There is something delightful about a novella, and the way it hones in on only the most key moments in the lives of the characters. And the narrator of Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday is a unique one, the type of woman I enjoy reading about.
An orphan and maid, Jane Fairchild quietly defies her status and the morals of her time. We meet her on a particular Mothering Sunday. Where other maids might be visiting their mothers, Jane’s lack of family actually gives her the freedom to engage in her two great passions. The first is her love of books, particularly the kinds of stories not really considering fitting for a young woman. The second is the passionate affair she is having with the son of a local landowner. This will be their last assignation, as he is shortly set to marry a woman closer to his station.
As Jane wanders through the stately home, naked and unashamed by her modern thoughts and attitude, the reader comes to understand the Jane’s life – past, present and future – and the hint of tragedy to come. For this is no ordinary afternoon – it is one Jane will come to look back on in the years to come.
No doubt the reader will think back often on Jane’s afternoon as well. This is a beautiful story and my introduction to Swift’s work. I can’t help but think it will just be the beginning of our affair though.