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by E M Delafield
Persephone book no:

12 13 14

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The Far Cry
A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155028

EM Delafield is best-known as the author of Diary of a Provincial Lady (1930). But her own favourite among her books was Consequences (1919), the deeply-felt novel she wrote about the plight of girls given no opportunities apart from marriage.

The heroine of Consequences, Alex Clare, is twelve when the book opens in 1889 and is being brought up in Bayswater in London in true Victorian fashion - that is, "to believe that it was something between a minor tragedy and a major disgrace for a girl to remain unsought in marriage after her twentieth birthday." She endures a girlhood that in no way prepares her for the hurdles ahead and then is let down by everyone around her because no-one ever takes the trouble to make life comprehensible to her. Alex is awkward and oversensitive and gets everything wrong; she refuses to marry the only young man who 'offers' and believes there is nothing left for her but to enter a convent. But that is not quite the end of her tragic story.

This is an angry book, angrier, indeed than any of EM Delafield's others, and for a reason: its author, who had worked as nurse through the First World War, made her own friends and earned her own living, felt, at the age of 28, confident enough to express the anger she felt towards her own mother. Delafield criticises rituals ranging from the harsh rules governing the lives of girls at boarding school, to Lady Clare not seeing her children except at prescribed times of day, to Nurse's absurd strictures and lack of kindness, to the near-sadism of life in the convent.

Conseqences is in essence a diatribe against the constraints of the Victorian family. It was part of the anti-Victorian explosion so famously expressed in Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians, written around the same time; it is a scream of horror against Victorian values. To the contemporary reader, the novel also raises all sorts of interesting questions about neurodiversity, sexuality, organised religion, and so on.

Consequences is a deeply feminist book, as well as funny, sardonic, perceptive, shocking and sad. It is also highly readable and very moving.

Also available as a (free) e-book.


Much of the book is spiky and sharp: appropriately, the fabric for the endpaper is 'Thistle', a Silver Studio block-printed cotton sold at Liberty's in 1896, the year Alex would have been nineteen; by which time she is ensnared - scratched - by thickets of convention and etiquette.

Picture Caption

'Portrait of a Woman' by Arnold Mason, 1931

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