Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Rosary by Florence L. Barclay

I had never heard of Florence L Barclay until one day, I mentioned on Facebook that I was in the market for a really sensational novel. It was Mrs Smith who immediately suggested one of this lady's works: The Following of the Star. Alas, I was unable to find it available as a free ebook, so instead I decided to read The Rosary, which was the 1910 bestseller.

As The Rosary begins, we meet the Honorable Jane Champion. Jane is an unusual woman--plain of face and speech, thirty years old, admired and liked by a large circle of male friends...but unmarried, and likely to remain so forever; although, as Mrs Barclay assures us, her plain exterior conceals an ocean of feminine love and affection and general sterling worth.

One of Jane's friends is Garth Dalmain, the famous artist. Unlike Jane, Garth is extremely good-looking and makes no secret about his love of beauty, especially feminine beauty. Like all her other friends, Garth has never seen the true beauty of Jane's character. Then one night at a house-party, Jane is asked as a special favour to sing a popular song called "The Rosary". The song reveals a part of Jane's soul which Garth has never known before, and he falls madly in love with it--and her. Later, on a moonlit balcony (naturally), he declares his love and proposes a merger. But Jane, bewildered by this sudden turn of events, is not certain that this is more than a momentary impulse. Could Garth really love her plain face...even after twenty years? She turns him down and goes to Egypt, to try to forget. Soon she realises that she made a mistake--that she should have trusted Garth. But is it already too late to start again?

This book is a lot better than it should be. It should be a little embarrassing. It is, after all, awash in oceans of Edwardian sentimentalism. The plot moves at a leisurely pace, spending much time on the characters' feelings (yearning! lonely! tormented!). Yet Mrs Barclay is a good enough writer to make it work, with lashings of dry humour; and no book containing a character as fundamentally prosaic as Jane Champion will ever be too sentimental.

The really pleasant thing about this book, however, was not so much the romance as the context of the romance. I have written before about the failings of Edwardian romance novelists. It's interesting that of all the genres of novel, none deteriorates so rapidly under the influence of bad theology as does the romance. The reason The Rosary is worth bothering with is simply that its author, an Anglican vicar's wife, has rock-solid theology (spoiler warning ahoy for those who do not know how romances normally end):
"'Lead us, O Christ'—It was He who led us safely through the darkness, and has brought us to this. And Garth, I love to know that He is Lord of All—Lord of our joy; Lord of our love; Lord of our lives—our wedded lives, my husband. We could not be so safely, so blissfully, each other's, were we not one, in Him."
Well, and there you have the true foundation of earthly happiness--and the only thing that can rescue a romance novel from awfulness! But that's not the only worthwhile theme from this book. I just loved this quote:
[Garth's love] would have meant less liberty, but it would also have meant no loneliness. And, after all, the liberty to live for self alone becomes in time a weary bondage.
"The liberty to live for self alone becomes in time a weary bondage." I have heard many times before that it is a Very Bad Thing for a woman to be 'defined by a man.' This is nonsense. Naturally a woman should be defined primarily by her Father in Heaven, but as one great Christian said, "no man is an island." People are always defined by other people; we have a word to describe those who are not: "selfish". If the greatest commandment is "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," the second is "and thy neighbour as thyself." This is true for men, but for women, it is an all-encompassing raison d'etre which cannot be ignored or explained away. At the creation of the woman, Our Lord said she was to be a helper; and and a helper of men--her own man specifically.

And yet the "don't be defined by a man" mantra is everywhere today. For that reason alone books like The Rosary--a Christ-centred romance--should be treasured up and read.

Girlebooks text
Librivox recording


TJC said...

If you are looking for the rest of the Florence Barclay books then there are two places that I would suggest you look: Internet Archive and Open library. My favourite is Following the Star my least favourite is The Rosary. I would also take the time to look up other of your favourite authors there as Internet archive is, without exception, the largest collection of scanned copies of printed books that is free.

Suzannah said...

Thanks for the rec, TJC. Happily I just picked up an old hardback of "The Following of the Star" yesterday at a booksale! I'm looking forward to reading it.

Kara Dekker said...

Don't know how I missed this review (probably after-holidays busyness), but I'm glad to see it now. It gives me hope: I had tried The Rosary earlier this year, and put it down in disgust over the rampant sentimentalism. Maybe I quit too soon. I did love The Following of the Star, which I read a few years ago. (my review here:
I'm rethinking Barclay's use of scripture in the "Star" title, however, and so probably take issue on your "rock-solid theology" statement.

Suzannah said...

Yes, I hear The Following of the Star is really good. This being the first of Barclay's works I've read, I may have to revise the bit about her theology. However, as far as I could tell, there was nothing objectionable about "The Rosary".

Anonymous said...

I read The Rosary to my wife recently and we loved it. It is so romantic in a Christian way. I liked the way it is not tainted with sin or the shadow of shame. It think she is one of the greats.

Unknown said...

I have a 1911 copyright of this book is it of any value?

Suzannah said...

Khasi, I wouldn't know. Barclay probably isn't well-known enough today for the book to be of remarkable value. That said, put it up on ebay and you'll probably find someone to buy it :).


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