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The lady of the barge by W. W. Jacobs
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The lady of the barge

by W. W. Jacobs

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W. W. Jacobs (1863 – 1943) was an English short story writer & novelist. He mainly wrote stories about sailors and the marine life. Humour was his favoured genre. Jacobs’s short stories were popular in his lifetime and were published in serialized form in magazines such as Jerome K. Jerome's Idler and The Strand.

Jacobs wrote relatively fewer horror stories compared to his humorous ones. But today he is best remembered for his horror fiction works. His most renowned story remains the macabre, The Monkey's Paw.

I had read one of W. W. Jacobs’s stories in an anthology and decided to look for more of his works. The reason I picked up this collection was because it includes The Monkey's Paw. But The Lady of The Barge and Other Stories is by no means a horror short story collection. The stories come from a range of genres such as humour, drama and horror. Most of the stories feature accounts of the village life, sailors and life at the sea.

The Lady of The Barge and Other Stories by W. W. Jacobs was published in 1902. This collection of short stories includes twelve stories, The Lady of the Barge, The Monkey's Paw, Bill’s Paper Chase, The Well, Cupboard Love, In the Library, Captain Rogers, A Tiger’s Skin, A Mixed Proposal, An Adulteration Act, A Golden Venture and Three at Table.

The Lady of the Barge is the first of many short stories that are about seafaring men. The young sweetheart of a sailor comes aboard a boat and chaos ensues. The story is rather funny.

The Monkey's Paw shows that we must be careful what we wish for. The horror element in this story is extremely subtle. Jacobs doesn’t show us much but lets our imagination paint the picture in our own mind. This is what horror should be like. Understated but extremely effective, The Monkey's Paw lives up to its fame.

Bill’s Paper Chase is another sea story. Two sailor’s try to find a deceased shipmate’s hidden money. This is an okay story.

The Well is a macabre story about blackmail and revenge from beyond the grave. The plot is kind of thin but the story is nevertheless enjoyable. The subtlety of Jacobs’s horror stories comes to the fore here too.

Cupboard Love is a funny story set in a village. The troubles of elderly widows and their real or imaginary suitors is another recurring theme in this book.

In the Library is a crime/suspense story. The plot is thin and a little unbelievable.

Captain Rogers is about turning the tables on a blackmailer. This is another story featuring sailors. It is predictable and not very entertaining. It has a very Victorian, ‘Wilkie Collinesque’ flavour to it.

A Tiger’s Skin recounts the consequences of lying and telling tall tales. Set in a village, I didn’t find the story funny.

A Mixed Proposal is the story if two middle aged rivals in love battling for the hand of a pretty widow. Another story set in a village. I liked this story. I enjoyed the quick wit of the engaging widow.

An Adulteration Act is a funny story. Two ‘kidnapped’ gentlemen on board a ship turn the tables on their captors.

A Golden Venture features an elderly widow and the flurry of suitors that her new found wealth brings, much to the chagrin of her relatives. This is quite a funny story.

The final story, Three at Table, once again reminded me of Wilkie Collins somehow. It is a sad story with elements of the Gothic thrown in but it ends on a brighter note.

This is an extremely short book. It took me about two hours to finish the whole collection. The short stories are truly short. Most of them don’t go beyond even ten pages.

My favourites among these are, The Monkey's Paw, Cupboard Love, A Mixed Proposal, An Adulteration Act and A Golden Venture. I enjoyed The Well and Three at Table. The rest are not that good.

Jacobs wrote easy to read light stories. His humorous stories reminded me of P. G. Wodehouse’s stories. Wodehouse was known to have been an admirer of Jacobs’s work.

At times Jacobs is hilarious. For example this passage from the story Cupboard Love is really funny,

“He broke off and eyed with dignified surprise a fine piece of wireless telegraphy between husband and wife. It appeared that Mr. Negget sent off a humorous message with his left eye, the right being for some reason closed, to which Mrs. Negget replied with a series of frowns and staccato shakes of the head, which her husband found easily translatable. Under the austere stare of Mr. Bodfish their faces at once regained their wonted calm, and the ex-constable in a somewhat offended manner resumed his inquiries.”

I like Jacobs’s writing but at times his voice gets monotonous. There is little variation in his characterization. If you’ve seen one of his sailor characters you’ve seen them all. Similarly if you’ve met one of his villagers you’ve met them all.

Most of the characters are not likeable. They are mostly obnoxious people who are out to make easy money, lie and cheat their way through life and are always trying to outwit everyone. I found reading about such people unpleasant.

I enjoyed The Lady of The Barge and Other Stories. Jacobs excels in the humour genre but his horror stories with their subtlety I found excellent. Recommended for lovers of classic works and short story enthusiasts. ( )
4 vote Porua | Oct 10, 2010 |
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He broke off and eyed with dignified surprise a fine piece of wireless telegraphy between husband and wife. It appeared that Mr. Negget sent off a humorous message with his left eye, the right being for some reason closed, to which Mrs. Negget replied with a series of frowns and staccato shakes of the head, which her husband found easily translatable. Under the austere stare of Mr. Bodfish their faces at once regained their wonted calm, and the ex-constable in a somewhat offended manner resumed his inquiries.
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