Novels focusing on working life 1:George Gissing’s New Grub Street and Born in Exile
Memoir as Literature of Working Life
Short Stories and Working Lives
Novels Focusing on Working Life 1: George Gissing’s New Grub Street and Born in Exile
There is a witty Radio Four comedy series ‘Ed Reardon’s Week’ that deals with the life and times of a failed writer scratching a living from feeble commissions and doomed projects. The series name is a reference appreciated by people with a good humanities education but probably lost on the rest of us. It channels Edwin Reardon, the central character in George Gissing’s 1891 novel, New Grub Street. Reardon was a fictional product of the 1870 Education Act, which had created pathways into secondary and tertiary education for bright but poor boys. But while formally educated for professional careers these boys lacked the social background and contact networks essential for success at the time. Reardon tried to make a living writing three volume literary novels but without a private income and the relevant contacts, had little hope of sustaining a career.
Newly educated boys like Reardon were cut off from their roots but could not fit into the class for which education had not properly prepared them. They were Born in Exile, the title of the novel Gissing wrote immediately after New Grub Street, published in 1892. Its anti-hero, Godwin Peak, was another humble academic boy trying to make his way in a different career, chemical science. As with Reardon in literature, Peak’s educational attainments alone were not enough for success.
Both Gissing’s novels explored the specific problems of the protagonists with their desires (for educated middle-class women) and the more general issue of the nineteenth century need for capital to sustain middle class life. This need for capital meant that Gissing’s plots, like those of most other novelists at the time, were awash with legacies and the prospects of legacies. Generally these were in shares rather than real estate, and could easily fail with disastrous consequences for the unfortunate legatees. The two novels are also anchored firmly in the work experiences of their protagonists and tell us something about the professional practice of literature and science at the time.
The 1870 Education Act not only allowed poor boys to bid for professional jobs, it raised the level of literacy and learning in the general population, providing an expanding market for middle-brow books, papers, and magazines. Discovering what these new readers wanted and then selling it for them provided opportunities for a larger cadre of publishers and writers than had ever existed before.
In New Grub Street the main protagonists, Edwin Reardon and Jasper Milvain, are both from humble backgrounds, although Milvain’s is better as he can live frugally at his mother’s expense. The scholarly Reardon would like to put out learned articles for elite literary magazines, following the publishing pattern among the gentry. Such a life was never a commercial proposition and became even less so as social change eroded the cultural importance of the leisured class. Instead he had to write three volume novels for subscribers to private lending libraries. At least this was still serious writing and if creativity held up could provide an income of £150 to £200 a year, modest but respectable. But Reardon’s unhappy marriage inhibited his creative thought, and blocked, he could not generate enough publishable material. He was forced to work in clerical jobs and write only in his spare time. This disappointment, combined with ill health and failed marriage, led to his early death. His was not the worst case. His close friend, Harold Biffen, wrote plot-less, experimental novels about ordinary people. He lived in extreme poverty and eventually committed suicide.
Reardon should have understood the perils of ‘bread scholarship’ from the example of his uncle by marriage, Alfred Yule, a bitter editor of literary periodicals, eking out a precarious living, often unwell, married to an uneducated wife of whom he was ashamed, and surviving only because his daughter helped him with research at the people’s university, the British Museum Reading Room. Reardon ignored Milvain’s advice that he should try jobbing journalism for the new middlebrow periodicals. Milvain himself was ruthless in cultivating contacts to build his professional network and in searching diligently for a wife with the means and background to give him credibility among the upper classes, while being a thoroughly commercial operator editing middle-brow magazines to guarantee his income.
Milvain would write anything for anybody if it paid. Reardon claimed he could not write to order, nor write the new single volume novels, because it took four single volumes to earn the same as one three volume work, demanding four story ideas rather than the one for the three-decker, and his creativity was evaporating anyway. After Reardon’s death, his widow Amy fell in with Milvain and eventually married him. Amy had originally married Reardon because she thought writing romantic but found she hated the concomitant poverty. But with Milvain’s encouragement she became interested in the popular intellectual issues of the day, social science and philosophy, just as these themes were being addressed in the new media. She made an ideal wife for Milvain. He had access to the thoughts and feelings of a captive representative of his audience.
