on November 26, 2015
Some may find Elizabeth Jolley's writing style disconcerting without unfolding plot or theme. For me her glancing memories of past events, nostalgic and often tinged with deep emotion, is charming and enhances interest. They stimulate thought, and invite speculation. They challenge the reader to assemble the jigsaw pieces into a big-picture of her life.
The selection of three of her best novels that are also revealing of her own experiences in life has created a first-choice introduction to her widely acclaimed literary works. They are written in the first person, so it is easy to presume that they represent a fairly accurate de-facto account of her life from childhood to old-age. This is not how it is. The factual details are interposed with fictional characters and events.
Thus the description of Vera's parents matches that of her own, whilst Mr Kenneth Berrington was her mother's real-life friend, but the story in The George's Wife, of a homeless Vera with child rescued when she applies to an out of date advertisement for a maid in Glasgow, by the kind elderly academic Mr George and his attentive sister, is not how it was for Elizabeth Jolley. In spite of having already employed a maid, they provided Vera with the shelter, security and love she desperately needed. Furthermore they helped with the care of her first girl Helena, and later a second girl Rachel, born to the loving Mr George, whilst she was able to pursue medical training and career.
Like Vera, Elizabeth Jolley did migrate to Australia, but as the wife of then divorced Librarian Leonard Jolley in 1959. In Australia she devoted her time not to a medical practice but to writing, becoming one of Australia's most internationally acclaimed authors.
Her books may not appeal to the masses to become run-away best-sellers, but the skill with which they are written will ensure that they endure for generations to come. This trilogy is not faithful in all particulars to the author's own life, but are true to life, resonating with our own experiences. Who has not felt wounded by parental correction and sermonizing?
These books have given me great pleasure and widened my own horizons. I am now aware of what is a Pagal Cadence in music, and I have been introduced to the Beethoven Symphonies. I have a deeper appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us, even in the depths of War. I am more aware of the delicacies in human relationships, and the need to be non-judgmental of others.
I would hope that many others will discover for themselves her vision of life.
Although she wrote all her life, Jolley didn't get her first book published until she was 53. Thereafter she published 15 novels, four story collections and four non-fiction books. The daughter of an Austrian mother and English father and a transplant to Australia from England, she became one of Australia's most celebrated authors and won at least 16 awards. Yet by the time of her death in 2007, her books were out of print.
This new edition of her acclaimed autobiographical trilogy brings these three novels together in one volume in the U.S. for the first time. The conclusion, The George's Wife, was never before published here though it won major awards and accolades in Australia.
Having read My Father's Moon and Cabin Fever years ago, I can tell you it makes a difference having the final volume, but even more - reading the books in one volume changes the experience. There's a disjointed quality to Vera's narration and a rhythm to the prose, which creates a deep intimacy when all three books are read together. The format also satisfies the build-up of suspense and relieves certain frustrations with Vera's sometimes self-destructive passivity.
As My Father's Moon opens in post-WWII England, Vera is departing with her illegitimate daughter, Helena, for a teaching position at a progressive boarding school, Fairfields. Her mother is distressed that she is taking the child, but then her mother is distressed at the whole mess Vera has made of her promising life.
And thirty pages later, as if to underscore her series of bad choices, Vera is waiting at the end of a train line, having left squalid, abusive Fairfields and thrown herself on the mercy of a nursing colleague she hasn't communicated with in five years.
Each of the ten sections focuses on an aspect of Vera's life, which illuminate the story's center - her wartime nursing (instead of the university her parents had hoped for) and her own naivety, self-absorption and insecurity. From Fairfield her perspective returns to childhood and boarding school, the wartime refugees her mother aided, a lesbian affair, a beloved neighbor whose warnings go unanswered, and pivotal incidents in her war experience. Fractured repetitions offer new depth, details or interpretations of events.
From her poor but bookish home life and the typical child's impatience with her mother's foreign accent to the casual cruelty of dormitory girls in a hidebound, lawless environment, which is uneasily echoed in nurses' housing, Vera is flatly, musingly honest about her own failings and loneliness.
At school Vera torments a girl she calls Bulge, for no more reason than physical antipathy. As a new nurse, she's in thrall to a roommate who she keeps in cigarettes and spending money. Taken up by a doctor and his wife who move in moneyed, bohemian, dissolute circles, she feels herself uplifted, cosseted and loved, only to find herself seduced and abandoned.
As Cabin Fever opens Vera is a doctor in a hotel at a conference. And that's about all we find out about that. "Memories are not always in sequence, not in chronological sequence."
Structured like My Father's Moon in interconnected sections, Vera remembers Helena's birth, her horrible, stultifying experience as a mother's helper, her removal to the nursing home to have her baby and her extended stay there, all of it intertwined with wartime and childhood memories. Loneliness looms large, but there's a fair amount of humor too as Vera limits her focus to getting through the day.
In book three, The Georges Wife, Vera makes the same mistakes all over again, longing for love. "I suppose I shall be lonely, Mr. George, I suppose that, one day, I shall have to be alone. I shall be lonely."
Taking a position as a servant to an unmarried brother and sister quite set in their ways, she has a second child. But this time there is no running away and no abandonment though Mr. George (as she still thinks of him) keeps putting off their marriage.
She goes to medical school, and takes up with a strange couple not of her class - echoes of her postwar youth. But this time she gets her education and eventually emigrates to Australia with Mr. George.
From her perspective as a psychologist Vera does not spare herself: "I am a shabby person. I understand, if I look back, that I have treated kind people with an unforgivable shabbiness. For my work a ruthless self-examination is needed. Without understanding something of myself, how can I understand anyone else."
