Sunday 1 March 2015

In natural sequence you'd read Jane Eyre next, watch the Orson Welles film and wonder what Jean Rhys thought of Rochester as romantic hero and the mad wife in the tower as part of his nobility.

Instead, by who knows what osmosis: The Rector's Daughter by F. M. Mayor.

A page or two in, the Rector's daughter wishes she hadn't been born. There she is in a purposefully featureless place called Dedmayne in a flat eastern county of England, in charge of her imbecilic (sic) sister and her learned autocratic father. The brothers have all moved away. The mother is dead. 'Life hath a load which must be carried on. And safely may.'

Does it have to be like this?

The Rector is a Canon with a Library and low tolerance for anyone who hasn't read it. Occasionally he consents to 'a happy day', with lunch, a leisurely afternoon, and tea to follow. Did his daughter read Jane Eyre, when she wasn't improving with Bacon's essays or transcribing Tertullian for her father, or was Trollope her only consolation? The sister dies and then there's just the Rector, his daughter, and Cook, and the village. Much revolves around walking, reading aloud, and tea.

Did Beckett draw on 'a happy day', with tea to follow?

'There's something beyond us in the wind and clouds, I never feel heaven can be at all like July,' says the Rector's daughter in her one burst of freedom with Mr Herbert, who goes on to marry someone else. After her father dies she moves to a suburb with an aunt, where 'perhaps she lost some of that individuality, that unlikeness to the ordinary world which had given her a kind of gauche, innocent charm'.

The Rector's daughter dies in the 'flu epidemic, like James Salter's mother. 'How long it was after her father's death depends on how one judges of time.' After a brief spell of being more like other people, she was glad she didn't have to do another forty years.

Heaven isn't like July, it's a wintry burst of light, a collection of poems the Rector's daughter wrote from which 'something emerges occasionally – an odd cry from the heart, or whatever there is beyond the heart, and one feels she's curiously complete'.

Jean Rhys and F. M. Mayor, elephants in a different dark room in Paris and Cambridge in the 1920s. Ella Gwendolen Rees Williams and Flora Macdonald Mayor. People say a great deal about connectivity and the like. Tossing your reading around, is how I'd say it. The books you've read are there to be played. The Library as Keyboard. The Music of Time and how one may judge it. A tune beyond us, yet ourselves.

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