As contemporary reviewers emphasised, Carey’s novels are essentially domestic, concentrating on character and situation rather than plot or incident. The Academy reviewer’ s comment on Sir Godfrey’s Granddaughters might be applied to virtually any of them:
simply a quiet story of the life of rural gentlefolk … there is plenty of interest, though it is the interest given by delicately truthful characterisation rather than by exciting sequence of events.
This fits precisely with the novelist’s own description of her working method: “I do not exactly form plots, I think of one character and circle round that.” (Black p.154) The structure of her novels, consequently, tends to be relational and thematic rather than linear, establishing a strong sense of community through the intersecting lives of the central characters, and developing parallels and contrasts between their personalities and situations. When conventionally dramatic events are used to begin a story — a parent’s death, a loss of fortune, or an unexpected inheritance — these are neither sensationalized nor used to initiate a fast-paced series of events; instead they serve to establish the much more everyday situations which are explored in detail during the rest of the novel: typically, the trauma of changed circumstances, the pleasures and pains of moving house and of becoming involved with a new neighbourhood, the struggle of a newcomer to overcome the prejudice and resentment of others, the battle with personal problems, the gradual establishing of what will prove to be the crucial relationships of one’s life. This holds even for those relatively few novels that do depend on more sensational plot ingredients. Thus in For Lilias the old chestnut, swopping of children in infancy, provides the opportunity to depict the heroine Marjory in three contrasting daughter/mother relationships – with her doting adoptive mother, with her presumed mother, with whom she has little in common, and with her real mother whose affections are completely wrapped up in the daughter she wrongly believes is hers. As the Athenaeum reviewer commented:
The plot is effective in that it affords the writer full scope for the delineation oi domestic life, in which she excels, and for the development of the character of the heroine, who is no paragon, butnevertheless a striking and attractive figure by reason of her very faults.
Similarly, the fugitive wife of Only the Governess is used for a detailed study of the slow and chequered progress towards reconciliation; the tyrannical cousin in Uncle Max and grand-mother in Rue with a Difference, two of the rare examples of a real villain in these novels, are made interesting not so much by the more novelettish contribution of their villainy to the plot mechanics as by the ordinary acts of petty tyranny they exercise daily over their households and the mental suffering and discomfort these cause their victims.
1. Class – range
The domestic world that these novels depict, like that of Charlotte M. Yonge’s with which they most invite comparison, is essentially a middle-class one and presented from a middle-class, fairly orthodox high Anglican point of view. The social position of the typical Carey family is summed up in the words of Owen in Life’s Trivial Round: “We belong to the middle class, though I hope we are gentlemen, too.” (p.83) Some characters may be proud of their “pedigree” but very few of any importance have titles; if they do, these tend to be newish creations, or city knighthoods.
Similarly, very few are really wealthy – at least in terms of the standards of fiction. As already noted, the struggle of gentlefolk with poverty predominates as a central situation: many of the protagonists (both male and female) work for a living, and of those who don’t have to work the majority enjoy what would have been seen as modest or, at best, comfortable competences. By far the most common profession for heroines’ fathers, brothers or husbands is, as one might expect given the values subscribed to, that of clergyman; indeed few of the novels are without clerical characters. The next most common profession is that of doctor, treated most extensively in Barbara Heathcote’s Trial, Uncle Max, Sir Godfrey’s Grand-daughters, Dr. Luttrell ‘s First Patient, and The Household of Peter. The pre-eminence of these two caring professions accords, often explicitly, with these novels’ central ideal of selfless service to others. Something of their status is also shared by school-teaching, important in Lover or Friend (the heroine’s father is headmaster, and one of her two suitors a junior master in his school). Teaching is also a frequent choice of work for female protagonists, due to its obvious affinities with woman’s predestined maternal role. Business or banking is the source of income of the heroine’s father in The Angel of Forgiveness, and of her future husband in Esther Cameron’s Story and Cousin Mona. The central family in Nellie’s Memories owns and runs a factory; Garth, the principal male character of Queenie’s Whim, is the proud and capable manager-owner of a stone quarry, but the heroine’s father in Aunt Diana prefers scholarly pursuits and delegates running his sawmill to others. Col. Trevor, in The Mistress of Brae Farm, is a retired Indian army officer; Captain Jack, the husband of the heroine of A Passage Perilous, spends much of the novel away at the Boer War. Solicitor and lawyer are occupations in The Sunny Side of the Hill; one of the heroes of No Friend Like a Sister is a young architect.
The essentially middle-class outlook of the novels is confirmed by the occupations that are seen as of lower status than these and entailing a definite loss of caste. Being in retail trade is the obvious example, especially when this is underlined by serving in the shop and living above it, as had been the case with Miss Jem and her parents in The Highway of Fate, and still is with the bookseller uncle and aunt in The Old, Old Story (publisher or editor is a different matter, as Only the Governess shows). Earning one’s living as a yeoman farmer or a music teacher (No Friend Like a Sister) or as a clerk (Wee Wifie) constitutes a substantial barrier to marriage with a “gentlewoman”; the eponymous hero of Robert Ord’s Atonement is conscious that his position as a managing clerk on £200 a year is beneath him. The social ambiguity of the obvious work choices for a gentlewoman, governess or companion, is made clear; however, as we shall see later, Carey not only upheld the value of women’s work and the importance of their being able to earn a living if need be, but also actively promoted the options of dress-making and nanny, both of which entailed a potentially much greater loss of caste than the more usual choices.
2. Class attitudes
The overall attitude towards class distinctions is very much what one might expect of a middle-class, middle-to-high-church novelist of the period. The class system as such is never really challenged, nor is there ever any serious canvassing of the possible long-term causes of those instances of distress or discontent among the lower-class that do get mentioned, but heroes and heroines typically set an example of sympathy towards one’s servants and other social inferiors, an understanding of their feelings and human needs, and involvement in some practical project to improve their welfare. Certain of the novels, however, do portray in often striking detail situations and relationships involving a significant difference in class; and, even though the standard wisdom is adhered to, namely that personal worth and integrity are ultimately more important than social polish, there is little attempt to gloss over or minimize the everyday realities of the class difference, neither the signs through which it manifests itself, nor the embarrassments and awkwardness and barriers to understanding experienced by both sides. One of Barbara Heathcote’s trials, for instance, is coping with the discovery that her favourite brother is married to the lower-class village school mistress whom she herself has, in a fine democratic spirit, already befriended. Similarly, the sisters who make up “the household of Peter” in the novel of that name are initially reluctant to make the overtures their brother demands of them towards a woman of lower-class origins who has once been little better than a servant, and have an even greater struggle reconciling themselves to his choice of her as wife. The dilemma of Agnes, trapped in a sterile and unsympathetic environment, but too timid to accept the fuller life her yeoman farmer suitor offers her and the estrangement from her family such a radical step would necessarily entail, does finally end with her plucking up enough courage to opt for marriage, but this basically “happy ending” will never include reconciliation with the mother and brother who clearly will never cease to cut her socially, and whose anger and coldness will always be a source of sadness to her.
