As a girl in 1920s Prague, Edith Templeton caused a scandal by writing a school essay about how well-heated her private academy was--during a coal strike. This turned out to be a predictive event: Templeton's fiction illuminates the political by way of the intensely personal. In the title story of the exquisite collection The Darts of Cupid
, a young woman's love affair is shaped by the tragedies of World War II. (This particular piece is so personal that upon its 1968 publication in The New Yorker
, it made history as the most explicit story ever published by that magazine.) Templeton's stories are filled with acid-tongued girls, cynical older men, and frighteningly acute observations, such as "malice is the luxury of underlings." Bitterly funny and steeped in modern history, The Darts of Cupid
places Templeton squarely in the company of Maeve Brennan and Sybille Bedford. These recently rediscovered midcentury women writers made unflinching fiction. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
Rain dripping on cobblestones, the strains of violins in cafes, sexual games concealed beneath sophisticated conversation this is the European atmosphere of these seven exquisite stories by Prague-born Templeton, still active at 85. Though her characterizations are as sharp as her vision, she is a tantalizingly enigmatic storyteller, and the delicate tales on display in this first collection of her work gracefully evade categorization. In "Equality Cake," a woman revisits the Prague castle where she had grown up, and the effect is appropriately Kafkaesque: the Communist government has reversed the shabby gentility she recalled and restored it to a beauty she has never seen. The long title story was published in 1968 in the New Yorker, where her work had been appearing since the '50s, and achieved notoriety for its frank sexuality, although it is tame by current standards. The heroine is employed in a medical office of the U.S. Army in London and has a one-night sexual encounter with a married major, without further consequence. Though the story's gossiping women respond with giggles to teasing at the hands of male superior officers, they slyly "reveled in the knowledge that it is embarrassing for a man to be the head of a female staff." In other stories, sex, however brutal, is only implied, as when a mentally disturbed in-law attempts to rape the heroine, but clumsily breaks one of her ribs ("The Blue Hour"). And in "Nymph & Faun," an older widow disposes of unwanted possessions long stored, at one point observing, "Marriage is the tomb of love." These are elegantly written stories, small gems each.
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