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The Squire

by Enid Bagnold
Persephone book no:

102 103 104

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ISBN 9781903155936

Published nearly eighty-five years ago, The Squire remains unique in being the only novel ever written about having a baby. Of course other novels focus on pregnancy, birth and motherhood but there isn’t another about the last few days before birth and the first few days afterwards. ‘I thought if I could get it right they might read it in China or India,’ Enid Bagnold wrote. ‘I wanted to pin down the quality of the pain and the love and the surprise and the effect of the birth on the mother, on the other children, on the nurse and on the servants.’

The Squire is dedicated ‘To the Creators and Inspirers of The Babies Club, Chelsea’. This was set up in 1928: Recipes for Food and Conduct came out in 1943. It has eighteen chapters covering topics such as Weaning, Fresh Air (‘in summer 12 or 16 hours can be passed in the open’) and Recipes. The drawing on the front is by one of the members of the Executive Committee – Enid Bagnold.

When The Chalk Garden was revived in 2008, with Felicity Jones (who later starred in the film of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding), Margaret Drabble reviewed the play in the Guardian and wrote about The Squire: ‘Imagine To the Lighthouse written by Mrs Ramsay expecting her fifth child, and you get something of the spirit of this intense and passionate novel, which is so unlike anything else ever written about pregnancy. This is maternity and childbirth twenty years before Sylvia Plath.  The eponymous “squire”, whose husband is abroad on business, happily awaits the arrival of the Unborn in a country house; sensuous descriptions of her own body, her garden, her greed for food and port wine, and her sharply differentiated children, merge with her thoughts about the new baby, about middle age and pain, about her quarrelling staff, and about the waning of the sexual imperative. The arrival of the midwife, an old and tested friend and a dedicated professional, initiates some extraordinary conversations about babies, gender, vocation and the maternal impulse. The relationship of these two women, as they go through one of the most ordinary yet astonishing rituals of life, is portrayed with a tender affectionate care and a deep respect. This is a very surprising book for its time, for any time.’

And as Anne Sebba wrote in her biography of Enid Bagnold: ‘What the book lacks in construction it makes up in its poetic vision of motherhood. Plotless, it meanders gently along until the reader is brought up sharply by a highly original turn of thought or the acute characterization of the children.  Enid’s open discussion of a taboo subject was courageous.’ In her Persephone Preface she observes that ‘although always described as a novel, the serious effort to discover the motivations of a mother and the instincts of children leads The Squire close to the realms of documentary.’ It was not for nothing that the feminist weekly Time and Tide called The Squire ‘a really important book, a mark in feminist history as well as a fine literary feat.’


The pink and blue endpaper for The Squire is 'Magnolia', designed by Marion Dorn for Edinburgh weavers in 1936 © V and A

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Categories: Mothers Woman and Home Working Women

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