Short Story #48: The Man Who Liked Dickens by Evelyn Waugh

Title:  The Man Who Liked Dickens

Author:  Evelyn Waugh

Short Story #48 out of 365

Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)

Book cover:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur
Date Read:  2/13/2014
Source:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur.  You can find this short story on Scribd (for now).  Here is a link to the radio adaptation of the short story.

Summary

Living far within the Amazon forest for sixty years, Mr. McMaster rarely encounters anyone that is not a native so when a disheveled white man arrives, he takes a keen interest.  Once given food, the man, Mr. Henty explains that he was part of the Anderson expedition, a curse adventure that started with and continued to have innumerable troubles until he was the only survivor, wandering through the Amazon entirely lost.  McMaster's is a generally agreeable man and says that he's happy to help.  He provides food and dialogue with Henty, explaining how long he has been there and that the local inhabitants treat him like a father.  He also explains how he really likes to be read to and that his favorite is Dickens.  The last non-native person to visit him also read him Dickens and he asks that Henty read him Dickens.  Henty agrees to but as the days past he becomes restless.  He keeps inquiring about leaving but McMaster never answers him directly.  When Henty refuses to read, McMaster takes away his food.  As the weeks past, Henty becomes hopeful that a rescue party will arrive but little changes until one night when McMaster asks him to come to a party that night with him.  At the party with the natives, he is given a drink to enjoy, warning that it has quite a punch.  When Henty awakes the next day, he makes his way back to McMaster who explains that he has been asleep for nearly two days.  When Henty notes that his watch is missing, McMaster explains that he gave it to the nice men who had come by looking for him to give to his wife at home.  Henty realizes that not only has he missed the rescue mission but with the watch, they will take him for dead.  The story ends with McMaster excitedly thinking about re-reading Little Dorritt.

Reflection

In many ways, this is one of the most haunting stories in the book.  McMaster's malevolence and overall actions are downright dark in contrast to his jovial disposition.  Henty's helplessness being in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by people entirely loyal to McMaster becomes a life sentence without having necessarily done anything to warrant it.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.





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