"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Friday, May 13, 2022

"The Trumpet Shall Sound" by Sylvia Townsend Warner

In the uncertain hour before the morning

    Near the ending of interminable night

    At the recurrent end of the unending

After the dark dove with the flickering tongue

    Had passed below the horizon of his homing

    While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin….

– "Little Gidding

*   *   *

"The Trumpet Shall Sound" by Sylvia Townsend Warner makes a dizzying circle around the pinched lives of its mainly women protagonists during the second world war. Three sisters react to and comment upon changing mores: some more tolerant than others while clinging to the wreckage.

While the story is told in third-person, the main point of view character is the unbending Mrs. Mullen. The story takes place the day of brother Dick's funeral and burial.

....The spring sunshine shone full into the front room. There was a fire burning too, the room was very warm. But Cathie kept on shivering and pulling up the collar of her coat. Not tired enough, thought Mrs Mullen. If Dick had been brought home to die the nursing and the running about and the sitting up and one thing and another would have knocked the nerves and the shivers out of her, left her in the right frame of mind to appreciate the repose of a funeral. These young women who thought they were making things so much easier for themselves, small families, bakers' bread, nowadays not even the whites boiled, were making a great mistake. If you'd got to be a woman it was better to be an old-fashioned woman, with plenty of work to keep your mind off it.

At the cemetery, a family named Blackbones arrives to pay respects. 

     'I've never heard of such a thing. After the way Mrs Dodger walked off with our Aunt Mabel's furniture, and Dick never getting as much as a teaspoon, and all of us knowing he was her favourite nephew. Cathie! What are those Blackbones doing at your father's funeral?'

     'Well, I suppose they are coming too, Aunt Lot.' 

     'My word! And is that all you can do about it?' 

     'Well, what can I do?' 

     'Did you know they were coming?'      Ramona came stare-eyed and assertive out of her doze. 

      'Why shouldn't they come, Mrs Mullen? It's Uncle Dick's funeral, I suppose.'

The ceaseless, roiling use of humor to undercut pomposity and small-mindedness is the chief pleasure of "The Trumpet Shall Sound." 

In the end, before Mrs. Mullen can forgive the Blackbones for their past offenses, the Luftwaffe intervenes to stay her hand. 


"The Trumpet Shall Sound" 

From: The Penguin Book of the British Short Story Volume 2 (2016)

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