The Address by Marga Minco About the Author
|31 March 1920 (age 100 years), Ginneken en Bavel, Netherlands
|Lambertus Hendrikus Voeten (m. 1945–1992)
|P. C. Hooft Award, Ferdinand Bordewijk Prize
|Het Bittere Kruid
The Address Summary in English
The narrator, a young girl, knocked on a door and as a lady opened it; she introduced herself as Mrs S’s daughter. The lady showed no sign of recognition. On the contrary, she held the door in a way to make clear that the narrator was not welcome. For some time, she kept staring quietly at the narrator. So much so that the narrator felt that the woman was not the person she had been looking for. The narrator recalled having seen her, briefly, once, years ago. But the woman soon stepped away from the door and let her in. The narrator noticed her wearing the narrator’s mother’s green knitted cardigan. The lady saw her looking at the cardigan and hid herself partially behind the door. When the narrator asked her about her mother, she said that she had thought that none of the people who had left had come back.
The lady regretted her inability to do anything for her but the narrator insisted on talking to her as she had especially come all the way to meet her. However, the lady refused to talk to her and the narrator had no option but to leave.
The narrator stood on the doorstep and looked at the nameplate again. It read “Dorling” and a little inside was “Number 46”.
She walked back to the station, thinking about her mother who had given her that address, years ago when during the first half of the War she had gone home for a few days. She had, then, at once realised that various things were missing. Her mother had then told her about Mrs Dorling, an old contact of hers. She visited their place regularly and every time she went back, she took something home with her. These things included table silver, antique plates, large vases, and crockery. She used to tell the narrator’s mother that she wanted to save all her nice things if they had to leave.
The mother seemed to have nothing against her. However, the narrator was not convinced but on account of her mother’s disapproving looks, they didn’t discuss it again.
The narrator, walking through familiar places for the first time since the War, reached the station. The sights evoked memories from a dear time.
She recalled her first meeting with Mrs Dorling. It was just the day after her mother had talked about her. Her mother had introduced her. She had noticed the woman walk out with the heavy case. Her mother informed her that she lived in Marconi Street—Number 46. She had asked her to remember that.
Now, the narrator had come after a long time. At first, after the War, she had not been interested in and was also afraid of going back. She was scared of facing the things that had belonged to her mother and that would remind her of a past that was no longer there. These things would just evoke painful memories.
But slowly and steadily, everything became more normal again and like the rest, the narrator had adjusted to her new life. Strangely, later she became curious whether all the belongings that they had left behind, would still be at that address. She felt the urge to see them, touch them and recall the memories associated with them.
After her first futile visit to Mrs Dorling’s house, she decided to try a second time. This time, a girl of about fifteen opened the door and let her in. Her mother was not at home. The narrator followed the girl along the passage. She noticed an old-fashioned iron Hanukkah candle-holder that the narrator’s family had never used as it was much more bulky than a single candlestick.
The girl led her to the living room. The narrator was dismayed. The room had things that she had wanted to see again but which now seemed to have a strange, stressful effect. She could not place what the exact reason was—it could be because of the inelegant way everything was arranged, or because of the ugly furniture or the humid smell in the room. She noticed the woollen tablecloth on which, she recalled, the burn mark that had never been repaired.
The girl put cups on the tea table and poured tea from a white pot with a gold border on the lid. Then, the girl opened a box and took some spoons out. The familiarity of all these things clouded the narrator’s mind. These emotions were different than any other that she had known.
The narrator complimented the young girl on the ‘nice’ box. She laughed and said that her mother had told her that it was an antique. She said that they had lots of antiques. She pointed round the room. The narrator noticed various things that brought back memories of the past. She remembered that as a child she had always liked the apple on the pewter plate. The young girl told the narrator that at one time, they even ate in the plates hanging on the wall. The narrator, by then, found the bum mark on the tablecloth. The girl looked curiously at the narrator.
The narrator said that one gets so used to touching such lovely things in the house that one really notices it when they are missing, that which needed repairing or must have been lent. She continued how her mother had once asked her to polish the silver—the spoons, forks and knives. Before that she had not even realised that the cutlery they used for eating, every day, was made of silver.
The girl walked to the sideboard to open a drawer and show the narrator what they ate with, but by then it was time for her to catch her train. As she walked out, she heard the jingling of spoons and forks.
Having walked out, she wanted to wipe out her past. She realised that the objects that are associated in one’s memory with the familiar life of earlier times, lose their value, at once, when one is cut off from them. She did not need them in her small rented room where the scraps of paper that they used as blackout paper still hung along the windows and no more than a handful of cutlery could fit in the narrow table drawer. She decided to forget the past.
The Address Summary Questions and Answers
Where had the narrator come? Why was she back?
The narrator is a Dutch Jew, who had to leave Holland during the Second World War. She had left along with her mother for safety. Now she was back to where her past ‘things’ lay. She wanted to see and touch her belongings in order to relive those memories.
Whom did the narrator desire to meet in Holland? Why?
The narrator was told by her mother to remember ‘Number 46 Marconi Street’, where Mrs Dorling lived; she had insisted on keeping their things safely till the war was over. After the war, the narrator was curious about their possessions that were still at that address and she went to meet Mrs Dorling.
What kind of a welcome did the narrator get from Mrs Dorling?
Mrs Dorling was cold and indifferent and evidently displeased to see the author. In fact, she tried to prevent her from entering by blocking her entrance. Later, she said it was not convenient for her to talk to the narrator at that point of time and refused to meet her.
When did the narrator first learn about the existence of Mrs Dorling?
The narrator recalled the time when she was home during the first half of the War. She had noticed that various things were missing. Her mother then told her about Mrs Dorling, an old acquaintance who renewed their contact, and came regularly, each time, carrying away some of their things.
What was the narrator’s mother’s opinion about Mrs Dorling?
The narrator’s mother considered Mrs Dorling a very benevolent lady, who strived to ‘save’ their ‘nice things’ by carrying some of them away, each time she visited. The narrator’s mother was unable to see through the lady who wished to cheat her out of her valuables, instead she felt grateful to Mrs Dorling.
What did the narrator recall about her first meeting with Mrs Dorling?
The narrator saw Mrs Dorling for the first time on the morning after the day she came to know about her. Coming downstairs, the narrator saw her mother about to see someone out. It was a woman, dressed in a brown coat and a shapeless hat, with a broad back; she nodded and picked up the suitcase.
Why did the narrator return to Marconi Street after a long time?
The narrator returned to Marconi Street after a long time because in the beginning, after the Liberation, she was not interested in all that stored stuff. She had lost her mother and was also afraid of being confronted with things that remained as a painful reminder to their past.
How did the narrator decide to go back to the ‘things’?
Gradually, when everything became normal again—the bread was of a lighter colour and she had a bed to sleep in, securely, and the surroundings became familiar again—the narrator was curious about all the possessions that must still be at that address that her mother had talked about and went there to relive her memories.
Explain: “I stopped, horrified. I was in a room I knew and did not know.”
When the narrator went to Mrs Dorling’s house the second time, a girl of about fifteen let her in. She saw familiar things but arranged differently that lent unfamiliarity to the surroundings. She found herself surrounded by things that she had wanted to see again but which really oppressed her in that strange atmosphere.
Why did the narrator not want to remember the place?
The narrator had primarily returned for the sake of memories that were linked to the things that had once belonged to her mother. However, she realized, the objects linked in her memory with the familiar life that she had once lived lost their value as they had been removed and put in strange surroundings.