Day 867: The Squire

Cover for The SquireI 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 Further, some of the attitudes expressed, particularly about the role of men, are very out of date, although well in tune with the novel’s time.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.

Related Posts

The Happy Foreigner

The Land of Green Ginger

Someone at a Distance

Day 224: The Happy Foreigner

Cover for The Happy ForeignerThe Happy Foreigner by Enid Bagnold is interesting as a record of conditions in France right after World War I. In fact, at the time of its publication (1920), it was lauded for its journalistic qualities. The book is almost certainly quasi-autobiographical, although it was published as fiction.

Fanny is a British girl who volunteers to drive for the French army right after the war. In many places the villages are completely destroyed, and very little food is available. The driving is difficult and hazardous. Fanny and the other girls live in a shack with paper-thin walls, a leaky roof, and mud on the floor, and sleep on stretchers supported by sawhorses. From there, she is transferred closer to Germany, where she lives more comfortably in a town with more gaeity. It is ironic that the Germans seem to be in better shape economically and their towns less ravaged after the war than the French.

As well as a true depiction of the time and place, the novel is about the entrance of women into areas of work that had previously belonged solely to men. When Fanny first enters the dining room of an underground fortress in Verdun, her second posting, all talk ceases, as most of the men have not seen a woman in years. Later when she is assigned to drive for a Russian Colonel, she must address his doubts about her capabilities before he will let her drive.

Fanny meets a French officer, Julien, and they fall in love, but their relationship is one of the oddest things in this unusual, almost telegraphically written book. They are both so leery of each other that their dealings with each other are very tenuous.

I was a little disappointed that Bagnold chose to anchor this tale around a romance, no matter how odd, as it seemed a hackneyed idea, but I suppose that given the circumstances of just a few women among a huge number of men, that was an inevitable choice.