Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The key to A Glass of Blessings is found in the words of the title, a phrase from George Herbert’s poem “The Pulley,” quoted and applied to Wilmet’s life by Mary and Marius toward the end of the novel. Beautiful Wilmet, throughout most of the story, has been living her life in the spirit of a romantic heroine, as if she were a young single girl looking for love and the one relationship that would crown and validate her existence. Yet Wilmet is already married and no longer in her first youth. Her year of sometimes agreeable and sometimes botched relations with Piers, Harry, and, to a lesser extent, Marius Ransome finally shows Wilmet how much she has to value in Rodney, a man who notices what she notices, likes what she likes, and lives as she lives. Wilmet also sees that the male regard she has wanted all for herself belongs to others as well, to the beautiful (Rowena and Keith) and the less beautiful (Mary and Sibyl).

The love of men is not life’s only crown, though; Wilmet’s glass contains more blessings than simply that. Besides marriage, there are ordinary friendships with women and, indeed, with men, as Wilmet’s cameo appearance with Piers and Keith in Pym’s next novel, No Fond Return of Love (1961), makes clear. There is the life of the Church, with its festivals and duties. There are the other gifts Wilmet has enjoyed all along but never properly valued: a comfortable home, good clothes, money, a lively mind. These blessings, by no means the exclusive property of the young and lovely, are the redemption, not to say the transformation, of mundane life for the person wise enough to cherish them.