Original date of publication: 1908
My edition: 1986
Why I decided to read: heard about it through the Virago Modern Classics list
How I acquired my copy: Ebay, August 2010
I’ve been on quite a “spinster lit” kick recently, since many Virago Modern Classics seem to fall along these lines. Set in the Scottish town of Crossriggs, this is the story of Alexandra Hope, a woman in her thirties who lives with her father, a vegetarian, and her widowed sister and her children. Alexandra becomes a devoted aunt, taking up reading aloud in order to support her family. Meanwhile, she begins a friendship with a married man with whom, predictably, she falls in love.
It’s a good story, but I thought that Alex was a bit dense most of the time—especially when it came to her feelings for Mr. Maitland! And I thought she was especially harsh when it comes to Van—poor Van, who seems to come out the loser in this story. I also had a bit of a problem with Alex’s personality; she was a bit Mary Sue-ish, too selfless at times to be wholly believable, or sympathetic. However, I like that she’s charming and independent, especially when it comes to taking care of herself and her family. Some of the other characters don’t quite jump off the page, either; Alex’s father is a vegetarian, which must have been quite unusual back then as he’s portrayed as eccentric.
In tone, this book is very Victorian, exploring as it does the twin themes of love and marriage. But it’s also very modern in its outlook, since it also explores the theme of happiness and one woman’s search for independence—even as she tries to support her family. Alex is wholly a woman of her time; she’s neither too old-fashioned nor too modern, which I like about her. This novel therefore embraces the old Victorian mores while at the same time exploring modern concepts. It’s a strange mix, but one I found strangely compelling.