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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
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.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2009
May Sinclair is, sadly, not a well-known name in the literary world today, but in her time she was a household name. Having coined the phrase "stream of consciousness" writing herself, the book centres around the character of the eponymous Harriet Frean. Although short, the book details the entirety of the character's life, with Harriet's main aim being to "behave beautifully", as her mother would have wanted.

The novel leaves one questioning how much of our own happiness are we willing to sacrifice in order to stay within the boundaries of the "social norm".

This is a great book, tinged greatly by the overwhelming sadness that seems to follow the protagonist around. Even when the inevitable happens at the end of the novel we still sympathise with Harriet right up to the very end. This book proves that the Modernists certainly did not sacrifice characterisation in order to develop their own Modernist style.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 25 January 2010
This book is a very accesible read. It is short and simply fantastic - read in one sitting to experience the intensity and you'll be left amazed at what you have just read. Simply one of the best reading experiences I have ever had!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 May 2012
This novella, published in 1922 by May Sinclair, follows the life of an ordinary girl from her earliest memories of childhood to death. She is taught by her strict Victorian parents to 'behave beautifully' at all times, and to believe that self-sacrifice is a woman's greatest virtue. Harriett is faced with a dilemma when she falls in love with her best friend's fiancee - and the feelings are reciprocated. The decision she makes has serious repercussions for the entire lives of all three.

However, this book sadly seems to have been forgotten in the literary canon - and very unjustly so. The writing is so fresh and crisp it could have been written yesterday; the imagery is rich and full of symbolism. It is a tiny masterpiece, a great early example of the stream-of-consciousness style that Virginia Woolf later became so famous for, and a fascinating study of a woman on the brink of two eras - Harriett is moulded by her upbringing, and the childlike prose reflects the infantile state in which her unfulfilled womanhood remains, despite the glimpses of a new world which she tragically never manages to enter.

In its gentle, subtle way it covers many subjects crucial to feminism both then and now - a woman's place at home, in society and in religion; virtue; hysteria; sacrifice; love, and passion, and it remains one of the most poignant, tragic and powerful books I have read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 November 2013
May Sinclair is always interesting and this novella about a young woman's life in the nineteenth century is surprising and enjoyable. I recommend it and will reread it with pleasure.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2013
I am afaid I cant remember what it was about so it obviously made little impact on me which is unusual.
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Life and Death of Harriet Frean (Virago Modern Classics)
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