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“Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat”

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Information

  • First published:
    • December 1959 issue of Nugget

Plot Description

Some sources refer to this as a “story-within-a-story”, but I wouldn’t go so far. It’s more like a story with a little stitched-on introduction. Critics like to point to this tale as yet another example of Dahl’s misogyny, but it’s actually quite different for a husband to win against a wife in his work (see “Lamb to the Slaughter” or “The Way Up to Heaven”).

Note: This story is based on an apocryphal anecdote dating back to at least the 1930’s. Dahl didn’t originate the plot!

Spoiler warning! Dahl introduces the story by commenting on the ruthless practice of American woman marrying men, using them, and divorcing them just for financial gain. He claims that these poor overworked men meet in bars and console themselves with tales in which cuckolded men win one over the evil forces of femininity. The most famous of these stories is “Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat”, which is about a hard-working dentist and his duplicitous wife. Mrs. Bixby leaves home once a month ostensibly to visit her aunt in Baltimore, but really she spends the time with her lover, the Colonel. On this particular occasion she receives a parting gift from the Colonel, and when she opens it on the train home she is amazed to find an extremely beautiful and valuable mink coat. In a note the Colonel explains that their relationship has to end, but Mrs. Bixby is consoled by the thought of her fabulous new possession. Immediately she begins scheming and trying to think of a story she can tell her husband about where she obtained it. She decides to visit a pawnbroker and borrow $50 against the coat, receiving a blank pawn ticket in return. When she gets home she tells her husband that she found the ticket in a taxicab and he excitedly explains how they go about claiming it. Since she doesn’t want to be recognized by the pawnbroker, she lets him go to claim the item after he promises that he’ll give whatever it is to her. He calls her from work the next day to let her know that he has the item, and that she’s going to be really surprised and happy. Mrs. Bixby is too eager to wait, so she goes to her husband’s office to pick up the coat. Imagine her surprise, then, when her husband places a mangy mink stole around her neck! She feigns happiness for his sake, while secretly planning to return to the pawnbroker and accuse him of switching the coat for this worthless item. On her way out of the office, though, she is passed by her husband’s young assistant secretary, Miss Pulteney… wearing the “beautiful black mink coat that the Colonel had given to Mrs. Bixby.”


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