Although most of the marriages across class boundaries are basically successful, despite the various problems they entail, there is one notable exception treated at length in Basil Lyndhurst. The eponymous hero is conventionally enough swept by his feelings into an unequal match with a lower-class beauty and lives to regret it. Although the narrative displays what might now seem rather too much sympathy towards his sensitivity about her lower-class origins and about her brother in trade, and although the scales are further weighted against the wife by her “inherited” alcoholism, the wife’s position and feelings also are portrayed with considerable sympathy and insight, and her husband’s contribution to her unhappiness not merely acknowledged but strongly criticized. Aline, like the far better-known first Mrs. Rochester, may have to die so the hero can mate more suitably, but she does not have to wait for a Jean Rhys to tell her story from her own point of view. Class tension, this time between mother and daughter, is covered doubly in For Lilias through the uneasy relationships between the heroine, Marjory, who by birth and upbringing is a gentlewoman, and the lower-class woman believed to be her mother, and between the latter and Lilias, the real daughter who treats her with the kindly condescension due to a former family servant. Marjory’s feeling of incompatibility with her lower-class “mother” is excused by a difference in moral standards, which, although not presented as the result of their difference in class, perhaps risks being so construed, and later by the discovery that they are not in fact related; however, here too the feelings of the lower-class character get some recognition.
3. Class and family
The most detailed and even handed treatment of the problems in a family relationship across class occurs in The Old, Old Story: indeed, this aspect of the novel was particularly singled out by the Spectator reviewer for commendation. Gloden and her younger brother are left on their father’s death with no option but to accept the home offered them by the so far virtually unknown lower-class uncle and aunt who own a bookshop and live above it; vividly portrayed are the discomforts, awkwardnesses and inconveniences suffered on both sides and compounded by Gloden’s snobbishness, her jealous fears over the ease with which her brother adapts, and her one-sided and unthinking acceptance of the services and concessions her aunt renders her – all of which for a long time prevent her reaching a proper appreciation of the real worth and genuine kindness of her “new” relations. As examples of the sort of telling and sympathetic detail given, one might cite the aunt’s mixed feelings over the way Gloden has organized her bedroom – pleasure at some sign that she is making an effort to settle in, but anxiety too over the obvious indications of a difference in tastes and life style that will inevitably handicap any such efforts; or the aunt’s heroic decision, agonizingly taken but accepted by Gloden as a matter of course, to sacrifice the best room, normally used only on festive occasions, to her niece’s daily use, so that she may have somewhere to practice her music and entertain her friends – and avoid association with the shop (1900 ed., pp.82-4, 105-6). The sympathy shown for both Gloden and the lower-class aunt and uncle by the narrative point of view, and the telling realism of the details that flesh out the situation make this novel one of the most interesting to a modern reader of those that do include some coverage of class differences.
Among the other novels which give sufficient coverage to problems relating to class difference to rate some special mention is Lover or Friend?, in which one of the heroine’s suitors has a slightly suspect mother and, it is later revealed, a criminal father with a definitely lower-class background (the discovery is admittedly enough to make marriage with the heroine unthinkable, but does not result in the total black-balling that the Athenaeum reviewer claims it does). A different type of lower-class character, the Australian rough diamond, appears in Rue with a Difference as the fiance of the secondary heroine (she persists with their engagement in spite of her growing distaste at his lack of polish, and finally learns to appreciate his sterling character), and in At the Moorings as the wife of the prodigal brother (the heroine is welcoming and helpful towards her new sister-in-law and recognizes both her good qualities and the extenuating lack of opportunities, but her accent, poor dress sense and deficiencies in social tact impose a strain on the combined household).
In Sir Godfrey’s Granddaughters upper-class snobbishness is depicted through the aristocratic grandfather, and explored rather more interestingly through one of his daughters who is married to a clergyman of humble origins but who still finds it hard to shake off the social values of her upbringing. Finally, Life’s Trivial Round, which does not treat class as the source of any problem but nonetheless reflects some of the niceties of class distinctions through the position of the narrator, “Berrie”/”Mrs. Berrie”, the lower-class distant cousin who is housekeeper and much more besides in the family, happily occupying that place below them but above the servants which is defined not only socially, in behaviour and terms of address, but also spatially, in Berrie’s “brown parlour”, the nurturing centre of the household.
Leaving aside Berrie – who serves rather than being a servant in the strict sense of the term – servants are either invisible or occupy very minor roles, as was the norm in middle-class novels, even domestic ones. Hence any rather more extended portraits do tend to stand out: Miss Jem’s personal attendant Susan in The Highway of Fate, Eppie, the old Scottish servant, in At the Moorings, and Martha in Cousin Mona are notable for having an individuality and life of their own in excess of the requirements of theme and plot, whereas Ruth in The Mistress of Brae Farm and Hannah in Merle’s Crusade are there principally to demonstrate a heroine’s interest in and care for the welfare of her social inferiors. Given the numbers of heroines shown living in genteel poverty however, one might add that they themselves are described as doing much of the work that in more prosperous circumstances they might merely oversee; although even the poorest usually have a servant for the “rough” work that would spoil the hands whose condition was so important a marker of gentility.
4. Religion and moral values
The orthodox nature of the religious and moral values that underpin the domestic world of Carey’s novels is signalled by the widespread critical perception of her as a writer of “thoroughly wholesome” books, suitable for “any mother to give a girl to read”. The perception is one that matches the author’s own professed aims, both as reported in the interview articles by Black and Tooley, and as readily deducible from comments in her novels like that of Dr. Lambert in Our Bessie; “a great deal of harm is done by overstimulating the imagination by highly wrought fiction.” Although the strength of the predominantly conservative, high Anglican values and pieties to which Carey subscribed in her writings and, it would seem, in her life must make one chary of giving any of her public opinions the status of private revelations, it would seem safe to assume they were deeply internalized. The substance of these values and pieties should become sufficiently apparent from the details of the present analysis, since they permeate her work. Explicit statements of them do sometimes occur, more particularly in the shorter tales for The Girl’s Own Paper and Religious Tract Society; but quotation would tend to mislead by suggesting a more preachy tone than the novels possess. There is no deep philosophizing, as reviewers noted, and excessive introspection is actively discouraged; instead the already known tends to be affirmed without any heavy authorial underlining. Characters simply live by, or try to live by, certain ideals which are taken as given, and which when stated explicitly find their expression in pieces of homely wisdom or familiar scriptural quotation. And even the best and most exemplary of these characters are human rather than saintly. Aunt Milly in Heriot’s Choice, for instance, is allowed to feel dismay and impatience at having to listen to her gauche niece yet again, even if she does banish “the unworthy thought” and respond as always to the demands made upon her; and the heroine of Uncle Max, as the Academy reviewer noted approvingly, is not “a female prig as deforms Bleak House”. Indeed, a fair number of the heroines are faulty, lively and even tomboyish – far from exemplary.
