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The Rector's Daughter

by F M Mayor
Persephone book no:

139 140 141


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PREFACE BY VICTORIA GRAY
336pp 
ISBN 9781910263303

Persephone Book No. 140 is in one way quite untypical of a Persephone book, but in another it is extremely representative. The Rector’s Daughter (1924) by FM Mayor (1872-1932) is untypical because, although it fell out of print in the decades after it was first published, it was reprinted by Penguin in the 1970s and since then has not technically been out of print, being both a Penguin and a Virago Modern Classic. Yet this certainly does not mean it is widely available. For the reason Flora Mayor’s book is a representative Persephone book is because it really is a neglected work of genius (the word used by several of the original reviewers); so we felt this extraordinary and truly classic novel had to be part of the Persephone collection.

The Rector’s Daughter was published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press. The plot is timeless: a young woman called Mary Jocelyn lives at home in the rectory with her widowed father, a classical theologian; at first she finds fulfilment through looking after her disabled sister but eventually is left alone to be her father’s companion. She realises that she feels deeply about the local curate and for a while it looks as though she might be happy at last. Rather like The Fortnight in September, PB No. 67, it doesn’t sound much. But it is everything. And it is why we wanted Persephone readers to be able to read this superb novel and understand why it has been praised so highly by generations of critics. 

In fact when it was first published there were so many laudatory reviews that Boots lending library had to ration loans due to its popularity. Then it disappeared. Completely. But in 1941 Rosamond Lehmann called Mary ‘my favourite character in contemporary fiction: favourite in that she is completely real to me, deeply moving, evoking as vivid and valid a sense of sympathy, pity, and admiration as do the Brontë sisters.The poignancy of the sisters lies in their moral grandeur. The same is true of Mary Jocelyn. Plain, not young, dowdy, shy, and from shyness awkward, proud, passionate, reserved, she is herself an individual, to an extraordinary degree. At the same time she becomes, to me at least, a kind of symbol or touchstone for feminine dignity, intelligence and truthfulness.’ Later Susan Hill, who had by chance discovered The Rector’s Daughter on the Penguin list realised that ‘here was indeed a masterpiece, a flawless English novel… most beautifully written, with economy, plain elegance, perspicacity, grace’; yet, she added, FM Mayor ‘is still not a familiar name, the novel’s place in literary history is not yet immovably secure.’ In 1986 there came Virago’s reissue (with an informative preface by Janet Morgan). But still it stayed in the shadows, albeit with occasional flurries of attention, for example the critic DJ Taylor in The Times last year found it a mystery ‘why FM Mayor, with her impossibly subtle style, isn’t better known’, saying that ‘if, on the one hand, it is one of the saddest books ever written, then on the other, its 300 or so pages are alive with compassion, warmth and the sense of human possibility.’  

The Persephone Preface is by Victoria Gray, Flora’s great niece, and contains much new information taken from family papers; she and her late husband, the playwright Simon Gray, admired The Rector’s Daughter so much that he dramatised it for radio. Victoria has the original recording and we shall make it available on our website with the proceeds going to the charity Give a Book. The Rector’s Daughter is also freely available online as ten 15 minute BBC R4 ‘Book at Bedtime’ episodes read by Juliet Stevenson. Victoria Gray lives in the house she inherited from her grandmother Beatrice (‘Bobo’) Mayor (1885-1971), Flora Mayor’s sister-in-law, of whom ‘family legend has it that the raffish interloper, Kathy, is a thickly disguised portrait.’ One of the Persephone team once lived next door to Mrs Mayor, as we knew her; she used to talk about Virginia Woolf, at a time when her work was still unappreciated. But The Rector’s Daughter was never mentioned at all.


 

Endpaper

The endpapers from a printed silk fabric manufactured in Manchester for the Calico Printers' Association in 1924.

Picture Caption

A detail from Clausen 'The Quiet Room' 1929. Cranford Art Gallery, Cork


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