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This is a story of loss and regret as Mary, the rector's daughter of the title, grows up plain and virtually unwanted, sees the possibility of happiness, tastes it for a brief moment and then has to live without it. It is a well observed book about the real plight of some women in 1920s Britain who are required to live a life constrained by the expectations of others. In places I was reminded of Jane Austen in the close examination of lives lived in very small communities but, although elegantly written, it lacked the wit and humour of the Victorian novelist.

This is an excellent read and eye opening for those looking back at a very different world. It lacks hope, however, as Mary and other characters make the best of unfulfilled lives in narrow constraints. It is a book to be admired and to enjoy the excellent writing but it is not a book that will lift the spirits or make you feel better about life - and it is not designed to.
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Virago Classics at its best in this engrossing tale of the plain middle-aged daughter of a stern but loving clergyman. Mary's spinster friend Dora is cheerfully resigned to her lot of church and charity work. But Mary secretly yearns for more:
'"I have longed for it"... "I have sometimes thought", Mary said with feeling, "the kisses-"
And then Mary's life seems to be changing...
Interesting to compare the different kinds of lives available to young people when this was written (1924)- the Victorian upbringing of Mary compared to the fast-living young set who crop up later in the book, with their slangy talk and affairs.
A heartily reccommended read; and the ending is so beautifully written.
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on 23 April 2017
Loved this book. Very sad at times but thought provoking and still relevant.
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on 16 September 2008
'Mary thought of her busy, happy life. She compared it to Kathy's fullness; it seemed starvation...'
This beautifully written, minutely observed novel will break your heart (and if you are a middle-aged spinster make you thankful that you are unmarried in the 21st century and not in the years after the Great War.)
Mary, the rector's daughter, is only in her mid-30s, dowdy, devotedly loyal to her chilly Victorian father, determinedly cheerful. Her quiet, mostly contented life is shattered when she falls in love; she is held in the man's arms and kissed ... but only once. When her father dies, Mary's life expands and, in a way, she blossoms; she is embraced into the world of Unnecessary Females - all those busy, active, organising but unfulfilled English spinsters of her generation.
But just as fascinating and beautifully observed is the unsuitable marriage of brash, thick-skinned Kathy and the austere clergyman who - on the face of it - should have married Mary.
Flora M Mayor knew from experience the heart-aching loneliness of the unmarried and childless; over 30, she was devastated when her own fiance died of typhoid /malaria as they were making their wedding plans.
Her book will haunt you.

Postscript, Sept 2009: I see that Susan Hill, in her thought-provoking and very readable new book Howards End is on the Landing (a book about books and reading) has placed The Rector's Daughter in her final 40 of books that she couldn't live without. Which places it in some very fine company indeed.
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on 15 December 2009
I bought a copy of The Rector's Daughter after hearing Susan Hill putting forward the novel as a `neglected classic' on Radio 4's Open Book programme. Having just finished the book I regret to say that my main feeling is one of disappointment.. F M Mayor does indeed effectively portray the problems of Mary's position as a middle aged spinster in an English village in the early 1900s, and the relationship between Mary and her elderly clergyman father is often touching and well drawn. But unfortunately I found the other characters in the book to be at best dull (Robert Herbert and Dora) and at worst irritating (Kathy and her `set', who have names like Jim-Jam and Cocky and use words like 'topping' and `beastly' ). I believed in Mary and had some sympathy for her, but the novel never really gripped me and I struggled to finish it.
I was interested to read that a previous reviewer felt that the novel had `shades of Trollope' , as I have also just read `Miss McKenzie', which was another of Radio 4's `neglected classics'. There are certain similarities beween the two novels (both are about unmarried women in middle age who have spent much of their lives looking after members of their family), but I much preferred 'Miss McKenzie' with its engaging central character and well-observed touches of humour.
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on 12 September 2011
This book came well recommended, so I was surprised to have been slightly disappointed.I did not take to the heroine, sadly, nor did I find her and her father very credible characters. Having grown up in a clerical household, they didn't really ring true, but then, it is set some years ago, when things were very different. I felt that Canon Jocelyn resembled a more academic Mr Woodhouse, laced with other derivative characteristics. I did not warm to the hero either. Once he had married someone else, I did wish Mary would find someone else too. I did not empathise with her fondness for windy unpleasant weather. What a pity to go to live with an old aunt in Croydon and become a young 'old lady' at less than 40.
I have read Freya Stark's autobiography 'Traveller's Prelude' this week since finishing 'The Rector's Daughter'.She underwent worse trials than Mary, but came out with her spirit still lively and in tact and took off to Arabia.
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on 13 March 2009
This is a find! Just when you were wishing Jane Austen had written more, this book has a renaissance and fills the void. A charming book; well-observed and a reminder to us emancipated women how subserviant and hamstrung by the rules of society women were in that age.
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on 5 September 2005
From its opening pages, with their introduction to Dedmayne and to Mary, this book takes over my heart. The setting, the characters and the time are so exquisitely portrayed that they make this a book to live in, so that you can touch and smell the landscape and feel all of Mary's emotions as she falls in love and yet is doomed to live on as the rector's spinster daughter, performing all the relentless duties which that role involves.
Although I know this novel almost by heart, I always find something new on every re-reading - most recently I have realised how minutely FM Mayor examines the marriage of Mr Herbert and Kathy and I am always moved by the other relationships which are explored: father and daughter, servant and mistress, rector and parish.
There is also gentle humour in this novel and occasionally a curious sense of understatement, so that it is at times like a passionate version of "Cranford" with men added.
FM Mayor's prose has not a word out of place and her descriptions of the East Anglian countryside are reminiscent of Emily Bronte's evocations of Yorkshire.
To re-phrase a line from this most perfect of novels:
God bless Flora for ever for having given us this gem.
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on 21 April 2010
Although on the surface this novel is just a sad tale about the wasted and suppressed life of an intelligent young woman at the start of the Twentieth Century, the technique and writing are extraordinary. When I first read it in a couple of days, I was amazed at its brilliance. So I am now re-reading a page or two at a time, appreciating the precision of the language and the paring down to essentials in the incidents and dialogue. Reading this story will enhance anyone's life; and if you happen also to be interested in good writing, you will find so much to admire.
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on 13 August 2013
The Rector's Daughter (VMC)
I hadn't looked forward to reading this, feeling that it would be dull and, perhaps, a little stuffy - I usually read detective stories and contemporary novels - but it had been given to me as a present from a very dear friend, so I launched into it rather as a duty. It held me completely. I loved Mary; I wept with her, delighted for her, sympathised with her..... The quality of writing was uplifting, the characters were wonderfully rounded, the insight into village life was totally believable. A masterpiece!
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