For a convenient summary of the ideals to which Carey subscribes, especially as they relate to women (about whom and for whom her novels were largely written) one can turn to Helen Marion Burnside’s appreciation of the novelist, as cited in the Black interview. Her words are worth quoting in full, since they have added relevance as an example of how a woman’s career was typically legitimized as being compatible with and subservient to orthodox notions of woman’s “proper” role:
I do not think that I have known any author who has to make her writing – the real work of her life – so secondary a matter as has Rosa Carey. She has so consistently lived her religion, so to speak, that family duty and devotion to its many members have always come first. She never hesitates for a moment to give up the most important professional work if she can do anything in the way of nursing or comforting any of them, and she is the one to whom each of the family turns in any crisis of life. Having had so much of this, and rather weak health to struggle against, it is the greatest wonder to me that she has been able to write as many books as she has done, and in so bright a spirit as many are written. Of course, real womanly woman’s work is the highest work, but I think few writers put it so entirely above the professional work as she does. (Black pp.155-6)
Merely as examples of orthodox domestic fiction these novels can claim to be of some interest to students of their period. What makes them particularly worth rereading, however, is the extent to which so many of them go beyond what one might expect of something that could appropriately be categorized as a wholesome domestic romance, most notably in managing, without ever seriously questioning, the values to which they appeal, to reveal something of the problems – the psychic cost even – of living up to these values. They also, as the final section of this monograph will suggest, provide a paradigm of writing by women for women readers, and of the critical reception of such writing, and in so doing might well furnish a case study relevant to certain questions currently being discussed within women’s studies.
5. Romance – young women
Although the novels can be appropriately enough classified as romances, covering as most of them do the love relationships of at least two major female characters, and ending with their marriage, they are somewhat more complex than that classification suggests. In general terms, one might note the slow and often subtly depicted development of the love relationships themselves, in line with the overall emphasis on situation rather than plot already noted as being a prime distinguishing feature of Carey’s work; in The Mistress of Brae Farm, for example, it takes half the book for the independent Ellison’s feeling of comradeship for Col. Trevor to turn into love, and two thirds of it for the eventually competing attraction between Col. Trevor and the widowed Lorraine to be recognized by them both for what it is. More particularly, one might note the extent to which these relationships differ from what is often taken to be the Victorian stereotypical ideal of the child woman and the surrogate father figure. In only thirteen of the one hundred and twenty-six or more central relationships that end in marriage is there a generation difference between hero and heroine that is foregrounded in the narrative as such; and in only five of these is there anything directly approaching a father/daughter model, with the heroine actually having been brought up by the hero or as a member of his household (Crystal in Wee Wifie, Marjory in For Lilias, Dossie in Only the Governess, and Heather in A Passage Perilous) or the contact having originated in the heroine’s friendship with the hero’s daughter (Ranee in The Household of Peter). Of course, as one might expect, mentor relationships are fairly common, irrespective of age difference, but these conform to the orthodox Victorian requirement that a woman be able to look up to her husband and rely on him for protection, and hence ask to be seen as foreshadowing a marital concern rather than as mimicking a paternal one.
Moreover, the attraction of the child-woman when she does appear is not necessarily in her childishness or her degree of dependence on the hero -indeed her adult, womanly qualities or the capacity to develop these is usually insisted upon. This applies even to Elsie Vaughan in Mrs Romney, for instance, cited as an example of “the ingenue” by Susan Gorsky (1973 p.39); the term, however, gives a potentially misleading impression of Carey’s treatment of and attitude to the type. Childhood and girlhood are attractive, but they are temporary stages on the way to womanhood. The point is complemented by the fairly negative pictures of grown-up “kittens” like Tina Pater in The Highway of Fate, who at thirty-five still looks like a child and gets up to childish tricks. On the few occasions when an approved child-woman of the permanent sort appears, whether in her simple or more angelic version, she is very much a minor character (Verity in Herb of Grace, Nest in Barbara Heathcote’ s Trial): and she is invariably upstaged by far more energetic, enterprising and, in some cases quite elderly primary characters. This holds even of the most substantial example of the type, Mollie of Mollie’s Prince, since the narrative interest and point of view very much follow Waveney, her much less saccharine twin. More significantly, direct critiques of the “wee wifie” ideal recur throughout the works, most notably in the novel of that name, in Heriot’s Choice and in Rue with a Difference. Fay, the teen-age bride in Wee wifie, suffers from being treated by her husband as if she were a child; his failure to involve her in his affairs and give her adult responsibilities is explicitly criticized. Heriot’s mistaken first choice is the girlish Polly, eighteen years old to his thirty-eight; his second is Mildred, a mature woman of thirty with whom he has a far more equal relationship. Valerie wears her “rue with a difference” because of the disillusionment which had gradually replaced her hero-worship of the canon twenty years her senior whom she had married at eighteen; widowhood represents freedom from a paternalistic authority that had been too often called on to override her own wishes and her developing powers of judgement.
6. Romance – older women
Against the thirteen major love stories of young women for considerably older men, must be set the thirty-four or more romances of mature women aged from the mid twenties to the late forties. Indeed, the extent to which older women appear as protagonists is another significant characteristic of Carey’s work, and one that probably contributed to her appeal for her largely female readership. The circumstances of these maturer heroines are worth noting, as these in most cases do relate to their being unmated at the beginning of the story, as well as providing points of identification for their older readers. Lorraine and Valerie, who have already been mentioned, are both widows whose first marriages had been unsatisfactory; five others are working women, four from necessity (Merle in Merle’s Crusade, Eden in My Lady Frivol, Sheila in At the Moorings, and Hannah in The Household of Peter) and one from choice (Ursula in Uncle Max): five more have the primary responsibility for running the family affairs or an estate (Aunt Catherine in Basil Lyndhurst, Mary in Mary St. John, Althea in Mollie’s Prince, Honor in Wooed and Married, and Ellison in The Mistress of Brae Farm), and the last two of these at least are unmarried largely because of their reluctance to give up the independence of their position; another five are their family’s Marthas, tied by their home duties towards ailing parents or their roles as mother’s help or mother-surrogate within the family (Mildred in Heriot’s Choice, Faith and Langley in Queenie’s Whim, Mattie in Not Like Other Girls, Martha in At the Moorings): three are trapped in a sterile, purposeless existence within well-to-do households (Gladys in Uncle Max, Violet in The Old, Old Story, Agnes in No Friend Like a Sister); of the others, the most interesting are the cases of Muriel in The Mistress of Brae Farm, neurotic, self-obsessed, studious, and of Elizabeth in Herb of Grace and Elinor in No Friend Like a Sister, both of whom have their emotional needs largely met by an extremely close relationship with a sister.
Not only the age but the life-experience of these heroines precludes their taking on a wee wifie role; the love relationships they eventually form are necessarily adult ones. Moreover, in a number of cases the woman is actually older or more mature in some respect than her lover. Elizabeth is senior by several years to both her suitors, as Hannah is to Peter; there is not sufficient evidence as to the relative ages of Mary St. John and Elinor and their prospective husbands, but in both cases the woman is depicted as the more established and socially assured one of the couple. The biggest gap is that in The Highway of Fate between Miss Jem, who is thirty-nine, and the opportunist nine years her junior upon whom and upon whose child she lavishes frustrated affections of years; in this case the outcome is not marriage, but his death and her adoption of the child – an outcome regarded as preferable, not so much because of the age difference in itself as because of their personalities, and her lack of sufficient physical charm to bind him to her permanently.
