I don’t think I paid attention to what The Squire was about when I picked it up. Instead, I homed in on the author’s name when selecting it from a list of Persephone books. I’m not sure whether I would have picked it out if I had noticed, since it is about childbearing and motherhood, something I have no experience with. Further, some of the attitudes expressed, particularly about the role of men, are very out of date, although well in tune with the novel’s time.
The squire, who is known only as that through the novel, is a woman past 40 who is due to give birth. With her husband away, she is trying to run her household in the last days of her pregnancy, and there are quite a few crises, particularly with the servants. The squire already has four children, the youngest about four, and she spends a lot of time observing them and thinking about their characters.
There are some things about this novel that I found very foreign. One is how much time the squire spends thinking about death. First, I thought this was because she was about to give birth, but later she considers the same trait in her daughter Lucy, who is only 11 or 12. The other was my surprise at the role of the midwife, who is there more for after the birth than the birth itself. She keeps the squire almost totally isolated and quiet, trying to get her milk to come in correctly. What a contrast to today, when women are practically booted out the door of the hospital. But also, there is a strong class aspect to this and to all the squire’s problems. A woman from another class would have to take care of all her children during this time, unless she was lucky enough to have a neighbor or family member to help, and her biggest concern wouldn’t be hiring a new cook or nursemaid.
I found some aspects of this book interesting, but I didn’t really relate to the main character. But then again, I also felt some distance from The Happy Foreigner, so maybe my problem is with Bagnold as a writer rather than the subject matter of this novel.