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Archived Group Reads 2015 > LASC - The Sphinx Without A Secret

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message 1: by Pip (last edited May 04, 2015 06:39AM) (new)

Pip | 817 comments Our third short story is very short, and is in fact subtitled "An Etching".

We've already briefly mentioned the themes of masks and public/private personae, and I think it telling that Wilde has this tendency to use pictorial references in his titles : The Picture of Dorian Gray; The Portrait of Mr WH and here in the subtitle.

Sphinx gives us another of Wilde's most famous quotations:

"...women are meant to be loved, not to be understood"

How do people feel about that personally, and how well is the assertion reflected in the development and dénouement of the story?


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments A very weird story, which I can't really make any sense of. Did Wilde give us a clue that I didn't see? Before he went to the house I suspected that she had an illegitimate child she had left in the care of somebody there, but apparently not so.

Is Wilde simply saying that women do things which are so illogical that mens' minds can't comprehend them?


message 3: by Diane (new)

Diane | 152 comments My impression was that she simply wanted to escape her normally restrictive life. Not that she did anything wild or crazy when she escaped, but just the fact that she got away for a while was enough.


message 4: by Jana (new)

Jana Eichhorn | 26 comments I'm with Everyman on this. I feel like I really missed something here. Possibly the first time that Wilde's ever left me with a "is that all?" feeling.


message 5: by Diane (new)

Diane | 152 comments So maybe I'm reading a bit of myself into the story.


Helen_in_the_uk | 109 comments Very strange! I don't know whether Wilde was trying to create a mystery out of nothing or whether Lady Alroy was trying to create some air of mystery in a boring life. Either way it did nothing for me.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Diane wrote: "My impression was that she simply wanted to escape her normally restrictive life. Not that she did anything wild or crazy when she escaped, but just the fact that she got away for a while was enough."

That's what I thought as well. Some people have habits that don't make a lot of sense, but it's done to fulfill some kind of vague emotional need.


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Diane wrote: "My impression was that she simply wanted to escape her normally restrictive life. Not that she did anything wild or crazy when she escaped, but just the fact that she got away for a while was enough."

But was her life really that restrictive? She goes to dinner parties, she goes to the Opera, she drives out, she has her own house, she apparently has enough money to live comfortably (and to pay rent for quarters she has no real need for). What's restrictive about all that? Why can't she go sit alone in a room in her house, which apparently she inhabits all alone?

It just doesn't make sense to me. Or, rather, the only sense the story make for me is that women act nonsensibly.


message 9: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1861 comments Mod
I didn't love it but I kinda like the idea that someone write a story about a character whose most interesting quality is that they have no interesting qualities. That the mystique which is embroidered around them takes on a life of its own. The public persona versus the private one.

I like the point that Deborah(?) made about the themes that run through these stories. The idea of portrait. Portrayal. The illusion versus the reality. And it does have deeper resonance when you have some knowledge of Wilde's life. But even without the really personal stuff, it's not hard to imagine what lengths some people go to in creating an image to put before the public eye.


message 10: by Diane (new)

Diane | 152 comments Everyman wrote: "It just doesn't make sense to me. Or, rather, the only sense the story makes for me is that women act non-sensibly. "

Maybe at times. And isn't that fun?


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Diane wrote: "Everyman wrote: "It just doesn't make sense to me. Or, rather, the only sense the story makes for me is that women act non-sensibly. "

Maybe at times. And isn't that fun?"


Being as how I'm a married man with two daughters, I think I'll duck that question.


message 12: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 923 comments Pip wrote: "Our third short story is very short, and is in fact subtitled "An Etching".

We've already briefly mentioned the themes of masks and public/private personae, and I think it telling that Wilde has ..."


A bit late to the discussion. It's definitely a very short story, and while Sphinx is indicated to have no mystery, she certainly is mysterious. We aren't given enough information to unravel the mystery. Maybe she escaped her life by hiring the sitting rooms. I like to think, and it's pure conjecture, that she was reading novels that others deemed inappropriate for women. The gothic sensationalist perhaps. I don't know why but this story made me smile even though I typically don't enjoy ambiguity.


message 13: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 923 comments Everyman wrote: "A very weird story, which I can't really make any sense of. Did Wilde give us a clue that I didn't see? Before he went to the house I suspected that she had an illegitimate child she had left in t..."

