Analysis of Ella D’Arcy’s The Pleasure-Pilgrim

When Ella D’Arcy’s collection of short stories Monochromes, which includes “The Pleasure-Pilgrim,” was published in 1895, she was a fixture of the 1890s London literary scene. She was an editor of the provocative journal The Yellow Book and was compared favorably to writers such as Ethel Coburn Mayne, Joseph Conrad, and Henry James. “The Pleasure- Pilgrim” takes up the theme of the American girl abroad, which had been popularized by James in Daisy Miller, thus prompting a reviewer in the Chicago Tribune to accuse D’Arcy of knowing nothing about American girls.

In “The Pleasure-Pilgrim,” Campbell, an Englishman vacationing at Schloss Altenau (a German castle converted into a boardinghouse for tourists), meets Lulie Thayer, an American traveling with her female companion. Campbell is immediately drawn to Lulie, despite his misgivings about her frankness and apparent freedom. His friend Mayne, who is also staying at the Schloss, notices Campbell’s attraction to Lulie and informs him that Lulie is an egregious flirt and is considered an adventuress. He tells Campbell that he himself had once engaged in a flirtation with Lulie and that Lulie had sent her companion, Miss Dodge, to proposition him on Lulie’s behalf. To further his point, Mayne shows Campbell a beribboned stick—on the ribbon, he claims, are the names and dates of Lulie’s conquests.

Campbell becomes disillusioned with Lulie as a result of his conversation with Mayne. The next morning Miss Dodge assures Campbell that Lulie was speaking to him in earnest and that she is so upset by his coldness that she has taken ill. When Campbell relays this information to Mayne, Mayne cynically tells Campbell that Lulie is a consummate actress and is merely playing the part of a love-struck woman. Later Lulie, having recovered, asks Campbell whether he will at least accept her love even if he cannot return it and becomes vexed when Campbell tells her that he does not believe her feelings for him are genuine. Campbell admits that, in his view, genuine love is by nature passive; he moreover reveals to her his anxiety about her relationships with other men. Lulie tries to assure him that this is the first time she has ever been in love. Agitated, Lulie declares that she would rather die than suffer any more of Campbell’s rejections.

One rainy day, Lulie asks Campbell if he would like to shoot with her. She brings him her pistols and tells him that a crackshot rancher from Montana taught her how to use a gun. Campbell immediately becomes jealous, despite Lulie’s assurances that the rancher was not one of her romances. Lulie tries to explain to Campbell that her childhood, a gadabout existence without a stable home, is what has made her so unconventional. Campbell, however, keeps insisting that she is defiling the nature of love by her actions. He claims that if Lulie truly loved him as she says she does, she would be so disgusted by her past experiences with men that she would shoot herself. Lulie asks him if that gesture would finally convince him of her love and Campbell quickly says that it would. Lulie suddenly takes the pistol and fatally shoots herself. After the suicide, Miss Dodge tells Campbell that Lulie killed herself because she did not want to live without his love, while Mayne maintains that Lulie, the consummate actress, was simply ending her performance as the tragic lover.

“The Pleasure-Pilgrim” is an excellent example of both New Woman fiction and the transition to Modernism. Lulie is punished by both Campbell and Mayne for her supposed promiscuity, specifically by their conviction that a promiscuous woman cannot love genuinely. Lulie’s actions, moreover, are left deliberately ambiguous. We are never sure whether Mayne’s or Miss Dodge’s interpretation of Lulie’s suicide is correct. Is she a practiced adventuress, merely seeing Campbell as her latest conquest? Or is she a woman who loves Campbell so passionately that she cannot foresee living without him? D’Arcy raises many questions in this story concerning women’s sexuality and the disjuncture between the act of romance and the feelings that underscore it. This story is a criticism of Victorian men’s fears of sexual, independent women; also implicit, however, is a criticism of the New Woman’s inability to love in a way that will lead to a happy resolution.

D’Arcy, Ella. Monochromes. London: John Lane, 1895.
Maier, Sarah E. “Subverting the Ideal: The New Woman and the Battle of the Sexes in the Short Fiction of Ella D’Arcy,” Victorian Review 20 (1994): 35–48.
Windholz, Anne M. “The Woman Who Would Be Editor: Ella D’Arcy and the Yellow Book,” Victorian Periodicals Review 29 (1996): 116–130.

Categories: British Literature, Literature, Short Story

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: