Tuesday, June 28, 2016

the Classics Club: Life and Death of Harriett Frean

(about the Classics Club)

Life and Death of Harriett Frean
May Sinclair


 I live in a university town, and as a result there is often obscure classics available at the used book store.  I tend to browse the literary classics/fiction aisle of our looking for the green spines of the Virago Modern Classics volumes.   That was how I found this book.  Reading the back, I saw her style was compared to that of Virginia Woolf, one of my favorite authors.  This was enough for me.

This book is about a Victorian woman, brought up to be "morally beautiful" and to deny herself even little pleasures in order to achieve this beauty.  The result was a selfish, narrow woman, proud of herself and her nonexistent achievements.  For example, she turned down a man she loved because he was engaged to a friend.  She saw this as a "morally beautiful" act, and prided herself on it for decades.  The reader, and eventually Harriett, was able to see how this self-indulgent sacrifice ruined the lives of others.  Reading this, I thought a lot about how pride and vanity can be hidden under a guise of righteousness.

I also thought a lot about how similar the stream of consciousness style was to Woolf, though when I researched Sinclair I found that she is may have used that style first.  This novel contains few descriptive passages and not much action, with most of the book being thoughts or conversations.  It was immensely effective for telling her life.

May Sinclair
I felt sad for Harriett.  She watched life go by and spent much time regretting the past, even though she thought of it only as reminiscing.

I also felt glad I had read it.  I liked Sinclair's style very much and would like to find more of her works to read.  I would certainly recommend this book to those fond of Woolf's novels.

I think Sinclair wanted to show the reader the danger of  pretending there is no ugliness in the world, and also the hypocrisy that can hide behind a self-sacrificing nature.

My review for Amazon:
Life and Death of Harriett Frean follows, as one might expect, the early life through to the death of Harriett Frean.  She was brought up to be a perfect Victorian lady, and taught early on to be "morally beautiful", which in turn led her to become prideful in any little self-sacrifice she made.  As a result, she lived a narrow existence, self-righteously congratulating herself on how she lived her life.

There is very little descriptive passages or even action.  Instead, the story is told mainly in thoughts and conversation, in the stream-of-consciousness style.  This is extremely effective in telling Harriett's story.

It is a short book, and easy to read, but still manages to be quite thought provoking.  I recommend it for anyone who enjoys a stream-of-consciousness narrative; other readers might not find it as engrossing.

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