A Second-rate Woman

(notes edited by John McGivering)


This story was first published in The Week’s News on 8 September 1888. It was the fifth story in Under the Deodars (No. 4 in the Indian Railway Library, in the same year). It was collected in the first edition of Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories in 1890 and in numerous editions thereafter.

The Story

Mrs Hauksbee and Mrs Mallowe are gossiping as usual about life and love and flirtations in Simla. They are intrigued by Mrs Delville; she is dowdy, languid-voiced, and ill-dressed, in every way appearing second-rate, who nonethless – rather tiresomely – seems to have the knack of attracting men. Then Mrs Delville surprises them, first by sending one man packing in no uncertain terms because he had paid court to her without admitting he was married. Then, when a child is dying of diphtheria, she saves its life, bravely and decisively. Mrs Hauksbee is confounded: “They ought to build her a statue – only no sculptor dare copy those skirts.

Some critical opinions

Strangely enough, this story has been little noticed by the commentators and critics, despite the gripping events that appear in what begins as a conversation between two bored women with nothing better to do !
Dr Tompkins, however, ( p. 233/4) compares Mrs Delville to “Mrs Bathurst” in Traffics and Discoveries, who she describes as “…the vessel of a power whose effects can go counter to her willed character and her natural kindness”. See also the notes on “A Wayside Comedy” earlier in this volume, where Philip Mason is quoted, making very much the same point.