Original date of publication: 1934
My edition: 1985 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: it’s on the list of Virago Modern Classics
How I acquired my copy: the Philadelphia Book Trader, December 2010
EH Young is one of the authors I never would have heard about if it hadn’t been for Virago. Her novels are for the most part set in a town she calls Upper Radstowe, based upon Bristol. The heroine of this story is Dahlia, a young, nonconformist woman married to the curate of Upper Radsowe, Cecil Sproat. The pair have only known each other for eight months and been married for only three weeks, and so they are still getting to know one another. Dahlia comes from a rather checkered past; her mother Louisa is re-married to a man with whom she probably had an adulterous affair; and her sister Jenny (the main character of Jenny Wren, to which this book is a sequel) has run off with Louisa’s lodger. Then there are the Vicar, Mr. Doubleday, and his wife, whose marriage serves as a contrast to that of the Sproats.
This is a novel that centers on the theme of marriage; Dahlia is still coming to terms with what it means to be a wife, whereas Mrs. Doubleday, who has been married for thirty years and has a grown son, has become accustomed to it. Much more satisfactory is Louisa’s marriage to a local farmer, with whom she’s found perfect happiness. Louisa has found a way to be herself, whereas I think Dahlia conforms to what she thinks a curate’s wife should be like, and Mrs. Doubleday, because of the kind of domineering, selfish person she is, can’t find a way to be happy. Therefore, the only marriage with romance in it is Louisa’s. There is a constant, exhausting power struggle in the Doubleday and Sproat marriages that is absent in the Grimshaws’.
EH Young tends to focus her stories on character creation and development, and it’s interesting to watch Dahlia’s growth in the early months of her marriage. There’s little in the way of plot, in fact, not much happens, but the details of the ways that people behave when married are very good. I’m not married and therefore can’t sympathize with these characters in that way; but the novel is no less powerful for that.