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Modernism at it's best
on 23 May 2002
I read this novel as part of a course studying Modernism, and for me it was the most accessible, the most enjoyable and the deepest text I had to read.
It's superficially simplistic. The language is simple and the print large. It almost looks like a child's book - but that is the point. The question we're left with at the end is whether Harriett Frean remains much the same age at death as when she was born.
Short, sprightly-paced, I can see myself picking this up and reading it again if I have a morning to spare. I knew the outcome was inevitable the first time through, but it didn't cease to be powerful and almost tragic. Whilst one of the things we are encouraged to think about by the author is whether Harriett chooses this life of unfulfilment or whether she couldn't have it any other way, it doesn't stop you feeling for her.
In many ways, Harriett reflects part of our character which we like to think represents us at our best, making sacrifices for others. If it were not so sad, this novel would be satire. I think we can all sympathise with Harriett's plight in places, and learn from it what can happen if we make the same mistakes.
Never didactic, The Life and Death of Harriett Frean is a novel which, whilst written as an elegy for unemancipated women, can now be applied to anybody who wastes their lives thinking of everybody but themselves.