Saturday, August 4, 2018
Mary Olivier, a Life (Virago Modern Classics) Paperback – Import, April 14, 1980 by May Sinclair (Virago Press Ltd)
MARY OLIVIER: A LIFE came out serialized in the same issues of THE LITTLE REVIEW as James Joyce's ULYSSES, and has never received its proper due for its achievement. part of this may also stem that it was written ten to fifteen years after the great spate of Edwardian parricidal Bildungsromans, which include Joyce's PORTRAIT, Lawrence's SONS AND LOVERS, Maugham's OF HUMAN BONDAGE, Bennett's CLAYHANGER and Butler's THE WAY OF ALL FLESH. Yet MARY OLIVIER deserves at the very least to be in such fine company. May Sinclair herself coined the term "stream-of-consciousness" to describe the technique of Dorothy Richardson, and she uses this technique herself here in recounting the life of a young woman from the Victorian Sixties to late middle age. The results are astonishing: it may remind you a bit of Joyce's PORTRAIT, and a bit of Katherine Mansfield's Burnell Family stories, but it's also like neither of them. Mary and her brothers must revolt against their father's jealous possessiveness of his wife and their mother's sweet manipulations and doctrinaire piety, but they can never bring themselves to fully hate them. they realize that their parents are also actual people, flawed and yearning to love, and Sinclair outstrips many other writers of Bildungsromans by giving the parents their due. The last third of the book (after the father dies) is a bit tedious, but the novel is a real triumph, especially in its presentation of the way children think about their parents, the world around them, and even philosophical matters.