If you expect E. M. Delafield’s Consequences to be like her witty Diary of a Provincial Lady, you will be surprised. Although it addresses themes that Diary touched on much more lightly, it is serious, sad, and even bitter.
Alex Clare grows up in the typical environment of a Victorian child of wealthy parents. She and her brothers and sisters are raised by Nanny and only see their parents at specific times. Alex is an aggressive child with her siblings, but her desire is to have someone care about her. Since Nanny dislikes her and Cedric and Barbara band against her, she tries to please her mother.
But a childish game causes a near tragedy. Alex’s part in it is misinterpreted, and she feels too guilty to defend herself, so her parents send her away to a convent school in Belgium.
Here, Alex begins a lifelong pattern of fastening upon someone for whom she will do anything. In school, it is Queenie, for whom she breaks rules to give treats and try to hang around her. These kinds of crushes are forbidden, and Alex is constantly in trouble for breaking rules, while Queenie blithely accepts forbidden treats and gets away with it. Alex does not learn to develop standards of behavior. She just yearns for love and understanding without having the ability to evoke it from others.
This childhood does not prepare her for young womanhood, where the only expectation is that she will marry well. She does not enjoy all the parties and events she must attend and is unable to hide her discontent.
Alex is not an attractive character. She is needy, unprincipled, and depressive. But her small transgressions are magnified by her family until she feels friendless and isolated.
Consequences is Delafield’s indictment of this kind of upbringing and the expectations for women of her class and time. It is also a character study of a woman who feels lost wherever she is. It is quite the feminist statement, published in 1919. The reviews included in the appendix of the Persephone edition show that its message was not well understood or accepted by the (presumably) male literary world of its time.