The third story in the Robert Fraser Trilogy - from The Stickit Minister's Wooing - first published 1900
Critical review of The Stickit Minister Wins Through
We have to be happy with the title as the story thus far has been unremittingly hopeless. It is hard, indeed to see in what way Robert Fraser may ‘win’ given the situation he finds himself in. Alec is in a state of confusion. There is a delay of some time while the religious observance of ‘taking the buik’ is concluded. Robert has put his faith in his brother and so keeps his faith in God. We might simply see this as a couple of hours wasted. Alec is moved by Robert’s faith but there is some indication that he does not share it. Each to his own. Once more Crockett shows that nothing is simple.
A knock on the door forces action. Henry’s inaction is about to result in Robert’s hastened death. And yet the consequence brings about a conclusion which, in perverse way might be seen as, if not a happy ending, then a fitting one. Robert dies in the arms of his beloved. But is this enough to lift a sense of waste, loss and anger? For me, no. For Alec I suspect no. For Crockett… we can only speculate. But I do think it shows him offering less a homily, more a chance to interrogate our own perceptions.
In this story there is clear religious imagery and symbolism. Light and darkness are used figuratively. Weather is employed both to give realism and metaphor. Crockett is well aware of his writer’s toolbox. He gives us jeopardy and suspense and pain and emotional engagement. And finally, even within the resolution, he offers us a choice. Perhaps the suggestion is that God works in mysterious ways. Perhaps it is simply that we should make the most of our lives while we have them and not try to be ‘our brother’s keeper’ or protect those we love by distancing ourselves from them.
Henry finally does something good with his life – a small pay back to his brother. Robert and Jessie have a final moment of union. The ending of this story (and of the trilogy) is, I suggest, immensely complex and profound. Alec tells it:
His brother and I went toward him with a quick apprehension. But the Stickit Minister turned from us both to the woman, who took two swift steps towards him with her arms outstretched, and such a yearning of love on her face as I never saw before or since. The sullen lout by the fire drowsed on unheeding.
‘Jessie!’ cried the Stickit Minister, and with that fell into her arms. She held him there a long moment as it had been jealously, her head bent down upon his. Then she delivered him up to me slowly and reluctantly.
Henry Fraser put his hand on his heart and gave a great sob.
‘My brother is dead!’ he said.
But Jessie Loudon did not utter a word.
Robert goes to the woman he loves. She ‘delivers’ him up to his brother. His brother finally understands what he has lost.
What of Jessie’s speechlessness? We can read it as pain beyond endurance, or an inability to understand. There is no resolution – perhaps Crockett wants us to understand that love between a woman and a man is of such a unique and complex nature that we can only speculate and should not judge.
And what of Alec? He is left to recount the story. His grief is still palpable. His love is clear and his sense of loss is not resolved. As narrator he is every bit as central to the story as the others. His perspective is every bit as valuable. And he is, at least to some extent, Crockett’s mouthpiece, so we may speculate (which is all we can do of course) on his perspective.
Crockett may have received some sense of closure in his own grief from writing these stories. He may have been repaying a debt to a loved relative. To suggest that these works are melodramatic is to undermine his integrity as a writer. Any close study reveals they are far from trivial and much more than simply pandaring to the tastes of a market for sentiment or melodrama. They show depth, guts and bravery on the part of the writer, whose perspective waxes and wanes as he moves in and out of the characters, real and imaginary, who populate the story.
In these three, slender, stories, we find a depth and power of writing which should alert us to Crockett’s skill. All it takes is open eyes and an appreciation of authorial intent. You don’t even need to be religious. Just believe in the author as he believes in his characters and you are half way there to an appreciation of a unique voice that has been overlooked for far too long. Surely 125 years is long enough for us to gain a new, cleaner and more healthy perspective on Crockett’s writing.
Available to read online at McStorytellers HERE from March 22nd 2018