Taken as a whole, May Sinclair’s Mary Olivier argues for treatment of women as individuals deserving the education and career opportunities given men. Mary is more intelligent and sensitive than her brothers Mark, Daniel, and Rodney. Her parents, in particular her mother Caroline, refuse to see Mary’s potential. They discourage her interest in ideas, her reading and writing, and her association with the sort of man who values her mind and sensitivity. Caroline Olivier admits, in old age, that she did not want Mary to marry or to have an education. If she had had six or seven daughters, she adds, she might have chosen one of them as her companion and allowed Mary her independence.
The focus of Sinclair’s satire is the family structure parodied in her treatment of the Oliviers. With an authoritarian father, a religious mother, dotty maiden aunts, and a dashing army-officer brother, Mary lives in a family approaching a Victorian stereotype. Nevertheless, Sinclair handles these minor characters in ways that individualize them. For example, the jealousy which fuels Emilius Olivier’s drinking and mistreatment of his sons rings true, as does the mixture of love and hatred characterizing the feelings of the boys for their mother Caroline. In Sinclair’s eyes, the mother is the villain in the piece. Her intense emotional attachments to her children weaken their wills. None of her sons marries. Mark, Daniel, and Rodney are psychologically...
(The entire section is 598 words.)