Skip to Content
ublogo print

University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Through a Glass, Darkly

cover image By: McCloy, Helen (female)
Publisher: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. (519)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 326: PS3525 .A1587 T47 1950
Contributor: K. Dykstra

General

Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Helen McCloy Geographic Locale: Brereton, Connecticut and New Jersey Date of Publication: 1950  |  Original Date: 1950 Setting: rural; the girls' school sits behind iron gates and many of the students there are wealthy, whereas the teachers and the staff are not. Faustina's modest cottage is isolated, sitting in high sand dunes by the ocean, three miles past the New Jersey village of Brightsea. Motives: murder for self-protection, financial gain, revenge

Plot Summary

A young art teacher, Faustina Crayle, is abruptly fired from her post at Brereton, a girls' school, with no explanation. Faustina's friend, Gisela von Hohenems, writes to Dr. Basil Willing about the odd situation, and he begins to investigate. Willing learns that odd rumors are circulating around the school about Faustina being seen in two places at the same time, spooking students and staff members. He also discovers that Faustina was fired from another school the year before for the same reason. Immediately after Faustina leaves Brereton, another young teacher falls down a stairway to her death, and a student says that she saw Faustina push the teacher. However, Gisela was speaking with Faustina on the telephone at the time of the death, so she knows that Faustina couldn't be guilty. While Faustina waits in her seaside cottage, Willing researches her past and her present, finding many supernatural explanations and a few rational possibilities as well. Unfortunately, he can't provide enough proof to prosecute the murderer, nor can he prevent Faustina's death.


Major Characters

Dr. Basil Willing adult male, handsome, brilliant, psychiatrist, medical assistant to the district attorney

Ray Vining adult male, face was a "classic oval that suggested Italian blood, yet the skin was English, fair and fine-textured as an infant's. Bright mischief in the blue eyes was softened by thick, golden lashes. The lip line was a subtle curve that seemed to quiver on the edge of mockery." (Chapter 8) Bond salesman, brother of Meg Chase (student at Brereton)

Faustina Crayle adult female, "she was tall for her sex and slender to the point of fragility, with delicate wrists and ankles, narrow hands and feet. Everything about her suggested candor and gentleness -- the long oval face, sallow and earnest, the blurred blue eyes, studious, a little nearsighted, the unadorned hair, a thistledown halo of pale tan that stirred softly with each movement of her head." (Chapter 1) Art teacher dismissed from Brereton

Alice Aitchison adolescent female, "she was a ripe, autumnal beauty with brilliant hazel eyes, honey-colored skin, and full lips painted a fruity red." (Chapter 2) Drama coach at Brereton

Gisela von Hohenems adult female, pale skin, long dark eyelashes, "looked as if she had stepped from an illuminated page of Kufic script, where Persian ladies, dead two thousand years, can still be seen riding mares as dark-eyed, white-skinned, fleet, and slender as themselves." (Chapter 2) Teacher at Brereton

Mrs. Lightfoot adult female, plump face, "light, round eyes protruding between light lashes." "In dress she affected the Quaker color -- the traditional 'drab' that dressmakers called 'taupe' in the thirties and 'eel-gray' in the forties." (Chapter 1) Headmistress of Brereton



Weapons

use of disguise by the murderer


Level of Violence

we don't see Alice Aitchison fall down the stairs, nor do we see Faustina Crayle die. The focus is more on suspense than violence. We only "witness" the murders secondhand, once through a child's brief testimony and later in Basil Willing's reconstructions of the events.


Sexuality

Faustina Crayle is depicted as being more or less devoid of sexual appeal and even sexuality itself, while Alice Aitchison overflows with sexual appeal, attracting a lot of attention. Furthermore, Alice is having an affair with the recently divorced father of a Brereton student. These details serve to confuse the reader about which one of the young women is really the illegitimate daughter of a legendary prostitute whose money and legacy turn out to be the primary motives for murder. Alice seems to fit the description: her looks, public behavior, and general vitality cause the kind of scandal that the prostitute had also caused in the past. However, Faustina is really the daughter; her physical energies have been dissipated because Ray Vining replaced her vitamin supplements with drugs. A related note: Faustina's dismay at being fired early in the school year is compounded by the anxiety that outsiders might think she is a "Lesbian" (capital L). We know that Gisela von Hohenems and Basil Willing are a couple, but their sexuality is barely mentioned. Similarly, we learn that Alice Aitchison was once engaged to Ray Vining, but we know very little about their relationship, other than that Ray would sneak into the Maidstone School to visit Alice there.


Gender Roles

the setting of the girls' school, Brereton, provides a range of female characters. Mrs. Lightfoot is the headmistress who runs the school. Gisela, Alice and Faustina work there as teachers. Arlene Murphy is a maid. Beth and Meg are two of the young students. These characters display a range of personality traits and abilities. However, there does not appear to be any attempt to make these characters particularly powerful in nontraditional ways. While Basil Willing is not strikingly "macho," he does serve in the traditional position of the male who surveys the scene and takes up the job of solving the crime.


Ethnicity

Arlene Murphy, the maid, could be read as the stereotypical Irish maid character; not very bright or graceful, sometimes sullen. Race is not explicitly invoked in the text, however; Basil Willing decides that she might suffer from some "glandular deficiency" as well as "poverty and neglect during childhood."


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Basil Willing and Gisela von Hohenems drink martinis at the Crane Club, then move on to a small neighborhood bar for cheese sandwiches and beer. They reminisce about Europe before the war and discuss the case. Willing hypothesizes that Ray Vining has substituted a mild soporific for Faustina's vitamin pills, resulting in her anemia and periodic slow motions.


Law Enforcement

no official law enforcement agency is involved. Even after Willing solves the case, both he and Ray Vining know that there isn't enough proof to take the case to any authorities.


Added Features

supernatural elements provide the main tension in this story: does Faustina have a supernatural double? Even at the end of the novel, when Willing has explained how Ray Vining probably committed both murders, Vining insists that there is something supernatural beyond their understanding. Literary references: quotation from 1 Corinthians opens the novel; the book's title appears in the second paragraph of the quotation: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." Each chapter opens with a few lines from the poem "Faustine" by Algernon Charles Swinburne; conversations in and around the school focus on Medea; Faustina and Basil Willing consult the memoirs of Goethe for information about doppelgangers. Prostitution plays a role in the book, but it is not treated as a social condition so much as a plot device. Faustina's mother was Rose Diamond, a prostitute involved in a famous scandal.


Subject Headings

Supernatural phenomena/ Murder/ Connecticut/ Teachers


Psychological Elements

Ray Vining is charming and sophisticated, and he takes an interest in Gisela. The only hint that he might be criminally insane appears after Willing begins to accuse him of crimes: "there seemed to be something sickly at the core of the man -- a curious emotional deadness as if the natural human responses were anesthetized or atrophied." (Chapter 16) Three motives can be found for his crimes: covering up his trail, taking revenge, and gaining money. Otherwise, the mood of the story encourages the reader to take the supernatural explanations seriously.