The Lost Traveller by Antonia White is a follow up novel to Frost in May. White changed her heroine’s name from Nanda to Clara and this odd quirk annoys me more than it should. The Lost Traveller follows Nanda/Clara’s life after leaving her Catholic school for financial reasons.
Throughout the novel Clara wishes for love, wrestles with religion, makes friends in her new school, forges an identity, tolerates her mother (she is awesome) and desperately tries to please her father (he’s an asshole). In short she is a teenager. The reader follows Clara on her search for meaning and purpose and eventually Clara settles on becoming a governess to a ten-year-old boy, Charles. Clara adores Charles and becomes friends with a soldier, Alfie, on leave.
Clara alternates between moodiness and elation, clear purpose and floundering for meaning. Her anxious self-analysis and yearning seem typical for a teenager. Also trapped in an adolescent-like reality are Clara’s parents. The Lost Traveller exposes the internal struggle each parent feels as they work through resolving their own identity and place in the world.
Writing about this novel is difficult. As far as subject matter and characters it was very much like an Elizabeth Taylor or Anita Brookner (dark, the internal struggle greater than outward strife, female characters, etc), BUT, the writing just falls a little flat for me. It took eons (hyperbole, duh) to make it through this book. I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading and I wasn’t invested in the characters. I felt as if White were telling me what was going on rather than experiencing it myself. Towards the end of the novel the writing feels stronger, but there are expanses of the story that feel like filler. I don’t mind if a writer puts in “extra stuff” for several pages to express mood and setting, but I’m going to need some beautiful writing. The writing was meh and made descriptions of farmhouses and dressing for dinner boring. Of course boredom means that shocking and exciting elements get a half-disinterested yawn. The poor writing and lack of a real build are most evident in both the mother and father’s various urges towards infidelity. It came out of nowhere, climaxed quickly and dissipated (and I am completely aware of the “that’s what she said-ness” of that description).
I’ll continue int he series, but this book was underwhelming and could have been effective in the hands of a better writer.
~~~ Stats ~~~
Started: 27 April 2015
Finished: 9 May 2015
Challenges: Virago Project, Classics Club Spin
Stars: 3 out of 5 stars
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is one of the best stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. My favorite thing about this short story is that one *can* read it many different ways. In some respects it reminds me of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. While James intended for that story to be a ghost story many people have read it to be about insanity, female sexual oppression, or really evil little children.
In the same vein most reader’s see “The Yellow Wallpaper” as representative of female oppression during the author’s time. I suppose you could make a case for something paranormal to be happening, but I really feel that the figure in the yellow wallpaper is allegorical. I, however, have read this story two completely different ways.
Postpartum Depression: The narrator expresses that she misses her baby and that the baby is being cared for my someone else. She is also trapped in a nursery. In fact, in the Victorian era childbirth was thought to often be a “trigger” for insanity and some women were even institutionalized for insanity after giving birth.
This last reading of “The Yellow Wallpaper” has me thinking that this short story is really about domestic violence. The narrator’s husband keeps her child away from her, bars visitors, is away all the time yet monitors her every move, keeps her in an isolated area of the house, forbids her to write, tells others that she is insane, and gaslights her by repeatedly telling her she is ill. She must even keep the “freeing and escape” of the figure in the yellow wallpaper a secret. The most telling sentence for me that this is a thinly veiled story of domestic violence occurs after the narrator refuses for her to have guests because of her illness, “there is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.” A page later, in talking about the wallpaper, “and it sticketh closer than a brother – they must have had perseverance as well as hatred.” The narrator feels trapped and sees everything around her as threatening violence. Only when “she” is nearly “free” does she feel in control. If you are doubtful that this story could be read as a tale of domestic violence, then read this about the signs of an abusive relationship. John has many of the traits of a abuser and our narrator has many traits of a victim.
(Note: If you enjoyed this story then I think you’d like The Victorian Chaise-Longue; it reminded me very much of “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Here is a link to my review.)
~~~ Stats ~~~
Started: 21 April 2015
Finished: 22 April 2015
Challenges: Virago Project, Read-a-thon Read-along
Owned/Borrowed/Library: library copy
Stars: 5 out of 5 stars