Hello, and welcome to my 2019 A to Z Challenge! This year, I am giving you my personal list of Golden Age Mystery Tropes. Particularly clue-tropes, and also those tropes that an experienced mystery reader finds herself using to solve the mystery without reference to the actual clues.
This one is, I think, another pure trope-clue, one that is useful to readers wishing to solve the mystery through cheating, but is of no use whatsoever to the investigators within the story. It is that horrid fellow…
The Wedded Blister
Lady Gawdawful sat silent and subdued at her own tea-table, occasionally emitting a hollow groan of despair, which her husband was always quick to interpret for the company.
“Oooh,” said Lady Gawdawful, staring off into nothing with an expression of dazed pain in her lovely eyes.
“My wife,” said Sir Gawdawful, “is no doubt reflecting on the cessation of her pocket money, a step I have–I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the fact–lately felt compelled to take.”
We all assured him that he had mentioned it, but that didn’t stop him. With a malevolent eye on the pale face of his young wife, he continued.
“Yes, an inconvenience, certainly, for one so placed–no money whatever of her own, you know, none at all–but I won’t have her dressing herself at my expense for the pleasure of other men. Pass the scones, my dear. You are neglecting our guests.”
Lady Gawdawful passed the scones with an unhappy laugh.
“Now, I imagine, my dear wife is thinking of young Stephen Forthright, from the estate next door. Do you know, she almost married him? And they are still–ah–quite good friends. A slight hitch has recently occurred, however, as I’ve told the fellow that next time he calls on my wife I’ll horsewhip him.” And Sir Gawdawful, taking a flask from his pocket, added liberal amounts of some strong liquor to his tea.
“Innocent–our friendship is–innocent,” moaned Lady Gawdawful.
Sir Gawdawful hiccuped unpleasantly. “My dear, do you not think you might be embarrassing our guests with these personal revelations?” He asked anxiously.
Poor Lady Gawdawful! She has somehow accidentally married a cad instead of nice Mr. Forthright, and now she is suffering for it in every possible way. Think of it–a slight lapse of attention, a vague acquiescence at an altar, and now she’s tied for life to a suspicious, jealous brute–one who probably takes a fairly lenient view of his own infidelities, but who is crushingly severe about any suspected lapses on the part of his wife.
And she’s probably not even being technically unfaithful to her horrid old husband–because then her martyrdom would be sticky and complicated and human, and she might lose the sympathy of some of the readers. No, she merely turns to Stephen Forthright for comfort in her misery, and she occasionally permits him to pat her hand. If they’re both wearing gloves, that is. Her situation is totally miserable, and only we, the readers, know that soon all will be well for her.
Yes, we readers can trust that the nice mystery writer will fix this dreadful situation. If Sir Gawdawful is not the victim in this mystery, he will be the villain. Either way, he’ll be dead by the end of the book, and Lady Gawdawful can marry her true love with a clear conscience, which will be nice for both of them. Either way, the Wedded Blister is for it. He is, like Alice in The Triangle, in the way. He will be removed.
But not, of course, by either Mr. Forthright or Lady Gawdawful. They have to live until the end of the book, so they can be together. They will come under great suspicion, but they will manage not to have committed the murder, and all will be well for them in the end. If, that is, they are both very, very good.
Notice the contrast between this situation and The Triangle. There, we have a nice married couple and a third party of, at least, questionable niceness. In this case, the marriage will be fixed. Here, we have the marriage of a beastly cad and a martyr, with a saint-like third party. In this case, the marriage will be ended (by the death of the cad), and a second, better marriage will be arranged. Perhaps this second marriage will then form the basis of a Triangle. Who knows?
By the way, it is possible to have a female Wedded Blister, with a suffering husband–but, if I remember correctly, the husband generally receives less sympathetic treatment by the author than in the case of a suffering wife. He may even, I believe, be the killer.
Have you encountered any Wedded Blisters in any mystery novels you’ve read, dear reader? Does it always work out as I have claimed above, or are there variants or counter-examples? What do you think of this as a trope? Would you like to say hello? Leave a comment!