Yesterday I spent the day in Oxford. Perched on my rug next to the Thames I idly watched the rowing boats, motor boats, canal boats, punts and river birds parade past. I tried to catch up on some reading but the sound of the bells, river life and picnic chatter was far too distracting and my mind turned to, and agreed with, Hugh Lindsay’s romantic desire to,
hear the bells, hear the footsteps, see the shadows move across the cobbles and the red leaves drift and the wind in the scholars’ gowns. He wanted to know all day and all night that he was in Oxford.
Hugh Lindsay is married to Patricia Lindsay, a Baron’s granddaughter who grew up riding ponies at her stately home of Hulver. She meets Hugh, a poor student and aspiring academic, on a train and they fall into a marriage together – but Patricia had not been trained to sew, cook, clean and manage a household, she knew how to break horses and hunt a provincial pack.
Over time she ‘forgets’ her old life and sinks into the domestic routine; three children arrive and she,
remained at home, mending, making, ordering her household; and sometimes she went to tea with other such dim disciplined creatures and talked about education and ailments.
Patricia found herself placing all her time and energy into the raising of her children. She made the correct self-sacrifices and nutured her children, providing everything they needed. One dark, cold evening as she was feeling ‘older, uglier, feebler’ she made her way home to find all three of them waiting for her ‘August and Giles and Nicola, her princes in the land’. But as they grow up they surprise Patricia as they move away from her perception of them as children. August, she is sure will go into the army – he gets a girl pregnant, marries her and becomes a refrigerator salesman in suburbia. Giles becomes a member of The Oxford Group, an evangelical movement and he moves to America. Nicola, who ‘loves riding’ announces she has always hated riding and wants to be a mechanic. Patricia reflects on the people she has raised and sent out into the world, ‘And they’d not gone as princes. The Kingdoms she had won for them, they had rejected.’ She goes further,
these weren’t the children for whom she’d given up fun and friendship,worked, suffered, worried, taken thought, taken care, done without, suppressed,surrendered and seen her young self die.
Princes in the Land
, published by the wonderful Persephone Books
, is a searing examination of family life, motherhood and coming to terms with children becoming adults. Joanna Cannan poignantly probes the place of an early twentieth century woman within both the home and society. The realisation that a woman’s ‘job is done’ when her children leave the nest is dealt with and conquered as the protagonist goes full circle and rediscovers her youth’s passion and adapts herself once more to meet the needs of her grown-up children.
I will be reading this again during the Persephone Books reading week
, hopefully whilst perched on my rug, watching the shadows pass across the cobbles, listening to the bells and watching some river life in Oxford.