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The Life and Death of Harriett Frean (1922)
by May Sinclair

Chapter IX
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IN all her previsions of the event she had       [FE]   [MS]
seen herself surviving as the same Harriett
Frean with the addition of an overwhelm-
ing grief. She was horrified at this image
of herself persisting beside her mother's
place empty in space and time.
  But she was not there. Through her
absorption in her mother, some large,
essential part of herself had gone. It had
not been so when her father died; what
he had absorbed was given back to
her, transferred to her mother. All her
memories of her mother were joined to
the memory of this now irrecoverable self.
  She tried to reinstate herself through grief;
she sheltered behind her bereavement,            [FE]
affecting a more profound seclusion, abhor-
ring strangers; she was more than ever the
reserved, fastidious daughter of Hilton
Frean. She had always thought of herself
as different from Connie and Sarah, living
with a superior, intellectual life. She turned
to the books she had read with her
mother, Dante, Browning, Carlyle, and
Ruskin, the biographies of Great Men,
trying to retrace the footsteps of her lost             [MS]
self, to revive the forgotten thrill. But it
was no use. One day she found herself
reading the Dedication of The Ring and the
Book over and over again, without taking
in its meaning, without any remembrance
of its poignant secret.  '"And all a wonder
and a wild desire"--Mamma loved that.'
She thought she loved it too; but what she
loved was the dark green book she had            [FE]
seen in her mother's long, white hands,
and the sound of her mother's voice
reading. She had followed her mother's
mind with strained attention and anxiety,
smiling when she smiled, but with no
delight and no admiration of her own.
  If only she could have remembered.
It was only through memory that she
could reinstate herself.
  She had a horror of the empty house.
Her friends advised her to leave it, but she
had a horror of removal, of change. She
loved the rooms that had held her mother,
the chair she had sat on, the white, fluted
cup she had drunk from in her illness.
She clung to the image of her mother;
and always beside it, shadowy and pathetic,
she discerned the image of her lost self.
  When the horror of emptiness came              [FE]
over her, she dressed herself in her black,
with delicate care and precision, and                   [MS]
visited her friends. Even in moments of
no intention she would find herself knock-
ing at Lizzie's door or Sarah's or Connie
Pennefather's. If they were not in she
would call again and again, till she found
them. She would sit for hours, talking,
spinning out the time.
  She began to look forward to these visits.

  Wonderful. The sweet peas she had
planted had come up.
  Hitherto Harriett had looked on the
house and garden as parts of the space
that contained her without belonging to
her. She had had no sense of possession.
This morning she was arrested by the
thought that the plot she had planted            [FE]
was hers. The house and garden were
hers. She began to take an interest in them.
She found that by a system of punctual
movements she could give to her existence
the reasonable appearance of an aim.
  Next spring, a year after her mother's
death, she felt the vague stirring of her
individual soul. She was free to choose
her own vicar; she left her mother's Dr.
Braithwaite who was broad and twice                     [MS]
married, and went to Canon Wrench, who
was unmarried and high. There was
something stimulating in the short, happy
service, the rich music, the incense, and the
processions. She made new covers for the
drawing-room, in cretonne, a gay pattern
of pomegranate and blue-green leaves.
And as she had always had the cutlets
broiled plain because her mother liked them     [FE]
that way, now she had them breaded.
  And Mrs Hancock wanted to know why
Harriett had forsaken her dear mother's
church; and when Connie Pennefather
saw the covers she told Harriett she was
lucky to be able to afford new cretonne.
It was more than she could; she seemed
to think Harriett had no business to afford
it. As for the breaded cutlets, Hannah
opened her eyes and said, 'That was how
the mistress always had them, ma'am,
when you was away.'
  One day she took the blue egg out of the
drawing-room and stuck it on the chimney-
piece in the spare room. When she
remembered how she used to love it she
felt that she had done something cruel
and iniquitous, but necessary to the soul.
  She was taking out novels from the             [FE]
circulating library now. Not, she ex-                    [MS]
plained, for her serious reading. Her
serious reading, her Dante, her Browning,
her Great Man, lay always on the table
ready to her hand (beside a copy of The
Social Order and the Remains of Hilton
Frean), while secretly and half-ashamed
she played with some frivolous tale. She
was satisfied with anything that ended
happily and had nothing in it that was un-
pleasant, or difficult, demanding thought.
She exalted her preferences into high
canons. A novel ought to conform to her
requirements. A novelist (she thought of
him with some asperity) had no right to be
obscure, or depressing, or to add needless
unpleasantness to the unpleasantness that
had to be. The Great Men didn't do it.
  She spoke of George Eliot and Dickens          [FE]
and Mr Thackeray.
  Lizzie Pierce had a provoking way of
smiling at Harriett, as if she found her
ridiculous. And Harriett had no patience
with Lizzie's affectation in wanting to be
modern, her vanity in trying to be young,
her middle-aged raptures over the work--
often unpleasan--of writers too young to
be worth serious consideration. They had
long arguments in which Harriett, beaten,
retired behind The Social Order and the                  [MS]
Remains.
  'It's silly,' Lizzie said,' not to be able
to look at a new thing because it's new.
That's the way you grow old.'
  ' It's sillier,' Harriett said, ' to be always
running after new things because you
think that's the way to look young. I've
no wish to appear younger than I                 [FE]
am.'
  'I've no wish to appear suffering from
senile decay.'
  'There is a standard.' Harriett lifted
her obstinate and arrogant chin.' You
forget that I'm Hilton Frean's daughter.'
  'I'm William Pierce's, but that hasn't
prevented my being myself.'
  Lizzie's mind had grown keener in her
sharp middle-age. As it played about
her, Harriett cowered; it was like being
exposed, naked, to a cutting wind. Her
mind ran back to her father and mother,
longing, like a child, for their shelter and
support, for the blessed assurance of herself.
  At her worst she could still think with
pleasure of the beauty of the act which
had given Robin to Priscilla.

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