The Lady’s Maid’s Bell by Edith Wharton
In The Lady’s Maid’s Bell by Edith Wharton we have the theme of jealousy, connection, selfishness, uncertainty, helplessness, isolation, loneliness, respect and loyalty. Narrated in the first person by a woman called Alice Hartley the reader realises after reading the story that Wharton may be exploring the theme of jealousy. Mr Brympton appears to be jealous of his wife’s relationship with Mr Ranford. Though both men seem to get along with one another Mr Brympton may be suspicious of Mr Ranford’s continual visits to his home. There is also no doubting that Mr Ranford has a better relationship with Mrs Brympton than Mr Brympton does. If anything their connection or bond with one another is quite strong in comparison to any connection the reader feels that Mr and Mrs Brympton may have. Alice too makes a connection with Mrs Brympton and wishes to see her treated fairly by Mr Brympton. Something which does not happen. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Mr Brympton is a selfish man. There is also a sense that Alice feels helpless at times and unsure of what she should do. Particularly when it comes to discussing Emma Saxton with other members of the staff. Nobody wishes to talk about Emma.
This may be important as it adds an element of mystery to the story with not only Alice wishing to know more about Emma but the reader too longs to find out more. It is also interesting that the bell in Alice’s room when it is rung twice. Mr Brympton is either in Mrs Brympton’s room or arrives in the room. If anything Wharton may be using the bell as a device to suggest that Emma has originally rung the bell because she knows that Mrs Brympton needs assistance. Even in death Emma is concerned about her mistress. The fact that Emma leads Alice to Mr Ranford’s residence could also be important as Emma may be attempting to tell Alice that Mr Ranford is the man who should be with Mrs Brympton. He does after all appear to treat her with dignity and respect. Mr Brympton’s negative attitude whether justified or not is also felt throughout the house with the servants all making sure to stay clear of him and to only engage with him when necessity dictates. Mr Wace’s colourful language suggests that all is not well between the servants and Mr Brympton.
Mr Brympton’s reaction to seeing his wife lying motionless on the ground is interesting. It is as though he is satisfied that his marriage may have come to an end and rather than helping Mrs Brympton. He leaves her on the floor to die. Which results in Emma reproaching Mr Brympton as she may have been fully aware of how dysfunctional or unhappy Mrs Brympton’s marriage may have been. The fact that Mr Brympton can see Emma may also be important as he is not only the second character in the story to see Emma but it also lends credence to Alice’s narrative. She can be believed which means the reader can trust her. Emma’s last appearance after Mrs Brympton dies is also interesting as it suggests she remained loyal to Mrs Brympton even in death. She was there for Mrs Brympton and made sure that Alice was there for her too. The setting of the story (in the country) may be significant as Wharton may be using the setting to suggest or highlight to the reader how lonely Mrs Brympton may feel. She is isolated from the outside world and only steps out into the garden of the house occasionally. If anything Mrs Brympton is in her own personal prison.
Which may be the point that Wharton is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that at the time the story was written (1902) many women faced the same struggles as Mrs Brympton. Trapped inside a loveless marriage with no way out except perhaps to find a kindred spirit (Mr Ranford). It may not be coincidental that Mrs Brympton dies while Mr Ranford is away. She may have longed for his company due to how she felt within her own marriage. Yet due to circumstances Mr Ranford was unavailable to her. The legitimacy of the opinion that Mrs Brympton and Mr Ranford were in a clandestine relationship is more obvious at the end of the story when Mr Brympton spends his entire time at the funeral service staring at Mr Ranford. It is as though Mr Brympton himself knows the truth of what has happened yet he is powerless to do anything. He does not challenge Mr Ranford instead he abandons the country and returns to the city after the funeral service is over. As to whether Emma will reappear again is difficult to say. Her job may be finished now that her mistress has also passed.