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0557 | The Life and Death of Harriett Frean | May Sinclair

0557 | The Life and Death of Harriett Frean | May Sinclair post image

Context: Mrs Arukiyomi started producing some knitted wares for sale at events we go to locally while I was reading this.

This is a very short novel but that doesn’t stop Sinclair constructing a complex character who spends her life bound by moral boundaries. Harriett grows up with parents who ensure she is protected in every way. I think they do their best but you can’t help thinking that Harriett also adds to the mix with a kind of supercilious self-righteousness that makes her kind of irritating to be around.

This is put to the test when she falls for her best friend’s fiancé, but her response is, by this point you realise, typical. Thus, she embarks on a lifetime of chastity as she fights off the demons of regret. Her relationship with her parents is also tested as various skeletons come out of the closet, but she holds fast to what she considers to be the best course of action and, as a result, ends life in lonely isolation having built a wall against self-doubt.

You can’t help thinking that the whole point was to tell us that life by moral compass is somehow not a life worth living. It seems that Sinclair’s mother was very strictly religious and perhaps the novel

was in critical response to this. Certainly there are clear autobiographical parallels between the author’s life and her character’s which leads me to believe that she regarded denying oneself for the sake of moral correctness to be worthy of critique.

There’s no guarantee that doing so, however, leads one into a life that is somehow less than we could have had. Life’s too complex for that and, the weakness of the character, for me, was that she was depicted as someone for whom life was as simplistic as always doing what “should” be done. There’s a certain irony in portraying someone who adopts such an approach in simplistic terms, of course, but I did get the point. Just not sure I agree with it.

Sinclair can write, of that there is no doubt, this was an engaging read with characters who you cared about. I just wish she’d taken at least twice as many pages to tell her story. I think she would have a classic on her hands that would be far more well-known than the resulting novella.


“Pussycat, Pussycat, where have you been?”


This might reveal the ending. If you want to see the quote, click show

RATING harriettr
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style
Read more about how I come up with my ratings.
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