Sunday, April 29, 2007

"The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch" (short story): Don't fear the complicated title, please

It was the tongue-twister title of this story that I first found attractive - in a perverse sort of way. After dusting my 20 year old nearly unused Webster (I had brought it because of beautiful bright red cover!), I found the meaning of "defenestration": throwing someone or something out of window. Ermintrude is the name of a women who happens to be the heroine of the story; Inch is her surname, & her husband's.

The story is actually is a timeless piece of humor - told since times immemorial in all cultures. And yet, every telling is different. And often attractive.

Story summary (spoiler).
A man - a sound engineer - feels harassed by his wife, because she speaks too much! After one of their numerous quarrels (wife thinks she hardly speaks, ever!), he decides to do something about it.

Result is what Clarke calls Word Counter (I think), but a more appropriate name would be "Wife Silencer". Or may be "Spouse Silencer", to be politically correct.

This is an ingenious piece of electronics that can isolate words in spoken language, & can associate each word with a speaker. When switched on, every word the wife utters in the living room will increment a very visible counter called Hers; & man's word will increment the counter named His.

On the first run of a few hours, wife's counter beats man's by a factor of 100. And wife is somewhat silenced. Over next several days, situation begins to turn towards a semblance of equality, though wife still beats man by a factor of 2.

But she is feeling depressed. Says she feels stifled because of readily visible counters. OK - the man juggles the gadget so the mike is hidden in living room, & rest of the gadget in another corner of home. A temper-proof seal is attached to now invisible counters - it will be opened a week hence.

Routine becomes normal. until the seal is broken a week down the line. And surprise - man's counter beats woman's by 100! Man is incredulous, & begins debugging the machine. Defenestration occurs when he identifies the cause.

And there is a final twist yet remaining in the tale!

Well told, & enjoyable tale.

Fact sheet.
The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch, short story, review
Author: Arthur C Clarke
Genre: Comedy
Rating: A

See also.

  1. "Silence Please": This story introduced a more general purpose silencer. But gadget of our current story should appeal to more entrepreneurs - because of much larger market!
  2. "The Reluctant Orchid": Some of emotions of main protagonists are very similar.
The story appears in the following collections.
  1. "Tales from the White Hart"
  2. "The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke"

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