The Rector’s Daughter by F M Mayor – a Persephone reprint of a classic novel

The Rector's Daughter – Persephone Books

The Rector's Daughter – Persephone Books

The Rector’s Daughter by FM Mayor

This is a book written with such emotion and powerful thought that it is quite an experience to read, reflecting so much of disappointed love that it is a compelling experience . First published in 1924 it is not a novel of flappers and new ways, it is an ageless tale of three people caught up in a triangle of love and yearning. It has recently been reprinted in a handsome edition by Persephone books with an informative introduction by Victoria Gray, a member of the author’s family.The author, known as Flora, was educated at Newnham College Cambridge when that was a rare thing for a woman. Her own life had its tragic aspects, and this book reflects some of her disappointment. Gray points out that it revolves around four characters, a father, a daughter, a confused young man and unreliable young woman. It is a book of contrasting lifestyles, of a quiet existence, and is carefully composed to create a sense of houses, homes, which reflect characters’ personalities. It is a beautifully written book, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

As the novel opens with a description of the village of Dedmayne, a seemingly featureless place in which Mary was born and has “rarely” left. She lives with her father, Canon Jocelyn, the parish clergyman who was “conspicuous” in the neighbourhood for his superior  spirituality and academic reputation. Her mother has died, her brothers are elsewhere, and her sister Ruth is very ill and fragile.Mary has become the dutiful daughter, full of good works and parish duties when not caring for her sister. She has few friends and no potential suitors, despite the number of men who come to the Rectory to appreciate her father’s academic work. Not that it is ambitious or inspired; he gave up reading any book published after 1895. The Rectory is not suitable for giving dances, its court not encouraging for tennis. Mary could not return hospitality, she had no “coming out”, and her hesitant attempts at writing articles are callously dismissed by her father. Eventually a Mr. Herbert arrives, and even Canon Jocelyn is impressed. Mary is attracted to this particular young man, especially as he chooses to encourage her. Against the background of her dreary life any encouragement is the exception, and as she basks in his appreciation she allows herself to hope that he will propose. In small ways she becomes optimistic, breaks out of her normal way of life albeit temporarily, and dreams of leaving behind her spinster days. A decision on the part of Mr Herbert changes everything, and another woman finds her attitudes to life challenged on many levels. 

This book is full of the domestic routines, small details of life and much more that provides a total picture of life for women of the period. It is a vivid portrayal of women’s experiences and the importance of marriage for her opportunities in society. Mary is a memorable character who is described in great depth, and creates a strong empathy for a woman seen as surplus in many ways. This is a classic novel in so many ways, and I recommend it as a very special read.