The Rector’s Daughter
This 1924 novel by F. M. Mayor was chosen by listeners to Radio 4 as a neglected classic in response to an appeal by OPEN BOOK and it is currently being serialized as A Book at Bed-Time. This got me thinking and I got my paperback copy – a Penguin Modern Classic – down from the shelf. It was a book that really spoke to me when I first read it in the 1980s (I see that I bought it in September, 1982 in Birmingham) and I re-read it several times. I think this was because I so much identified with the principle character even though she was different to me in so many ways. But in one respect I was like her. I was in my thirties, wasn’t married, didn’t have children and didn’t know if I ever would – or how much I’d mind if I didn’t. Maybe after my husband and children arrived and the question was settled, this wasn’t a book I needed to go back to. And it occurs to me to wonder how much having children changes you as a reader. I don’t just mean that you get to read some wonderful books that you didn’t read in your own childhood (CHARLOTTE’S WEB, for example), or that you have so much less time for reading (the rest of Proust will have to wait until my old age), but that certain books just don’t appeal to you anymore. This is the case with Iris Murdoch whose novels I used to devour and re-read frequently. Those books gave me so much pleasure and consolation. But now they are like friends that you don’t have much in common with any more. In Murdoch’s novels there aren’t many children and I don’t remember any babies. This is such a large part of life for so many people (including me) that I feel it as a lack in a novel of this sort (I don’t mind in crime fiction. With their love affairs, their violently oscillating emotions and their lack of responsibilites for others, so many of her characters seem to belong to a phase of life that I’ve left behind. Having said that, I do still like her early novel, UNDER THE NET, which I still find very amusing.
As for F. M. Mayor, I have a feeling, flicking through THE RECTOR’S DAUGHTER, that I’d still find plenty here to engage me. Perhap it’s time to revisit it.