Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In her thought-provoking essay “Women and Fiction” (1929), Virginia Woolf voices her impatience with male-oriented novels which spotlight the soaring adventures of mobile male characters and calls for female-centered fiction which would focus upon the “daily life of the ordinary woman.” Gardam’s novel appears to answer Woolf’s feminist appeal, because this story concerns what heretofore might have been dismissed as an insignificant life—the life of a woman left behind by an adventurous male. This tale does not center on the exotic struggles of a Crusoe but on the experiences of a Crusoe’s daughter and of women whose situations are, at least in one respect, similar to her own.

The most salient influence on the lives of the females in the novel is the absence of a male companion. Gardam closely explores the impaired lives of several abandoned females, women left behind or rejected by insensitive males. For example, Emma, Polly’s mother, formerly a schoolteacher, painfully withers away in a “Liverpool lodging-house with money running short and still no letter” from Polly’s seafaring father. Gardam implicates Captain Flint, Emma’s wandering husband, in his wife’s early demise by pointing out that she might have found gainful employment but was “unable to teach” because she was married and burdened with the infant Polly. Later, the Captain also rejects young Polly, thereby damaging her development toward maturity. Forsaken by...

(The entire section is 479 words.)