Saturday, December 25, 2010
This book is a Victorian family saga, focused on a family estate, a spurned lover, and a devious villain. Marcella Boyce is young, bright, and taken with socialism. When her parents inherit the family estate in the country Marcella takes up the miserable conditions of the local workforce as her cause. She falls in love with the local favorite son, a Conservative, vying for a seat in Parliament. Socialist Marcella must discover if she can live with a man with different politics, and her feelings on the issue threaten to damage a number of lives.
Marcella shares many of the conventions of the late-Victorian novel. The lead character is intellectually inclined and socially-minded, but her gender ensures that her attention to socio-political issues will either make her look foolish or lead to her demise. The late-Victorian countryside offers no real place for a politically active woman. Ward also gives the reader a strong sense that the best thing for Marcella would be marriage, though Marcella is generally unable to see this for herself. The single woman's folly is readily apparent.
Ward offers a complicated plot and interesting characterizations. That said, I had to pace myself in reading this rather long novel, as Ward is entirely conventional in her treatment of women like Marcella Boyce, and I find Victorian characterizations of women so pat. Oddly enough, I find that to be especially true of books written by Victorian women. It's clear that authors like Mrs. Humphrey Ward were looking for an outlet for intelligent women, but they were still too limited by Victorian gender conventions to be able to revolutionary change in their literature.
Mrs. Humphrey Ward, Marcella (Penguin, 1985, orig. 1894) ISBN: