As in many of her novels, Gail Godwin is concerned in Father Melancholy’s Daughter to show the path of a woman looking for her independent self. Previous Godwin protagonists have had to struggle with their roles as wives, lovers, or students. For Margaret Gower, the struggle is with the demands of her dependent father. The basic conflict between dependence and independence, between duty to others and duty to oneself, is the central theme of the novel.
As the story of Margaret’s mother shows, becoming independent is not simply a matter of running from responsibility. Ruth’s love for Walter began when she was a young student and he was a visiting lecturer. Sixteen years older than she, he seemed mature and wise. Her love for him was never the love of an equal, but was always admiration and dependence. When she discovered that Walter was flawed and needed to lean on her as she wanted to lean on him, her disenchantment turned love to hate. Madelyn Farley seemed to be offering an opportunity for freedom, and Ruth jumped at the chance to leave. As Madelyn soon discovered, however, Ruth was incapable of living independently; she only wanted Madelyn to rely on and admire now that Walter had failed her.
Margaret, too, attempts to find herself in the eyes of men whom she admires. Her attachment to her father overrides all other needs; she leaves college and drives home to take care of him at the slightest hint from him, worrying all the way that his sweater will need to be washed. Her strongest romantic attraction is to Adrian Bonner, a fortyish priest. As her mother did twenty years before, Margaret mistakes her admiration...
(The entire section is 675 words.)
Father Melancholy’s Daughter
FATHER MELANCHOLY’S DAUGHTER begins with Margaret Gower’s statement that her childhood ended when she was six, the day on which her mother walked out without an explanation, leaving the child and her father, a kindly Anglican priest, to fend for themselves. This novel covers the next sixteen years of Margaret’s life. During her childhood, she attempts to assure herself that such abandonments are not unusual, meanwhile organizing her own life around her father rather than developing an independent identity. When he dies, Margaret is forced to find a direction for her own life. Realizing that she cannot do so without knowing the truth about her mother, Margaret contacts the woman whom she always held responsible for her mother’s leaving. What she learns frees her from the burdens of the past.
Such earlier novels by Gail Godwin as A SOUTHERN FAMILY and A MOTHER AND TWO DAUGHTERS stressed the same conflicts between duty and freedom, conformity and independence, which so trouble most of the women characters, including Margaret, in FATHER MELANCHOLY’S DAUGHTER. However, this novel differs in that both the problems presented and the solutions considered are religious, as well as practical. Except for that alteration in viewpoint, the book is much like earlier works, marked by vivid realistic detail, accurate dialogue, and superb characterization.
Sources for Further Study
Chicago Tribune. March 19, 1991, XIV, p. 1.
Godwin, Gail. “A Dialogue with Gail Godwin.” Interview by Lihong Xie. Mississippi Quarterly 46 (Spring, 1993): 167-184. In this interview, conducted after...
(The entire section is 673 words.)