Tag Archives: tiny crumbs

The Rector’s Daughter by FM Mayor 

How were a certain class of single women to achieve the satisfaction of a life well lived? This is the central question of the novel, published by the Hogarth Press in 1924. It is not that Mary Jocelyn is unable to attract a husband. She meets at least two men who considered her suitable. But she is not beautiful or appealing in the usual way and has profound beliefs that mean she feels a duty to care for her father, a widower, while he is still alive. The man she falls in love with becomes attracted to a more lively and more beautiful young woman and she is passed over. What is her life to be?

The Rector’s Daughter

Here is the inauspicious opening paragraph of The Rector’s Daughter. It describes the place where the main character, Mary Jocelyn, lives. The reader can see that this is not a place of drama.

Dedmayne is an insignificant village in the Eastern counties. There were no motor buses in the days of which I write, and Cayley, the nearest station, was six miles off. Dedmayne was ashamed of this, because without a station the most interesting feature for a picture postcard was not available. There was no great house with park or garden to give character to the village. Progress had laid hold of it fifty years before, and pulled down and rebuilt the church, the Rectory, and most of the cottages. Part of Redmayne was even ugly; there was a bit of straight flat road near the church, with low dusty hedges, treeless turnip fields, and corrugated iron roofs of barns which might rank with Canada. Dedmayne was on the way to nowhere; it was not troubled by motors or bicycles, except native bicycles. The grimy ‘Blue Boar’ did not induce anyone to strop for tea. Artists and weekend Londoners wanted something more picturesque. Still, being damp, it was bound to have certain charms; the trunks were mossy, and the walls mouldy. There were also those tall bowery trees in the hedgerows, and little pleasant risings in the meadows, which are so common in England one forgets to notice them. (1)

We are not to expect much from Mary’s home either. The Rector, Canon Jocelyn, is a man who is very happy to be in such a backwater as he can pursue his literary interests (Virgil and St Augustine) and be little disturbed by change. Mary, while popular with the villagers, is unlikely to cause much disturbance to her father or to Dedmayne.

Her uninteresting hair, dragged severely back, displayed a forehead lined too early. Her complexion was a dullish hue, not much lighter than her hair. She had her father’s beautiful eyes, and hid them with glasses. She was dowdily dressed, but she had many companions in the neighbourhood, from labourers’ wives to the ladies of the big houses, to share her dowdiness. It was not observed; she was as much a part of her village as its homely hawthorns. (3)

The first 35 years of Mary’s life have produced loss and sadness, even before the narrative begins. Her brothers have emigrated (to Canada), and her older sister Ruth is described as an ‘imbecile’. Their mother died young, and Ruth was sent away. Their Aunt Lottie cared for them for some time, and then Ruth returned home requiring constant care by Mary. When Ruth dies Mary is left alone with her father.

He feels but does not express affection for his daughter, which adds to her isolation. She turns to books.

In October, as regularly as the leaves fell, she began the winter habit of reading her favourite novels for an hour before dinner, finding in Trollope, Miss Yonge, Miss Austen, and Mrs Gaskell friends so dear and familiar that they peopled her loneliness. (17)

Canon Jocelyn is a fine figure of a Victorian father. It does not occur to him to express emotions, such as at the loss of his wife or older daughter, or to complement Mary on her attempts to distinguish herself. She begins a reading group in the parish, but it fails. She sends samples of her writing to a publisher, but they are rejected. His response is not to comfort her for her disappointments but to suggest she is less ambitious.

Mary is appreciated. She has a close relationship with the faithful Cook. While she is away with Aunt Lottie at Broadstairs, Cook reveals that her father missed her care very much, but he wasn’t able to say this. And while at Broadstairs she captures the attention of Mr. Maltby, who is regarded as a great bore by the other guests in the boarding-house. She becomes friends again with Dora, who had previously lived in the Dedmayne area. And then a new vicar comes to the parish of Lanchester, Mr Herbert, and Mary and he fall in love. They are well suited, both quiet people, serious and responsible. But Mr Herbert goes away briefly to Buxton for his health and meets and becomes engaged to the. More glamorous Kathy Hollings. 

Poor Mary, she must endure the return of Mr Herbert and all the celebrations consequent on his marriage. She had previously met and been rudely ignored by Kathy and now she had to defer to her as a bride. Following the wedding Mary devotes herself to her father, and to her friendship with Dora. It emerges that Kathy and Mr Herbert are not well suited, and Kathy’s friends enjoy rather wild outings and holidays, not appropriate for a clergyman’s wife. Kathy goes to the French Riviera with her cousin and nearly runs off with an unsuitable young man. 

While she is absent, Mr Herbert is lonely and afraid that his wife’s affections are not strong and he becomes more consumed by his mistake in passing over Mary. One day the Canon asks Mary to visit Mr Herbert on a literary matter. Emotions run high and Mary burst into tears at Mr Herbert’s unhappiness.

He put his hand on her shoulder, and said, ‘Don’t Mary, don’t cry.’ Their eyes met. Before they knew what was happening he kissed her. (172)

They both have strong reactions to the kiss, seeing it as marital transgression. And they both resolve not to see each other again. But when Kathy returns from her ill-judged stay in Monte Carlo, badly disfigured by botched dental treatment, Mary is asked by Kathy’s aunt to help her. She does so and continues to support Kathy through a pregnancy and the birth of twins. 

The Herberts are reconciled and they are grateful to Mary. After her father’s death Mary goes to live with Aunt Lottie in Croydon and is valued in her new social circle for her qualities. 

FM Mayor shows how Mary had to rely on tiny crumbs of comfort because her father or Mr Herbert were the focus of her life: a brief kind word, a voluntary interruption to routine, a saved note arranging an appointment, one kiss. This is the small fare of single women dependent upon men. She never escapes them, even after her father’s death and she has moved away from Dedmayne.

There were two people in the world she wanted – her father and Mr Herbert. Nothing besides existed for her. She had felt beyond the verge of feeling: at present she could feel no more. (294)

The Rector’s Daughter by FM Mayor, first published in 1924 and reissued by Persephone Books in 2021 with a new preface by Victoria Gray. 313pp

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Reading, Reviews