In literary life Milvain’s example showed that newly educated men could lead satisfying lives supplying books and articles for the middling sort of audience, even if they did not achieve top drawer authorship. But Godwin Peak could find no such tolerable scientific career.
Peak was an arrogant and unlikeable scholar who earned a good science degree and tried to make a living in science. He aspired to the freedom and resources to undertake the scientific research practiced by gentlemen as a learned hobby. His passion was geology and he would have liked nothing better than to study paleontology and help to push Darwinian evolution forward. He was a rationalist, author of an anonymous polemic against the church for its blinkered refusal to come to terms with evolution, yet in desperation he considered training as a clergyman to give himself the time to pursue geology as a hobby. This urge to prepare for the church was reinforced by falling in love with the sister of a gentleman university friend. The father was a clergyman geologist, desperate to find an accommodation between Darwin and the church. Peak said he would take holy orders in order to carry out this task, impressing the father and hoping to marry the daughter. But the university friend discovered that Peak was the author of the famously vicious anonymous polemic against the church, thus exposing his hypocrisy and ruining his prospects of marrying his sister.
Peak took these desperate actions to try to escape from his job as an analyst for a firm of chemical manufacturers. This he found tedious, and in a class context scarcely better than the one from which he had escaped. For Peak routine commercial analysis was no substitute for real science; conducting intellectually challenging research. While editing periodicals was a tolerable option for Milvain, chemical analysis would not do for Peak. His tale was a sorry one. His bid for clerical respectability and marriage having failed, he was saved by a modest legacy. This freed him from the need to work but was nowhere enough for a proper middle class life or to be able to conduct his own research. He escaped to the Continent to lead a modest life of the mind, dying not long afterwards from malaria while holed up in a cheap Viennese hotel.
The depressive Gissing has both his anti-heroes wind up dead without fulfilling their professional ambitions. In reality, only a few of those in such social class exile would have suffered this grim fate, but the books do reveal the truth that formal educational qualifications were not enough for a successful professional career, and that still remains the case to a lesser degree today.
Memoir as Literature of Working Life
When people write their life stories you expect to find something about their work. Strangely this is often not the case. For instance when Tracey Thorn, singer with the indie band, Everything but the Girl, wrote a memoir, Bedsit Disco Queen (2013), many readers remarked that it said little about the actual business of singing. She rectified this omission with Naked at the Albert Hall (2015), describing what singing in a band is really like.
In writing this supplementary memoir Thorn joined the band of people who have described their working lives recently. There has been a small avalanche of memoirs noticed in serious literary review. An early contributor was Jon Butterworth, whose Smashing Physics: Inside the World’s Biggest Experiment of 2014, is an account of life at the CERN particle accelerator in Switzerland searching for the Higgs Boson. By an odd coincidence two people have written about the niche community of bicycle couriers; Jon Day’s Cyclogeography: Journeys of a London Bicycle Courier came out in 2015 while Emily Chappell’s What Goes Around: A London Cycle Courier’s Story appeared in 2016.
Two notable medical memoirs are Henry Marsh’s, Do No Harm. Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery, in 2015 and Oliver Sacks’s, On the Move: A Life, of the same year. Marsh’s book about surgical practice is similar to the earlier memoir by a mid-career surgeon, Gabriel Weston’s Direct Red. A Surgeon’s Story, of 2009. Another scientist who has written in mid-career about her working life is Hope Jahren. Her memoir, Lab Girl, came out in 2016. The youthful Caitlin Doughty, philosopher of modern funeral practice, published her memoir of working in the American undertaking trade, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematorium in 2015, while a mid-ranking commercial airline pilot, Mark Vanhoenacker, also published his reflections on flying for a living in Skyfaring: A Journey With a Pilot in 2015. But probably the best-selling work memoir has been James Rebanks’s account of farming sheep on the Lake District fells, The Shepherd’s Life, which also came out in 2015.
The authors here are either professional technocrats who have undergone long training and extensive apprenticeship (surgery, fundamental science, airline pilot) or they are people who do unusual work; few of us get to be pop singers, undertakers, cycle couriers, or hill farmers. These writers do things that are more exciting, unusual, or poorly understood than the mundane work most of us do. We should want to know more about the working lives of both groups as they often work on our behalf. These memoirs help us understand why we should trust or rely on them (or conversely why we might be wise to mistrust them). These authors are probably unusual representatives of their trades or professions because most people feel no urge to write about their work.
