DOLLY begins with the visit of a child to her sick uncle in Belgium. The young girl, already wise beyond her years, is Jane Manning, the narrator of this novel. From her childish observations of her aunt’s mannerisms grows an intense distaste, especially as she compares the worldly Dolly to her genteel parents, Henrietta and Paul. The title character in the novel is Henrietta’s sister-in-law, and when Dolly’s husband dies, she returns to London and exacts a monthly stipend from her mother-in-law, and after her death, from Jane’s mother.
Jane reveres her parents, whose innocence and devotion to each other help them to keep the world at bay. They live orderly, measured lives of utter conventionality, never desiring more than they have.
Dolly, on the other hand, is a grasping, self-centered opportunist, who despises the Mannings’ tame household in an unfashionable part of London. She seeks glamour, excitement, and most of all, the security of love and money. Ungrateful for the financial support she demands, she expects it once again when Jane’s parents have both died. Caught up in a last-gasp courtship with a course limousine-for-hire businessman, Dolly manipulates Jane into paying her way to a weekend in a hotel with him, only to estrange her niece and lose the man anyway. Jane is at this time making her own way in the world, attending university and, later, becoming a best-selling children’s writer and a feminist lecturer. For...
(The entire section is 512 words.)