Originally published almost exactly 32 years ago, the events depicted in “Dulse” could have taken place 32 years prior and will, likely, still ring true 32 years hence.
Something about her identity has profoundly shifted, and she sees herself differently now.
Also, she is on vacation, on an island south of New Brunswick, and what better time to step out of your life, and your everyday self, to reflect and assess?
“She had noticed something about herself, on this trip to the Maritimes. It was that people were no longer so interested in getting to know her.”
Could be, of course, that Lydia is mis-remembering, that she is simply glamorizing earlier, youthful times?
But, no, Lydia is an analytical sort. She works as an editor; she is all about the details.
“It wasn’t that she had created such a stir, before, but something had been there that she could rely on.”
So it seems that something, in fact, has changed.
Or, perhaps she is projecting this onto others, and it’s really her own disinterest which must be wrestled with?
Whichever it is, Lydia is wrestling with it throughout the pages of “Dulse”.
Part of the reason that her unmarried status is so prominent in her mind is that she has been in a relationship with Duncan, and that relationship is over.
How it’s over, the terms of it, is unclear; she hasn’t yet formulated an understanding of it — of what went wrong so that it ended, or whether it’s existing was actually wrong to begin with. It’s all too fresh.
And perhaps she hasn’t quite formulated an understanding of what’s niggling her either; for it isn’t that “people” are no longer interested in getting to know her.
It’s clear that other people in this story are interested in getting to know her, like 81-year-old Mr. Stanley, who vacations here annually because Willa Cather used to stay in the same place and wrote most of A Lost Lady there.
But Lydia is actually concerned that men, specifically men in whom she is interested, are no longer interested in getting to know her.
The men in “Dulse” are defined in such a way that the reader can picture them clearly, physically and otherwise.
“Lawrence wore a carefully good-natured expression, but he looked as if something hard and heavy had settled inside him – a load of self-esteem that weighed him down instead of buoying him up. Vincent had no extra weight….”
When Lydia watches them interact, it prompts a series of questions about the kind of man that she has chosen to be involved with in the past, about whether those choices were good ones.
“That is, should she have stayed in the place where love is managed for you, not gone where you have to invent it, and reinvent it, and never know if these efforts will be enough?”
It seems as though there has been something inherently wrong with her involvements in the past, but she is unable to articulate just what that is, and the latest interaction with Duncan — and the imagined possibilities with the men on the island — keep those questions circling, unresolved.
It’s not the first time that questions have been asked, however; it seems as though she has even spoken to a doctor, and recently enough for her relationship with Duncan to have been up for discussion.
“What about you?” said the doctor. “What do you want?”
“For him [Duncan] to love me?”
“Not for you to love him?”
And there, just as in “The Beggar Maid”, readers see that it’s perceived to be more important to be loved than to love. Somewhere in there, with all those unanswered questions, that’s where the unsettled feeling about Lydia’s identity is rooted.
And what is ordinary life for one person, like snacking on dulse, can be packaged and sold as a luxury to another, who might yearn for it from afar, and be willing to pay a high price for a pretty package.
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories, beginning with with Dance of the Happy Shades, Lives of Girls and Women, Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You and Who Do You Think You Are? (The Beggar Maid). I aim to read through her work to date. She is one of my MRE authors.
The next in The Moons of Jupiter is “The Turkey Season”; one story will be discussed on each Thursday, so that “Labour Day Dinner” will fall on the Thursday before Labour Day weekend. Please feel free to join in, for the series, or for a single story.