“Taking Mr Ravenswood”
by William Trevor
from Last Stories
Eight of the ten stories in Last Stories had been published somewhere before the collection came out in print. “Taking Mr Ravenswood” is one of the two that had not. As was the case with “At the Caffè Daria,” the other unpublished story, I wondered if “Taking Mr Ravenswood” would be any good. Was it rejected? Was it never presented for publication because it was unfinished? One thing I can say, it feels finished and it’s lovely and a bit sinister. Lesson learned: None of the stories in Last Stories is a dud, even those Trevor never got around to publishing before he died.
Mr. Ravenswood is an older, wealthy widower. He’s tidy and seems to have his life under control. By contrast, the character we follow for the most part in this story is Rosanne, a Customer Care representative at a London bank. Rosanne is a single mom who out of necessity must leave her child with a woman she doesn’t trust. The child’s father, Keith, Rosanne still loves, though we, like Rosanne’s mother, don’t see much sense in it. Keith is an uncertain force in Rosanne’s life, unsteady and volatile:
She did not deny that complication came into it: that Keith was a complicated person she accepted as the truth because he said so himself, and because it was so often confirmed by his decisions, the conclusions he reached, and his capacity for making the most of unpromising circumstances.
Toward the beginning of the story, Mr. Ravenswood asks Rosanne if she would like to go to dinner some time. Naturally, Mr. Ravenswood is the polar opposite of the man Rosanne cannot leave well enough alone. He is, she knows, very wealthy. He is polite. He doesn’t want to pressure her to accept his invitation. And she at first declines.
Keith, when he hears of this, is furious with her. He thinks she should take advantage of the man’s “weakness for girls.” Rosanne tells Keith she couldn’t:
Disagreement was fractious then, and bitter later. Why could she not? What was her trouble? When chance for once was offering so much, why couldn’t she see sense, since so often she had before?
And so the story continues, with Rosanne caught up in this awful situation. Can Mr. Ravenswood help her financially where Keith cannot or won’t? And just why, oh why, can she not feel for the kind man what she feels for the dangerous one?
Perhaps going to dinner won’t be an attempt to take Mr. Ravenswood but will instead be a healthy way for her to move on from Keith. And so she does.
Trevor’s story, though, is not so simple as what I’ve written suggests. It never really suggests that Rosanne should take advantage of Mr. Ravenswood, but it is not altogether clear that, even if she tried, Rosanne would be the one getting anything out of the relationship. This is where Trevor’s story turns rather sinister and we wonder if Mr. Ravenswood is truly what he seems.