The Foolish Gentlewoman by Margery Sharp

Jane Austen + Anne Tyler =…?

I wasn’t sold on this until the dominant character makes her entrance, which is after quite a long scene-setting. Suddenly the malevolent Tilly appears, whose only pleasure in life seems to be putting spokes in those of others. Even the most well-meaning and delusional of characters can see how utterly ghastly she is. But how to get rid of her? And what of the title-character’s idiotic intentions to even the score?

Having read my second Sharp, it’s tempting to compare her with Tyler – in the first instance because they both care about their creations and in the second because the endings are never happy. Sorry for that spoiler. They aren’t high tragedy either, but are simply of the ordinary level of unhappiness which might be expected to prevail upon very ordinary lives. In this novel there is the possibility of an extraordinary event which could entirely change everybody’s life for the best – but it never happens. Sharp has no choice but to mention it – it is the elephant in the room, it can’t be ignored – but that’s as far as it goes. It remains at some Tyler level of the mundane.

But at the same time, where Tyler is entirely soft, Sharp’s wit and barbs are always at the fore. She comments as well as records and that puts her more in the camp of Austen etc.

Jane Austen + Anne Tyler = Margery Sharp. High praise indeed.

For more on The Foolish Gentlewoman see here.

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