The New York Catholic upbringing of Felicitas Taylor, the central character in The Company of Women, is in one respect a near photographic negative of that of Isabel Moore in Final Payments. While Isabel was motherless and raised by her widowed father, Felicitas’s father is dead, and she has not only a mother but three godmothers as well. Each of these four women has been independent of a husband for many years. The practical and wise Charlotte Taylor has worked as a secretary to support Felicitas ever since her husband’s death, just six months after Felicitas was born. Good-humored Mary Rose is a motion-picture theater usher, whose husband has been confined for thirty years to an insane asylum. Clare, an elegant, independent-minded woman, manages a Manhattan leather-goods store. Elizabeth, fragile and impractical, is a schoolteacher, full of imagination and a love for poetry. Hovering in the shadows, never really one of this company of women, is Muriel, who is reminiscent of both the bitter uninvited godmother in “Sleeping Beauty” and the jealous housekeeper, Margaret Casey, in Final Payments. These women came to know one another through Father Cyprian, a conservative Catholic priest, whose retreats for working women they attended during the late 1930’s. Father Cyprian is like Joe Moore in Final Payments in his respect for the Church, his anger at modern society, and his role as an authority figure over the women in his life.
Part 1 of the novel is set in 1963. Its narrative weaves in and out of the minds of these various characters. Love, community, and continuity between generations are crucial themes. Felicitas is the central focus of concern; at fourteen, she is seen by Father Cyprian and the company of women as their hope for the future. Father Cyprian makes her his protégée, teaching her theology , as well as skills such as carpentry, which one would not expect a woman to know. Felicitas sees that Cyprian is...
(The entire section is 809 words.)