Friday, October 8, 2010
The Rector's Daughter
I discovered The Rector's Daughter while poking around on Virago's website. I like Virago. They only publish books written by women which is interesting but not what draws me to them. They publish two of my very favorite authors: Angela Carter and Sarah Waters and I am a huge fan of the Virago Modern Classics series. These are neglected, out of print books that Virago brings back into print. By re-issuing these titles Virago helps to broaden what books constitute The Classics. Don't think that I'm whining when I point out that for centuries men decided what The Classics were, I'm not it's just the way it's been. With few exceptions women writers did not have the same opportunities to get published as men did and their works were generally not taken as seriously as the writings of their male counterparts. Virago redresses that. And. Let me be honest. By publishing books that are new to me because they are brand new and books that are new to me because they had gone out of print makes me feel like there is even more that I get to read which is so wonderful.
The Rector's Daughter was written by F.M. Mayor and originally published in 1924. It caught my attention for two reasons. The intellectual reason is that the title sounds like it could be a novel by Trollope, one of my many favorite authors. The other reason is the secretly-I-am-12 reason. Rector? Damn near killed her. Okay. I have gotten that out of the way and can now move on to a book I adore.
Dedmayne Rectory is in decline. Canon Jocelyn is aging rapidly, the house itself is an out of fashion pageant to Victorian decorating and Mary, the Rector's daughter, is a 35 year old spinster. Mary's life is organized by parish activities and the care of her sister Ruth and their Father. If Mary had lived in a different time or a different household Ruth's death might have freed her to develop a more independent life of her own. As it is the loss of Ruth only seems to cement Mary's loneliness. Her attempts to expand her world are thwarted by her not unkind Father. She experiences a brief but deeply felt romance with the arrival of Mr Herbert but what she wants is out of her reach and Mary has never learned how to pursue.
Take a bare bones look at the plot and not much happens but read The Rector's Daughter and you experience a lifetime of small lives. There is a community of richly drawn characters circling Mary. Mayor used these characters not just to believably populate Dedmayne but also to highlight Mary's Victorian life verses her desires. Her journey outward isn't dramatic or life changing by today's standards but Mary's Victorian upbringing had not prepared her for personal growth let alone what the world would expect of her in the Jazz Age.
F. M. Mayor wrote a fantastic, delicate masterpiece but how did she also manage to make this quiet novel a page turner? Incredible talent or writer voodoo? Her Mary is a complicated woman and the unfolding of her emotional life had me enthralled. I absolutely loved this book. Thank you Virago for making The Rector's Daughter available for me to be amazed by.
P.S. Virago is a U.K. publisher but their many fab-o titles are readily available here in the U.S.