The Tragedy of Imelda's Terminal Silence in William Trevor's Fools of Fortune

By Russell, Richard Rankin | Papers on Language & Literature, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

The Tragedy of Imelda's Terminal Silence in William Trevor's Fools of Fortune


Russell, Richard Rankin, Papers on Language & Literature


The concluding terse scene of William Trevor's Big House (1) novel, Fools of Fortune (1983), portrays the return of Willie Quinn to the remnants of his ancestral home Kilneagh in County Cork, Ireland, burnt by British Black and Tan soldiers some 60 years before. Many members of Quinn's family died in the fire, and he murdered the ringleader of the killers, a man named Rudkin, as an act of revenge. He has been in self-imposed exile since then. Imelda, whom he fathered with his cousin, Marianne, has come to live with her mother in the house but has been mute since she was a child. Willie's return to Kilneagh after years on the run should be triumphant, or at least happy, but it is not. This critically misunderstood final scene focuses on Imelda's silence, which is overpowering. Her mute suffering is the final chapter in the decline of this Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy family and constitutes Trevor's critique of the evils of cyclical, transgenerational violence in Ireland. Her silence, however, has been wrongly read as positive, even redemptive and saintly, a reading that fails to understand the causes of her suffering and Trevor's conception of evil, a power that can be broken only through forgiveness, as shown in the short story "Attracta" that inspired Fools of Fortune and serves as a helpful contrast to the novel. The other factors that suggest Imelda's unhappiness and the lack of a meaningfully consoling conclusion involve a realization of the community's and her parents' perverse mythologizing project that makes her a veritable saint and the tragic structural trajectory of the novel toward silence.

Imelda has become mute because her seemingly heartless mother has told her of past atrocities at the house that eventually overwhelm the child and render her permanently, though vicariously, traumatized. (2) She has also eavesdropped on a number of conversations about her itinerant father and has been told by the maid Philomena how Rudkin was murdered with a knife. (3) On a number of occasions, Imelda sees the atrocities that have been committed in the past at Kilneagh. One of these vicarious, imagined, but searingly real flashbacks occurs at the conclusion of the first chapter of Imelda's first section in the novel: "Imelda closed her eyes. Pictures slipped about. The flames devoured the flesh of the children's faces and the flesh of their arms and of their legs, of their stomachs and their backs" (159). Gradually, she succumbs to a mental life composed of meditations on the violent acts committed at Kilneagh: "More and more her reveries claimed her in the classroom or when she wandered about the fields or during the Sunday-evening anthems, or in bed. It was a habit she'd got into, like reading her mother's diaries, and listening" (168-69). Other chapters in this first section on Imelda also end disturbingly with more of her vivid imaginings of the atrocities committed at the house. For example, chapter three concludes with her visualizing the aftermath of the murder after reading a newspaper account of it: "She imagined the head, its weight tearing the flesh that still attached it to the body. She imagined the eyes and the mouth, and the body twitching the way she'd seen a turkey's once, for nearly a minute after death" (172). Imelda's imaginative immersion in the violence of the past finally traumatizes her to such a degree that she becomes silent, a mute, vicarious "witness" of sorts to atrocities associated with Kilneagh.

The final, two-page section of the novel opens bucolically with Imelda's parents walking past the mulberry trees at Kilneagh, talking mostly about their former classmates, but, significantly, "They do not speak of other matters" (191). The tragedies of the past are too much to even be articulated, and, as the passage that immediately follows this one indicates, these horrors have literally become embodied in the silent Imelda. Her supposed happiness is just as false as her "face [which is] meticulously made up" (191), which belies the fact that she is now middle-aged:

Imelda does not speak at all, nor ever wishes to [. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Tragedy of Imelda's Terminal Silence in William Trevor's Fools of Fortune
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.