Pushed about from pillar to post, belonging to no one, Mary’s life appears a shadow next to those of the married, busy, fulfilled women she is surrounded with. The quiet, desperate sadness that fills her days is amplified by the fact that everyone around her is so busy with their own happy and exciting lives that Mary is all but forgotten, and her unhappiness goes unnoticed. Worst of all, she must watch Mr Herbert and his wife’s unconventional, explosive, yet happy marriage unfold before her, forever wishing she were the one he had loved enough to marry. It was this juxtaposition of the emptiness and fullness of what a woman’s life can hold that pained me the most. Like Mary, I wondered at the unfairness of how some can have everything they dream of, and others nothing. Even if, as Mary does, you force yourself to make the best of things, that raw pain in your heart that lets you know you are not truly content can never really go away.
I felt Mary’s pain all the way through this searingly honest portrayal of a life that did not hold the promise its heart dreamed of. I so wanted Mary to be loved, I so wanted her to have the children she desired, and the home and husband of her own she longed for and would have so enjoyed. But it didn’t happen, and I couldn’t bear it, largely because, as I said earlier, I fear this fate so much for myself (yes, despite only being 24!). This is such a brilliant book, worthy of being a classic, really, in that it so perfectly encapsulates how limited unmarried women’s lives could be before the advent of feminism, as well as being such a tenderly, movingly written portrayal of the often stark, disappointing realities of life.