Collected Novels and Plays

BOOK: Collected Novels and Plays
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This Is a Borzoi Book
Published by Alfred A. Knopf

Copyright © 2002 by The Literary Estate of James Merrill at
Washington University

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf a division of Random House,
Inc., and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada, Limited,
Toronto. Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York.

www.aaknopf.com

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of
Random House Inc., New York.

The editors are grateful to Reneé and Theodore Weiss for their generous
permission to reprint The Bait, which was originally published in
The Quarterly Review of Literature.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Merrill, James Ingram.

[Selections. 2002]
Collected novels and plays of James Merrill / edited by J. D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser.
p. cm.
I. McClatchy, J. D., 1945– II. Yenser, Stephen. III. Title.
PS3525.E6645 A6 2002
818′.5408—21              2002020953

The Birthday
(p. 425): Courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections. By Permission of the Trustees of Amherst College.
The Bait
(p. 453): Walt Silver
The Immortal Husband
(p. 493): Alix Jeffrey.
Courtesy of Special Collections, Olin Library, Washington University

eISBN: 978-0-307-55521-2

v3.0

EDITORS’ NOTE

This volume collects James Merrill’s novels and plays. Other fiction—short stories and translations—appears in
Collected Prose
, and his short play
The Image Maker
, because it was originally included in a book of his poems,
The Inner Room
, can be found in his
Collected Poems.
When, decades after their original appearances, his two novels were reprinted, Merrill added a preface to the new edition of
The Seraglio
and an afterword to
The (Diblos) Notebook.
They can be found here in the Appendix. We include in this volume a previously unpublished early play in blank verse,
The Birthday
, not least because it anticipates many of the concerns the poet took up much later in
The Changing Light at Sandover.
For a new production in 1988 of his play
The Bait
, he undertook revisions that are extensive enough (he even changed the sex of a character) to merit printing this short play twice, in each of its versions. The revised version may also be found in the Appendix.

As throughout this series of books, misprints in the original editions have been silently corrected and spelling or punctuation very occasionally changed for consistency’s sake.

JDMcC and SY

T
HE
N
OVELS

T
HE
S
ERAGLIO

(1957)

For my nephews and nieces

P
ART
O
NE

1.
Exactly a year later Francis learned the truth about the slashed portrait—by then, of course, restored with expert care. The gash running from the outer corner of his sister’s eye to her Adam’s apple had been patched, sewn, smoothed, painted over, until he really had to hunt for the scar. Enid was posed against a cultivated landscape. Her face, formal above velvet, discouraged even Francis from filling in the
details of the crime. No doubt he could have. The intervening year had left him with a key to such matters. Besides, he knew the scene by heart. It was not, despite lawns, flowerbeds, terraces, the scene in the painting. Over the dunes a whitish haze trembled, thinning upwards, to the thunder of waves. Windows facing the sea were usually frosted by the salt air. All this could give you a feeling of loneliness, of being the one real person in a ghostly world. He guessed how the scene
must have worked upon the little murderess; its effect upon his own first ten summers, if it came to that—but here again the portrait stopped him. As with Enid herself,
where appearances so handsomely denied offense, it no longer seemed fair to probe.

The facts, however, were these:

Enid’s children had moved out to Long Island with their nurse. From her window, Lily, the oldest, caught a familiar sparkling. The entire summer awaited her, tomorrow was her tenth birthday, and she had been misbehaving all morning. Nobody knew what had come over her. Worse yet, her mother and Alice and the cook reacted as if the little girl—Lily kept telling herself, “I’m still only a little girl”—was disobedient out of choice,
as if she had enjoyed torturing the twins, or screaming in the kitchen till a bowl of icing slipped from the cook’s lap. Far from it. Her unhappiness mounted with every naughtiness. Finally she had been sent up to her room.

She leaned now on the windowsill, deliberately letting the last of her lunch slide off its plate into the boxwood below. Somewhere nearby Lily’s pet snail would still be lying, stunned from having been flung there by her mother, who had seen it early that morning, slithering blandly—unbearably—across the drowsing child’s naked stomach. Oh
please
, sweetie! a dirty old snail!—and as in a dream both it and Mummy disappeared, one
out the window, one down the stairs, a loose robe of blue chiffon trailing behind. A new baby was coming—from the Stork, said her parents; from God the Father, said Irish Alice. Lily had sat then until the feelings of crossness and loneliness grew keener, and the tears began.

The morning of her punishment passed. She had listened to her mother on the steps with Alice, describing in a soft sweet voice the day ahead: the hairdresser’s, the hospital, the Cottage … Had Michéle gone over there already? He mustn’t forget to meet Mr. Buchanan’s train. As for the twins, why didn’t Alice take them to the beach after their nap? Be good now! And the door slammed, the car started, with not a word of reprieve for
Lily, and nothing of the little girl’s usual privilege—to be shown which dress her mother had on, which hat and gloves, which jewels. Lily had stood back against the wall while the car drove off, so that
anybody who hoped she would run to the window to see would be disappointed. But her dull satisfaction did not last. She had had to pity herself in the mirror till Alice came up with her tray.

BOOK: Collected Novels and Plays
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