The Story of Lucy Gault

The Story of Lucy Gault

by William Trevor

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Overview

"The Story of Lucy Gault . . . once read, will never be forgotten."—The Washington Post Book World

"Trevor was our twentieth century Chekov."—Wall Street Journal

The stunning novel from highly acclaimed author William Trevor is a brilliant, subtle, and moving story of love, guilt, and forgiveness. The Gault family leads a life of privilege in early 1920s Ireland, but the threat of violence leads the parents of nine-year-old Lucy to decide to leave for England, her mother's home. Lucy cannot bear the thought of leaving Lahardane, their country house with its beautiful land and nearby beach, and a dog she has befriended. On the day before they are to leave, Lucy runs away, hoping to convince her parents to stay. Instead, she sets off a series of tragic misunderstandings that affect all of Lahardane's inhabitants for the rest of their lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142003312
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 246,207
Product dimensions: 5.05(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.45(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

William Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, and spent his childhood in provincial Ireland. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin. He is the author of twenty-nine books, including Felicia’s Journey, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and was made into a motion picture, and The Story of Lucy Gault, which was shortlisted for both the Man Booker Prize and the Whitbread Fiction Prize. In 1996 he was the recipient of the Lannan Award for Fiction. In 2001, he won the Irish Times Literature Prize for fiction. Two of his books were chosen by The New York Times as best books of the year, and his short stories appeared regularly in The New Yorker. In 1997, he was named Honorary Commander of the British Empire.

Hometown:

Devon, England

Date of Birth:

May 24, 1928

Place of Birth:

Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland

Education:

Trinity College, Dublin, 1950

Read an Excerpt

The Story of Lucy Gault


By William Trevor

Wheeler Publishing

Copyright © 2003 William Trevor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1587243814

Chapter One

Captain Everard Gault wounded the boy in the right shoulder on the night of June the twenty-first, nineteen twenty-one. Aiming above the trespassers' heads in the darkness, he fired the single shot from an upstairs window and then watched the three figures scuttling off, the wounded one assisted by his companions.

They had come to fire the house, their visit expected because they had been before. On that occasion they had come later, in the early morning, just after one. The sheepdogs had seen them off, but within a week the dogs lay poisoned in the yard and Captain Gault knew that the intruders would be back. 'We're stretched at the barracks, sir,' Sergeant Talty had said when he came out from Enniseala. 'Oh, stretched shocking, Captain.' Lahardane wasn't the only house under threat; every week somewhere went up, no matter how the constabulary were spread. 'Please God, there'll be an end to it,' Sergeant Talty said, and went away. Martial law prevailed, since the country was in a state of unrest, one that amounted to war. No action was taken about the poisoning of the dogs.

When daylight came on the morning after the shooting, blood could be seen on the sea pebbles of the turn-around in front of the house. Two petrol tins were found behind a tree. The pebbles were raked, acouple of bucketfuls that had been discoloured in the accident taken away.

Captain Gault thought it would be all right then: a lesson had been learnt. He wrote to Father Morrissey in Enniseala, asking him to pass on his sympathy and his regret if the priest happened to hear who it was who'd been wounded. He had not sought to inflict an injury, only to make it known that a watch was being kept. Father Morrissey wrote back. He was always the wild one in that family, he concluded his comments on the event, but there was an awkwardness about his letter, about the choice of phrases and of words, as if the found it difficult to comment on what had occurred, as if he didn't understand that neither death nor injury had been intended. He had passed the message on, he wrote, but no acknowledgement had come back from the family he referred to.

