‘The Vertical Ladder’ is a nice experiment in the modern technique of story-telling. There is absolutely no plot, no story. It is just an incident-and more. But the single incident is powerful enough to hold the attention of the shortness in terms of pages. The story covers sixteen pages, but that is the readers for half an hour. The story is short and elusive. I do not speak of nothing. You don’t have to linger, once you get into it, the flow cannot be resisted. One feels flowing with the speed of the story. There is nothing that impedes the movement of the story. There are no lurches left for the thoughtful reader. There is no intricate or even simple plot to absorb the mind and arrest the attention even for a while. The truth is that the story is completely plotless. There is no story either. There is no connected and logical sequence of events. The only thing that happens is the climb. Mr. Flegg climbs on.
The story deals with no character. The character sketch is only incidental. The author does not care to present a character sketch of Flegg. The dark-haired girl is referred to occasionally. There is just enough reference to make the story stand on its legs. The author does not show any definite interest in any of the characters included in the story.
The author uses the introductory method; and in that he shows a rare skill. He is a clever artist and presents a depth handling of the theme. He does not give us a crude introductory form as Maugham does in his story “The Kite’. It is true that Maugham’s crude introductory technique is not without advantages. Maugham makes the narrative direct and forceful. But Sansom’s artistic introduction serves a very useful purpose. It gives impetus to the story. Apart from the fact that the introduction serves to explain the motivating force behind the risky climb, it also lends movement to the story. The introduction thus serves a double purpose.
The story is a beautiful example of the skilled combination of the reflective and narrative technique while the usual method followed is the narrative one, still the author gives occasionally chances for reflective-the best of ten narrative and the best of the reflective style are artfully combined.
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The story is extremely interesting. Once the story is begun, one goes through it with an unflagging interest. It is surprising to find that the story is absorbing from the beginning to the end. What, then, constitutes the charm of the story? There is no story; and obviously the story should have been dull and uninteresting. It is one of the most unconventional stories written today. But it holds the interest of the reader quite alright. An analytical study of the story will reveal that the story depends for its effects on strong and potential situation. A certain gentleman (he deserves to be called a gentleman not only because he was a daring lover, but like a normal human being, he had erred: and then he suffered like a gentleman. He could stake anything, even his life for suffering like a gentleman.) Mr. Flegg entered into a bet-for no loss and gain except that he risked his life and evoked the admiration of the dark haired girl he loved-that he would climb the top of the gasometer. He began his climb up on the gasometer and he had hardly gone up ten feet high that he started feeling his own error. The rest of the story presents a very graphic chart of his rising emotional fervour and consequent set-backs. The chief interest of the story is essentially emotional. The reader’s emotion is screwed up and up to the highest pitch. The effect of the story may be compared to that one feels after reading Edgar’s description of the tall cliff on Dover as depicted in Shakespeare’s memorable drama ‘King Lear. There is something in the narrative technique which makes it easier for the reader to identify himself with the hero of the story. His feelings are rendered extremely universal. We. who read the story, feel a strange sense of sympathy for the poor sufferer. His conflicts, his aspirations, his depression; infact, the elegant tragedy of the man ceases to be personal. We share his mental agonies, painful tortures, and his overwhelming depression. What he dared is not quite startling. What he aspired to, gives dynamism to the story. But what he suffered is suffused with rich and intense passion-the fever of life, the soothing and malleable ring of pathos.
It would be idle to think that the book is a piece of unalloyed gold. There are merits in the story which cannot be denied. It can be precisely called a successful experiment in the modern technique of story-telling. But the absence of a plot is a conventional loss. The greater loss, however, is the absence of story in it. The absence of a story is amply; compensated by a skillful use of the emotionally-tense situation. But the story is after all a story- the mainstay of the art of fiction. So, one naturally feels the absence of any well-spun, or even ill-spun story. There is no story and therefore no story- interest. The loss need not be overestimated, but cannot be denied altogether.
The language of the story is remarkable. It deserves a special mention. The author shows a chosen stock of vocabulary. Apt words come to him as naturally as ‘leaves come to a tree’. His style is natural, full of ease and confidence. He is capable of using words, and so exploiting the suggestibility of these words as to build a suitable atmosphere for the story. As an experiment in literary technique, the story remains excellent and superb. It is a masterpiece of art. technically perfect and polished.