Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Publication Year
Japanese Quince" is a short story about a well-to-do London businessman.
Charles Scribner's Sons first published it in 1910 as part of a collection
entitled A Motley.
action takes place on Campden Hill in London in the early twentieth century.
The main character and his neighbor both work in London's financial district,
known as "the city."
London businessman who experiences worrisome symptoms even though he is
the picture of good health.
Nilson's next-door neighbor. He is also a businessman and experiences symptoms
Wives of Nilson and Tandram:
The narrator mentions the spouses, but they have no speaking role in the
narrator tells the story in third-person point of view. The viewpoint is
omniscient only in relation to main character, Nilson—that is, the narrator
reveals Nilson's unspoken thoughts but not Tandram's.
Is a Japanese Quince?
Japanese quince is a shrub or small tree that blossoms with pink or red
flowers in early spring. Contrary to Mr. Nilson's statement in the story
that they do not bear fruit, the Japanese quince does bear pear-shaped
green, yellow, purplish green, greenish-yellow, or white fruit. The fruit
is hard when picked in the fall and not suitable for eating except when
used to make preserves. The shrub has a fragrance resembling that of pineapples,
lemons, and vanilla. Its main purpose is as an ornamental shrub for gardens.
here to see images of the Japanese quince.
in the dressing room of his home on Campden Hill in London, Mr. Nilson
experiences a sweetness in his throat and an emptiness in his chest. Opening
a window, he notices that a small tree in the Campden Hill gardens is blossoming.
“Perfect morning," he thinks; “spring at last!" (paragraph 1).
going downstairs and getting the morning paper from the sideboard in the
dining room, that same sweetness affects him as before. A bit concerned,
he goes outside for fresh air and a walk in the gardens. But only moments
pass before he again experiences the feeling of sweetness, along with a
slight ache above his heart.
considers what he ate the previous evening but recalls no food that could
cause his sensations. Then he notices the small tree that he saw from the
window. It has green leaves and pink and white blossoms. Very pretty. When
he stops to observe it, he notices his neighbor, Mr. Tandram, doing the
same. Nilson had never spoken to him even though Tandram had lived in the
house next door for five years.
obliged to speak, Nilson says, "Fine morning!" (paragraph 7),
for the time of year" (paragraph 7), Tandram says.
men are about the same height, both have mustaches, and both are carrying
the morning paper. Nilson asks whether Tandram knows the name of the tree.
was about to ask you that" (paragraph 10) Tandram says.
then steps closer to it and sees a label on it. "Japanese quince" (paragraph
13), he says.
exchange friendly small talk about the tree and the song of a blackbird
nearby, then return to their homes. When Nilson reaches the top step, he
experiences that same choking sweetness in his throat. At that very moment,
he hears someone cough or sigh. When he looks in the direction of the cough,
he sees Tandram looking out from his French window at the Japanese quince.
upset," the narrator says, "Mr. Nilson turned abruptly into the house,
and opened his morning paper" (last paragraph).
theme of the story is that many people lead a humdrum, uneventful life
but refuse to change their ways. They are in a rut. Galsworthy uses Mr.
Nilson as an example of such people.
lives in an exclusive section of London, fashionable Campden Hill, and
apparently makes plenty of money as an investor in London's financial district—known
to London residents as "the City" (a term used in the first and seventh
paragraphs of the story). Thus, he does not lack the means to lead a dynamic,
outgoing life. What he lacks is the will to become more involved with the
world around him. Consider that he has lived next to Mr. Tandrum for five
years but never once spoke with him until the mysterious fragrance brings
them together at the quince tree.
both men have mustaches, both are about the same height, both carry newspapers,
and both have dealings in the financial district. These similarities tell
the reader that there is nothing distinctive about them. They are among
the mass of men who lead lives of quiet complacency and ordinariness.
conversation they have is pleasant. Nilson thinks, "Nice fellow, this,
I rather like him" (paragraph 18). Here is an opportunity for Nilson to
cultivate a friendship with his neighbor—to get out of his rut and into
the world. But their conversation stalls, and both return to their homes.
hearing Tandrum cough, Nilson discovers that Tandrum is like him in another
way: Tandrum, too, has a reaction to the quince tree. Nilson is "unaccountably
upset" (last paragraph) that his neighbor is so much like him. Moments
before, he thought he was unique: “Morning like this! . . . and here I
am the only person in the Square who has the—to come out and—!" (paragraph
7). In other words, he thought, he was the only person in the neighborhood
who had the initiative to go outdoors and appreciate the spring day. Then
he sees Tandram. At the end of the story, Nilson goes back indoors and
opens his newspaper. Apparently, he prefers his comfortable rut.
develops his theme with concise descriptive language. The details are spare,
but none of them is wasted. Many words have more than one meaning. For
example, Nilson's "feeling of emptiness" (paragraph 1) describes a physical
sensation in his chest while also suggesting that his life is empty. Some
words describe not only an object but also an aspect of Nilson's life.
For example, Nilson's "ivory-backed handglass" (paragraph 2) suggests that
he can afford luxuries.
emphasize how similar Nilson and Tandram are—and therefore commonplace
and boring—Galsworthy says both of them are about the same height and have
brown mustaches, grey eyes, and "well-coloured cheeks" (paragraph 2, paragraph
7). Both have newspapers clasped behind their backs, and both live in houses
with a French window and scrolled iron steps. When the two men part company,
Galsworthy writes, "It struck him [Nilson] suddenly that Mr. Tandram looked
a little foolish; and, as if he had seen himself, he said: 'I must be going
in. Good morning!' " (paragraph 19). The key words here are "as if he had
climax occurs when Nilson hears Tandram cough and sees him look out the
window at the Japanese quince. It is at this moment that Nilson realizes
that he and Tandram are alike and lead the same kind of boring life.
The Japanese Quince
Japanese quince—bursting with colorful blossoms—symbolizes rebirth. Its
fragrance suggests to Nilson and Tandram that they, too, could have a new
life if they simply made the effort.
blackbird's singing makes the world cheerful and pleasant. It symbolizes
the interesting and productive persons Nilson and Tandram could become
if they also used their talents to become more involved with the world.
Questions and Writing Topics
Who recommended deep breathing
as a healthful exercise?
Nilson lives next door to Tandram.
Not until they encounter each other at the Japanese quince do they speak
to each other for the first time. Why has it taken so long for them to
Why do people like Nilson and
Tandram prefer to keep to themselves?
Was Galsworthy like Nilson and
Tandram? Or was he outgoing and daring?