I consider here a random group of five of these books; Gabriel Weston’s Direct Red, Henry Marsh’s, Do no harm, Tracey Thorn’s Naked at the Albert Hall, Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke gets in your Eyes, and James Rebanks on The Shepherd’s Life. Two writers are technocrats (Weston and Marsh), the other three have unusual or unpleasant jobs (Thorn, Doughty, Rebanks).
Taking the medical memoirs first, Henry Marsh has been a consultant neurosurgeon for over 25 years, is a CBE, does charitable neurosurgery in post-Communist Ukraine, and has appeared in two documentaries. He has pioneered new surgical methods for treating brain disorders, often with conscious patients. He has had many spectacular successes but also grim failures and in these reflections he tries to address both outcomes.
The book shares style and purpose with Gabriel Weston’s Direct Red, a series of tales about a surgeon’s life from a woman who became a part-time ENT registrar after her children were born. In both books each chapter tells the story of a particular example of practice, often a case study, from which general principles are developed.
Marsh is angry about the changes to the NHS in his time and writes well on the changing power relationships between hospital managers, doctors, nurses and other groups operating the complex health system. Weston’s Direct Red focuses on her reactions to what she is learning, observing or doing, or embeds self-reflection in accounts of relationships with fellow surgeons and patients. She claims the traditional view of surgeons as arrogant and offensive is outdated although she admits surgeons must be decisive and capable of causing distress if this leads to surgical benefit. Modern surgeons can no longer just be technicians; empathy is a necessary professional attribute although emotional detachment remains an essential survival tool.
A career in surgery is competitive and difficult; the surgeon faces death and distress all the time. Like Marsh, Weston is keen to show her mistakes and frustrations as well as her successes. Both writers feel that such honesty builds trust in doctors as human beings doing their best, rather better than telling fairy tales about surgeons as god-like figures with magical abilities. The surgical life is clearly exhausting and, from the evidence of Weston’s account, if you stop long enough to think about it, almost certainly unbearable.
The other three books are about occupations that can be learned more or less on the job, pop singer (Tracey Thorn), mortician (Catherine Doughty), and hill farmer (James Rebanks). With Doughty and Rebanks, there are underlying agendas behind their writing. This does not seem to be case with Thorn. She simply wants to explore the nature of singing.
Her title, Naked at the Albert Hall, tunes into the anxieties of many singers about performance. Being naked in front of an audience is Thorn’s recurring nightmare. Popular singers are untrained, they sing with their natural voices. Many have compensating individuality and character and write their own material. Being such a singer/songwriter helps sanction the lack of technical performance skills that plague so many pop singers. She posits the invention of microphone amplification as the trigger that allowed singers to ignore technical issues of volume, clarity, robustness and so on. The early crooners were the first to exploit this technology and had to fight hard to be accepted as singers at all.
Thorn developed her own style from listening obsessively to Patti Smith’s Horses, and admits significant influence from Nico. She learned that a narrow vocal range, an element of masculinity, and not having a strong voice were not impediments to a pop singing career. What is essential is authenticity, the songs must sound as if the singer really feels the emotions. Ironically she cannot afford to actually feel those emotions herself, she must be detached to deliver the material. Fear of not being authentic is a pressure that can drive singers off the stage. Dusty Springfield is her star witness, a white woman terrified that her style based on black American sound would be considered fake. Springfield grew to hate the sound of her own voice, turning backing instrumental sound up so loud in the recording booth that she could not hear her own voice. Thorn suggests that neither audience nor critics fully grasp these sorts of tensions, they cannot see into the seething cauldron of doubt in the singer’s head (although it is not clear how our appreciation might be improved if we could).
Audiences also focus exclusively on singers. They don’t pay attention to the rest of the band. This presents problems for nervous performers who do not like the limelight. Her key example here is Karen Carpenter, a singer with an exquisite vocal sound but desperate to deflect attention (unsuccessfully) onto her brother Richard who supplied the musical background. Thorn envies performers like Florence Welch who seems to bask in this lead role (though she may be guilty of failing to notice that Florence probably has her own insecurities). She also envies Adele for her expressive abilities and vocal range. Thorn does not have this technical repertoire and must hold her audience with less vocal technique.