Captain Gault had been wounded himself. For six years, since he had come back an invalid from the trenches, he had carried fragments of shrapnel in his body, and they would always be there now. His injury at that time had brought his military career to an end: he would remain for ever a captain, which was intensely a disappointment, since he had always imagined achieving much higher rank. But he was not, in other ways, a disappointed man. There was the great solace of his happy marriage, of the child his wife, Heloise, had borne him, of his house. There was no other place he might more happily have lived than beneath the slated roof of its three grey storeys, the stone softened by the white woodwork of the windows and the delicate fanlight above a white hall door. Flanking it on its right was the wide high archway of a cobbled yard, with cobbled passageways leading to an apple orchard and a garden. One half of the circle on to which the front rooms looked out was the gravel sweep; the other was a raised lawn that was separated from steeply rising woods by a curve of blue hydrangeas. The upstairs rooms at the back had a view of the sea as far as the sea's horizon.

The origins of the Gaults in Ireland had centuries ago misted over. Previously of Norfolk-so it was believed within the family, although without much certainty-they had settled first of all in the far western reaches of County Cork. A soldier of fortune had established their modest dynasty, lying low there for reasons that were not known. Some time in the early eighteenth century the family had moved east, respectable and well-to-do by then, one son or another of each generation continuing the family's army connection. The land at Lahardane was purchased; the building of the house began. The long, straight avenue was made, lines of chestnut trees planted along it on either side, the woodlands of the glen laid out. Later generations planted the orchard, with stock from County Armagh; the garden, kept small, was created bit by bit. In 1769 Lord Townshend, the Lord Lieutenant, stayed at Lahardane; in 1809 Daniel O'Connell did when there wasn't a bedroom unoccupied at the Smarts' Dromana. History touched the place in that way; but as well-remembered, as often talked about, were births and marriages and deaths, domestic incidents, changes and additions to this room or that, occasions of anger or reconciliation. Suffering a stroke, a Gault in 1847 lay afflicted for three years yet not insensible. There was a disastrous six months of card-playing in 1872 during which field after field was lost to the neighbouring O'Reillys. There was the diphtheria outbreak that spread so rapidly and so tragically in 1901, sparing only the present Everard Gault and his brother in a family of five. Above the writing-desk in the drawing-room there was a portrait of a distant ancestor whose identity had been unknown for as long as anyone of the present could remember: a spare, solemn countenance where it was not whiskered, blue unemphatic eyes. It was the only portrait in the house, although since photography had begun there were albums that included the images of relatives and friends as well as those of the Gaults of Lahardane.

All this-the house and the remnants of the pasture land, the seashore below the pale clay cliffs, the walk along it to the fishing village of Kilauran, the avenue over which the high branches of the chestnut trees now met-was as much part of Everard Gault as the features of his face were, the family traits that quite resembled a few of those in the drawing-room portrait, the smooth dark hair. Tall and straight-backed, a man who hid nothing of himself, slight in his ambitions now, he had long ago accepted that his destiny was to keep in good heart what had been his inheritance, to attract bees to his hives, to root up his failing apple trees and replace them. He swept the chimneys of his house himself, could repoint its mortar and replace its window glass. Creeping about on its roof, he repaired in the lead the small perforations that occurred from time to time, the Seccotine he squeezed into them effective for a while.

In many of these tasks he was assisted by Henry, a slow-moving, heavily made man who rarely, in daytime, removed the hat from his head. Years ago Henry had married into the gate-lodge, of which he and Bridget were now the sole occupants, since no children had been born to them and Bridget's parents were no longer alive. Her father, with two men under him, had looked after the horses and seen to all that Henry on his own now saw to in the yard and the fields. Her mother had worked in the house, her grandmother before that. Bridget was as thickset as her husband, with strong wide shoulders and a capable manner: the kitchen was wholly in her charge. The bedroom maid, Kitty Teresa, assisted Heloise Gault in what had once been the duties of several indoor servants; old Hannah walked over from Kilauran once a week to wash the clothes and sheets and tablecloths, and to scrub the tiles of the hall and the stone floors at the back. The style of the past was no longer possible at Lahardane. The long avenue passed through the land that had become the O'Reillys' at the card table, when the Gaults of that time had been left with pasture enough only to support a modest herd of Friesians.

