Review: Consequences

I decided to break-in my new Kindle with E. M. Delafield’s Consequences, available as a free e-book from girlebooks. Reading on the train made me aware that e-readers still attract a lot of attention and without a cover to hide the text, I think at least three other people joined me in reading Consequences 😀 Does that happen to a lot of you, too? I should probably soon invest in a sleeve or cover. But my worst shared reading experience on the train was a psycho porn scene in American Psycho and the older very conservative looking woman reading over my shoulder seemed to understand English, unfortunately. I suppose it’s very vexing for a lot of people that with e-readers you can’t tell from the cover what book someone is reading.

Now Consequences is my third Delafield book and as I found even Diary of a Provincial Lady a little depressing, you can imagine what this novel did to me. We meet our heroine Alex Clare in 1889 when she is twelve years old and apparently the terror and black sheep of the nursery. She is soon send away to a Belgian convent and when she returns is prepared for her entrance into society and the marriage market. Failing to make a marriage and fleeing from parental disappointment, Alex joins a convent. But even this decision proves to have dire consequences.

Let me say that this is an incredibly powerful novel and that I enjoyed it as much as is possible, considering how tragic it is. And that is a huge compliment to Delafield’s talent as Alex is the sort of character I have a lot of problems with. Throughout the novel she is described as weak and passive, making the wrong decisions when she does assert herself and so desperate for love that she completely suppresses her self in an effort to please another person. As readers we bring our own experiences and personality to every text and that can be problematic. I have a low tolerance for people who always require a helping hand, it’s always been “get it together” in my family (but also “you can do everything”). So characters like Alex ask a lot of me in terms of patience and understanding but I’m hoping that it’s a testament to my growth as a reader (and person) that I am getting better at putting myself in the position of for example Alex and don’t dismiss her and characters like her from the start. But I also think that being very different from Alex, I could relate better to the people around here.

It’s easier to relate to Alex and not simply dismiss her when one looks at the society that produced her. As the daughter of a family of standing, she has only been prepared for one path in life, namely marriage. However difficult her life might have been before her entrance into society, Alex has been led to believe that her real life and fun and happiness will begin there. Imagine her disappointment and confusion when she is still herself and nothing has changed. No one around her understands her, least of all Alex herself, and although pretty she does not attract that great love for which she desperately yearns. Instead, she develops an infatuation for a nun and abandoning herself enters the convent. Convent life is just a smaller version of the world from which Alex has fled, her life is completely dictated by rules and makes it impossible for Alex to develop any independence. Also, the life of a nun asks for Alex to give up any human, earthly ties and thus the last  place Alex can be happy.

The most difficult thing about Alex is probably that she does not know what she wants, this is not the story of a heroine who bravely goes against every social convention to achieve her impossible dream. Alex is not heroic like that, her depression and “tragedy queen” demeanor is a thorn in everyone’s side. But then her environment is the very reason she does not even know what she wants, she has never been given the chance to think of exploring other possibilities than being pretty and attracting a husband and when that promise is not realized, she cannot imagine an alternative and flees into the only other option she is offered, life a in a convent.

I love heroic woman rebels against patriarchal society stories as much as anyone, but the sheer hopelessness and impossibility of that for Alex are exactly what makes Consequences such a powerful novel.

Other thoughts:

Things Mean A Lot

Iris on Books

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

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15 thoughts on “Review: Consequences

  1. Oh my, given my strong identification with Alex I’d say you’d dislike me in real life..

    So glad you “liked” the novel (for as far as that’s possible).

    Re: ereaders in the train. I keep having older women next to me who ask in a surprised and somewhat condemning voice if “that is an ereader”? It almost makes me afraid to take it out in the open and I sometimes end up packing a paper book for the train.

    1. Oh doubt that! 🙂 You seem pretty independent to me, you travel, study abroad, have your own opinions! And I don’t mind shyness (I’m shy myself!), just when people can’t get from one place to another but don’t even ask but stand and wait for someone to do everything for them. Even then I might like them, just be a bit exasperated 😉

      Haha, oh no, I can relate to that, just when one is so proud to finally have joined the 21st century! Just picture how people looked at the first women who rode bikes! Can’t be worse than that.

  2. I’m with Iris: I felt a lot of affinity with Alex, so it’s a relief to know you wouldn’t hate us 😉 This is indeed a very powerful novel. I have more Delafields on the TBR pile aid can’t wait to get to them.

    1. Did I put my foot in? ;D It made sense to me that Alex would be the way she was, but imagining such a person today having had all the chances, education and a liberal and loving background, that’s harder to relate to I find.

      I love that her works are so easily available in e-book format, can’t wait to see which one you’ll read next!

      1. No, don’t worry, you didn’t at all! I knew what you meant and was just kidding! I completely agree about Alex’s environment – the fact that Delafield did such a good job of conveying it is part of what gives the novel its power.

        I think my next one will be Thank Heaven, Fasting. I also love that so many of her books are available online, although as I don’t have an re-reader yet I tend to put off reading stuff on the computer. But one day!

        1. I was hoping you were! 😀

          Thank Heaven, Fasting sounds pretty great! I’ve been thinking of reading The War Workers as my next Delafield. I completely understand not wanting to read at the computer all the time, I love the e-reader screens for not giving me headaches. Hope an e-reader comes your way soon 🙂

  3. Wonderful review, Bina! This looks like a wonderful book. I have read reviews of ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ and after reading your review, it looks like Delafield is quite an interesting writer. I guess it is sometimes difficult to tell how much the environment influences people. The 19th century social environment must have been quiet difficult for women and probably didn’t really foster independent thinking or action. One of my American friends who is in her sixties, told me once that when she passed out of college, the only career options that were open to women from her generation were to either become a stenographer or a secretary or a nurse or a teacher. She said that it was difficult for women to get into other fields. She was talking about the late 1960s and I was very much surprised! If what she said was true, then it looks like things have changed only quite recently, maybe in the last couple of decades. I can only imagine what someone like the heroine of this story Alex would have gone through in the 1880s.

    1. This is a great novel and I’d definitely recommend it to you! Sadly what your friend told you was very much the case for a long time and what passes for emancipation and rights in our time is a very recent development and far from over. That’s why I can’t understand the view of many people that feminism is done and has achieved it all. The state of women’s rights in 1880 were horrible but when you think of the feminist movement in the 1880s you can see that 100 years later a lot was only beginning to change.

  4. eReaders are becoming a more common sight over here on public transport and in the tea room. I think more people look at my paperbacks or iPads belonging to others (perhaps they’re the novelty now?)

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