Affairs of the Tell-Tale Heart: Sargeson’s Poe and the Horrors of Love



Jones T (2017) Affairs of the Tell-Tale Heart: Sargeson’s Poe and the Horrors of Love. Journal of New Zealand Literature, 35 (2), pp. 15-31.

First paragraph: In ‘An Affair of the Heart’, Freddy Coleman describes his idyllic childhood summers spent at a bach, and his association with the Crawley family, who live in poverty. The story registers a division between the middle class emotional register of Freddy’s family – he notes ‘our family… never showed our feelings much’ – and the outré emotional life of Mrs Crawley. Thinking of Mrs Crawley’s obsessive attachment to her son, Freddy says that  I felt a little bit frightened. It was perhaps the first time I understood what deep things there could be in life. It was easy to see how mad over Joe Mrs Crawley was… And perhaps I was frightened because there was a feeling in me that going mad over a person in that way could be quite a terrible thing.’  Sargeson, famed for his masculine, laconic and thus seemingly emotionally circumscribed narrative mode, is, in truth, often interested in the depiction of unmanageable and only half-legible emotion. If the Colemans exhibit an emotional restraint that identifies them as respectably middle class, then one of the ways Mrs Crawley is marked as a figure on the margins is through the intensity of her love for her absent son. Mrs Crawley’s feeling is ‘mad’, of a different order to the emotional life of the Colemans, and has developed into a persistent delusion that Joe’s return is imminent. Love has nearly destroyed Mrs Crawley, leaving her a grotesque figure who has ‘shrivelled up to nothing’

New Zealand Gothic; Frank Sargeson; Edgar Allan Poe; homosexuality; feeling

Journal of New Zealand Literature: Volume 35, Issue 2

Publication date31/12/2017
Date accepted by journal15/11/2017
PublisherVictoria University of Wellington
Publisher URL

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Dr Timothy Jones

Dr Timothy Jones

Lecturer in Gothic Studies, English Studies