Three days after the shooting in the night Heloise Gault read the letter that had come from Father Morrissey, then turned it over and read it again. She was a slender, slightly built woman in her late thirties, her long fair hair arranged in a style that complemented her features, imbuing a demure beauty with a hint of severity that was constantly contradicted by her smile. But her smile had not been much in evidence since the night she had been woken by a shot.

Even though in the ordinary run of things she was not pusillanimous, Heloise Gault felt frightened. She, too, came of an army family and had taken it in her stride when, a few years before her marriage, she was left almost alone in the world on the death of her mother, who had been widowed during the war with the Boers. Courage came naturally to her in times of upheaval or grief, but was not as generously there as she imagined it would be when she reflected upon the attempt to burn down the house she and her child and her maid had been asleep in. There'd been, as well, the poisoning of the dogs and the unanswered message to the young man's family, the blood on the pebbles. 'I'm frightened, Everard,' she confessed at last, no longer keeping her feelings private.

They knew each other well, the Captain and his wife. They had in common a certain way of life, an order of priorities and concerns. Their shared experience of death when they were young had drawn them close and in their marriage had made precious for them the sense of family that the birth of a child allowed. Heloise had once assumed that other children would be born to her, and still had not abandoned hope that one more at least might be. But in the meanwhile she was so convincingly persuaded by her husband that the lack of a son to inherit Lahardane was not a failure on her part that she experienced-and more and more as her only child grew up-gratitude for the solitary birth and for a trinity sustained by affection.

'It's not like you to be frightened, Heloise.'

'All this has happened because I'm here. Because I am an English wife at Lahardane.'

She it was, Heloise insisted, who drew attention to the house, but her husband doubted it. He reminded her that what had been attempted at Lahardane was part of a pattern that was repeated all over Ireland. The nature of the house, the possession of land even though it had dwindled, the family's army connection, would have been enough to bring that trouble in the night. And he had to admit that the urge to cause destruction, whatever its origin, could not be assumed to have been stifled by the stand he'd taken. For some time afterwards Everard Gault slept in the afternoon and watched by night; and although no one disturbed his vigil, this concern with protection, and his wife's apprehension, created in the household further depths of disquiet, a nerviness that affected everyone, including in the end the household's child.


* * *

Still eight but almost nine, Lucy had made friends that summer with the O'Reillys' dog. A big, frolicsome animal-half setter, half retriever-it had crept into the O'Reillys' yard a month or so ago, having wandered from a deserted house - so Henry's guess was-and been accepted after some hostility by the O'Reillys' working dogs. Henry said it was a useless creature, Lucy's papa that it was a nuisance, particularly the way it scrambled down the cliffs to offer its company to whoever might be on the strand. The O'Reillys had given the dog no name and would hardly have noticed-so Henry said-if it had wandered off again. When Lucy and her papa had their early-morning swim, her papa always sent it back when he saw it bounding over the shingle. Lucy thought that hard, but did not say so; nor did she reveal that when she bathed by herself-which was forbidden-the nameless dog blustered excitedly about at the edge of the sea, which it did not ever enter, and sometimes ran about with one of her sandals in its mouth. It was an old dog, Henry said, but in Lucy's company on the strand it became almost a puppy again, eventually lying down exhausted, its long pink tongue lolling from its jaws. Once she couldn't find the sandal it had been playing with, although she spent all morning searching. She had to root out an old pair from the bottom of her clothes-press and hope no one would notice, which no one did.

When the Lahardane sheepdogs were poisoned Lucy suggested that this dog should be a replacement for one of them, since it had never really become the O'Reillys'; but the suggestion met with no enthusiasm and within a week Henry began to train two sheepdog pups that a farmer near Kilauran had let him have at a bargain price. Although devoted to both her parents-to her father for his usually easygoing ways, to her mother for her gentleness and her beauty - Lucy was cross with them that summer because they didn't share her affection for the O'Reillys' dog, and cross with Henry because he didn't either: all that, in retrospect, was what that summer should have left behind, and would have if there hadn't been the trouble in the night.

