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Frost In May (VMC) Paperback – 3 Aug 2006

3.9 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; New Ed edition (3 Aug. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844083780
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844083787
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.5 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 78,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Evelyn Waugh called [her] one of the very best novelists of the day - a title she still deserves' CAROL SHIELDS * 'Intense, troubling, semi-miraculous ... a work of art' Elizabeth Bowen *'Frost in May is the unsurpassed novel of convent school life. This story of a clash between a determined young girl and an authoritarian regime is both perceptive and painfully emotional, convincing in every detail' Hermione Lee, Observer *'A masterpiece. Beautifully written, it is a calm and factual record of the slow death of the soul' Selina Hastings

Book Description

*'Frost in May is the unsurpassed novel of convent school life' Hermione Lee, Observer

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NANDA was on her way to the Convent of the Five Wounds. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 4 Aug. 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I first read this book many years ago and it was interesting to re-read it. This is based on Antonia White's own experiences of life in a convent school. When we first meet Nanda (Fernanda)Grey, she is nine years old and on her way to the Convent of the Five Wounds at Lippington. Her beloved father is a convert of only a year and so Nanda is greeted at the school with a kind of amused wariness and acceptance that she isn't quite one of them and excuses must be made for her mistakes. The novel looks at Nanda's experiences and al the strange rituals and requirements of Convent life, along with that of an education always dominated by religion.

Nanda is always trying her best to conform, while naturally testing her boundaries as any child does and slightly resentful of the denial of 'special friends' and rules about everything from reading matter to how the girls are to bathe. Despite the fact that friendships are frownded upon and fought against, of course Nanda makes them. It is the beautiful Leonie De Wesseldorf, half French and half German, from an old Catholic family of wealth and privilege, who, without meaning to, brings about her downfall.

In essence, this is a school story - about a young girls growing up in a closed community. However, the ambiguous feelings of religion hang over everything Nanda does. She both embraces her religion fervently and yet fights against it, even without meaning to. As all children do, she understands far more than the adults think she does. "If they were vague about heaven, they were very definite indeed about hell. Nanda felt a great deal more positive about the conditions of life in hell than in, say, the West of Scotland or Minneapolis," states the author with, one feels, only too much truth. It is because Nanda tries so desperately to please both at school, and at home, that you feel for her so strongly at the end of the book. A very moving and wonderful read.
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By A Customer on 9 May 2002
Format: Paperback
Having been educated at the school on which Lippington is based (Antonia White went to Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton which is now based at Woldingham in Surrey) I think that "Frost in May" in a brilliant evocation of convent school life as it was at the turn of the century. Many of the features of the school that White mentions (eg the "exemption" cards are still on display today (although they are obviously no longer used!) and the painting of Mary dressed in pink still hangs in the main library. However, the school has moved with the times and for this reason it was fascinating to read about what it was like ninety years ago. White's characterisation of the nuns is excellent and she prefectly captures the air of mystery that still, to an extent, surrounds them. She also conveys some of the rituals that are unique to a convent school.
The tragic ending to the novel is deeply disturbing in that it is inevitable almost from the moment that Nanda arrives in the school. I really enjoyed "Frost in May" but I think this may have been partially due to the fact that it satisifed my curiosity about what my school used to be like. I think that it could come across as slighly dull to many readers as a result of the long descriptive passages about convent school rituals. It is a very well-written account of a human tragedy but I do think that it could be considered extremely inaccessible to anyone who does not have some background knowledge of catholicism.
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The Jesuit assertion is just as true for this 9 year old girl given her natural wish to please and childish enthusiasm for her new faith. The techniques used are constant observation, and a structure imposed by the staff but enforced by her contemporaries through a girl's wish to belong. I have never read anything so detailed and disturbing. I feel as if I know her and have decided to read all four of the books relating to her.

What it has given me, apart from a social history of the education of middle and upper classes before the great war, is an insight into how it is possible to disconnect a human being from her true enquiring and emotional self, her 'free child' you might say, using religion as a means of social control. This is particularly fascinating to me at a time when I'm looking for a bit of God in my life as a tough old bird well into my dotage. It's a timely reminder to keep on thinking for myself, especially when I'm told I will offend people unless I change who I am or what I know to be true. It's amazing to me, but adults are still vulnerable to manipulations of their wish to belong.

I'm currently halfway through 'Lost Traveller,' the 2nd book of the tetralogy, (quadrilogy?) in the Fontana paperback edition. You can get the two first books in 'Frost in May 1' Frost in May Book Oneand the last two in 'Frost in May 2' which saves a bit of money. Mind you the printing is dreadful and doesn't do justice to the high education and subtle touch of the author.
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Format: Paperback
Like Elizabeth Taylor (the author, not the actress), Antonia White is an early 20th century writer whose books should have become modern classics, but instead remain largely forgotten.

The most likely reason for this is that these novelists are women, who write largely about women and, possibly (although never exclusively), for women. It is certainly not because of the quality of their novels.

Frost in May is a remarkably evocative and painful novel which, despite its gentle pace, is always absorbing and impossible to forget. Its subject matter, that of a convent school just before the first world war, might at once seem irrelevant and childish. This is the mistake, it seems, generations have made.

In fact, one does not need to be a convent educated catholic to recognise the characters and issues which White raises in this novel. Educated 80 years later in exclusively state, secular schools, I would seem to have little in common with the heroine but White writes not about just an institution but about humanity, not just about nuns but about women, not just about catholicism but about faith.

It is not only relevant, however, but it is also a very adult novel. The inexperience of the childish Nanda is constantly clear when compared to the relative maturity of the writer. Nanda does not get her relationships right; she does not understand her father in the way the writer and therefore the reader does. White's deep understanding of human morality and motivation is quite startling. Never have I identified myself so closely with a protagonist as I have with the heroine of the Frost in May quartet.
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