Short story: “The White Cat”

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“The White Cat,” by Marjorie Sandor

From Fairy Tale Review, the Blue Issue, 2005, page 56 (download the PDF here); also collected in The Late Interiors and anthologized in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father She Ate Me

863 words

This is a remarkably brief and memorable short story. When I first read it, I wasn’t even aware of the original “White Cat,” by Madame D’Aulnoy, which supplies the background of the plot. What stuck in my mind was the sense of urgency and betrayal and loss.

Rereading the story now, I’m still not sure what it means. The ending reminds me of a popular interpretation of—I’ve forgotten what fairy tale it was—an interpretation in which the trapped princess symbolizes the soul, which must be discovered, rescued, and woken by the prince (who of course stands for the conscious mind). D’Aulnoy’s story ends with a conventional “rescue” and marriage. In Sandor’s version, the “rescue” is hinted at and then deferred indefinitely. Gone is any suggestion that the white cat might be transformed into an acceptable bride; she remains an animal, apparently mute, trapped in a hidden world. The narrator, whose loyalties seem torn, implies that the man/prince’s true happy ending is incompatible with his real life, or at least with the expectations of society.

I’m fascinated by powerful fiction that emphasizes narration over scene. I don’t see much of it. (Maybe because most sources of writing advice push “show don’t tell” pretty hard—at least, advice for beginners.) Sometimes narration gets its power from the sheer charm of the voice, but I don’t think that’s the appeal here, or in more traditional fairy tales either. The plot and the atmosphere are enough.

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