I don't believe Wilde indicates they are illogical, just not understood.


message 14: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 923 comments Everyman wrote: "Diane wrote: "My impression was that she simply wanted to escape her normally restrictive life. Not that she did anything wild or crazy when she escaped, but just the fact that she got away for a w..."

Let's see. What's restrictive - no money of your own (typically), no conversation with anyone unless fornally introduced, no right to votes or opinions, the job of being truly ornamentative. Maybe it's the world I live in now, but that certainly seems restrictive to me. Even women's clothing was restrictive.


message 15: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 923 comments There's so much we don't know about any of the characters, and I enjoyed that. Very strange reaction for me to have. The mystery of the woman is what intrigues the man. Yet that same mystery makes him so uncomfortable as to create mistrust in him. I feel like the woman is claiming a small piece of her life, just for her. Even modern women struggle and put their lives on hold for others. Victorian woman had little or no control over their lives. I guess I enjoyed the fact that she had something just for herself, and felt she didn't need to explain it to anybody else.

Of course, it can also be viewed as she had some secret which died with her. Was somebody in her household controlling her, hence the request not to send letters to her home address? The possibilities are really fairly open because oft the ambiguity.


message 16: by Diane (new)

Diane | 152 comments Deborah wrote: "There's so much we don't know about any of the characters, and I enjoyed that. Very strange reaction for me to have. The mystery of the woman is what intrigues the man. Yet that same mystery makes..."

That is exactly how I felt but you have expressed it so much more elegantly and articulately.


message 17: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 923 comments Diane wrote: "Deborah wrote: "There's so much we don't know about any of the characters, and I enjoyed that. Very strange reaction for me to have. The mystery of the woman is what intrigues the man. Yet that sa..."

Thanks Diane. I felt I wasn't being very clear. I'm glad it came across better than I thought.


message 18: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Winn | 61 comments I was intrigued by the way she was described, first by the narrator, who identifies her as a mystery before learning anything about his friend's situation, and compares her picture with Mona Lisa (portrait theme again). Lord M compares her with crystals and moonbeams; she wears grey, silver, and moonstones. I wondered if I was missing some symbolism, and found that moonstones, popular then, were associated with mystery (surprise:). It does feel as though she is cultivating an image, perhaps to fill an emptiness, as others have suggested. I wondered too if the grey clothing was the last stages of mourning.

Lord M, despite his desire to know her mystery, doesn't open her letter! Now that doesn't make sense:)


message 19: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1861 comments Mod
I like your interpretation, Deborah. I had the idea that she had deliberately cultivated the "mystery" for effect. Yours is much nicer.

And I agree, Vanessa, that is probably the weirdest part of the story. What does it say about him and any real interest he had in her?


message 20: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 923 comments Renee wrote: "I like your interpretation, Deborah. I had the idea that she had deliberately cultivated the "mystery" for effect. Yours is much nicer.

And I agree, Vanessa, that is probably the weirdest part of..."


Maybe by the time of the letter, he realized he was in love with the mystery and didn't want to taint his great love with reality.


message 21: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 923 comments Renee wrote: "I like your interpretation, Deborah. I had the idea that she had deliberately cultivated the "mystery" for effect. Yours is much nicer.

And I agree, Vanessa, that is probably the weirdest part of..."


Maybe by the time of the letter, he realized he was in love with the mystery and didn't want to taint his great love with reality.


message 22: by Peter (last edited May 08, 2015 07:18PM) (new)

Peter Deborah wrote: "Renee wrote: "I like your interpretation, Deborah. I had the idea that she had deliberately cultivated the "mystery" for effect. Yours is much nicer.

And I agree, Vanessa, that is probably the we..."


I like your comment that Gerald's idea of the mystery was such that it should not be tainted with reality. If we take that to be Gerald's point of view then it is interesting to also wonder what Lady Alroy's point of view/motivation was. Perhaps the answer is, as mentioned earlier, that she simply chose to lead a double life because she could financially. Lady Alroy wanted to have a public persona and a private persona. By travelling in a yellow cab she certainly was not wanting to blend in with her surroundings. When she assumes her other persona and becomes the woman who is "deeply veiled." Thus she chooses to be recognized or not.

