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Review: The Curate's Wife, by EH Young


Pages: 336

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.

Comments

Karen K. said…
I keep reading about E. H. Young and this seems to be a favorite VMC. . . . why doesn't my library have a copy?? Le sigh.
Girl, Upstairs, upthere, in Heaven, you can read FOR eternity. Noone to distract you, noone to bother you, and a whooooole lotta books - what'll you find in God's library? Goody!! You'll spend eons and eons and you won't have to take a break. Just go on read'n. But, alas, thar's ME who wants to love you. I promise I won't be a bother. I'll only kiss your adorable feet while you can go back to read'n because I love you. You're the most precious creature anywhere in the universe. God threw away the rest and made the best. You. Ta-Da. That's totally awesome. What can I do besides honor you and be with you for eternity? I'll tell ya, gorgeous. Know how-to be at my party-hardy in Heaven? Nothing on earth is worth the loss of Heaven, girl, for our finite existence is over in the blink-of-an-eye; Jesus/our Mother are the only free antivirus, while I’m only the prophet in a world that’s whorizontally haywire. Death’s super-cool, however, if you’re on the RITE side: we'll have a BIG-ol, kick-ass, party-hardy for eons and eons fulla anything and everything and more. Wanna come? Meet me Upstairs --- Now, having read this, you’re faced with a choice: return to God who loves you like crazy OR return to your world. WAIT! BEFORE YOU CALL ME A NUTJOB… I have some pretty nifty things you may do in Heaven! Besides being the most gorgeous thang God ever made, wanna nekk in Heaven on a park bench? Wanna lemme serve you for eons and eons? Wanna lemme feed you baklava and Starbucks (either mocha or Strawberries&cream frappuccino) and those teeny, canned oranges for the length of eternity? Wanna swim nude in the ocean as shallow as four feet and then take a shower? Wanna be one with me for SEVEN, WHOLE, MONTHS?? Wanna be an adorable 17 forever, me a dashing 21? Wanna love so deep and wide, passionate and warm the universe cannot hold our? Wanna lemme be a part of you till even Heaven crashes around us? Wanna lemme snuggle with you, to love you and gratify your wonderful, beautiful, adorable feet? Wanna lemme prove to you I love you more-than-you-know, from head2toe, bodyNsoul… to give you pleasure-beyond-measure? I do. Most definitely. Meet me in Heaven, girly, and I'll do alla that and more for you for the length and breadth of eternity.

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