Lucy wasn't told about it. Failing to rouse her from sleep, her father's single shot became, in a dream, the crack of a branch giving way to the wind; and Henry had said that the sheepdogs must have gone on to poisoned land. But as the weeks went on, the summer began to feel different, and eavesdropping became the source of her information.

'It'll quieten,' her papa said. 'There's talk of a truce even now.'

'The trouble will go on, truce or not. You can tell it will. You can feel it. We can't be protected, Everard.'

Listening in the hall, Lucy heard her mama suggest that maybe they should go, that maybe they had no choice. She didn't understand what was meant by that, or what it was that would quieten. She moved closer to the slightly open door because the voices were lower than they had been.

'We have to think of her, Everard.'

'I know.'

And in the kitchen Bridget said:

'The Morells have gone from Clashmore.'

'I heard.' Henry's slow enunciation reached Lucy in the dog passage, which was what the passage that led from the kitchen to the back door was called. 'I heard that all right.'

'Past seventy they are now.'

Henry said nothing for a moment, then remarked that at times like these the worst was always assumed, the benefit of any doubt going the wrong way in any misfortune there'd be. The Gouvernets had gone from Aglish, he said, the Priors from Ringville, the Swifts, the Boyces. Everywhere, what you heard about was the going.

Lucy understood then. She understood the 'deserted house' the nameless dog had wandered from. She imagined furniture and belongings left behind, for that had been spoken of too. Understanding, she ran from the passage, not minding that her footsteps were heard, not minding that the door to the yard banged loudly, that hearing it they would know she'd been listening. She ran into the woods, down to the stream, where only a few days ago she had helped her papa to put in place a line of crossing stones. They were going to leave Lahardane-the glen and the woods and the seashore, the flat rocks where the shrimp pools were, the room she woke up in, the chatter of the hens in the yard, the gobbling of the turkeys, her footsteps the first marks on the sand when she walked to Kilauran to school, the seaweed hung up to tell the weather.



Continues...


Excerpted from The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor Copyright © 2003 by William Trevor. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"One of Trevor's finest works . . . Few living writers are capable of such mournful depth as William Trevor, and here he has given us an evensong to time itself." (The Boston Globe)

"Mr. Trevor's pure observation and transparent prose should shame other writers." (New York Sun)

"The Story of Lucy Gault . . . once read, will never be forgotten." (The Washington Post Book World)

"Beautifully drawn and revelatory. Beautifully drawn and revelatory." (Harper's Magazine)

"Beautiful and devastating . . . Trevor has once again captured the terrible beauty of Ireland's fate, and the fate of us all-at the mercy of history, circumstance, and the vicissitudes of time." (Alice McDermott, The Atlantic Monthly)

From the award-winning author of Felicia's Journey and My House in Umbria, a new novel that "may well be his masterpiece." (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

William Trevor has long been regarded as one of Ireland's most evocative writers, a prose stylist of the highest order with a Chekhovian awareness of the emotional undercurrents of his characters' lives. And in The Story of Lucy Gault, Trevor lives up to, perhaps even surpasses, that reputation in a novel that explores the tragic consequences for one family of Ireland's deep-seated political strife.

The Story of Lucy Gault is set in provincial Ireland in the early 1920s at the height of civil turmoil and anti-English violence. Everard Gault, a retired Anglo-Irish army captain married to an Englishwoman, shoots and wounds one of the boys who has come in the night to set their house afire. This act sets in motion a chain of events that are to have grievous effects on the Gault family. Convinced their attackers will return, Everard and Heloise decide they must leave Ireland. But their daughter Lucy, heartbroken at such a prospect, runs away. When some of her clothes are found by the ocean shore, her parents assume she has committed suicide. In their grief they decide to travel, aimlessly at first, before settling in Italy and then Switzerland, losing touch entirely with Ireland. They remain unaware that Lucy did not die but has lived out the years waiting for their return, unable to forgive herself for her youthful recklessness. And, indeed, the problem of forgiveness lies at the heart of The Story of Lucy Gault—forgiveness for the act of terror that drove the family away, for Everard and Heloise's mistaken conclusion that their daughter had drowned, and for all the words left unspoken that might have changed their fates.

