Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thank Heaven Fasting.

Thank Heaven Fasting. E.M. Delafield

When I started to explore the classics I found I was mostly reading men, during my school career we mostly studied the writing of men. As a student (History of Art not English) with feminist principles I used to become incensed by a lot of things, one of which was the suggestion that women don’t produce great art, and they did appear to be missing from the canon barring the usual suspects of Bronte’s, Austin, Woolfe and Elliot. This was the start of my quest to read more women writers which lead to my discovery of Virago books and changed my reading habits forever. I love what Virago did, what they stood for, and still have a lot of respect for what they do now, although I mourn a little for the books they bought back, only for them to disappear again. One of the many excellent things about Persephone books is that when they bring a book back they really bring it back, so long may they prosper and expand because I find these books say far more about my experience as a woman then much of the contemporary media that comes my way.

‘Thank Heaven Fasting’ ends with the heroine, Monica, sending up prayers of thanks ardent and humble during her wedding because finally “There was no further need to be afraid, or ashamed, or anxious anymore.” A husband means a recognised position, respectability and an occupation. Monica but for one small lapse is a good Edwardian daughter of the aristocracy, not inclined to question, more than willing to conform. A moment’s indiscretion brings disaster down on her – years in the social wilderness of spinsterhood follow, as do the silent reproaches of her parents.
Without education, without much imagination, and no need to make a living, what purpose is there for such as Monica? The answer seems to be none. A more rebellious spirit would find a cause – more rebellious spirits did find causes, but Monica neither rebellious nor spirited simply wants a respectable husband and who can blame her?

The men she meets and sees as social equals, the men who may be ‘possible’ husbands are dullards or cads, here for me far more then in ‘The Way Things Are’ is contempt for the male sex. Why should such creatures as these have the power to make or break a woman? The answer of course is that they shouldn’t. The prince charming who eventually rescues Monica is also dull, and old, and physically unappealing, but he has rescued her, and she is grateful, and what’s more he does it with a certain grace. I imagine that he knows what his proposal will mean to her, but he’s generous in this victory of age over youth, indeed he has always been kind. I’m sure that Delafield truly means this as a happy ending; Monica gets what she deserves, no more, no less. We can rejoice with her because in the end she is ‘safe for ever’, and after the years of self doubt and approaching despair that is far more valuable then romance.

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