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208 2. May Sinclair in Conflict Hrisey Dimitrakis Zegger. May Sinclair (NY: Twayne, I976). Zegger might well have subtitled her book as Margaret Ganz subtitled her study of Elizabeth Gaskell, The Artist in Conflict, for what clearly emerges in this interesting treatment of May Sinclair and her novels is Sinclair's difficulty in reconciling satisfactorily divergent interests and tendencies: her fascination with psychoanalysis on the one hand and her philosophical idealism on the other; her hostility toward the Victorian ideal of the family and woman's place in it (combined with nonmilitant feminism) and her apparent endorsement, frequently, of self-sacrifice as a resolution for some of the conflicts her heroines endure; her fairly consistent adherence to early twentieth-century realism early in her career, sporadically later on, as opposed to her use of stream-of-consciousness and presentation of the inner life of her characters in her greatest novels; and others. Zegger characterizes Theophilus E. M. Boll's earlier study, Miss May Sinclair: Novelist (1973). as "hagiographie rather than discriminating" - and I think, justly. In Zegger's study, the early idealistic and realistic novels are described briefly in chapters following a short "life," and Zegger makes straight for what she considers most worthy of close examination - The Three Sisters (1914), Mary Olivier (1919), and The Life and Death of Harriett Frean (1921), novels Zegger characterizes as "psychological." These are discussed quite fully, some attention is paid to the late satirical novels Mr. Waddington of Wyck (1921) and A Cure o_f Souls (1923), and the rest of the late novels are merely mentioned. In all, I think the proportions are right. Theme and character are Zegger's preoccupation, and style gets short shrift. For Mary Olivier we can supplement Zegger's discussion with Sydney Janet Kaplan's essay in her Feminine Consciousness in the Modern British Novel (1975)· But Zegger's evaluation of Harriett Frean is so contradictory that one cannot help thinking that a little more attention to the spare, ironic style of the novel might have helped her to see it whole. On the one hand, she seems to view it as a merit that "the writing in this novel is economical, precise, and tight; for Sinclair relates in one hundred and thirty-three pages a life of seventy ^rears," and she seems to approve Sinclair's modification of the stream-of-consciousness technique in Harriett Frean. On the other hand, she judges Mary Olivier and The Three Sisters "richer" because "no subsidiary characters enlarge and deepen" Harriett Frean, Harriett's character does not develop or change, and she "retains no mystery and no opacity." The point of the novel seems to me to be that Harriett's character does not change; there _i_s no mystery; if interesting characters were introduced, Harriett would disappear. If the novel were any longer, we would have a "Mr. Bailey, Grocer." Zegger cites as flaws the very characteristics that give the novel impact, and the style complements the story. 209 Although Zegger's own style is serviceable, a few sentences don't stand close inspection - e.g., "For example, Lucia, the means of Rickman's salvation and hence a Christ-figure, is betrayed by her cousin Jewdine." I am not sure what "device" is being spoken of when Zegger is comparing Sinclair and Wells; "Moreover, she showed in her novels a greater sensitivity to the poetic and symbolic nature of language; and she used this device to make her points instead of direct statement." And it seems almost irreverent to compare Superseded to a Greek tragedy, "although Miss Quincy hardly has the stature of a tragic heroine," simply because "the reader experiences a relentless and swift unfolding of her destiny." Although one of Zegger's major concerns is Sinclair's infusion of philosophical idealism and psychoanalysis into her novels, she has surprisingly little to say regarding Sinclair's nonfictional presentation of her views in A Defence of Idealism (1917) and The New Idealism (1922), and not much more on exactly what kind(s) of psychology Sinclair knew and used in her novels. Nevertheless, focussing on these two intellectual currents gives the book a clear unity, and the degree to which Sinclair successfully...


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pp. 208-209
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