Like the Sphinx, the mystery does not come from the Sphinx itself but rather from those who observe it and want to understand it.


message 23: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Deborah wrote: "Let's see. What's restrictive - no money of your own (typically), no conversation with anyone unless fornally introduced, no right to votes or opinions, the job of being truly ornamentative. Maybe it's the world I live in now, but that certainly seems restrictive to me. Even women's clothing was restrictive. "

Even if all true, and unmarried women, which I take it she was, did have control of their money unless it had been placed in trust or was only an annuity, how did she escape any of these by going off and sitting in the rented room? She still had no more control over her money, no conversation with anybody, no right to vote, nobody to express opinions to so it was no help to go there (indeed, at her house presumably she could express opinions to her staff if she wanted to), and she didn't, as far as we know, wear any different clothing there or become any less ornamentative (and since she had no husband, she had no obligation to be that unless she wanted to).

So I don't see how sitting in that set of rooms would have done anything to help her escape the restrictions of her life.


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Everyman wrote: "Deborah wrote: "Let's see. What's restrictive - no money of your own (typically), no conversation with anyone unless fornally introduced, no right to votes or opinions, the job of being truly ornam..."

Some people have habits that don't make sense to anyone but themselves. Logically, I also don't see how sitting in those rooms would help her. But maybe she created a fantasy in her mind, where her regular house was like some evil castle (even if she was treated well there), and those rooms were her retreat, where she could pretend she was a "heroine." It's fueled by emotional need, and maybe some other psychological factors.


message 25: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 923 comments Everyman wrote: "Deborah wrote: "Let's see. What's restrictive - no money of your own (typically), no conversation with anyone unless fornally introduced, no right to votes or opinions, the job of being truly ornam..."

She could do what she wanted without judgement


message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Deborah wrote: "She could do what she wanted without judgement "

Whatever floats her boat. But if sitting alone in rented rooms to avoid judgment is her idea of a good time, I can see why the story just didn't make sense to me.


message 27: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 923 comments Everyman wrote: "Deborah wrote: "She could do what she wanted without judgement "

Whatever floats her boat. But if sitting alone in rented rooms to avoid judgment is her idea of a good time, I can see why the sto..."


I don't know that I was very clear. If she felt she was in an oppressive atmosphere, possibly indicated by her not wanting mail sent to her home, sitting anywhere without that atmosphere would be a great relief. We are told she sat and read. Maybe she was reading those scandalous novels.


message 28: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Peter wrote: "Like the Sphinx, the mystery does not come from the Sphinx itself but rather from those who observe it and want to understand it. "

It's an interesting title, especially considering Lady Alroy is a widow. I gather in the myth of the Sphinx, it killed those who couldn't guess its riddle. It's also curious (and funny) that Lord Murchison, when he can only learn that she is widow with a nice house, doesn't want to hear the 'scientific bore' discuss widows' matrimonial survival. He doesn't want explanations.

To me there's a sense that she is trying to fulfill expectations of the time, of what was considered appealing. Perhaps her late husband is the man who appears to have her under his 'power'; she might be ambivalent about repeating marriage, if it ends the mystery. Maybe the house (and servants) remind her of him, and she needs escape from it. I enjoyed how much is open to speculation in this story.


message 29: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Deborah wrote: "I don't know that I was very clear."

I didn't think you were unclear.

In the end, her behavior makes sense to you and doesn't make sense to me.


message 30: by Brolie (new)

Brolie | 10 comments How many places can you go or how many people do you know who you can be completely and utterly yourself, your "alone" self? I know that it's exhausting to have to wear that mask that people expect all the time. It is a huge deal, sometimes, to just be allowed to be alone. Society has told us that's wrong though, or maybe someone told her that certain aspects of herself were unattractive, in turn making her ashamed of wanting two minutes to herself to just be herself. I can empathize.


message 31: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 923 comments Brolie wrote: "How many places can you go or how many people do you know who you can be completely and utterly yourself, your "alone" self? I know that it's exhausting to have to wear that mask that people expect..."

Me too Brodie.


message 32: by Rut (new)

Rut | 55 comments I did not know this other meaning of the word “Sphinx” until reading this story. I suppose, one who is a sphinx surely would be an interesting though lonely person, maybe. I also, wonder whether Lady Alroy kept those rooms just to have a place to think about her late husband without being disturbed. Maybe she just longed for some peace…


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