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Life and Death of Harriett Frean

May Sinclair

Book Overview: 

Harriett Frean is a well-to-do, unmarried woman living a life of meaningless dependency, boredom, and unproductivity as she patiently cares for her aging parents, waiting for a man to marry. When her opportunity for Love finally comes, she is offered a moral dilemma: the man is engaged to her best friend. Should she sacrifice what, according to the priorities of the time, seems like her "one chance for happiness," or should she seize the moment? Can she make something meaningful of her life without significant others? May Sinclair, as always gently ironic in tone, succeeds in skewering the conventions of her society while laying bare the hopeless realities for so many women of the era who were given so few chances really to live.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .a a rosewood writing desk inlaid with mother-o'-pearl, and Priscilla gave Harriett a pocket- handkerchief case she had made herself of fine gray canvas embroidered with blue flowers like a sampler and lined with blue and white plaid silk. On the top part you read "Pocket handkerchiefs" in blue lettering, and on the bottom "Harriett Frean," and, tucked away in one corner, "Priscilla Heaven: September, 1861."


She remembered the conversation. Her father sitting, straight and slender, in his chair, talking in that quiet voice of his that never went sharp or deep or quavering, that paused now and then on an amused inflection, his long lips straightening between the perpendicular grooves of his smile. She loved his straight, slender face, clean-shaven, the straight, slightly jutting jaw, the dark-blue flattish eyes under the black eyebrows, the silver-grizzled hair that fitted close like a cap, curling in a silver brim above his ears.

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Community Reviews

Interesting book. I got the edition (Modern Library-20th Century Rediscovery) with an Introduction by Francine Prose who I like and respect as a writer and reviewer.

Harriett Frean from childhood is a good little girl who listens to her mother and father. (view spoiler)[ She gives up the man she loves, and the man (hide spoiler)]

"Pussycat, Pussycat, where have you been?
"I've been to London, to see the Queen.
"Pussycat, Pussycat, what did you do there?
"I caught a little mouse under the chair."

Baby Harriett (Frean) laughs everytime her mother recites this to her. Her parents wonder what it is here which their baby finds funny.

On an intellectual level I understood the purpose of this book. The notion that from infancy Harriet (standing for womankind) has had to be good, which is the manifestation of constant self-sacrifice and repressing ones wants and desires. I don’t dispute that notion, in fact just a dip of one’s toe

I got this from the notorious 1001 Books you Must Read or We Will Put Your Household Pets in a Food Blender We Are Serious. I know some people do not like that list much but this slender bitter novel from 1922 would have otherwise passed me by completely.

This novel is a ferocious yet so genteelly un

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