There are always practical problems with performance. On tour, singers are subjected to constantly changing environments and are often tired. As a result they get colds, sore throats, lung inflammations (Thorn suffers from asthma) or other health problems, which seriously interfere with their ability to sing. Medical assistance is often inadequate, making the situation worse. While these are also hazards for opera singers, they loom much larger for their less well-trained and equipped pop counterparts.
Catherine Doughty (Smoke gets in your Eyes) went into the mortuary business partly to overcome her fear of death. As a girl she witnessed a child fall 30 feet from the upper story of a shopping mall and heard the hideous thud as she hit the ground. The experience led to various post-traumatic conditions that were never diagnosed. She seems to have successfully grown out of them. After graduation in medieval history she got a job in a funeral parlour in San Francisco at the age of 23.
She was thrown in the deep end and learned everything on the job. She describes the mechanics and pyrotechnics of the incinerators, the raking out of ash and bones, some of which need further crushing to reduce them to dust, outlines the medical and government paperwork associated with every funeral, and takes us out collecting dead bodies from homes, hospitals and state mortuaries. She describes the grim state of some corpses (especially suicides long immersed in the sea after jumping off San Francisco’s bridges) but finds that many are in good condition because most people die in hospital, and are quickly moved to a mortuary and processed rapidly. This professionalization is comparatively recent, for centuries people dealt with all the funeral preparations for their own relatives and friends. Routine contact with the dead has now disappeared in western societies and people are afraid of death, of dying, of dead bodies. They leave it to funeral directors and morticians who now have rather too much contact with corpses. The smell of death is impossible to wash off; cremation dust is embedded under fingernails and constantly brought home on clothing.
Most funeral parlours embalm their corpses and make much of the expertise involved and emphasize preserving the dignity of the dead. Much of this Doughty regards as flim-flam with no other purpose than to inflate profits. But she admits that dealing constantly with death requires detachment. Some deaths break through and lead to uncontrollable tears; cutting locks of hair from the head of a beautiful baby to give to the parents, or dealing with the twin cremations of a woman who died of cancer leaving a wheelchair bound husband who could not cope on his own and who committed suicide only days after she died.
These experiences convince Doughty there is a great deal wrong with the American way of death. Her Mark One system of improvement is to imagine funerals as cheerful events, joyful wakes. But she learns that grieving is an essential part of coming to terms with death, and her Mark Two system makes more of ritual and the public expression of grief. For herself she wants a green burial as she knows decomposition is horrible and wants it to happen quickly so that her molecules are soon recycled for the benefit of others.
Eventually she goes to mortician school to learn the theory and practice of undertaking and then takes a post as a driver collecting bodies in a parlour’s catchment area, which gives her time to think about improving funeral culture by bringing mourners into direct engagement with the process, while cutting down the influence of professional undertakers. Not surprisingly the National Funeral Directors Association has blackballed her. But she continues with her mission to encourage us to face death properly and incorporate it into our lives. And she thinks she has finally overcome her own fear of death.
James Rebanks (The Shepherd’s Life) has an axe to grind; there is enormous virtue to hill farming in the Lake District. Hill farmers increasingly maintain or re-adopt sheep husbandry techniques that have been practiced in the region since Viking times and they are not (as many outsiders suppose) backward peasants, simple manual labourers with little theoretical knowledge or intellectual understanding. People have tried to modernise agriculture in the region over the last half century but it has not worked. Topography and climate control what can be achieved, they govern what husbandry can be practised. This insight arrived just in time to preserve the landscape and its long-standing communities of independent farmers and shepherds. They can be cantankerous, difficult, argumentative, with generations of families not talking to each other because of festering disagreements, but it is an equal society, there are no bosses telling people what to do and they all co-operate efficiently when they need to.
Rebanks teaches us about this ancient way of life through personal biography and accounts of tending sheep through the seasons of the year, releasing Herdwick sheep onto the open fells to graze in the summer and re-gathering them in early autumn, running rams with the ewes in high autumn, keeping all sheep safe in the winter fields in cold, snow and rain, lambing in the spring, shearing in summer, cutting hay while the flocks are up on the fells, and the endless round of maintaining walls, buildings, drains, tracks and farm equipment. All involve backbreaking labour but also demand enormous amounts of tacit knowledge and understanding. Rebanks showed early talent in judging the form of a sheep, which has allowed him to mature into a leading Herdwick breeder. This is not book knowledge but is just as valuable and demanding. Rebanks thinks hill farmers should be respected as much as the professional fodder turned out by top universities.
