The Open Window | 小说赏析

前言

英国小说家萨基(Saki,1870—1916),在英美文学界,萨基是与欧”亨利齐名的短篇小说大师。

萨基的短篇小说篇幅都不长,有的篇目仅有四五百字,但笔法幽默,情节生动,人物特色鲜明。和欧”亨利相似,萨基擅长在小说中铺设伏笔,制造悬念,给小说以出其不意的结尾。

《敞开的窗户》集中体现了以上特点。这篇小说是各种英美小说选集中的常见篇目。小说英文原文不过寥寥千余字,却讲述了一个生动曲折的“鬼故事”,结构严谨,语言细腻,把小姑娘的慧黠和客人的神经质刻画得惟妙惟肖。

批评家往往赞叹小说的结尾出人意表,颇有喜剧风味。其实,这篇小说除以故事取胜外,更蕴藏着淡淡的值得玩味的嘲讽。

正文

“My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel,” said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; “in the meantime you must try and put up with me.”

这里的“Lady”很有意思,折射出的是一种病态的繁文缛节。

Framton Nuttel endeavored to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed to be undergoing
“I know how it will be,” his sister had said when he was preparing to migrate to this rural retreat; “you will bury yourself down there and not speak to a living soul, and your nerves will be worse than ever from moping. I shall just give you letters of introduction to all the people I know there. Some of them, as far as I can remember, were quite nice.”
Framton wondered whether Mrs. Sappleton, the lady to whom he was presenting one of the letters of introduction came into the nice division.
“Do you know many of the people round here?” asked the niece, when she judged that they had had sufficient silent communion.
“Hardly a soul,” said Framton. “My sister was staying here, at the rectory, you know, some four years ago, and she gave me letters of introduction to some of the people here.”
He made the last statement in a tone of distinct regret.
“Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?” pursued the self-possessed young lady.
“Only her name and address,” admitted the caller. He was wondering whether Mrs. Sappleton was in the married or widowed state. An undefinable something about the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation.
   “Her great tragedy happened just three years ago,” said the child; “that would be since your sister’s time.”
“Her tragedy?” asked Framton; somehow in this restful country spot tragedies seemed out of place.
“You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon,” said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened on to a lawn.

值得一提的是法国的落地窗实际上是当作门来用的,如果对背景知识不太了解可能会有所误解,这里补充一下。另外十月的英格兰实际上已经比较冷了,晚上确实是应该关窗的。

“It is quite warm for the time of the year,” said Framton; “but has that window got anything to do with the tragedy?”
“Out through that window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two young brothers went off for their day’s shooting. They never came back. In crossing the moor to their favorite snipe-shooting ground they were all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that were safe in other years gave way suddenly without warning. Their bodies were never recovered. That was the dreadful part of it.” Here the child’s voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human. “Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back someday, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do. That is why the window is kept open every evening till it is quite dusk. Poor dear aunt, she has often told me how they went out, her husband with his white waterproof coat over his arm, and Ronnie, her youngest brother, singing ‘Bertie, why do you bound?’ as he always did to tease her, because she said it got on her nerves. Do you know, sometimes on still, quiet evenings like this, I almost get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through that window–“

She broke off with a little shudder. It was a relief to Framton when the aunt bustled into the room with a whirl of apologies for being late in making her appearance.
“I hope Vera has been amusing you?” she said.
“She has been very interesting,” said Framton.
“I hope you don’t mind the open window,” said Mrs. Sappleton briskly; “my husband and brothers will be home directly from shooting, and they always come in this way. They’ve been out for snipe in the marshes today, so they’ll make a fine mess over my poor carpets. So like you menfolk, isn’t it?”

为什么这里Mrs. Sappleton可以直接提起Open Window?这并非是一个巧合,而是Mrs. Sappleton在下楼时Niece正好提到了“through that window–”,这句话在下楼前被Mrs. Sappleton听到了,所以她开始自然接起这个话题。

She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible. He made a desperate but only partially successful effort to turn the talk on to a less ghastly topic, he was conscious that his hostess was giving him only a fragment of her attention, and her eyes were constantly straying past him to the open window and the lawn beyond. It was certainly an unfortunate coincidence that he should have paid his visit on this tragic anniversary.

“The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise,” announced Framton, who labored under the tolerably widespread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one’s ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure. “On the matter of diet they are not so much in agreement,” he continued.
   “No?” said Mrs. Sappleton, in a voice which only replaced a yawn at the last moment. Then she suddenly brightened into alert attention–but not to what Framton was saying.
“Here they are at last!” she cried. “Just in time for tea, and don’t they look as if they were muddy up to the eyes!”
Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open window with a dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat and looked in the same direction.
In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards the window, they all carried guns under their arms, and one of them was additionally burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels. Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse young voice chanted out of the dusk: “I said, Bertie, why do you bound?”
Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall door, the gravel drive, and the front gate were dimly noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid imminent collision.

