Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Tirra Lirra by the River might be called a “soul book,” since it traces the wholeness, from self-absorption to self-awareness. The question, “Who does she think she is?” is asked by detractors at critical points in Nora’s development, and it is a question asked implicitly by Nora throughout the novel. It is a still-unanswered question as the novel ends. From her youth until her suicide attempt, Nora creates her world through her imagination. Camelot happiness, self, are always elsewhere. She shapes things, creates objects of art, makes audacious clothing to disguise her self or project an image of it when her physical beauty fades, she tries to end her life altogether. Yet when she drops her illusions and decides to continue living “provisionally,” only moment by moment, Nora turns toward home, toward the Camelot within her. Nora has always had the courage to be herself. At the end of the novel she attains the courage to look at that self without fear of what she will find She says, “I have made things, concocted things, all of my life. . . but a present my concern is to find things. My globe of memory is in free spin with no obscure side....”

Finally, as she walks in the garden of Grace, the garden made with such great effort by her sister, who ironically never attained the grace for which she sought, and as she sleeps on Grace’s moon-drenched porch, Nora experiences a oneness with nature, an identification with the whole, a gift of grace As she walks by the local river that as a girl was only a backdrop for he dream of Camelot, she now says, “I believe I have found the river—the real river I disregarded on my first walks and failed to find on my last—because never before have I seen its scoured-out creeks nor known that the shadow of its brown water are lavender at evening.”

The theme of the novel is a theme of unification, of reconciliation of art and life, of the real and imaginary. Nora looks at the river and sees it as it is not in terms of something else. And as it is, in the moment, it is enough. In this clarity of vision, Nora has an ending and a new beginning.