Father Melancholy's Daughter Analysis

Form and Content (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Father Melancholy’s Daughter tells the story of one young woman’s search for her own best self. Margaret Gower defines herself—and is defined by others—primarily in relation to her father. Walter Gower is an Episcopal priest who is subject to serious bouts of depression, and over the sixteen years covered by the novel, he comes to rely more and more on his daughter for his physical and emotional well-being. Unlike her mother, Ruth, who abandons her family, Margaret is never able to escape the demands of her father’s neediness—until his sudden death. At this point, near the end of the novel, she is forced to cast about for her own direction in life.

The story is narrated by Margaret herself, who begins by recounting the events of the day that her mother left home. The story is told with careful attention to details: the shape of the buttons on the dress that Margaret wore as Ruth walled her to the school bus, the angle of sunlight on Ruth’s face at breakfast, the name of the book that Margaret and Walter were reading together. For Margaret and Walter, the small details of a life are instructive. The progression of the novel is not linear: Often Margaret will stop her story and back up to explain a key point, share old letters, or repeat conversations.

While Margaret is at school that day, Ruth decides suddenly to drive to New York with Madelyn Farley, an old friend. Madelyn is a theatrical set designer, unmarried and independent,...

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Father Melancholy's Daughter Context (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Like Godwin’s seven previous novels, Father Melancholy’s Daughter explores a woman’s search for an independent identity. This is not to say that Godwin’s work is repetitive; each of the novels examines a different facet of the complex problems human beings face in working out their best self. I Father Melancholy’s Daughter, the protagonist is struggling primarily with her role as the child of her parents: What is her duty to them, and how can she fulfill it without losing herself?

Godwin’s protagonists are women, and even the minor supporting characters are drawn as real, individual, people. Margaret Gower does not stand for a “typical” young woman; she is a particular person with her own history and set of circumstances. Some of those circumstances may be unique to women. Yet, unlike the motherless girls in Margaret’s literary “collection,” including Cinderella, Snow White, and the title character of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), Margaret Gower has many more options than marriage. In fact, the kind of life work she settles on at the end is one that Jane Eyre could never have considered—the ministry.

Growing up with only a father—and one who always treats her as his equal, or even his superior—Margaret avoids falling into some of the traps that imprisoned her mother. Margaret develops a keen mind, and even as a child she can hold her own in philosophical discussions with her...

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Father Melancholy's Daughter Bibliography (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

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 Father Melancholy’s Daughter was written, Godwin describes her ideas about writing “major-key” and “minor-key” novels, both types about women trying to find their own identities. She reveals that all of her novels have dealt with the spiritual aspects of the central characters; if Father Melancholy’s Daughter is unusual in this regard, it is because she has used a formal religious setting to explore that spirituality.

Hill, Jane. Gail Godwin. New York: Twayne, 1992. The first full-length critical study of Gail Godwin’s work, this book examines the autobiographical elements in the novels, the theme of the young woman looking for an independent life, and the importance of the South. Father Melancholy’s Daughter was unfinished as Hill’s book went to press; it is mentioned only briefly. Includes a chronology, a bibliography, and an index.

The Hudson Review. XLIV, Autumn, 1991, p. 500.

Library Journal. CXVl, February 1, 1991, p. 103.

Los Angeles Times Book...

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Father Melancholy's Daughter Literary Techniques

The story is narrated by Margaret Gower from a first-person point of view. The chronology is basically direct, but with so many flashbacks...

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Father Melancholy's Daughter Ideas for Group Discussions

This novel touches on many psychological and religious ideas in the course of the story. It also has much to say about relationships within...

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Father Melancholy's Daughter Social Concerns

This novel is the story of the girlhood and coming-of-age of Margaret Gower, the daughter of an Episcopal priest in a small Virginia town. In...

(The entire section is 699 words.)

Father Melancholy's Daughter Literary Precedents

To a large extent Godwin establishes her own approach and message in this book. Its contrasts with other works of similar subject matter are...

(The entire section is 239 words.)

Father Melancholy's Daughter Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

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 Father Melancholy’s Daughter was written, Godwin describes her ideas about writing “major-key” and “minor-key” novels, both types about women trying to find their own identities. She reveals that all of her novels have dealt with the spiritual aspects of the central characters; if Father Melancholy’s Daughter is unusual in this regard, it is because she has...

(The entire section is 454 words.)