Of course, most of us could say the same if we were honest. Jolley says it in a trilogy of beguiling rumination, exploring a half-century of history through one woman's very personal experience. Though largely tossed about by life, drifting into circumstances and relationships of least resistance, Vera finally gets a grip on herself and her future and perhaps that's what maturity is all about, even if it's still a lonely place.
Jolley's prose is intimate, poetic and unflinching. The disjointed structure builds upon itself with an almost mesmerizing quality. Though less humorous than much of her fiction, the trilogy is a work of emotional depth and beauty, which will be enjoyed by anyone who likes to wrap themselves in compelling, artful fiction.
on July 24, 2011
The George's Wife was written by celebrated Australian author Elizabeth Jolley who passed away in 2007. It is being released as part of The Vera Wright Trilogy which contains three previously released books. My Father's Moon was published by Penguin Books, Australia and Harper & Row, New York in 1989. Cabin Fever was published by Penguin Books, Australia and Harper & Row, New York in 1990. The Georges' Wife was originally published by Penguin Books, Australia in 1993.
This 3-in-1 volume of The Vera Wright Trilogy is being published for the first time anywhere in the world by Persea Books, New York and includes the first ever U.S. release of The Georges' Wife.
Vera Wright tells her moving story as she takes a job working for and living with the Georges', a well-to-do brother and sister. Vera goes through all the emotion of discovering who she is and the place she wants to hold in the world, as a secret relationship develops with the much older Mr. George. Through everyday struggles with life and death and the role they play in her life, Vera evolves into a wonderful mother to her two children, a loving and steadfast companion for Miss George and a longing and faithful lover to Mr.George.
The Georges' Wife is beautifully written and echoes of classic authors who have come before Elizabeth Jolley. With a writing style akin to Flannery O'Conner and Jane Austin, Elizabeth Jolley is sure to become one of the greats in classic literature and a premier writer of our time. I am giving The Georges' Wife a 4-star rating. If poignant, heartfelt and soulful expression is what you seek in a novel then The Vera Wright Trilogy is the moving modern-day classic you seek.
This volume contains three interlinked, semi-autobiographical novels that deal with the life and loves of a British woman during and after World War II. Jolley was born in England in 1923 and died in Australia in 2007, having become one of her adopted nation's most celebrated authors. According to a brief biographical note at the end of this book, her 15 novels and four story collections won every major Australian literary award, were translated into every major European language and were also much praised in the United States. However, by the time she died, most of her books were out of print.
In these three novels - My Father's Moon, Cabin Fever and The Georges' Wife - Jolley's alter ego Vera Wright runs away from her parent's German-speaking Quaker home to become a wartime nurse in London. She has various sexual encounters and crushes, some consummated, some not, with both men and women, gives birth to two daughters out of wedlock, and ends up marrying a much older man and emigrating to Australia.
The narrative, always told in the present tense, darts backward and forward in time, creating a kind of kaleidoscope. Starting during Vera's childhood at boarding school, the story takes us all the way to her old age. Certain key scenes are examined and re-examined throughout the three books; characters appear and reappear. Gradually, the reader pieces together a chronology of Wright's life. However, some crucial incidents are never completely spelled out. One eventually comes to understand the protagonist's sexual life, but that too is never described. The major tone of the book is one of reticence.
This technique creates problems. Because the action is non-linear, there is never a sense of suspense or a true narrative arc. The reader cannot grow with characters trapped in concentric circles - it is difficult to identify with them. But the biggest flaw is with the central protagonist, the author herself, who never quite comes into focus. She seems distant, somehow disconnected from herself as well as from her children and lovers - and that makes the reader feel disconnected from her.
Other characters share the same problem. Because the protagonist seems so totally self-absorbed, we never truly get to know the people with whom she interacts. Like Vera Wright, they all seem to lack a spark of life or the ability to fully inhabit their own skins.
Because of its length, this book demands a considerable commitment of time from the reader. Unless one has a special interest in wartime London or the life of nurses, that commitment may not produce a commensurate emotional or intellectual reward.
on April 2, 2010
My Father's Moon. During WWII, fresh from boarding school, Vera Wright becomes a nurse in training at St. Cuthberts Hospital. Vera uses childish games to feel welcome until she becomes the lover of married "Dr. Metcalf, Jonathan". She becomes pregnant, but the doctor dumps her so she gives birth to Helena and becomes a single mom working at the Fairfields School.
Cabin Fever. A nursing student at St. Cuthberts Hospital, Vera becomes the lover of married Dr. Metcalf. She becomes pregnant, but he dumps her so she gives birth alone. She fears being a single mom, but rejects offers of help from her parents. Confused but beginning to understand the difference between hurtful and nurturing relationships, she attends a medical conference, but struggles to leave her hotel room as her memories frighten her.
The Georges' Wife. Vera has become housekeeper to Mr. and Mrs. George and lover to her male employer while returning to school as a medical student. She becomes pregnant with Mr. George's child. They plan to marry and move to Australia as her mom still worries about her choices.
The Vera Wright trilogy is an intriguing look at a coming of age woman during WWII (My Father's Moon and Cabin Fever) and into her middle age (The Georges' Wife). The writing feels stilted, but brings to life the 1940s and 1950s from the perspective of a British woman, who in My Father's Moon and The Georges' Wife is not very likable while readers will empathize with her in Cabin Fever. My Father's Moon and Cabin Fever cover the same events, but from differing mental perspectives with the latter being the best book of the trio as Elizabeth Jolley takes a deep poignant look at Vera's reactions to mistakes she has made in her young life. Overall this omnibus is for fans who relish British historical dramas.