The emphasis on older, more experienced heroines also manifests itself in the amount of attention given to the problems faced after marriage – a rough count gives at least twenty-two protagonists and major secondary characters through whom marital problems are explored in substantial detail, not counting the many minor instances. In some cases, such as those of Lorraine and Valerie already mentioned, the problem is one of insurmountable incompatibility which is conveniently resolved by death and a more fortunate second marriage. Another example of this, treated in considerable detail, is the doomed inter-class marriage of Aline and Basil in Basil Lyndhurst. Even more interesting however are the portraits of the problems faced by compatible couples, implicitly qualifying the standard romantic conclusion “they married and lived happily ever after”. A memorable instance of this is the uncertainty still faced by the ideally matched Sheila and Luke at the end of At the Moorings: his heart condition is such that serious illness or death could interrupt their happiness at any time, as the final chapter covering the pleasures and anxieties of the months after their marriage makes abundantly clear. This, however, is an extreme case. More usually it is the struggle to make do on limited means, to fulfil under difficult conditions one’s womanly role as maker of a domestic haven for husband and children, which is covered in explicit and indeed often poignant detail. Mary Ord, the cleryman’s wife in Robert Ord’s Atonement and Olivia, the doctor’s wife in Dr. Luttrell’s First Patient are among the major characters who suffer small domestic disasters and enjoy small domestic triumphs that would have struck a responsive chord in many readers. Much of the detail, too, of rearrangings and low cost contrivances, might well have provided useful hints for those in similar circumstances; it is worth noting the link here with Carey’s involvement in The Girl’s Own Paper, which ran many highly practical articles.
For a number of couples the problem is not so much small means, although this is often a contributing factor, as an incompatibility of goals; the novels contain some fascinating depictions of the trauma involved for an otherwise devoted wife in living up to orthodox ideals of total support of and commitment to a husband’s way of life when this is different from the one she would have chosen. In particular, there is Janet in Mary St. John, jealous of her husband’s absorption in his poor parish and thwarted in her ambitions for his advancement; Clare in Sir Godfrey’s Granddaughters, hankering after the middle-class comforts she has lost, over-worked by an ascetic and exacting clergyman husband, and unable to shake off the aristocratic prejudices of her upbringing sufficiently to accept the lower-class relations she has acquired and their intervention in the education and career options of her children. For Violet in Merle’s Crusade the conflict is between her duties as mother and as wife; she is obliged to delegate much of the maternal role which she yearns to fulfil in the interests of her contributions as hostess and unofficial secretary to the career of her husband, a rising M.P. Even a relatively minor character like Mrs Brydon, mother of one of the heroines in The Sunny Side of the Hill, is of contemporary interest for the narrative acceptance of, and even sympathy for, the fact that she has mental abilities and energies that her apparently full life as solicitor’s wife in a small town, mother of a large family, and vicar’s right hand nonetheless scarcely satisfies. Although in some cases the wife’s problem is conveniently resolved, what is particularly interesting to the modern reader is both the emotional cost of this resolution and the greater number of cases in which the problem is not resolved – it may be modified somewhat by changed circumstances and the heroine may have learnt to live with it, but this is usually shown as being a s1ow and painful process; Silence, an important secondary character in Carey’s last novel, The Key of the Unknown, has by the final chapters made only the first steps towards combatting the shyness and sense of inadequacy that stand in the way of her fulfilling her social role as the wife of a successful and ambitious clergyman, and it is clear that not only will she be unable to overcome these personality traits entirely, but that her husband’s inevitable rise in his profession will impose increasing social burdens upon her.
In these instances, and many others, Carey shows that, even though ultimately she never really questions the Victorian ideals of wifely service that might be said to cause her heroines’ problems, she fully recognizes the problems themselves, and the cost that living up to these ideals could impose even upon women brought up to accept them. Indeed, in several novels the problem is such that for a time at least its only resolution is flight. The most detailed cases of estrangement and gradual reconciliation are those of Joan, in Only the Governess, driven away by her husband’s lack of demonstrativeness and her sister-in-law’s intolerance and jealousy, and of Yvonne in The Angel of Forgiveness, who spends years apart from her husband because of the sexual infidelity she believes he has been guilty of, and which indeed he nearly had (as an oldfashioned and ”wholesome” writer, Carey is not specific on these points, but they are readily deducible by a knowing reader from the comments she does venture). Both these cases do end in reconciliation, but again what is interesting is the degree of sympathy shown for the women and of understanding for their motives, despite the extremity, not to mention enormity, of their reaction by the contemporary standards to which the novelist herself perforce subscribes. Indeed, the fugitive wives could both be said to have had such a good run for their money, that the possibility of resisting the narrative closure of the obligatory happy ending does remain a possibility for the reader. Less sympathy is shown for “Mrs Blake” in Lover or Friend? who has abandoned the husband for whose fall into criminality she is partly responsible; yet even here her courage, and her extenuating desire to protect her children is acknowledged. Moreover, this case is offset by another in the same novel of a father who is totally approved for sheltering his maltreated daughter and regarding her husband as having forfeited all conjugal rights over her.
The part played by sexuality in the formation and maintenance of a relationship is not an aspect that one expects to find foregrounded in any explicit way in domestic novels of this period. However, the importance of physical attraction and physical contact is at times treated directly by Carey, most notably in Lover or Friend? Audrey’s involvement with Cyril shows that the ideals of self-abnegation and service may well trap a generous and warmhearted woman in an ultimately unsatisfying relationship; despite her deep affection and concern for him, her lack of enthusiasm for his caresses, contentment when he is absent, and reluctance to think of setting a date for their marriage are among the markers of the something lacking which she will later gain with her other suitor, Michael.
The necessary extra of “passion” also appears explicitly in The Mistress of Brae Farm: Col. Trevor mistakenly believes he will never again experience the passion he felt for his dead wife, and is content to opt for a marriage based on the strong friendship he has with Ellison until his “pulses race” for Lorraine; poor Ellison, in turn, recognizes in herself the shift from friendship to passion for Col. Trevor, but is no longer willing to marry him, precisely because she fears the irrational jealousies and suspicion that a passion not fully reciprocated will provoke in her. The physical dimension of attraction appears too in these and other novels in descriptions of heightened awareness of such things as an accidental contact with the loved one’s garment, or the lingering scent of his cigarette, and other simple pleasures of proximity. These details give the love affairs rather more credibility than the etherealized and generalized raptures with which Victorian writers are popularly supposed to cloak such matters.
However, although “passion” is thus valorized, the novels contain plenty of manifestations of a fear of excessive animality, of which sexuality would be the prime example. Sexual excess is not mentioned, but one can sense the anxieties of the period about it in the problems of alcoholism and madness in a spouse with which some characters – Basil Lyndhurst for instance – have to contend. Another interesting case of possible displacement occurs in the love story of Crystal and Raby in Wee Wifie; she has been brought up by him and his sister, and from early adolescence regards him with a jealous possessiveness; she is also prone to fits of violent temper which he has been trying to train her to control; in one such fit she flings acid at a fancied rival, and accidentally blinds Raby -thereby, incidentally, ensuring that he will never see her own extraordinary physical beauty again. Passions that one partner cannot control result in permanent physical disablement for the other.