He enjoyed primary school but hated his urban secondary school. Rebanks and his rural peers preferred learning how to farm and once off-duty behaved like ignorant yobbos. He discovered a love of books on is own once he had left school and decided (with the help of the girlfriend who later became his wife) to get the university education that was all people seemed to respect. He went to Oxford to read history (leaving with a first class degree) just to satisfy his intellectual curiosity. However, that education did prove of economic value, it enabled him to do professional work in landscape history, giving him some additional income. Farming alone does not support a family.
So what can be learned about the working lives from the memoirs sampled here? Each career path requires those following it to have a specific set of attributes, abilities, competences, practical, intellectual and social skills, education and training if they are to be successful. The combinations are all likely to be different. Those needed for, say, medical practice, will not be the same as those required to be a pop singer or a mortician. It may well be important to have the appropriate connections or background (if you want to be a farmer it is critically important to have at least grown up on a farm), and/or be in the right place at the right time. Some of these things emerge in these memoirs.
There are also features common to even the most diverse occupations. From the five accounts considered here, four require strong emotional engagement (surgery, singing, funeral directing) but cannot be practised effectively if there is too much emotional involvement. That would be exhausting and almost certainly undermine the rational and technical skills needed to practise effectively; so a degree of emotional detachment is essential.
But the key things likely to emerge from work memoir might be firstly, some understanding of what it feels like to do the job, what are its rewards, what are its disadvantages (to try to understand inside practitioners’ heads), and secondly how do practitioners relate to their clients, their peers, and their employers or bosses. All the examples here allow us to share some ‘inside the head’ feelings and attitudes but most are lacking in deep information about professional relationships.
Surgeons’ relationships with their patients figure largely, and Marsh has quite a lot to say about other professional relationships in hospitals while Weston discusses relationships with her peers, Tracey Thorn says quite a lot about audiences, Catherinc Doughty has her employer, her colleagues and a failed boyfriend in the narrative frame but her emphasis on proselytising for what she sees as the right way to hold funerals leads to a memoir centred on her own feelings and experience. Only Rebanks has significant community networks firmly embedded in his story, partly because he believes these networks are necessary for the continuation of Lake District hill farming.
Memoir is not perhaps the ideal genre for properly exploring working life, maybe it demands the more objective and thorough form of biography or, indeed, full strength fiction to really pin down what it is like to be doing some specialised thing all day.
Short Stories and Working Lives
Most of us spend a great deal of time at work but you would never guess its importance from reading fiction, which is overwhelmingly concerned with private life. For instance, few British novels deal with scientists or their work, while some other significant professions are even worse served; engineering, musical composition or museum curation, for instance. Others are treated better; notably medicine, law and police work. But overall the coverage of working life lacks depth, which is disappointing because working relationships provide as powerful a source of drama as personal ones, and understanding the motivation and behaviour of professional people is relevant to everyone who relies on their services.
To be fair, there has been some recent literary interest triggered by recent changes in the nature of working life (especially perhaps insecurity which is now spreading into many areas of professional work). Tales of working life are coming off the presses but mainly as memoirs; there has been no corresponding deluge of fiction. Part of the reason may be that a full-length novel of working life is difficult to follow for anyone not familiar with the technical aspects of the workplace concerned. Short stories can sidestep this issue and explore individual aspects of working life in depth and should therefore be ideal platforms for dissecting it. Existing short stories about work are often good at revealing the dynamics of what goes on there and some examples will demonstrate the point. Unfortunately these work stories are almost as rare as full-length novels about work.
A foundation example of the work story is Herman Melville’s novella ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ (1853). Nineteenth century novels often alluded to the lives of clerks slaving in new commercial bureaucracies, but in Melville’s story the working lives of these drudges are the focus of the narrative. For the depressive Bartleby the ennui of accurate copying and the tragic content of much of the legal material he transcribes leads to a long-drawn out suicide as he withdraws from life with his notorious reply to his employer’s requests, ‘I would prefer not to’.
