Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review: Lady Into Fox by David Garnett

Original Publication Date: 1922

Genre: Fantasy, Folklore

Topics: metamorphism, foxes, animals, love, marriage, loyalty

Review by Chrisbookarama :

Lady Into Fox by David Garnett is a weird little story. When I heard the premise, a lady turns into a fox, I thought that it was just bonkers enough to be worth reading. I thought there would be humourous shenanigans, but what I got from it was so much more.

David Garnett presents the story as a true story, one that he heard from the witnesses of the event.

Newlyweds Richard and Sylvia Tebrick are out for a walk in the woods one day, when Sylvia suddenly turns into a fox, instantly, like one second she's a woman and then BAM! She's a fox. There is no explanation for her change. It just is. The author says there was nothing to indicate that Sylvia would become a fox, although her hair is reddish and her maiden name is Fox. Be careful Jamie Foxx, this could happen to you!

Richard sneaks his foxy wife back into his home. He doesn't want anyone to know about Sylvia's change so he fires the servants and shoots his dogs (luckily he doesn't shoot the servants). At first, Sylvia continues to act like a lady, wanting to be fully clothed and eat at the dining room table, but over time her animal instincts take over and she becomes a fox completely.

Although Sylvia goes through this dramatic metamorphosis, it was Richard's change that affected me most. Of course at first, he's shocked and confused by it. He tries very hard to keep Sylvia from giving into her new animal personality. At times he even scolds her, but eventually he comes to accept what she is becoming. When Sylvia wants to be free, he lets her go, though it breaks his heart and he fears what may happen to her.
Now in cold blood he began to reflect on what he had done and to repent bitterly having set his wife free. He had betrayed her so that now, from his act, she must lead the life of a wild fox for ever, and must undergo all the rigours and hardships of the climate, and all the hazards of a hunted creature.
Richard becomes a misanthrope, he shuns the company of all humans. He only wants his fox-wife to come back to him. In the beginning, he waited for her to return to her human form, but later he doesn't even think of her as the woman she was, he accepts and loves her as she is.
No, all that he grieved for now was his departed vixen. He was haunted all this time not by the memory of a sweet and gentle woman, but by the recollection of an animal; a beast it is true that could sit at table and play piquet when it would, but for all that nothing really but a wild beast.
Richard himself becomes more and more animal-like. He lets his beard grow, becomes filthy, neglects the housekeeping, and spends much of the time in the woods.
All this disorder fed a malignant pleasure in him. For by now he had come to hate his fellow men and was embittered against all human decencies and decorum. 
Richard stays true to his wife, even though the neighbours think he's lost his marbles. They all believe she ran off with someone. One thing I found strange was that even though they think he's crazy, no one considers that maybe he murdered his wife and that's why she disappeared. No one calls the magistrate! I mean, that's the first thing I would think of doing.

Lady Into Fox is actually a beautiful story of love and accepting the people you love as they are. Garnett does a fantastic job of placing the reader into the mind of Richard. All his pain and anguish is real even though the idea of a woman turning into a fox is ridiculous. It seems perfectly acceptable that a man should love a fox. The only problem I had with the novella was the abrupt ending, though I think that is the standard for these kind of stories at the time.

Download Lady Into Fox by David Garnett at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Note: I recommend downloading the epub with images. The woodcut illustrations, by Garnett's first wife Rachel Alice, are charming and added so much to my enjoyment of the book.