Friday, July 10, 2009

Mariana


Mary, fairly newly married, hears on the radio that the British destroyer her husband is on during WW2 has sunk and there are many casualties. Knowing that she will not be able to find out the fate of her husband that night, Mary goes to bed and unable to sleep, thinks about the many events that have made up her life. Thus begins Mariana (Persephone Classics) by Monica Dickens, the coming-of-age story of a woman, a woman that could be everywoman.

She is not the prettiest or the smartest or the most clever. She is not always lucky in love or circumstances or her career. But what she is good at is being herself. In one of my favorite lines from the novel Mary thinks "All one could do was to get on with the one job that nobody else could do, the job of being oneself."

We get to know Mary as a schoolgirl, enjoying holidays with her cousins in the country. From the beginning, we see that she is besotted with her cousin Denys, who will break her heart. Mary is not sure what she wants to do with herself besides become a wife and mother. Drama school does not work out all that well and a trip to Paris to learn dressmaking seems to go well until Mary meets the Wrong Man. Mary seems to sense that he is wrong, but not wanting to displease anyone, and hopeful to improve her family's circumstances, Mary carries on with him, until she simply cannot do it any longer. Finally, there is the Right Man, and with him comes all the joy that Mary has been hoping so long for.

Harriet Lane writes in the preface that "Mary is sometimes quite difficult to like." I did not find this this be the case at all, in fact quite the opposite. In fact, I loved Mary, in all her ordinary-ness. Weren't we all Mary at one time or another? I identified with Mary time and time again, when she felt out-of-place, heartbroken, or simply just not enough. Mariana is simply a brilliant portrait of a girl, she could be any girl, at any time, really, which is what makes this 1940 novel timeless and relevant. With this book, it is easy to see why Persephone began publishing in the first place, to share treasures like this one.

17 comments:

Cornflower said...

That line about being oneself is very profound!
I did enjoy Mariana, and I love the Classics cover.

bermudaonion said...

I think I'm still Mary. The book sounds like a wonderful character study.

Lisa said...

I love the cover for this one. It is the ordinary life, not the extraordinary life, that fascinates me the most.

Kristen M. said...

This sounds fascinating -- one life at one point in time. I'll look for this one.

Carrie K said...

It does sound like a good character study. I'm so glad they're reprinting these books.

jennysbooks said...

I keep hearing wonderful things about Monica Dickens's memoirs - I read one of her books a while ago and didn't totally love it, but I want to give her memoirs a try. And maybe some of her other books, since you liked this so much. :)

StuckInABook said...

I've had this for years, but still haven't read it... I'm a bit wary of spoiling how much I love One Pair of Hands/Feet.
Simon

Anna said...

I hadn't heard of this one, but it sounds oh so good. Do you think it would be a good selection for the WWII reading challenge...or is there not enough about the war? I'd still read it regardless. ;)

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Nan said...

I'm putting it on my P. list. Thanks so much, Tara. I love the sound of it.

Vintage Reading said...

I loved this book. Especially the drama classes! I need to read more Monica Dickens.

Iliana said...

I have this one (not in the Classics cover but the regular grey one) and don't know why I haven't gotten to it yet. It does sound wonderful! I love the sentence you quoted - so true isn't it?

Danielle said...

I loved this one! It's one of my very favorite Persephones! Reading your post makes me want to read it yet again! :)

Cath said...

I've read MD's One Pair of Hands and One Pair of Feet, but not this one. Think I'm going to have to get it as it sounds wonderful.

Tara said...

Karen, I think so too! I do love this cover; this is one I wish I hadn't had in the classic cover!

Bermudaonion, it's really lovely.

Lisa, me too! And me too!

Kristen M, it's really great. I hope you like it.

Carrie K, I so glad, too.

jennysbooks, I didn't love one of memoirs either, liked it, didn't love it. This is completely different. Give it a try!

Simon, I think you will love it! Go ahead...

Anna, There is not really much about the war. In a nearly 400 page book the war in involved in only the first and last chapters about Mary at home wondering about her husband at war, and very briefly when the war begins and he is called up. Yes, read it regardless!

Nan, I think you will like this one!

Vintage Reading, I'd like to read more of her work, too. I was cringing during the drama classes - too funny!

Iliana, I have the grey cover too, but I love this one. It is absolutely true!

Danielle, yeah! I need to go look for your review!

Cath, I've read One Pair of Hands but didn't like it as much as this!

Anna said...

Tara, thanks for clearing that up for me. I'm still keeping it in mind for a future read.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Lucinda said...

Love Persephone Books. We have featured several of their cookbooks on our site:
http://cookbookoftheday.blogspot.com/

Tara said...

Lucinda, Hi! Thanks for stopping by! I am enjoying checking out your sites.