With a subtlety and emotional insight rarely matched in contemporary fiction, The Story of Lucy Gault follows the inexorable unfolding of a few chance events that alter the lives of a family and unforgettably illuminate the contours of the human condition.

 


ABOUT WILLIAM TREVOR

William Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, in 1928, and spent his childhood in provincial Ireland. Among his books are Two Lives, My House in Umbria, The Collected Stories, Felicia's Journey,After Rain, Death in Summer, and The Hill Bachelors. He is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters and lives in Devon, England.

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • The Story of Lucy Gault is as much about what doesn't happen, or what almost happens, as what does. Lahardane is almost set afire, Lucy comes close to marrying Ralph, Everard writes letters to Ireland but does not send them. What other instances reveal the significance of things not happening? Is the novel saying that what we do not do shapes our lives as much as what we do do?
     
  • What role does chance play in the novel? What crucial turning points are brought about by chance occurrences? Does this preponderance of chance events suggest the hand of fate directing the characters' lives, or rather a meaningless randomness, the absence of fate?
     
  • Lucy blames herself, her rash decision to run away, for her parents' leaving; her parents blame themselves for not being more sensitive and honest with their daughter. "We told her lies," Everard says (p. 31). How should the blame be apportioned between Lucy and her parents? To what extent are larger historical and political forces to blame for what happens to the Gault family?
     
  • Lucy's mother and father conclude that Lucy is dead when they find some of her clothes along the ocean's shore. What are the tragic consequences of this misreading? Why aren't they able to search the woods, to think of other possibilities? What is the novel saying about the role of misinterpretation in our lives?
     
  • Why does Lucy reject Ralph's impassioned marriage proposals? What are the consequences of this rejection, for her and for Ralph? Was she mistaken to turn Ralph down, or was her rejection her only real option, given her peculiar history, her character, and the circumstances of her life?
     
  • Heloise Gault imagines uncovering her feelings to her husband: "She heard her voice apologizing, and talking then of all she didn't want to talk about; before she closed her eyes she found the sentences came quite easily. But when she slept, and woke after a few minutes, she heard herself saying she couldn't have that conversation and knew that she was right" (p. 84). Why can't she have that conversation? How might it have helped her? Where else in the novel does the inability to communicate openly and directly have disastrous consequences?
     
  • Why does Lucy visit Horahan, the man who as a boy helped set in motion the events that caused so much pain, after he's gone insane and been confined to the asylum? Are her visits an act of forgiveness? What effect do these visits have on Horahan? On Lucy herself?
     
  • In retelling the story of the Gault family, travelers and people in the surrounding towns embellish the narrative. "In talk inspired by what was told, the subtleties that clogged the narrative were smudged away. The spare reality of what had happened was coloured and enriched, and altogether made better. The journey the stricken parents had set out upon became a pilgrimage, absolution sought for sins that varied in the telling" (p. 70). What are the subtleties that clog the narrative? Is the parents' journey a kind of pilgrimage? Have they sinned? Why are subtleties so important in truly understanding a story?
     
  • Compared to much contemporary fiction, The Story of Lucy Gault is an uneventful, quiet book. How does it achieve such power in the absence of dramatic action? How does Trevor draw out the spiritual implications of his story? What are those implications?
     
  • At the end of the novel, the nuns visit Lucy, drawn by her extraordinary peacefulness. "Her tranquility is their astonishment... Calamity shaped a life when, long ago, chance was so cruel. Calamity shapes the story that is told, and is the reason for its being: is what they know, besides, the gentle fruit of such misfortunes' harvest? They like to think so...." (p. 224). Are the nuns right in sensing a transcendent calm in Lucy? If so, how has she achieved this peace? Can her life be said to have been, on balance, a good life?

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