这里的stages译为“场景”更为合适,这里描述了景色在这次匆忙撤离中一个接着一个倒退的画面,非常传神。

“Here we are, my dear,” said the bearer of the white mackintosh, coming in through the window, “fairly muddy, but most of it’s dry. Who was that who bolted out as we came up?”
“A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel,” said Mrs. Sappleton; “could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of goodbye or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost.”
“I expect it was the spaniel,” said the niece calmly; “he told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve.”
Romance at short notice was her specialty.

有文献认为最后一句话是败笔,因为其实到这里之前,一切都明了了:第二个故事是假的,因此第一个故事也是假的。不过个人认为,最后一句话能让读者在读完故事的瞬间有一种恍然大悟的“欧·亨利”式惊喜,不需要额外的思考,其实在艺术体验上相当有存在的必要。

赏析

鬼故事

小说中的嘲讽首先体现在其对哥特式鬼故事的颠覆性戏仿。在萨基生活的时代,鬼故事是英国文学中非常受普通读者欢迎的类别。作家通过对悬念的铺垫,对恐怖场景的精心刻画,对鬼魂、僵尸、坟墓等元素的引入,制造出了迷离奇幻的效果,深深吸引了读者的注意力,让他们体验到了恐怖、惊奇、诡异的多重心理感受。在小说中,维拉就很好地利用了这些流行鬼故事的基本叙述手法。

首先,维拉采用了鬼故事常用的“悬念”手法作为故事的诱饵,一下子就吸引了客人弗兰姆顿的注意力,将他自然而然地带进了自己的叙述。她先语焉不详地提起了赛普顿太太的悲剧,继而又将弗兰姆顿的注意力转移到了客厅敞开的可以作为便门使用的落地法式长窗。在英格兰,十月底已是清寒的日子,尤其是在太阳即将下山的时候,温度可以接近零度,此刻法式落地窗居然还敞开着,不可谓不反常。弗兰姆顿果然被唤起了好奇心,主动询问窗户和赛普顿太太的遭遇之间的关系。维拉继而巧妙地利用了鬼故事常用的“鬼魂”形象。她告诉弗兰姆顿在三年前的这一天,她的姑父和两个兄弟正是穿过这扇窗户去打猎,再也没有回来。赛普太太不肯相信丈夫已经离开人间,她天天开着窗户,是在等待着丈夫归来。既然丈夫早在三年前就已经身亡,很显然赛普顿太太的等待无异于“招魂”。

为了让自己的鬼故事更有说服力,维拉还加上了精彩的表演,极力渲染恐怖气氛。当赛普顿太太兴高采烈地宣布丈夫打猎归来的时候,弗兰姆顿原以为她因思念亡夫过度而精神失常,当他望向维拉,却发现她“用充满恐惧的被吓呆了的眼神死盯着敞开的窗户”,分明是见了鬼的表情。这种表情充满了感染力,给弗兰姆顿以暗示,必定有什么恐怖的事情正在发生。当他顺着维拉的目光看去,看到三个朦胧的身影在薄雾中无声无息地向房子走来的时候,自然是吓得连道别都来不及,“发疯似地抓起拐杖和帽子。穿过大厅的门、石子路、前大门,他一路跌跌撞撞往外跑。”

维拉运用了鬼故事的常见叙述元素,使弗兰姆顿这个笨拙的听者在故事进行到半中腰就落荒而逃。小说继而的发展却颠覆了这样的鬼怪元素,为小说中的鬼故事加上了一个非常理性化的结尾:根本就不存在什么鬼魂,三个黄昏中逼近的人影不过是打猎归来的姑丈和他的兄弟。所谓悬疑、鬼魂、恐怖都是叙述策略所导致的结果。正是因为弗兰姆顿受鬼故事的毒害太深,才会被这样的手法所蒙蔽,上了“鬼”的当。

另外,维拉就“以假乱真”给我们上了非常好的一节课,如何使得谎言可信?只需要让其真假参半即可。

繁文缛节

小说的嘲讽不仅体现在对鬼故事的调侃,更体现在对当时英国社会繁文缛节的讽刺。作者萨基本身出身英国上层社会,小的时候母亲早亡,父亲在大英帝国的东南亚殖民地任职,他便交由两位姑姑抚养。两位姑母自诩出身高贵,重视礼仪,实则为人虚伪,缺乏爱心和同情心。对她们来说,活着是给别人看的。举止得体,礼貌周到,小孩子懂规矩,这比正直的灵魂、同情心、爱和宽容等更重要。萨基在她们的监护下,渡过了缺乏亲情呵护的枯燥呆板的童年。正因为这样的境遇,使萨基痛恨英国上层社会装腔作势的礼仪。在作品中,萨基不遗余力地批判这些礼仪的空洞性,而这一点在《敞开的窗户》中也得到了很好的展示。

