The Frailty of Nature by Angela Du Maurier

I thought I’d found out who Angela Du Maurier was.

NPG x101370; Angela Du MaurierAn actress. A traveller. A country woman. A dog lover. A warm and sociable woman.

And a capable writer of gothic/country house type books who was rather over shadowed by her oh so famous and successful sister.

But the out of print title that I ordered from the library revealed that she was something more than that.

She also wrote a novel of the Church of England. A very good novel.

I was taken aback when it arrived – I’d known nothing about it when I placed my order, because I had faith in the family name – but a little research uncovered the fact that Angela had been a devout Anglican all of her life.

The Frailty of Nature reflects that, and it reflects a clearsighted understanding of humanity.

Alix tells the story, looking back over her life.

“I am over sixty now and I realise that someone I loved for over fifty years has gone from my life. He was a little boy of six and I was sixteen when we met. I married his grandfather, who I loved so dearly, and Julian became part of our life together. I suppose I clung to him in my fashion because of Arthur? Not entirely, he was precious in his own way to me.”

She was the daughter of a priest, a quiet and austere man, with a plain and practical approach to his faith and his work.

Her first meeting with Julian came when she was staying with a school friend who a few miles away from her village home. Alix was struck by Julian’s pure delight in going to church to ‘see God.’

And after that meeting she was drawn into his family circle. His father was a man not unlike her own father, save that he was a career soldier stationed in India. His mother was lovely, if a little flighty, but she was torn between husband and son. It was Julian’s grandfather – Arthur Pendragon – yes really – who gave him stability.

Arthur had been a widower for many years – his wife had died when their only child was born. And he was a priest. But very different to Alix’s father; he was warm and sociable, and he worshipped his God by celebrating all that was beautiful in his world.

Alix was drawn to Arthur, and he to her. The age gap between them seemed troublesome to others but not to them. They married, and they were very happy together. Alix took on the role of vicar’s wife, and she loved it. She had found her vocation.

And the relationship between Alix and Julian blossomed. He was thrilled that his grandfather was so happy, and he loved having a young step-grandmother to bridge the gap.

Everything changed though when Arthur died. Suddenly, unexpectedly, and at no great age.

Alix mourned him, but she found a new life. She travelled to Australia to visit Freda, the same friend she had been visiting when she first met Julian. And then she settled in a new home, close to good friends, and she joined a new church congregation and enjoyed playing an active role there.

And Julian set off to theological college, following his own vocation, and following in the steps of his beloved grandfather. But he struggled, unable to balance his life as a man with his life as a priest.

Alix worried about him.

She was concerned when he became involved with Sarah, the daughter of her friend Freda. Sarah was a talented musician who was struggling to come to terms with the end of her relationship with an older, married conductor. She loved Julian but she didn’t understand what him being a vicar really meant, and she struggled with what was expected of her as a vicar’s wife. And he didn’t understand her vocation, or her struggle.

Alix tried to help, but she knew she could only offer counsel. She had to let them live their own lives. Make their own decisions. For better or for worse.

The Frailty of Nature worked beautifully as a study in contrasts. Three priests. Three wives. And three generations of one family.

Yes, it was didactic, but it was saved by the characters. All utterly real, and I believed in their relationships, I understood the choices they made. I realised that I could have cast Alix and Sarah from life. And most of the other characters, after a little thought.

Alix’s voice rang true, I loved her own story and the way she grew as she told the story of her loved ones. She held me from start to finish.

I would have liked a little more subtlety. A sub plot involving Arthur’s daughter and Alix’s father was distracting. And having a situation Julian had to deal with echoing Othello while Sarah was attending a production of that play was just plain wrong.

But still an intriguing, moving, and thought-provoking story. Sadly out of print and expensive. As are all but four of her works that Truran Books have in print.

And an author who shouldn’t be overshadowed, and who I suspect would be a little better known if only her family name hadn’t been so distinctive and her sister hadn’t been so very successful.

6 responses

  1. Pingback: Sunday Caught My Interest « Reflections from the Hinterland

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