Another likely problem area of marriage, the perils of childbirth and the debilitating effect of too frequent pregnancies, although present in many Victorian novels is often virtually negated by the overriding perception of motherhood as woman’s natural and divinely ordained role. Again though, while Carey shares the ideals of her period here, she admits the problem itself quite explicitly in the stories of a number of important secondary characters; the most detailed example is that of Mrs. Gray in Wooed and Married, exhausted from too many pregnancies and from all the day-to-day family responsibilities with which she has neither the money nor the energy and organizational, skills to cope, alienating her husband by her domestic incompetence, loss of looks and nervous fretfulness, and slowly dying from some unnamed but clearly internal woman’s complaint. The death of Honor, one of the two heroines in the same novel, from childbed fever is also given in some detail. Incidentally, the widespread silence on such matters has doubtless helped perpetuate the myth of the middle-class Victorian girl’s total ignorance; a minor incident in Sir Godfrey’s Granddaughters gives us a glimpse of the existence of such sources of information available to her
as one of those minute and realistic descriptions in which women of Molly’s class are apt to indulge, and which make the cheeks of youthful district visitors burn hotly, Molly meant no harm, poor soul! It was a grim reality to her, fighting her way with her babe through the shadows of death. (1895 ed., p.286)
10. Sibling relationships
The extent to which the novels concentrate on the stories of older heroines and on some of the problems likely to be faced after marriage, then, make them something more than the label “romance” might suggest. Another, complementary feature is the importance given to relationships other than those of courtship and marriage. Indeed, typically the central love affairs are embedded in a network of family allegiances and of friendships which assume at least equal significance in the narrative. A recurring theme is that of the supportive and often virtually marriage-like association between an unmarried brother and sister, and the often painful adjustment entailed for the sister when her place is taken by another woman. From the many examples one might select the following: Nellie and Dudley in Nellie’s Memories, on whom falls the task of acting as father and mother to their orphaned siblings; Margaret and Raby in Wee Wifie and Sheila and Edward in At the Moorings, who keep house together and function very much as a unit; Barbara Heathcote, one of whose trials is coping with the discovery of her favourite brother’s unsuitable marriage and even more of his failure to confide in her; Grace, in Not Like Other Girls, longing to substitute her onerous home duties as unpaid governess for far more congenial ones as housekeeper and assistant to her beloved Archie in his first parish, and forced to endure seeing the latter given by her mother’s decree to the more practical and generally undervalued Mattie; and Lilian in The Highway of Fate, a woman who knows she is destined never to marry and whose continuing happiness therefore very much depends on the extent to which any marriage her brother forms leaves a place for her.
Lilian’s dilemma is one that recurs persistently, reflecting, one can reasonably suppose, an unmarried novelist’s appreciation of the psychological importance of other close relationships as substitutes for the one regarded as woman’s natural destiny. The strong and supportive friendship that is so often shown developing between heroine and hero’s favourite sister, therefore, both prefigures the love relationship to come and acts as a guarantee that it will not destroy earlier ties. Moreover, and this is a point that modern readers may fail to appreciate, the ability of the new wife to get on with other women was essential to the harmony of an inward-turned household that, as was often the case, might well already contain widowed and unattached female relations of the head of the house. Such points are made in nearly all the novels both explicitly and through the situations depicted; what is possibly their most extended expression occurs in The Highway of Fate: Lilian’s brother’s first marriage to the possessive, temperamental and demanding Araby effectively deprives his sister of all vestiges of their former comradely existence; Lilian’s contentment over his second marriage to Eunice is precisely because this time she will not be excluded but as beloved sister and friend will constitute a further bond between them.
11. Other relationships
Other close relationships – sister with sister, parent with child, friend with friend – also appear frequently. On the grounds of their narrative importance one might single out the examples already given of the strong sisterly bonds that some of the older unmarried heroines enjoy, and the sisterly solidarity with which the family in Not Like Other Girls copes with the need to earn a living and to provide for their clinging-vine mother. Particularly strong mother and daughter relationships are depicted in For Lilias, mentioned earlier, and in Little Miss Muffet. A father and daughter relationship, permeated with that innocent sensuality which seems to modern readers peculiarly Victorian, is detailed in The Angel of Forgiveness.
Among the many female friendships, there are those that develop between Ellison and the destitute cousin, Lorraine, to whom she offers a home, and, in the same novel, between Lorraine and the misunderstood and neurotic Muriel, who responds to her sympathy with a crush-like devotion, as well as the friendships that bind the joint heroines of Mary St. John, Wooed and Married and For Lilias. To these should be added the more problematic friendships into which the well-balanced heroines of Basil Lyndhurst and The Highway of Fate are drawn with the heroes’ complex and neurotic first wives. Aunt/niece relationships, real or adoptive, are central to Aunt Diana and The Sunny Side of the Hill, upstaging the other relationships even, and are important in Basil Lyndhurst and The Key to the Unknown.
To correct the one-sided impression that listing the above examples might give, one should note also the many extended accounts of family disharmony and divided or simply uncomfortable households. Aunt Milly in Heriot’s Choice has uphill work as peacemaker amongst her nieces and nephews; Gladys in Uncle Max, Elinor and Bride in No Friend Like a Sister (a double-edged title), and Averil in the novel of that name suffer innumerable tyrannies and discomforts and failures to consider their feelings or wishes; Violet in The Old, Old Story and Agnes, another put-upon sister in No Friend Like a Sister, suffer as a result of being excluded from any emotionally satisfying contact with their mothers by her being monopolized in the one case by a close friend and in the other by the more highly valued son. There is also the situation described earlier of the well-brought up and snobbish Gloden in The Old, Old Story, reluctantly forced to accept a home with her lower-class uncle and aunt – a situation with its problems for both sides, made worse by the heroine’s attitude. The households ruled over by the two-faced, manoeuvering cousin in Uncle Max and the tyrannical grandmother who enjoys bullying her helpless young granddaughter in Rue with a Difference are particularly interesting here. They implicitly demonstrate the uglier potential of that enclosed female world, and one of which the heroes, engrossed in their outside pursuits, are unaware; it is the heroines, Ursula and Valerie, who grasp the truth, help counteract the domestic tyrants and finally ensure the peace and happiness of the household.
12. Women and work
The scope of these novels’ treatment of the everyday lives and problems of their women characters is extended by the substantial numbers of heroines who work, and conversely, the numbers who are restless and discontented as a result of their lack of a worthwhile occupation or of one that sufficiently extends them. To these can be added the various portraits of neurotic women, that is, women explicitly defined as suffering from some serious and long-term unbalance, and who have added interest to modern readers as possible casualties of the social and moral constraints of their middle-class Victorian gender role.
Amongst the women who work outside the home, one needs to make the distinction, particularly relevant then, between work done for pay and out of absolute necessity or to ease the financial burden on the family member on whom one would otherwise be dependent, and work often unpaid and done from choice, taken up in response to some special talent or sense of mission. It should be noted, of course, that virtually all the other heroines work, and work hard too, within the home; very few lead purely ornamental lives, and of those who do, by modern standards, most are carrying out what then seemed an important womanly duty – and by ho means a sinecure – in providing the home “sunshine”. “Laborare est orare” (work is prayer) was Carey’s own personal motto, and it could stand as that of most of her “good” fictional characters; she gives woman’s work, whether inside or outside of the home, due importance and indeed dignity in all her novels. But throughout her works the point is increasingly made that daughters as well as sons need to receive an education that will equip them to earn their own living or contribute to the family income should this ever be necessary. Typically, too, the point is given weight by being attributed to male authority figures, such as Eunice’s doctor brother in The Highway of Fate.
