By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Patrick deWitt
Narration by: Simon Prebble
Human lust and love simmer in “Undermajordomo Minor”. From a male’s point of view, Patrick deWitt has written a fantasy about an ancient time of castles, counts, and countesses reflecting on lust and love through the ages. The story suggests men are liars, and women are enablers; with the sexes meeting in lust and, at least in one case, growing into love.
The main character is a man named Lucy. Listeners meet Lucy as an unloved child nearing death. Lucy is visited on what appears to be his deathbed by a mysterious stranger that asks him what he wants out of life. Lucy says he wants something different. The stranger nods his head and leaves his bedside. The next day Lucy feels better but his father rapidly deteriorates and dies. His mother believes her husband’s death is related to Lucy’s recovery. Never having shown much love to Lucy, she treats Lucy as a tenant more than a son.
Lucy grows into manhood as deWitt offers pictures of Lucy’s life. DeWitt tells a story of Lucy’s relationship with a young woman near his own age. The young woman is Lucy’s introduction to lust. After a time, the passion of their conjugal pairing diminishes and the young woman moves on. She becomes engaged to another man who is bigger and stronger than Lucy. In the meantime, Lucy seeks counsel of a local priest about the visitation he had at his bedside when he was nearing death. The priest discounts the visitation but takes enough interest in Lucy to send a letter to possible employers to recommend Lucy for a job. Only one employer responds. Lucy accepts because it is something different.
As Lucy is leaving his mother’s house, he chances to meet his former lover. Lucy slyly explains that her handsome strapping young fiancé is secretly engaged to another woman in a neighboring town. This is a lie delivered with such sincerity that the young woman leaves with a belief she has been misled by her chosen mate. In this brief interlude, a listener/reader forms a guarded opinion of Lucy. Lucy seems a liar and a less than decent, and somewhat cowardly, human being. That assessment is reinforced when he boards the train; seeing his former lover and her fiancé coming toward him on the train platform. Lucy shudders with fear. Lucy escapes the confrontation but the reader/listener’s guarded opinion hardens to amused dislike.
A strange castle, which is Lucy’s destination, seems straight out of Edgar Allen Poe. Upon arrival, Lucy meets an extremely handsome soldier. Lucy asks the soldier about the castle. The soldier ridicules Lucy and then takes his money. The extremely handsome soldier becomes an important character in Lucy’s supernatural life.
The bereft Lucy proceeds to the front door of the castle. The castle’s owner is a mysterious unseen presence. Lucy arrives to meet the owner’s castle keeper. The castle keeper gives Lucy a tour and introduces him to the cook. Each of these characters is odd; neither explain why the castle’s owner is so reclusive.
Lucy settles into his new job. He meets a beautiful young girl in the village. He falls in lust. They become lovers partly because Lucy tells another lie about his former lover. Lucy suggests his former lover kills herself because he left. Lucy goes on to explain a spurned and forlorn lover pursues Lucy for causing the young girl’s suicide. Lucy confesses that he is compelled to defend himself and slays the unrequited lover. Lucy is impressed but somewhat skeptical of Lucy’s story because of his diminutive stature. Lucy explains that he is stronger than he looks. Lucy’s new lover decides to tell of her loss of virginity. She explains that a “Don Juan” like character visits the village and arouses subtle, if not lustful, sexual interest. Lucy’s lie about his former lover heightens a listener’s disrespect for Lucy. The virgin lover’s story reinforces an implied enabling theme; i.e. Lucy’s new lover seems to enable “Don Juan’s” fantasy.
Finally, deWitt introduces the reader/listener to the castle’s owner. Lucy has been told by the castle keeper that he should always lock the door to his room at night without explaining why. The castle owner is a lust-broken husband of a wife that has left him. The castle owner’s broken heart has caused him to lose touch with reality; i.e. except for letters he writes to the absent Countess. The Count artfully entreats his Countess to return.
Lucy eventually finds that the Count walks the grounds and castle naked and eats rodents like a beast of prey; i.e. he captures rodents, and eats them raw; with blood and fur dripping from his lips. He communicates with no one but lurks in the woods near the castle. Lucy is charged with delivering the Count’s letters to a train conductor that delivers the mail. Lucy surreptitiously reads one of the letters and is astounded to find how lucid and beautifully written the letters are. Lucy chooses to correspond with the Countess to advise her of the Count’s condition.
The Countess returns, and the Count recovers his sanity but a turn of events causes the Countess to leave again. The cause has to do with women’s enablement of men’s lust and the consequence of that enablement. Here is where a supernatural event occurs that tells a story illustrating a difference between lust and love.
Patrick deWitt has written something different in “Undermajordomo Minor”. He shows himself to be a skilled teller of tales; an artist suggesting there is more to a supernatural story than entertainment.