Two Forgotten Fantasies: Lady Into Fox (1922) and Gentleman Into Goose (1924)

I have unearthed something special for you today. Two fantasies from the 1920s that were very popular in their day, but are sadly forgotten now.

Lady Into Fox (1922) by David Garnett

This short novel is about what it says on the cover. A lady turning into a fox. One afternoon, Mr. Tebrick and his wife, Silvia Tebrick (maiden name Fox), take a stroll through the forest, and Mrs. Tebrick changes into a fox, quite suddenly. It’s a huge shock, of course. It takes half a hour to let that sort of thing sink in, with some tears of shock and bafflement. Silvia is clearly present inside the fox body, but can’t talk anymore. As the sun goes down, Mr. Tebrick carries her home.

This book is shockingly serious, and sad. And it makes me wonder why author David Garnett felt compelled to write such a sad and tragic story from such an outlandish premise. Mr. Tebrick tries to take care of his wife in fox form. He brings her to their bedroom and cuts clothes for her, and feeds her, washes her and reads books to her. It becomes a story about the unconditional love that Mr. Tebrick feels for Silvia, and he tries to settle into the new situation. He will not abandon her, and Silvia is still the same inside, she still understands him and loves him. Now he has to do the household chores, and the fox interferes when he does it wrong.

Sadly, the human character of Silvia begins to disappear, gradually. The story becomes a series of tragedies for Mr. Tebrick as his wife gets bouts of fox-like behavior and loses more and more of her humanity. This leaves Mr. Tebrick in a private hell of complicated grief. He keeps trying to adapt; keeps trying to find a manner of happiness in a steadily worsening situation. For a while it feels like taking back a cheating lover or a commitment phobe who keeps relapsing and then crawling back in shame, as whiffs of Silvia’s remaining humanity can be still be seen and Tebrick holds on to that, and Silvia herself recoils in horror from her own behavior and she seeks to console Mr. Tebrick. At times he keeps the faith, and at times sinks in despair. It becomes a question whether her behavior is still proof of her old mind, or simply that of an animal. Does she acquire as a beast a new innocence in these things?

I read the whole thing as an allegory for dealing with a spouse who is deteriorating from a mental or physical illness, like Alzheimer. Mr. Tebrick, nearly mad with grief, gradually begins to realise that by holding on, he is hurting himself and Silvia both, and he has to accept her for what she is now. It’s a simple story, but not simply written. Garnett gave it a full, sometimes playful and loving but mostly tragic treatment that truly shocked me. There is so much raw grief on display here that I felt really emotional at the end. This book stayed in my mind for a long time.

Gentleman Into Goose (1924) by Christopher Ward

Now for something lighter. It took me a lot of trouble to obtain a copy of this, so I am bloody well going to review it. It doesn’t even have a modern front cover.

Being the Exact and True Account of Mr. Timothy Teapot, Gent., of Puddleditch, in Dorset, that was Changed to a great Grey Gander at the wish of His Wife. […] Worthy to be had in all Families for a Warning to Wives and by all Bachelors intending Marriage.

Written two years after Lady Into Fox, Gentleman Into Goose is a parody of that book. It’s deeply silly and a little bit petty and mean-spirited. But also quite funny because of Ward’s tongue-in-cheek writing style. So, Mr. Teapot is a well-bred gentleman. So well-bred that he has never worked a day in his life, because a real well-bred gentleman doesn’t have to debase himself that way. Mr and Mrs Teapot both marry each other because they are both under the impression that the other party is rich. Little did they know… 

So Mr and Mrs live in a cottage in Puddleditch and raise poultry. One day, Mr Teapot critically comments on Mrs Teapot’s efforts in this regard, and Mrs loses her patience.  She wishes that he was a goose, and the next moment he is an angry goose with a pipe in his mouth. My, my, what a Lovecraftian horror tale. The wife is quite happy with it, because: “For have I not to my flock one fine great gander more and it shall be hard if thou dost not profit me greatly when I pluck thee, with all thy fine feathers.

They quickly fall back into their old rhythm, the goose husband sitting in his chair in his breeches with his legs apart, puffing his pipe, and the wife working. By all accounts it is an improvement on Mrs Teapot’s life. He doesn’t nag, doesn’t need clothes or shoes, only eats little food and doesn’t appropriate all the bed sheets. She’s still friendly with him on the off-chance that he might suddenly turn back into a man. A most exciting episode is when Mr Teapot is chased by his dog Tyger, and Mr Teapot ran “with no dignified and portly waddle”.

The story ends in dismal tragedy. The wife’s desire to have total dominion over her house drives Mr Teapot outside to the other geese, where he starts philandering with the lady geese. Her own fowl, no less! It ends with Mrs Teapot eating her husband. Which, I guess, we can take metaphorically as well. What a tale! What wisdom!

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13 Responses to Two Forgotten Fantasies: Lady Into Fox (1922) and Gentleman Into Goose (1924)

  1. Bookstooge says:

    Dude, you read some weird stuff. And this is coming from a guy who reads about fantasy pirates who can stretch like rubber 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bormgans says:

    That first book is basically Kafka’s Metamorphosis, including the diminishing humanity, but than from the other point of view. It’s also heart-wrenching. One of my favorite pieces of literature ever, regardless of genre. Very interesting post this, Metamorphosis was published in 1915.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wakizashi33 says:

    Fascinating finds! When I saw the title of the first book, I was expecting a Japanese author. I’ve bookmarked this book’s Gutenberg page. Thanks for the heads up.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ola G says:

    This is really cool! I like your take on the first fantasy, seems very plausible. I wonder if I can find this book here, I’m pretty curious now to read it!

    Liked by 1 person

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