Monday, October 03, 2016
Mothering Sunday - Graham Swift
This very short novel by Graham Swift tells the events of a single day, Mothering Sunday 1924. Jane Fairchild, a servant to the Fosters, spends a morning with Paul Sheringham, the son of nearby wealthy neighbours. Paul's two brothers and the two sons of Jane's employer were all killed in World War 1. The shared loss has drawn the two households closer together and they are more like family than neighbours. Jane and Paul have been engaged in a discrete sexual affair for seven years that is about to be brought to an end by Paul's marriage to a woman of his own class. The senior Sheringhams are away at a luncheon with the Fosters and the parents of Paul's fiancee and this is the only time the couple has met in the family home instead of local fields.
Jane is an orphan who was put into service at just 14 at a time when England's rigid class structure was just beginning to develop cracks. She is bright and her intelligence is given a boost by Mr. Foster who allows her to read books from the home library. We also hear from Jane many decades later as she reflects back on that Mothering Sunday in 1924. We learn that she has become a famous author who married an Oxford philosopher.
This elegant little novella touches on social inequality but more than that it is an ode to the power of books.