond Hill by carriage. Mr. Kinnear met her at a tavern in town, then escorted her the rest of the way to his estate. As the carriage pulled up, Grace saw Nancy cutting peonies in the front garden. She also met Jamie Walsh, a boy who lived on the neighboring property, and James McDermott, an irritable-looking stable hand who was chopping wood. Grace reflects on how clear her image of that house remains and how strange it is to think that six months later everyone there except Jamie and herself would be dead.

Grace describes Mr. Kinnear’s house at length, emphasizing certain unusual aspects of the layout and interior design. She notes the oddness of Nancy having a bedroom on the same floor as Mr. Kinnear, and she recalls two unusual paintings hung in Mr. Kinnear’s bedroom that depicted naked women. Grace also comments on the unusual fineness of Nancy’s clothing and jewelry and McDermott’s persistent ill humor.

The day after her arrival, Grace rose early to begin her morning chores. She listened to McDermott step-dancing in his room above the stable, and they had a brief exchange when Grace gathered eggs from the chicken coop. McDermott made a joke and smiled, and Grace comments that “he was better looking when smiling.”

Nancy came down some time later and said she’d bring Mr. Kinnear his tea, which surprised Grace since the maid usually provided room service, not the housekeeper. Though displeased, Nancy let Grace take the tea up anyway. Grace found Mr. Kinnear still in bed with curtains drawn, and when she returned to the kitchen to express concern about their employer, Nancy explained: “He wants to be fussed over.”

Grace recalls how, later that same day, tension arose between herself and Nancy about how to tidy Mr. Kinnear’s room. To diffuse the tension, Grace asked Nancy about the picture of a nude woman holding a fan made of peacock feathers. Nancy said the painting depicted a Bible story called Susannah and the Elders, but Grace insisted that no such story existed in the Bible. Mr. Kinnear came in and confirmed that Grace was correct. Mr. Kinnear then complained to Nancy of a shirt that she’d ironed and put away, but which was missing a button. Now twice in the wrong, “Nancy looked daggers” at Grace.

The next day proved calmer. Grace lunched with McDermott, who told her about his life. Grace listened attentively but felt that he lied about certain details.

In the evening, the servants gathered on the lawn, and Jamie played his flute for them. At one point McDermott came running along the top of the fence. Nancy said he just wanted attention, and Grace pretended not to watch him.

Analysis: Part VII

Dr. Jordan’s doubts about whether or not the gaps in Grace’s memory are genuine prevent him from getting anywhere with his research on the human mind. Part VI concluded with Grace explaining to Dr. Jordan how she had fainted when she thought she heard the voice of Mary Whitney’s spirit. Grace lost consciousness for ten hours, during which time she ran about the house hysterically. When she woke up again, she had no recollection of these events. Now, in the opening pages of Part VII, Dr. Jordan reflects on how this gap in Grace’s memory might be linked to the gaps in her memory of the murders. Yet before he can elaborate further on this link, Dr. Jordan grows suspicious that Grace’s fainting spell after Mary’s death might not actually be the first gap in her memory. Although this is the first time she has admitted to such a gap, Dr. Jordan gets lost wondering whether she has intentionally filled her story with so many rich details in order to conceal other gaps of memory. Ironically, the very skepticism Dr. Jordan requires to maintain a scientific outlook disrupts his progress.

Dr. Jordan’s suspicion of Grace’s account relates to an important theme about the nature of truth in storytelling, a theme that Grace also underscores in her recollections of the Kinnear household. Grace describes the house as if she remembered everything just as it was the first day she arrived there. Then she comments to Dr. Jordan about how odd it is to know that just six months later, almost everyone in the house would be dead. By imagining the house at the time of her arrival and simultaneously thinking about the murders that would happen six months later, Grace collapses time in a way that charges the earlier incident with a significance that can only exist in hindsight. In other words, it may be that Grace’s memory has idealized the house in view of the tragedy to come. Such a collapse of time represents a central principle of storytelling. When the storyteller recounts a tale, they already know what is going to happen, and this foreknowledge of the ending bestows meaning on all the parts of the story that lead toward that ending. Though the content of the story may be true, the form the story takes introduces a fictional element and add ambiguity for the reader/listener.

Grace’s description of Mr. Kinnear, his house, and his lifestyle paints a portrait of a wealthy gentleman who feels licensed to live outside the usual expectations of society. Although Grace finds Mr. Kinnear kind upon first meeting him, there is also something about him that strikes her as detached from social norms. For instance, Grace describes how when they arrived at his estate, Mr. Kinnear jumped down from the carriage and ran over to Nancy, seeming to forget that Grace was there and had no easy way to step down from the carriage’s height. Though not deliberately cruel, his forgetfulness showed a lack of awareness. Grace also makes note of the paintings in Mr. Kinnear’s bedroom. These paintings portrayed naked women, and even though Grace didn’t consider them offensive, she indicates their inappropriateness when she remarks that the decor at the Alderman Parkinson household consisted mainly of landscapes and still-lifes. Grace’s description indicates how Mr. Kinnear did not live by the usual social standards, and it also subtly recalls for the reader Mary Whitney’s critique of wealthy gentleman as ultimately selfish and aloof to the plight of women. Though Mr. Kinnear may have been kind, his lifestyle raised suspicions about his character and his relationships with women.

The account Grace gives of her relationship with James McDermott has an ambiguous quality. Her first impressions of Mr. Kinnear’s stable hand are clearly negative. He has a gruff appearance and an ill-tempered demeanor. She also suspects that he is a liar. He claimed that he was twenty-one, but when he told her about his life, the details of his story suggested that he must have been several years older. Despite these reservations, Grace clearly also found in McDermott a certain rough charm. When she ran into him in the chicken coop on her first morning working for Mr. Kinnear, he made a joke and laughed. Though unsettled by his sudden appearance, she nonetheless thought McDermott looked better when smiling. Later, when the servants all gathered outside to relax and listen to Jamie Walsh play his flute, McDermott danced along the top of the fence. Although Nancy warned Grace not to pay attention to him, since he was just showing off, Grace nonetheless watches him out of the corner of her eye. These details suggest that Grace may have found something attractive in the otherwise gruff McDermott, which might complicate her repeated claims to have despised the man.