By modern standards the range of paying jobs taken by women characters seems extremely limited, but this does reflect to a fair extent the limited practical and socially acceptable options available to middle-class women. Teaching, whether at a day school (Hester in Sir Godfrey’s Granddaughters) or a boarding school or the humbler village school (Queenie in Queenie ’s Whim does both) or as a governess (Dym in Wooed and Married, Eden in My Lady Frivol) is the commonest occupation. Lady’s companion is the next most frequent (Rose in Nellie’s Memories and Eunice in The Highway of Fate experience respectively the worst and the best features such an occupation might offer). Other options include teaching music (Gloden in The Old, Old Story), secretarial work (Waveney in Mollie’s Prince), accountancy in a department store (Pen in A Passage Perilous) and, portrayed with distinctly mixed feelings in the same novel, girl journalist, and, for several more lower-class heroines, a position as housekeeper (Berrie in Life’s Trivial Round and Hannah in The Household of Peter). Of these the most detailed description of the work itself and of the woman’s feelings about it are to be found in the stories of Queenie, Gloden and Dym. Queenie is an exploited student teacher, Gloden is proud and snobbish and hence suffers considerably from the social ambiguities of her position; Dym provides an even more detailed study of the mistakes and mental anxieties of a girl who is too young, too spirited, and insufficiently qualified to look after girls not much younger than herself – she loses several jobs before being more suitably and happily placed as companion to a kindly older woman who is gradually going blind, but even here her failure to act in what was considered an appropriate manner still gets her into occasional trouble.
Most significant of all , however, are the two novels in which Carey consciously and explicitly sets out to promote alternative possibilities of earning a living for middle-class women, and where this indeed forms the real substance of the narrative. In Not Like Other Girls the three Challoner sisters respond to the loss of the family’s slender income by deciding to draw on skills they have already had to develop on their own account and set up as dress-makers. The loss of caste this relatively radical choice entails is offset by the advantages of being able to stay together as a mutually protective unit and to provide a home for their widowed mother; these considerations and the necessity that compels them to earn some sort of living morally justify their enterprise. Even though the novel ends “happily” with their rescue by that convenient standby the long lost and now rich relation from the colonies (in this case Australia) and a series of marriages that ensure they need never work for money again, it treats the Challoners’ work seriously and in depth. Abundant details are given of the organization of their new and much smaller house around their dressmaking activities, and the co-operative way in which the whole family carries these out; the steps to get custom and the gradual growth of their business are also gone into. Nor are the problems that middle-class women in their position might face ignored – the social embarrassments of dealing with one’s former equals and with one’s former inferiors, and of facing up to such unaccustomed and once taboo practices as carrying parcels through the town are vividly realised, as is the tiredness and sense of restriction that the new life brings with it. Moreover, the girls do eventually make a modest success of their business; and, even though they are glad to be done with it and return to their former life-style, they take pride in this success and the fact that they could have continued to support themselves if necessary. The book is one that impoverished gentlewomen could well have found enabling not only as a morale booster but in a very practical sense as well; indeed some actually did, judging by contemporary comments (see Tooley p. 166, for example). Certainly it was one of the most popular of Carey’s novels and one of those with which her name is most frequently associated. Interestly too, given the emphasis elsewhere on the importance of girls being educated to earn a living, the novel is dedicated “To my Nieces”.
A relatively radical choice of work is also made by Merle in Merle’s Crusade. Unqualified for the usual choice of teacher or governess by her dyslexia, Merle opts for the job of children’s nurse. Again the choice involves a loss of caste and again the practical and psychological problems this involves are given, along with many of the day-to-day details of the job itself. As the title suggests, Merle actively promotes her chosen career as an option for other women of her class; her arguments centre on the then virtually unquestionable appropriateness of the care of young children as woman’s work, and on the value for middle-class parents of ensuring correct speech and manners are picked up by their offspring from the earliest age. And although Merle’s story ends conventionally enough in marriage, this by no means undermines the impact of her earlier crusade.
Heroines who work not from necessity but from a sense of mission include Mary St. John in the novel of that name, who dedicates herself to church and charity work first as assistant to her clergyman brother in his lower-class London parish and later on her own account as inheritor of a country estate, Althea in Mollie’s Prince, a wealthy woman who runs an improvement and rest centre for shop girls, Averil, who supports a self-help home for the destitute, and Rotha in Robert Ord’s Atonement, who establishes an orphanage. Nursing, especially of the poor, is the chosen mission of a significant number of major female characters throughout the oeuvre, and one, of course, that builds on perceptions of woman’s natural abilities as nurturer. An early example is Margaret in Wee Wifie, barred by her mother’s hereditary insanity from marriage and motherhood but finding a surrogate outlet for her womanly “instincts” in nursing. Cathie, in Queenie’s Whim, is one of the restless heroines and she turns to nursing as a worthwhile outlet for otherwise unexploited energies and capabilities. Cathie eventually marries, but Frances in No Friend Like a Sister makes a lifetime career out of nursing, and has a position of responsibility as head of a nursing home and organizer of a nurses’ hostel.
The most detailed and appealing example, however, is that of Ursula in Uncle Max, whose independence of lifestyle and attitude make her one of Carey’s most modern protagonists. With a small competence and no compelling responsibilities, she resists family pressure and persists in undertaking training so she can set up as a unpaid district nurse in the country parish of her clergyman uncle. “A keen sense of independence, of liberty, of congenial work in perspective, seemed to tingle in my veins … I was no longer trammelled by the constant efforts to move in othhr people’s grooves. I was free to think my own thoughts and lead my own life without reproof or hindrance.” (1908 ed., p.59) In this new life however Ursula has to compete against the prejudice of the local doctor, who is extremely sceptical of the competence and staying power of someone he imagines to be motivated by female “hysterical goodness”; in an entertaining early scene Ursula mentally contrasts his cynical assumption that the basket she is carrying to her first case contains the stereotypical charitable offerings that would “pauperise” her patients with its actual contents, a highly practical and unromantic set of housecleaning materials, and later enjoys his surprise when he sees the good work to which she has put them. One does not have to have read Pride and Prejudice to guess the eventual outcome of the antagonism at first sight between Ursula and Giles Hamilton; what makes their story much more than a doctor and nurse romance, however, is the equality of their relationship. Both are people of adequate means who have chosen this work of their own accord, and are strongly committed to it; Ursula gives as good as she gets in their early exchanges; she wins Giles’s professional respect as well as his heart; and their marriage will not entail her having to give up her work but instead ensures its continuance since they will continue to work together as a team – indeed, this prospective sharing of life and work is presented as a strong attraction of the union for both.
