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.
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