《敞开的窗户》发表于1914年第一次世界大战来临之前,当时的英国虽然已经显露出动荡的端倪,但是整个社会总体而言依然按照维多利亚时代所遗留的轨迹稳步运转。地主有闲阶级不事生产。对他们来说,每天生活的重要内容就是拜访朋友、闲聊、聚会。每当新人来到一个社区,他应该递上印有头衔、身份、姓名的名片以及引见信,对当地的士绅进行拜访,对方也要进行回访。社交活动、面子、礼仪等是构成他们生活的主要内容。

在小说中,弗兰姆顿也在按照这样的社会习惯行事。在 19出纪末 2 0世纪初,人们对心理学的认识并不全面,以为要想解决神经质的毛病,最好找个风景宜人的地方进行静养。弗兰姆顿因此来到了乡下。在姐姐的敦促下,他依照社会惯例,开始了对陌生人的系列拜访。其实,这些人不仅对于弗兰姆顿来说是陌生人,对于给他写引见信的姐姐来说也是如此。他姐姐并不是当地居民,她不过是在四年以前,在教区长家暂住过一段时间而已。她宣称自己在当地认识很多朋友,但是在给弟弟写引见信的时候,却没有能够向弟弟推荐任何一位值得信赖的密友,而是让他依照她开出的长名单,逐个造访。这说明她与这些人只是泛泛之交。这种相互造访的社交活动不过是填补生活空白,打发时间的虚伪程式而已。

读罢《敞开的窗户》的读者,或许会有这样的疑问:为什么侄女要对素昧平生的陌生人开近乎是恶意的玩笑,让一个本来就神经紧张的脆弱男子几乎神经崩溃?答案应该是这种社交礼节让人厌烦到了恨不得想反抗的程度。弗兰姆顿没有想象力,呆板沉闷,以自我为中心,并略带神经质。可以想象,陪着这样一个人物,坐上许久,是一件多么无聊的事情。根据当时的社会规范,维拉不能将客人撇在那里,独自离开。难怪小姑娘打算反抗一下,和初来乍到的弗兰姆顿先生开了这样一个大玩笑。

在正常的情况下,维拉的谎言是非常容易揭穿的。只要弗兰姆顿问问她的姑母就会发现事实真相。小姑娘的计谋之所以能够得逞,原因还是要回到社交礼仪的虚伪之上。按照维多利亚时代英国社会“礼貌”、“周到”的标准,在公开的社会场合,人们是不能随便袒露内心的真实所想,也不允许随便询问别人的生活。于是,社交场合的谈话往往是围绕着一些无关紧要的话题,比如天气、生活琐事等等。弗兰姆顿言语行动都谨守得体原则,他和维拉聊天的时候,“绞尽脑汁想找些得体的话来说,盼望既能够奉承了侄女,又不让马上就要下来的姑姑感觉受到轻慢”。当他发现赛普顿太太唠唠叨叨地谈论她的丈夫的时候,因为是初次见面的缘故,根本不敢坦言安慰,劝她节哀顺变。要是他有这样的勇气,小姑娘的谎言马上就会被揭穿。

在《敞开的窗户》这篇小说中,人和人之间的关系带有一定的异化隔膜的成分。姐姐不了解弟弟的真实需要,客人除了姓名和地址对主人的情况一无所知,甚至是在小姑娘和赛普顿太太之间也存在着不理解。维拉和她的姑姑关系是近是远,小说并没有做出朋确的介绍。不过显然赛普顿太太并不了解侄女有如此高妙的编故事的能力。如果她能多了解一些维拉,当弗兰姆顿吓得从屋子里狂奔出去的时候,她就应该能够判断一定是小姑娘在背后捣鬼,用恶作剧把客人吓跑了。

《敞开的窗户》看似一个鬼故事,却是一幅社会讽刺画。在一个典型的社交场合,在场的三个人说着客套话,却各自想着各自的心思。姑姑在焦急地等待丈夫归来,小姑娘在想着如何捉弄无聊的客人,客人在自顾自沉浸在对自己病体的自怨自艾中。然而正是这样一个虚伪沉闷的场合,却因为小姑娘丰富的想象力和表演才能变成了一个峰回路转高潮迭起的精彩故事。

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