13. Women as artists
Rather fewer heroines are presented as having a special artistic gift to which they devote the energy and time necessary for reaching a level of accomplishment well beyond that required for home consumption, but these do have an added interest as possible indirect expressions of their author’s feelings about her own career. Barbara in Barbara Heathcote ‘s Trial has ambitions as an artist, as does Aunt Diana in the novel of that name; Gloden in The Old, Old Story is a violinist. The only writer is Olive in Heriot’s Choice, overanxious and clumsy in her personal relationships yet finding expression for her deeper feelings through her religious poetry (there is a possible link here both with her creator and her close friend Helen Marion Burnside, who actually wrote the two poems by Olive quoted in the novel). Barbara, Gloden and Olive all eventually receive formal public recognition of their talents, a fact that somewhat reconciles one to the conventional endings in which love and shining in the domestic sphere resume their “proper” priority. Gloden explicitly renounces all thought of continuing her professional career and of ever performing again in public, yet in her case this seems that much less a sacrifice since her future husband not only has a highly developed musical sense but a music room in his house as well, and selects a Stradivarius as his wedding gift to his bride to be. Here as elsewhere Carey associates the ideal marriage with personal fulfilment rather than renunciation.
14. Womanly priorities
The number of protagonists who work, and the degree of sympathy and even approval with which they are depicted, is perhaps all the more notable given the fairly “oldfashioned” conservatism of Carey’s ideals of womanhood and womanly priorities. A recurring theme, for instance, is that of the woman whose sense of duty or values is misplaced, and whose work is marred as a result. The fullest expression of this theme occurs appropriately enough in one of the Religious Tract Society titles, Esther Cameron’s Story. An extended moral contrast is drawn between Esther, who puts home duties first, and her sister Carrie, who devotes her best energies to religious work outside the home, in the process neglecting her mother and siblings, and, incidentally, making it impossible for Esther herself to contribute to local church work since all her spare time is occupied by the double share of daughterly and sisterly offices that falls to her. Muriel in The Mistress of Brae Farm is another woman who neglects her duties as daughter, this time in pursuit of her private intellectual studies.
Hester in Barbara Heathcote’s Trial and Dora in Queenie ‘s Whim are examples of women whose efforts within the approved domestic sphere are seen as being governed too much by a love of power and not enough by a more proper spirit of loving and selfless service. Interestingly, they are both used to provide a contrast which favours rather less conventional heroines – with Barbara, tomboyish and decidedly undomestic, and with Queenie, whose independent strength and initiative is born of necessity rather than self-will. Many lesser characters are shown as falling into similar errors; two representative instances are the hero’s mother in Herb of Grace, so absorbed in her charity work that her son prefers to leave home and set up his own bachelor establishment, and the brother and sister-in-law in My Lady Frivol who are so engrossed in a joint research project that he unwittingly neglects his parish and she her children. As the last case suggests, the moral applies as much to male as to female characters.
15. Women and frustration
Although Carey subscribes to the orthodox views that home and family responsibilities must come first, and even one’s outside religious duties must not be overdone, she has a significant number of restless heroines for whom home and parish duties are not enough, and who need more scope for their talents and energies. In this they represent something more than heroines like Violet or Agnes who are basically frustrated because the “natural” home duties that would content them have been usurped. Even though the ultimate cure for this restlessness may be seen as being the new scope and responsibility that the right sort of marriage will eventually bring, these other heroines demand and often get some alternative outlet for their energies before this happens; moreover the notion that marriage will magically solve everything is qualified by the extensive treatment given to the problems of married women, including, of most relevance here, the restlessness and frustration that a gifted and ambitious woman can experience within even an otherwise happy union.
Barbara Heathcote is probably the most detailed depiction of what a modern reader might term adolescent restlessness, although she is twenty-two at the start of the novel – unconventional and a despiser of conventions, tomboyish, inconveniently frank, stirred by vague artistic ambitions, enthusiastic and demanding in her friendships, going her own way within the family circle and retiring to her private and fantastically arranged den to sulk or dream. Cathie in Queenie’s Whim, Marjory in For Lilias, Ethel in Nellie’s Memories, and, to a lesser extent, Dollie in Mary St. John are other restless heroines who want something more than their daily lives offer them. To them one must add the characters who have found that something more in freely chosen work, in particular Ursula, whose rejection of the polite social round in favour of district nursing has already been noted and whose married life vail involve the continuation of this work. Jill in the same novel is a young girl whose growing intellect demands greater scope than her polite education affords; Muriel, who has also been mentioned, and Virginia in Little Miss Muffet are other woman with unusual scholarly interests.
But, however much interests such as these have to be kept within due bounds, and their development sanctioned by their usefulness to others and a lack of competing responsibilities, the effects of a life spent within a narrow domestic sphere and without benefit of these wider interests are also plainly stated. Thus Belle in Robert Ord’s Atonement, soured by a long engagement and her enforced dependency within even a loving sister’s household, is literally wasting away (the point is explicitly made that she would have been better off had she been allowed to earn her own living); Faith and her sisters in Queenie’s Whim show the premature aging effect of their limited existence in a genteel and impoverished all-spinster household; Aunt Milly is rendered timid and elderly by her years devoted exclusively to tending her dying mother, but is rejuvenated by the fresh contacts and wider duties of her new role in her widowed brother’s family.
In Belle’s case inaction and frustration lead to genuine neurosis, manifested in jealous fears, broodings and the obsessive concealment of her increasing physical decline. She is one of the more than seventeen important female characters who are explicitly presented as suffering from a pathological long-term mental unbalance, as distinct from the more “normal” periods of depression and weakness which may for a time afflict basically healthy-minded women like Lorraine or Aunt Milly as a result of bereavement or some other severe emotional blow. Given the recent interest in portrayals of insanity in the period, these “neurotic” characters deserve some further comment, not least for the way in which they can be interpreted from a modern perspective as the casualties of middle-class Victorian patriarchal values – values that their author may not question, but the cost of subscribing to which she frequently seems all too well aware of. Olive in Heriot’s Choice – sensitive, scrupulous, introspective to a disabling extent – is the most developed example of the “Miss Much-Afraid” who appears regularly throughout the novels, more usually as a fairly secondary character (Hattie in Our Bessie, for instance), since the author’s preference is distinctly for more energetic and capable protagonists. Other very different forms of disabling self-absorption are shown by Muriel in The Mistress of Brae Farm, difficult, wrapt in her studies, feeling very much the odd one out in her family, and by Araby in The Highway of Fate, over-emotional, demanding, torturing herself and her new husband with fears of any diminution of his feelings for her; Silence and her almost pathological shyness could be included here too.
Figures of entrapment within the self, often accompanied by literal withdrawal from the world, can be taken as an extreme projection of the inward-looking and circumscribed life offered women as an ideal – thus Mrs Lydhurst, so driven beyond endurance by her husband as to flee leaving her infant son behind her, lives as a recluse and effectively feeds her profound depression; so too Mrs Cheyne in Not Like Other Girls, whose temper and whims have driven her husband away, and who suffers from nerves and periodic nocturnal fits. The most extreme case is the mother of the joint heroines in ‘But Men Must Work’ who retreats from a suspected murder within the family and the attendant disgrace into a death-like semi-comatose state from which she never emerges, thus taking as it were woman’s forced inaction to its logical extreme – significantly, it is not her daughters but the two men who love them who take the action necessary to solve the case and release them from their self-enforced seclusion. Gladys in Uncle Max could be seen as another trapped woman; while not presented as neurotic by nature, she is nonetheless a sensitive and somewhat delicate woman who is subtly thwarted and persecuted by the older female cousin who has assumed charge of the household. This situation and the lack of any long-term escape from it seriously affect her health and bring her to the verge of a mental breakdown.
