Whoops. I finished the second of these two in the early morning – before breakfast – on 1 September, so really it still counts as an August read and an All Virago / All August read, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? To my shame, I have already published my roundup of AV/AA, but this scheduling malarky does get a bit complicated, what with having to do a State of the TBR post around the first of each month, and not liking to post on here on a day when I’ve posted on my business blog. All self-created malarky, of course.
ANYway. Here we have two books about faithfulness. But possibly not in the way that first strikes one. In fact Susan Glaspell’s “Fidelity” is very much NOT about marital fidelity, in fact quite the opposite, with actual and perceived infidelities causing havoc in a very conservative town, its families and marriages. And “The Rector’s Daughter” doesn’t feature many quite successful marriages; however the title character is loyal and steadfast to her own morals and her own love.
Susan Glaspell – “Fidelity” (Persephone)
(02 April 2013 – bought on my trip to London when I got to the Persephone bookshop and thought I had all I wanted then decided I should buy something for myself to make up a three and get the discount, and might as well try this one)
Well, what was I THINKING? There’s a Persephone set in small-town early 20th century America about families, friendship, marriage and growing up, and it’s Persephone No. 4 which means it’s been around since their first year, and I hadn’t bought or otherwise acquired it yet? It even influenced Sinclair Lewis’ “Main Street”, which is another big favourite of mine. I have no idea how I managed not to buy it until them, as, of course, it’s a classic “Liz” read and will be a much-loved re-reader from now on.
Ruth has committed the terrible sin of falling in love with an unhappily married man in a town and a time when that is basically impossible. Shunned since she left town with said man, she returns to visit her ailing father and finds that she has a few allies, including the boy who loved her first, now one of the town’s doctors and newly married himself, and has stood up for her since she left, and other outsiders from her schooldays, as well as one of her brothers.
Broken by her best friend’s refusal to acknowledge her, she takes comfort in the small braveries of others, but there’s a hard price to pay for young Mildred, who openly supports her while in much the same position, and gets the sharp end of what Ruth has learned from her own experiences, and the doctor, whose wife is trying to slot into a new society at the same time as he is going against it.
Is the first flush of love enough? asks the book. The fidelity of the title is, of course, double-edged – while referring to the cultural norm, it also strongly underlines the need to be faithful to yourself and your own development and soul. While you do want the obvious outcome of the book to come about, you do however cheer when that’s not quite what happens. A brilliant book, a masterpiece of small-town observation and an absorbing and attractive read.
F. M. Mayor – “The Rector’s Daughter”
(15 July 2013 – bought at the Penrith Bookshop on holiday. Penguin edition but also published by Virago)
The deceptively simple tale of an unmarried woman looking after her academic, religious father in a small village, this 1924 novel is actually quite shocking in terms of what it will put its characters through – there was more than one gasp out loud moment, even though it’s set in another traditional community with 19th century attitudes in the home of a stern rector with fixed ideas of the role of women and daughters, and his own daughter, trapped by expectation and stifled by the tradition that has raised her.
A tragic tale of the ‘extra’ woman in many ways, but she does have her moments, and her great love. Satirical portraits of Bright Young Things with their very different morals and a rather louche somewhat married crowd in the South of France are contrasted with Mary Jocelyn’s quiet life with few friends, blossoming in love and in later life, with a rich interior life. Although there is a shocking moment in the plot (surprising and unusual rather than gratuitous or unpleasant), it’s a quiet novel which again discusses whether – and how – first love can last the course, marriage and fidelity. There are some excellent portraits and, like “Fidelity”, it’s partly a study on the effect on a marriage of external influences.
I’ve now also completed “Heroines on Horseback”, next up for review, and galloping through “A Dance to the Music of Time” with Matthew and Linda. I’m hoping to get to a few more books as soon as I’ve recovered my workflow from last week’s workmen (see my upcoming post for more on that little workmare!). What are you reading through the autumn?