Adventures in Reading

Roald Dahl & A Curious Singularity

I was quite pleased when I stumbled onto the group blog A Curious Singularity, which explores one short story a month. As of April 15th, discussion is focused on Roald Dahl’s “The Way up to Heaven” and I have weighed in. And for a clickless examination:

When I came to the final lines of “The Way up to Heaven” by Roald Dahl I admit I gave a great yelp that startled my boyfriend on the other end of the house. To say the least, I had not seen the conclusion coming. “The Way up to Heaven” looks at the relationship of a somewhat neurotic older woman and her frightful husband. She is terrified of being late and he seems to rather plague her condition, and the morning of her flight to Paris offers a perfect moment for observation.

As someone who often frets about running late, I identified with Mrs. Foster from the start but it is complete credit to Dahl who builds the anxiety and stress in the story. As Mrs. Foster paces the hall and pesters the butler Walker for the time I felt the impatience rising and figuratively stamped my foot and wondered: “Where the hell are you Mr. Foster?” When Mr. Foster arrives, the contrast between him and his wife contributes further to the story: Mrs. Foster is very much a small and fretful sparrow bobbing around and Mr. Foster is perfectly described as “like a squirrel standing there – a quick clever old squirrel from the Park.”

Mr. Foster antagonizes the situation as he seemingly goes out of his way to upset his wife. Though Mrs. Foster doesn’t allow herself to believe that the man “consciously torment[s] her,” she finally the second day she is meant to catch the plane after a delayed flight. After repetitive haranguing Mrs. Foster acts in a supposed passive aggressive nature as she urges the chauffeur to leave for the airport without her husband.

Perhaps though as with the often used caricature of the absent minded and oblivious husband, Mr. Foster is earnestly unaware of his wife’s “pathological fear.” While abundant textual evidence exists to disagree, Dahl does ensure the tantalizing suggestion that perhaps Mr. Foster is innocent. Mr. Foster is described as having “a right to be irritated by this foolishness” or that “it is by no means certain that this is what he did” and even a parenthetical reference of “(though one cannot be sure).” While all other evidence leads to a contrary belief, Dahl does ensure some seeds of doubt leading up to Mrs. Foster’s action.

Regardless of Mr. Foster’s nature, the end of the story clearly marks Mrs. Foster’s intent. While what early on appears as a passive aggressive abandoning of her husband evolves into a rather calculated and monstrous conclusion. I didn’t gain the full effect until my second reading but after this act her voice becomes authoritative and her mouth hardens. During her stay in Paris she feels “remarkably strong” and “wonderful.” While Mrs. Foster cannot be positive of the outcome until her return the reoccurring remark of “‘Now be sure to take your meals regularly, dear, although this is something I’m afraid you may not be doing when I’m not with you’” that concludes her letters reeks of dark humor.

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