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