Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Rector's Daughter Revisited

Two or three months ago I blogged about THE RECTOR'S DAUGHTER by F. M. Mayor and wondered if it was time to revisit it. Well, soon after this I offered it as one of the choices for my reading group and it was the one they picked. So I have reread it and what an experience it has been. It has made me reflect on the changing relationship that one has with fictional characters. When I first read this book I was younger than the main character in this book. Mary Jocelyn is thirty-five when the story begins, looking after her elderly clergyman father and feeling bereft after the death of the disabled sister she has devoted herself to. It's set in the 1920s and Mary's life as a young single woman could scarcely be different from what mine was. Yet I identified with her strongly and when I read the novel I still do, though I overtook her long ago. When I put the novel down at the end, I found myself thinking 'I wish I could write like that.' In some ways she is a little like Jane Austen, though there is a passion and an intensity that is all Mayor's own. However they are both writers who work on a small canvas and like Austen, Mayor has an engagingly ironic cast of mind. It's hard to date THE RECTOR'S DAUGHTER from internal evidence - no mention of political events and the outside world hardly impinges at all. And yet, though there is no overt social comment, the restrictions of Mary's life and the astounding selfishness of her father speak volumes about the position of women. Mayor has a understanding of human emotions and a sympathy and a tolerance that reminds me of Trollope, though the tone of her writing is so very different. I fell in love with this novel all over again. It's a masterpiece.

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