The Corsican Woman

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

By every right, THE CORSICAN WOMAN should be a pot-boiler of a romance. Set on a remote and exotic island, stretched over twenty-five years, and featuring a strong-willed and talented woman, it begins with Sybilia’s arranged marriage to Michael Rocca, a man who does not love her. Although desperately unhappy, Sybilia tries to make the best of her lot. She befriends her mother-in-law, the clairvoyant Maria, and even encourages her husband to pursue his dream of becoming a sculptor. Then, with the escalation of World War II, Sybilia is pressed into service for her country as a spy and as an assistant to the American captain Robin Moore. The two are powerfully attracted to each other, but in Corsica a woman is not free to follow her heart.

Unfortunately, the novel fails to pursue the promise it shows in the first half. The second half, which picks up twelve years after the war, abandons the point of view of Sybilia and adopts the perspective of self-important Jock Walters, an American anthropologist studying primitive cultures. This effectively strips Sybilia of much of her dignity and strength; even when she takes the dramatic step of murdering her father-in-law in the public square for a long-ago wrong, her fury and outrage are diluted when viewed through the eyes of Jock.