Original date of publication: 1932
My copy: 1988 (Virago Modern Classics)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Amazon UK, July 2012
Thank Heaven Fasting falls along the same lines of Consequences, EM Delafield’s novel of a young Victorian woman who can’t seem to get her act together. Monica Ingram’s family belongs to upper crust London society, and the novel opens with Monica’s coming-out into society. The title of the novel comes from As You Like It: Thank heaven, fasting, for a good man’s love,” said by Rosamond as she’s posing as a man.
At the house in Easton Square, a rigid hierarchy remains in place, personified by Monica’s rather stern mother. The rules are absolute; even being allowed out up her own picture is a sort of victory, a symbol of independence, for Monica. She’s well aware of what’s expected of her: marry or perish, because women of her class weren’t trained for much else. And the goal was to be married within three years, or else run the risk of remaining a spinster (personified in the codependent Marlowe sisters, the eldest of whom, Frederica, is “on the shelf” at the age of 24). The rules are complicated: never let a man become familiar with you by using your Christian name, for example. And all of these rules are expressed in entendres, making it that much more difficult for more modern readers to understand (Delafield has a habit of having Monica mentally “translate” her mother’s words, which makes the flow of the book chunky in places). Everything a woman does must be at the expense of a man, too; or, at least getting a husband. As such, the characterizations of the men in this novel are pretty flat; none are memorable or likeable.
Although Monica has been raised to accept these rules without question, she still falls prey to the same pitfalls that many other young women do, in the form of a young mane named Captain Christopher Lane, who, the reader can tell, is up to no good. So it’s a testament to Monica’s youth that she can’t tell the difference between sincerely and falseness. It’s interesting to watch the cycle of Monica’s life: from acceptance of the rules imposed on her to a kind of rebellion to eventual conformism. Unlike Alex, the heroine of Consequences, Monica is neither brave nor different, and it’s because of this that her story doesn’t end as tragically as it could have.