The Suburban Wife)
"'I guess I'm a Wife of Bath of a Merry Wife of Windsor, I don't mind Falstaff and the buck basket. Oh-ho!...I feel that no matter what I'll do, I'm irreversibly a lady and it's a wonderful feeling.'
"Eleanor Herbert Brent is a beautiful English woman who believes in respectability and nurtures a desire to be a wife and mother in the 'dear old-fashioned way'. But sexuality too forms her personality, and as a young graduate on the loose in London she explores it with every man she meets. She experiences everything: a restless, promiscuous youth, a wholesome suburban marriage, life on the fringes of literary London. Only one thing remains beyond her reach: the experience of real love; this and this only could transform Miss Herbert into the passionate woman she really is.
"Christina Stead (1902-1983), born in Australia, is one of the greatest contemporary writers in the English language. Miss Herbert is a powerful metaphor of the England of the decades - the twenties to the fifties - through which she lives."
Dr. Linda Mack had brought the five girls down to her Devon cottage in the car: it was June and the weather was fair. The cottage lay under fields and between two wooded spurs on a slope that ran steeply to the hidden sea. It was a stone cottage with a barn, the trees were very old; above, the high Atlantic sky streamed west.
They were five friends and a stranger. These five friends were old girls of Miss Appleyard's school on the south coast; the stranger had gone to a high school in the North. Dr. Mack was thrity-two and the others about twenty-five. This was a farewell party. Dr. Mack had taken a post in the Pacific Islands; Eleanor Brent, a handsome, athletic blonde, was leaving for a pleasure trip round the world. Dr. Mack saw that each one needed help. The stranger, a dark-haired, thin-faced girl named Janet Jackson, had given up science teaching and had become a typist in London "so that she would take a job on the stage at any time." But though she struggled she was unlucky: she had unfortunate relations with people. Linda Mack was small and fair; at first sight, rather like china, brittle with a flat surface, but she shone when she argued, with little white teeth, and clear blue eyes behind flashing spectacles. Vina de Saiter, with a thick pale braid round her oval head, looked like an abbess and had a commanding drawl; she had been for many years in a wheelchair, a result of infantile paralysis, and had already at the age of twenty-seven given up medicine and law for want of funds and become a teacher in private schools. She intended to become a Labour M.P. Vicky Ingle, a tall dark woman with a soft bosom and rounded hips but long thin arms, and an old-maidish look, was a sociologist, who had just finished a study of workers' nutrition; her special grant had run out and she was looking for a job. Mary Bird was a lively little woman with a small high solid bust and shoulders like an old-fashioned doll, was reddish with auburn hair; she looked determined, had a loud, clear voice and seemed steady enough in her profession, a secretary to women's organizations. She lived alone with her mother who had been a great fighter, a suffragette and free thinker, "a Darwinian," she said. The mother had married late, had one child, was deserted by her husband and had gradually become confused. Mentally now, she led an up-and-down existence between truths of the New Testament and progressive truths. "Mary will never get away," the others said; "I am sure Mary will get away," said Dr. Mack.
From the Virago Modern Classics paperback edition, 1992.
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Last modified: January 4, 2004.