And its sequel, The Trial.
A Victorian family saga, with tragic but no really shocking occurrences. The shifting weight of duty between siblings and their surviving parent, and God, is the main subject; there are eleven siblings and some nearly-sibling friends, so there are lots of examples to work out the theme in.
The most central character is a academically brilliant daughter Etheldred who gives up every personal ambition - including a probable good, in all senses, marriage - because a woman has to stay home and look after her father. She knows she's neither the most homebody of the daughters, nor will she ever have a hearth of her own to be central to, so it's a fairly effective novel of renunciation.¹
Tropes and clichés illustrated in these two novels:
The fancywork bazaar. There are penwipers, and watchguards, and the pretty young things of acceptable social class who sell the doodahs wear matching flattering hats and costumes. Most incomprehensible fancywork: glass vases or bottles filled with calico and flour. Like the sand bottles from the Painted Desert? What's the calico doing?
US vs. Great Britain. Young US women have too much freedom, but are also much safer with it than they would have been in England; even honors, if each nationality could be smugly content with the comparison. On the other hand, in the early 1860s this American comment was premature:
'If you could go to sleep for a couple of years, you would wake up to find yourself in a city such as I would not fear to compare with any in Europe. Your exhausted civilization is not as energetic as ours, I calculate.'
Young Women Nowadays! they're so
sensible and clear-headed, till they have grown hard. They have been taught to despise little fears and illusions, and it is not becoming. The ear-catching phrase of condemnation, of course, is that a girl is so nineteenth-century. (Surely a rumbustious Georgian girl would be even less to their taste. Maybe only wives and widows were actually rumbustious, despite the convent-skipping precedents in Aphra Behn.)
URI: The Daisy Chain
URI: The Trial
¹This does not reconcile me at all; I have accordingly made up a third volume in which she does get a life of her own. Flora is widowed and comes back home, Etheldred goes out to combine missionary work with philology in the South Seas. Possibly she marries Leonard, though I wouldn't insist on more than a deep spiritual friendship.So wrote clew in Fiction (19th c.). | TrackBack