Original date of publication: 1924
My edition: 2008 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, April 2010
The Crowded Street is the story of a Muriel Hammond, a young girl—and then woman—who seems destined right from the start of the novel to be a spinster. At the age of eleven, she commits a major social faux pas—and her career in a marriage market that considers a woman a spinster by the age of 25 seems to go downhill from there. Although this is a social commentary about the plight of young unmarried (and married) women in early 20th century England, this is also a novel about one young woman’s coming of age as she struggles with her own sense of value in the world.
The novel has a very strong message, but it’s very subtly worked into the plot of the book. Right from the beginning, it’s impressed upon these young women that they must make themselves attractive to the opposite sex, and to wait for a husband to come along. Everywhere around Muriel, young women of her age are rushing to get married, often not caring to whom. Holtby’s message about the (sometimes desperate) rush to get married sees its extremes in the case of Muriel’s sister Connie, who at first tries to make a life for herself but ends up getting pregnant and forced into a marriage she doesn’t want.
Muriel is a very shy young woman, insecure in many ways, and I think she tries to hide that under a façade. She’s always using excuses for not marrying or going off on her own, namely that her mother needs her—when it’s very clear to everyone that her mother is just fine on her own. So it’s interesting for the reader to see what happens to Muriel—will she have the courage to forge off on her own, or will she be tied to her mother forever? This is a lesser-known classic, but one well worth bringing back into print. I’m now on the lookout for more of her books; Anderby Wold and South Riding have been reprinted by Virago.
This is Persephone no. 76. Endpaper below: