Author Topic: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number  (Read 3380 times)

Bdoomed

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Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« on: March 28, 2014, 09:29:59 PM »
Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number

by Gertrude Atherton.

“The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number” first appeared in her collection THE BELL IN THE FOG AND OTHER STORIES (1905).

GERTRUDE ATHERTON (1857-1948), a protege of Ambrose Bierce, was an American novelist, primarily of social romances, who also wrote popular histories, biographies and the occasional supernatural or dark fiction tale. Her first publication was “The Randolphs of Redwood: A Romance,” serialized in The Argonaut in March 1882 under the pseudonym Asmodeus. When she revealed to her family that she was the author, it caused her to be ostracized. She had a satirical (and sometimes harshly acerbic) wit and was an advocate for social reform and women’s rights. Her novels often feature strong heroines who pursue independent lives and she is best remembered for her California Series, several novels and short stories dealing with the social history of California. Her few contributions to the weird genre – which include “The Striding Place” (rejected by The Yellow Book as “too gruesome”) and “The Bell In The Fog” – are invariably well crafted and display a strong sense of the dramatic and a debt to Henry James. She also composed tales of psychological horror, of which this episode is one.

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“‘How long can I keep it from them?’ he asked bitterly. ‘What an atmosphere for children–my children!–to grow up in!’

‘If you would do as I wish, and send her where she belongs–’

‘I shall not. She is my wife. Moreover, concealment would then be impossible.’

They had reached the third floor. He inserted a key in a door, hesitated a moment, then said abruptly: ‘I saw in a paper that she had returned. Can it be possible?’

‘I saw her on the Avenue a few moments ago.’

Was it the doctor’s imagination, or did the goaded man at his side flash him a glance of appeal?

They entered a room whose doors and windows were muffled. The furniture was solid, too solid to be moved except by muscular arms. There were no mirrors nor breakable articles of any sort.

On the bed lay a woman with ragged hair and sunken yellow face, but even in her ruin indefinably elegant. Her parted lips were black and blistered within; her shapely skinny hands clutched the quilt with the tenacious suggestion of the eagle–that long-lived defiant bird. At the bedside sat a vigorous woman, the pallor of fatigue on her face.

The creature on the bed opened her eyes. They had once been what are vaguely known as fine eyes; now they looked like blots of ink on parchment.”





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I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?

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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2014, 07:47:21 AM »
Is there actually a point where one could just withhold morphine and the person would die, and to be able to predict the hour o that death to be this very night?  The person would go through terrible withdrawal symptoms, sure, but would that be certain to kill?

I had trouble getting into this story in large part because I was skeptical that he would be able to predict she would die this very night.  If he aimed for her to live, then maybe there would be no better way known to him than to make her suffer the withdrawal, but if he aims for her to die that is the most cruel way to die.  I assumed that he would come to the conclusion that he should give her a morphine overdose which seems like it would be both a kinder and more certain death.  Without even considering that possibility, it just made it seem that he was being cruel to see how things would play out as a result of his cruelty. 

Maybe there's a reason morphine withdrawal wasn't an option,maybe it wasn't used in a concentrated enough form to be able to OD on it or something?  I don't know.  But that made the story very hard to enjoy.

Bdoomed

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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2014, 12:03:45 PM »
Seems to me as though there could have been a supernatural aspect to this story.  He knew she was going to die, and knew that he had the power to end her.  It's as if he was taken ahold of by something.  It wasn't that he chose the worst way for her to die, it's that his thoughts were flawed from the start.  He's a man of science, yet he couldn't see past the worst solution to find anything more amicable.
I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?

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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #3 on: April 02, 2014, 08:18:02 AM »
Seems to me as though there could have been a supernatural aspect to this story.  He knew she was going to die, and knew that he had the power to end her.  It's as if he was taken ahold of by something.  It wasn't that he chose the worst way for her to die, it's that his thoughts were flawed from the start.  He's a man of science, yet he couldn't see past the worst solution to find anything more amicable.

 ???  I would've expected that a man of science who is trying to behave based only on scientific principles would've jumped directly to overdose as the logical conclusion that would make her death over the night as certain as possible.   ???

davidthygod

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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #4 on: April 02, 2014, 03:37:48 PM »
I feel for karmic balance, he should have killed her in a more slowly and painfully horrific way.
The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.

albionmoonlight

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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #5 on: April 03, 2014, 01:37:28 PM »
Seems to me as though there could have been a supernatural aspect to this story.

