Unsurprisingly, “Some Women” offers readers a panoply of images of womanhood.
It begins by hearkening back to an earlier time, when “girls wore waist cinches and crinolines that could stand up by themselves”.
But then locates the narrator as being so old that even she is amazed by the number of years that have passed, and then readers travel back again to our ancient chronicler’s thirteenth summer.
This is, above all, a story about the passage of time, the passing of seasons and generations and, simultaneously, a progression of ideas and concepts, from the treatment of illness to, yes, views on women’s roles in society.
The primary scene is Old Mrs. Crozier’s home. She (Dorothy) has recently taken in her step-son (Bruce, the Young Mr. Crozier) and his wife (Sylvia, the young Mrs. Crozier), because Bruce has leukemia, for which there was no treatment, only waiting for the end.
Young Mrs. Crozier is out two afternoons each week, teaching summer school at the college. “People were just down on her because she had got an education,” the narrator’s mother said.
Many, including Old Mrs. Crozier do judge Young Mrs. Crozier for this decision, for leaving the home while her husband is ill. This circumstance, in fact, is what affords the narrator the opportunity for part-time work.
The narrator appears to agree with her mother’s position on the matter, although she recognizes the tension which surrounds it. “My mother always defended women who were working on their own, and my grandmother always got after her for it.”
Old Mrs. Crozier would be of the grandmother’s generation, so it is unsurprising that she disapproves, for “she could have stayed home and looked after him now, as promised in the marriage ceremony, instead of going out to teach”.
But even though Old Mrs. Crozier walks with a cane, she rules the house. This authority is limited, however. (Later, it is clear that Young Mr. Crozier overrules, even though he chooses not to confront her directly.)
Our narrator’s mother reminds us that Old Mrs. Crozier was “only a second wife picked up on a business trip to Detroit, which was why she smoked and dyed her hair black as tar and put on lipstick like a smear of jam”.
This hierarchy of womanhood is complicated and, just as the narrator’s mother dismisses Old Mrs. Crozier as inferior, the narrator dismisses Roxanne as “surely an inferior person”.
Roxanne is the masseuse, who has studied in Hamilton, and comes to Old Mrs. Crozier’s grand home regularly to see to Dorothy’s needs. (Roxanne calls her Dorothy, even pet-naming her, Dor-thee and Dorothy-Doodles.) Roxanne has a “bold” and “teasing”, even “tickling”, voice, and she lives in another part of town.
Young Mr. Crozier has his own judgements to make about Roxanne, at least as perceived by our narrator. “He liked her not knowing. I could tell. He liked her not knowing. Her ignorance woke a pleasure that melted on his tongue, like a lick of toffee.”
The narrator wants to please everyone. In fact, the observation she has made of Young Mr. Crozier’s desire for ignorance is realized because she, the narrator, could not resist expressing that she knows what Roxanne does not: “…I broke in. I couldn’t help it.”
She also seeks Roxanne’s approval: “I myself made sure to laugh, so that Roxanne would not put me down as being full of priggish innocence.” And she appears to take Young Mrs. Crozier’s side, when Roxanne does not.
In turn, Roxanne makes fun of our narrator’s speech patterns. “You qwat like her?” she mocks. Old Mrs. Crozier disapproves of her pulling a book from the shelves and does not think to include her in even simple gestures of kindness. “It occurred to me that they could offer me a golden macaroon out of those sitting in the box, but apparently it did not occur to them.”’
But the narrator’s invisibility grants her a certain agency. Young Mr. Crozier seeks her intervention and she alone can offer him the assistance he requires.
“He had counted on this, I thought. That they would not suspect me, thinking of his being in charge. And in fact he was.”
But, in fact, our narrator is the one who puts the details in place, rearranging the situation so that nobody will question her involvement. Had she not adjusted her position, literally, the true nature of Young Mr. Crozier’s resistance would have been revealed and understood, and tensions would have flared.
The climax of the story appears to be not this incident, which Young Mr. Crozier engineers, however. Instead, the narrator’s conversation with Young Mrs. Crozier which follows, when she drives her home from one side of town to the other, is at the heart of the story.
In response to one of Young Mrs. Crozier’s questions, our young narrator makes an observation and Young Mrs. Crozier responds: “Mrs. Hoy? Yes. That’s too bad.”
Ironically, Mrs. Hoy, who has been Roxanne throughout the duration of the story until now, happens to pass by in her car. Our narrator is positioned between these two women, in motion and turned to face Sylvia, as that car passes Mrs. Hoy’s stationary vehicle.
As it is told to us, this is a story of winning and losing (with Young Mrs. Crozier winning and Roxanne losing) and a prize (Young Mr. Crozier).
But because it is told from the perspective of a downward spiral, it seems to become a tale of loss in the end.
The final five sentences summarize the fates of each of the women in the story (Sylvia’s is intertwined with Bruce’s) and the last sentence seems to take the breath out of the sick-room. “I grew up, and old.”
And, yet, there is no solidity to the conclusion. Old Mrs. Crozier had a stroke and seemed, at the end of her days, to discover a kind of generosity and acceptance that had eluded her in years past.
Somewhere between our narrator’s growing up and her growing old, she might well take what she has learned from “some women” and shake off those shivers down her spine.
Perhaps that is what she has achieved by telling this story.
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories in Too Much Happiness as I read through her work-to-date. She is one of my MRE authors and this is the seventh story in this collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. Next week, “Child’s Play”.
Note: There are spoilers in the comments below.