Original date of publication: 1924
My edition: 1999 (Virago Modern Classics)
Why I decided to read: perusing the list of Virago Modern Classics
How I acquired my copy: ebay auction, July 2010
Mary Jocelyn is the middle-aged daughter of an elderly clergyman, who has spent all her life in Dedmayne, a quiet English village. The arrival of Mr. Herbert, son of an old friend of Canon Jocelyn’s, brings much excitement for Mary, who falls in love with him. But life is much more complicated than that, and Mr. Hebert marries Kathy, a younger woman who is Mary’s polar opposite.
FM Mayor novel is character-driven rather than plot-driven. It seems as though all her life, Mary has been waiting for something—anything to happen to her. Her life at the vicarage in Dedmayne, severely curtailed by her father, is constricting. And yet Mary spends most of this novel (covering a period of about ten years) letting things happen to her. I found it very hard to like Mary at times, considering she’s not really an active participant in what goes on in this novel. She’s not like her friend Dora, a really engaging spinster who’s embraced her unmarried status with perhaps a little too much gusto. It seems as though Mary wastes her whole life catering to the needs of other people, rather than doing things for herself. And yet, there’s a quiet passion about Mary, a desire in her to see more of the world.
The book also highlights the contrast between two generations: one of the late Victorian period, the other of the early 20th century. Although the book takes place presumably at the time it was written (1920s), the feel of the novel is very Victorian, and it may have something to do with the more or less repressed Canon Jocelyn, unable to express the way he truly feels. Mary is stuck between the two generations, unable to escape the confines of her own narrow world. It was very hard for me to understand why Mr. Herbert does a 180 in regards to his feelings for Mary; it made me dislike him all the more for being shallow. Still, FM Mayor really gets to the heart of her characters’ emotions (or lack thereof). Susan Hill put this book on her list of 40 books she’d take to a desert island. While I enjoyed this for the most part, this isn’t that kind of book for me. But it’s still very good.