One of the things that I liked most about this story was the complete absence of supernatural elements.  It is horror based on a very realistic choice that a real person can and does make.  I do not think that he was possessed.  If he were possessed, I would like this story a lot less.  As it is, I love this story.

As for the questions about morphine and how it works, I just suspended disbelief and figured that this was the science of the day.  Maybe they did not understand overdose the way that we do?  I am not sure, but for whatever reason, that aspect of things did not hang me up.

One thing I wonder is the extent to which utilitarianism was seen as a viable or merciful moral philosophy at this time.  And the extent to which it was being debated.  I think that this story stands very well alone as a piece of horror.  But there may have been a whole conversation going on at the time of which this story was a part.  It may have been a much more overtly political piece than we realize.

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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #6 on: April 04, 2014, 10:15:32 AM »
The murky moral choice story is a oft-trodden one.

The reason I like this tale is because the decision that the protagonist makes may not have been the correct one; he may have doomed a family to misery by an act of mercy.

The idea that there is no ''right answer'', just the ''least wrong one'' is an idea that takes hold and I can't stop thinking about. Is the right thing to put a quick end to something or try to ease its passing? Having some beloved pets die last year brought that starkly into focus. I have no answers, but I think that's the point. Good story.

evrgrn_monster

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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2014, 01:08:03 PM »
I agree with everyone here that my immediate thought was a morphine overdose, but after he crushed the syringe he had on him, I wondered if he had even brought enough of the drug with him to even make it an option?

I did quite enjoy the horror in this story. I'm glad it didn't go super hard into the supernatural or fantastic, and kept it small and utterly horrific to contemplate. Watching someone die horribly, no matter how wretched they may be, is a part of horror that I don't see enough. We often see the story where it is the main character, or people around them, being in mortal danger from forces outside their own control. It seems that the story shown from the other side, with logic and sound mind guiding their actions, makes for some interesting story telling.

Fenrix

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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2014, 08:10:47 AM »
The hubris of the protagonist is wonderful. I think the big questions as to whether the sin of her death would stick to him less if he passively killed her rather than actively killed her. Putting a pillow over her face was not an option. Letting her slash her own throat out with a broken glass was not an option. And he still struggled with letting her succumb to the death her indulgences brought on.



One thing I wonder is the extent to which utilitarianism was seen as a viable or merciful moral philosophy at this time.  And the extent to which it was being debated.  I think that this story stands very well alone as a piece of horror.  But there may have been a whole conversation going on at the time of which this story was a part.  It may have been a much more overtly political piece than we realize.


I suspect that there are more politics here than are obvious on first blush. I would suspect that the ethical debate as well as gender politics were under scrutiny here. Consider that the author was female, and castigated upon being "outed". Consider that it follows The Yellow Wallpaper by about 15 years, which was deliberately pointed commentary.
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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2014, 01:08:05 AM »
Is there actually a point where one could just withhold morphine and the person would die, and to be able to predict the hour o that death to be this very night?  The person would go through terrible withdrawal symptoms, sure, but would that be certain to kill?

Morphine/heroin has one of the most horrible and debilitating physical withdrawals of all drugs, even the really nasty ones.  It can and has caused deaths, particularly in people already weakened from long use (and the attendant appetite suppressant and host of physical ailments.)
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doctornemo

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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #10 on: May 28, 2014, 02:32:26 PM »
"that unsexed dehumanized morphine receptacle on the bed": wow.

A powerful, bitter story, very well read.

I haven't read Atherton, but am now intrigued.

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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2014, 05:27:21 PM »
"The Foghorn" is quite excellent, in that (Henry) Jamesian mode. "Death And The Woman", "The Bell In The Fog" and "The Striding Place" all have their moments as well.  "Greatest Good" is kind of atypical in its subject matter.

doctornemo

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Re: Pseudopod 379: The Greatest Good Of The Greatest Number
« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2014, 02:29:56 PM »
What a fine, cruel gem of a story. 
I agree with evrgrn_monster about this being a small slice of horror.
And a surprisingly contemporary piece, too, given our current issues about addiction.