After this pioneering example, series of stories about individual dramatic working lives became popular from the late nineteenth century onwards. Among the earliest were Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes detective stories and not far behind came Cronin’s tales of Dr Finlay (set before the Second World War) and Richard Gordon’s Doctor stories (set after that conflict was over). These provided rich material for television producers, so these stories became very familiar to mass audiences. James Herriot’s Vet stories (set in the 1950s) extended public engagement into veterinary medicine and also provided plentiful material for television. John Mortimer’s more recent tales about Rumpole of the Bailey started life as television scripts and then morphed into novels and short stories. In creating a barrister who was also a part-time detective, Mortimer was able to explore satirically the hidden mores and practices of the Bar.
Despite these successes (and those of more recent popular professional heroes and heroines) stories about working life are still comparatively rare, although there has been an irregular drip of literary material. Key historical examples are Bulgakov’s early twentieth century Country Doctor’s Notebook, and Primo Levi’s mid twentieth century Periodic Table.
The stories in the Periodic Table are fictionalised episodes from Levi’s life. They trace his life from student, through membership of the Italian partisans, to working as a chemist in the German death camps, and then making a post-war living as an industrial chemist. At their heart the stories are reports about the trials and tribulations of the workface. Some people consider them the best accounts of scientific life ever written.
Bulgakov’s stories are based on the eighteen months he spent in the Russian rural medical service after graduation in 1916. They deal with the mechanics of medical practice ranging from heroic tales of young doctors carrying out surgical procedures guided only by textbooks to the converse scenario of greenhorn surgeons who can learn nothing from their textbooks. But once they have acquired hands-on experience they find the books make perfect sense. Some stories are about professional failure, while others show that while Russian peasants were often profoundly ignorant they were not necessarily stupid.
There are more recent work-focused story collections, three of them dealing with science. Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever (1996) is a mixture of contemporary and historical stories set in a variety of biological contexts. In Litmus (2011) stories by different writers are designed to undermine two myths about scientific work; that scientific discovery is the result of ‘Eureka’ moments of sudden insight and that there are ‘litmus tests’ which can prove whether a new scientific fact or theory is true. Pippa Goldschmidt’s very recent collection set in the worlds of physics and astronomy, The Need for Regulation of Outer Space (2015) also gives insight into scientific practice although she is equally concerned with personal relationships and with using science as a source of literary figures of speech.
Turning to other professional activities, in 2002 David Charters published No Tears. Tales from the Square Mile, a collection set in the world of deregulated investment banking, drawing on his twelve years as a merchant banker. A minority are set on the trading floors of city firms where his characters are untrustworthy, manipulative, hyper-competitive, dishonest and greedy, members of the new generation of bankers arriving in the City after 1980s deregulation.
In 2009 Kazuo Ishiguru published a linked set of stories featuring professional musicians, Nocturnes. Five Short Stories of Music and Nightfall. Three stories feature jobbing jazz and pop musicians working in summer café bands, detailing their intensive lives together before they drift apart again. Another story shows that in performance, presentation can be as significant as talent. Another story shows that jobbing musicians can be envious of those properly trained with serious aspirations, although making a living from classical music is as precarious as working as a journeyman entertainer.
In 2014, Phil Klay, an ex-US marine deployed in the 2003/4 Iraq War, published a collection of stories about the realities and aftermath of combat, Redeployment. The stories benefit from his first hand experience and examine the reactions of NCOs and junior officers to war. They are trained as killing machines but the inevitable collateral damage among civilians worries them and they have difficulty re-adjusting to civilian life. The stories do not celebrate war, nor attack or satirise it, but tell of ordinary people deeply confused by their experiences.
Klay’s American stories are set in a professional context. Other American collections delve into the nature of a variety of jobs, blue collar as well as professional. Jim Shepard has published two such collections, Like You’d Understand Anyway (2007) and You Think That’s Bad. Stories (2011). In many tales work and personal life are closely intertwined, most of the protagonists’ family relationships are dysfunctional, and much professional work fails. In Daniel Orozco’s Orientation and Other Stories (2011), the protagonists are blue-collar with unsatisfactory jobs and non-existent personal lives. His office workers are worthy successors to Melville’s Bartleby.
All these stories are good examples of analysing the behaviour of people at work. It would be good news if more writers would compose short narratives to help readers understand what goes on, day in and day out, behind closed doors of such workplaces as offices, laboratories, clinics, and workshops.