The neurotic spinster, fussy, fretful, easily wounded, deprived of woman’s natural fulfilment as wife and mother and not strong enough to create an alternative outlet for herself, appears in Faith in Life’s Trivial Round, and Joanna in Mollie’s Prince. These need offsetting however by the examples, more prominently treated, of single women who refute the “old maid” stereotype by making full and emotionally satisfying lives for themselves. Most notable here in that they never do finally marry are Aunt Diana, with her painting and her warm relationship with a favourite niece, and Aunt Margaret in The Sunny Side of the Hill, with her garden and the comradely friendship with the man she once hoped to marry and her involvement in her brother’s children. To these one might add the self-effacing first person narrators of Life’s Trivial Round and Other Peoples’ Lives, who build their happiness around their supportive roles in other lives.
More violent and extreme types of unbalance in major characters are Aline’s alcoholism and Crystal’s wild outbursts of temper. The latter is not treated as insanity but rather as an extreme form of the drives and desires of the natural self, which must learn to yield to social and moral constraints; the distinction is underlined by Crystal’s eventual marriage to the mentor-lover who will ensure she continues to win the battle over self, and by the contrasting fate of the apparently well-balanced Margaret, barred from marriage with the man she loves by her mother’s insanity. Two other extreme cases, and the only examples of unbalance that are not treated with sympathy, are those of Etta, the domestic tyrant of Uncle Max, sly, manipulative, driven by cravings for money and power, and described as having “some twist or warp in her nature” (1908 ed., p.425); and of the sadistic grandmother in Rue with a Difference. The one important example remaining is Mrs Blake in Lover or Friend?, who is a woman of extremes, devoted to her elder son and neglectful of her other two children, given to ignoring her household responsibilities or engaging in ill-timed frenzies of activity, over-reacting to deficiencies in her husband, which her own behaviour compounds, by changing her name and living as a widow, and, on her favourite son’s death, by abandoning her surviving children to the charity of others and retreating into a convent. The Spectator reviewer was particularly impressed by the “truthful and delicate art” with which this complex character “with its curious surface contradictions and its underlying unity” was drawn; “Mrs. Blake is never in the least shadowy, and yet to the last she puzzles us just as we should be puzzled by a similar character in real life”.
16. Female emancipation
Given her obvious subscription to traditional ideals of womanhood and woman’s role, it is hardly feasible to claim that Carey was an active or even a closet emancipist. Enough details of her treatment of women’s lives and problems have been given, however, to show that she is not exactly the strong anti-emancipist that her “oldfashioned” values might lead one to expect. A significant feature here is the absence from her novels of the severe caricatures of “new women”, or the almost hysterical hostility towards them that one finds in Eliza Lynn Linton’s The Rebel of the Family, for instance. Her one portrait of an active emancipist occurs in Wooed and Married, in the chapter promisingly entitled “The Rights and Wrongs of Women”; yet the “strong-minded woman” here, who is on school boards and speaks on platforms in favour of woman’s rights, is shown as being motherly and quite kindly to the out-of-work heroine, even though she does not provide her with any real assistance, and her disappointment over a bonnet is treated with the gentlest of satire. And although two of the items on her programme for reform, women’s vote and a woman prime minister, receive no support, explicit or otherwise, from her author, the third, women’s education, is one for which she herself showed considerable sympathy.
Her references elsewhere to woman’s rights tend to be brief, teasing, tongue-in-cheek ones, like the following exchange in the final chapter of For Lilias between Capel Frere, who enjoys holding forth to his womenfolk and getting a rise out of them, and the heroine Marjory, now his wife of at least a year:
…he did not think much of women’s rights. He considered they talked a great deal of rubbish; but he was thankful to know that the young person who had consented to be Mrs Frere was perfectly docile and submissive, and never advocated her own opinions. And then, as Marjory’s eyes flashed at this audacious speech… (1901 ed. p.407)
More generally, one can note Carey’s persistent valorization of women’s concerns and her recognition of many women’s need to work, either for financial or personal reasons. To this one might add the number of her heroines to whom modern readers can relate – active, vigorous, independent, and often distinctly tomboyish, and enjoying the added mobility that a horse, later a bicycle and finally the motor car could bring into a woman’s life. The saintly invalid whose couch is the moral centre of her neighbourhood is definitely not a favourite type, judging by the minor appearances she makes. Given the mixed feelings of the period about the tomboy or “hoyden” and about bicycling for women, the treatment of both is worthy of some mention. That a girl should run, climb trees, and play cricket with her brothers is presented as both natural and healthy; later, of course, she must learn to modify her behaviour, but this does not mean giving up such invigorating exercise as long walks or games of tennis. Even girls who carry their tomboy antics rather too far or persist in them for rather too long, such as Bonnie in My Lady Frivol or “little Miss Muffet” in the story of the same name, are described in such attractive and sympathetic terms as to seriously undermine any censure of their conduct, and their eventual “reformation” is more a matter of acquiring some more ladylike accomplishments than of renouncing their outdoor activities. Similarly, at about the time when The Lady’s Realm was running articles for and against “the cycling craze for ladies” (I (Nov. 1896 – April 1897) pp.173-182) Carey’s heroines take to bicycles. Eden, the governess protagonist of My Lady Frivol is the first; Eunice, in The Highway of Fate is taught to ride by the hero and his sister. The first motorcar appears in The Sunny Side of the Hill, giving mobility to the partly crippled hero and delighting the able-bodied heroine with the sensation of movement and speed it gives her.
Rather than noting any development within Carey’s novels over the forty-one years in which they appeared, one might remark on their consistency. The changes tend to be relatively superficial ones, like the appearance of bicycles and cars just noted, reflecting a shift in the outside world but not complemented by any shift in the social and moral focus of her fictional world. The woman who works outside the home appears from the very first novel, and the one whose full-time occupation is providing the home “sunshine” is still there in the last one; the restless heroines and the marriages across class, to mention only two more of the aspects discussed earlier, occur regularly throughout. Occasionally there is a minor eruption, such as the children’s deathbeds clustered in Queenie ‘s Whim and its immediate successor Mary St. John (the four deaths in the latter being castigated as “wasteful and ridiculous excess” by the Academy reviewer). Perhaps this reflects some family tragedy of the time, just as the highly particularized details of gardens and gardening in some of the last novels almost certainly reflect an interest their author was able to develop in the freer domestic circumstances she enjoyed towards the end of her life. The only definite trend the present writer could discern, in a chronological rereading of the works for the purposes of this monograph, was an increasing narratorial consciousness that the values being espoused were oldfashioned. This more or less coincides with the designation of the novels by their reviewers as “survivals”, as happened increasingly from the mid-1890s.