(And Not in a Fun Way)



Mrs. Galton is what we expect—imperious, manipulative, self-centered and willful.  And those are only her good qualities.  She browbeats everyone in sight and makes disparaging references to those who aren’t.  With a maternal sense that seems out of kilter with everything else we learn about her, she claims she is certain that Anthony is somehow still alive; that if he was dead she would know it. Despite her conviction that he is alive, she is still filled with vitriol at both her son and the “cheap, gold-digging tramp” who “morally destroyed him.”

Macdonald’s choice to portray her in an unsympathetic light may seem surprising at first.  She is frail and ill and in search of her only child; and she is his client.  A lesser writer would play on our sympathies.  But Macdonald has his own agenda.

  • If she was a devoted and compassionate mother, Anthony Galton’s decision to reject her would be undermined. Macdonald’s portrait of Mrs. Galton gives us insight into her son’s decisions.


  • Her attitude demonstrates the corrosive effects of wealth and power, something Macdonald is always ready to portray.


  • The reader needs to be convinced that not only is this a woman who would quarrel with her only son, but that she would proudly carry that grudge for twenty years. That’s a lot of mean.


                                        Just the facts, please, ma’am.


The interview is long on atmosphere but short on details.  Mrs. Galton is a barely cooperative witness. But Archer gets some details.

  • The last time she saw him was October 11, 1936. Anthony had brought his new, pregnant wife to the family home and the visit ended in a violent argument.


  • After Anthony left college, he went to live in San Francisco but she has no knowledge of his address or any of his associates. He cut himself off from his college friends.


  • The night Anthony left, he opened his father’s safe and took about two thousand dollars in cash as well as some of his mother’s jewels.


  • Having made those disclosures, Mrs. Galton decides it’s time for lunch. Archer is dismissed.

                              Even Archer Needs More to go on Than This


            Archer confers with the lawyer, Sable, who admits that the case is unpromising but encourages him to continue.  Their conversation is interrupted by news that Sable’s wife has telephoned and is upset.  Sable rushes off, leaving Archer with Mrs. Galton’s assistant, Cassie Hildreth, who we met on the badminton court.

The Passed Over Woman is usually a great source of information, and Cassie does not disappoint.

  • She gives Archer a copy of Anthony’s graduation photo, and then clarifies that he never graduated—he dropped out of Stanford his senior year. His parents had forced him to study engineering, a field he hated, and “he wouldn’t give his father the satisfaction.”


  • Anthony’s real interests were artistic, mainly literary. He wanted to go away and write, but he never confided any further details to her.


  • She was away at school when the final argument happened, never met the wife, and never saw Anthony again. But near Christmas that year, she received a note saying he was doing well and that one of his poems was being published.  Shortly after that, she received a copy of a small San Francisco literary magazine called Chisel.  It included a poem, “Luna,” by “John Brown.” Galton had told her that he would be using that as his pen name.  He admired the historical John Brown for attempting to free the slaves.


  • About a year after he disappeared, Cassie went to the address he’d provided in his letter but he was not there, the building was vacant, and it was in the process of being torn down.


  • Aside from the one note and the magazine, Cassie had never heard from him again. She has spent the last twenty years in the service of Mrs. Galton.


Like I said, the Passed Over Woman.







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