callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

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A Wasted Life: The Third Miss Symons

The name F M Mayor seems to be in the air at the moment. Her most famous novel is The Rector’s Daughter but I chose The Third Miss Symons because it’s available as a free Kindle download. I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.

This is a short book, almost a novella. It tells (how it tells!) the story of Henrietta, known as Etty, a woman who is her own worst enemy. She longs to love and be loved but alienates her family and everyone else by her temper and disagreeable behaviour. Etty has a comfortable home and large family; she goes to school, comes home again, fails (unlike her sisters) to get married and does almost nothing at all for the rest of her life.

The days passed, the months passed, the years passed. She saw them go unregretted, and when they were gone, she did not remember them. Nothing had happened in them, bad or good, to mark their passing.

The book ends starkly, with the bald statement Henrietta died when she was sixty-three followed by the reactions of various relations and acquaintances. Her sister Evelyn, whom Etty had called for while she was dying, is at first remorseful that she couldn’t arrive in time then imagines that she sees Etty, happy at last. But even at this moment of exaltation Evelyn realized that it was not her fault, but Henrietta's own; that it was because she was so unlovable that she was so little loved.

How depressing is that? I’m afraid I couldn’t see the point of this book at all. I suppose some people might argue that it shows the limitations on women’s lives at that time but the fact is that Etty doesn’t really have any limitations. She has enough money to live on, is able to travel abroad as she pleases, could have educated herself further but can’t be bothered, has family she can visit. Many unmarried women could have made something of these possibilities but Etty simply doesn’t. My biggest problem with the book is that it is all author. We never see Etty behaving in a certain way and think, ‘stupid woman, that’s the way to lose your friend’. The author does all the work: ‘Etty did this, that or the other and the result was …’ How the same imprint which dismissed Dorothy Whipple could consider this trifling book worth reprinting is quite beyond me.

Tags: f m mayor, virago books

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