Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 652
[In "The Sea Change of Angela Lewes"] Angela Porter Lewes' sea change is a personal, not a political, one. She is not, as the jacket copy implies ("… this novel is concerned with the question of equality between men and women") involved in Womens' Lib heroics, though, unfortunately, toward the end of the book, the author feels an obligation to throw in a few very male chauvinistic statements for her heroine to do battle with; the triteness almost ruins the Angela she has been building.
Angela Lewes grew up in New England, oversized and plain, and married Charlie, a "boy-man," the handsome, always youthful type who finds an obedient and sheltered wife the most comfortable to live with. Angela easily complied with this need, because it coincided with her own….
Eventually, simply through the secret act of writing (she's not an immediate success), she realizes that she has developed a self not dependent on her husband or her four children or her beloved father for its sustenance. She begins to feel her uniqueness and, instead of being self-deprecating, she becomes self-confident. Even her latent sexual powers are sparked by one of her husband's friends, whom she has loved for a long time, and by her agent, both gentle men who love her. Her sea change begins to finalize, to become Shakespearean, "into something rich and strange."
But Angela is not unique in her family: the other Porter women are no slouches at making themselves mistresses of their fates. Her grandmother, after dutifully raising her children and burying her husband, bolts to Europe at age fifty-nine, her native Czechoslovakia her destination, leaving only a don't-worry note for her children who never see her again. Her mother, shortly after Angela's wedding, has a nervous breakdown, goes to a psychiatrist, and turns her hobby of helping out at the ACLU into a law degree. Her friend and aunt, Jo, the maverick of the Porters, manages a deep love affair for twenty years with her sister Caroline's husband Bill, the most loved man in the book. Caroline herself, the least likable character, is a victim of her own rigidity and love of martyrdom, a walking cliche, but incredibly self-willed. It is her proclivity for childbearing that Angela strove to imitate in her early years.
The Porter family with all its in-laws and outlaws does an uncommon amount of adapting, finding small exits from their conventional lives into satisfying existences. Perhaps for this reason the book evokes a sense of security and calm. Even the villains are harmless—Caroline is basically ignored, and Charlie is continually excused: "It wasn't his fault." Probably not. It's difficult to tell, though, because Charlie's personality is so negative that he seems more an intrusive presence than the pivotal character in Angela's life.
Mrs. Seton seems to have carried her characters around with her for years, now to set them down in outline form, as if they were solutions to geometry problems. She hesitates to let us do any figuring for ourselves, and even ends up explaining her own symbols. Perhaps she is too possessive of her people, and doesn't want to tempt our misinterpretation. Her affinity with Angela, for example, is striking: both went to Smith College, live in New England, are in their 40s, with handsome, not beautiful, features and very short hair (Angela cut hers while waiting for her lover in a hotel room), have four or five children, sold stories to the Atlantic, write about heroines and have similar maiden names (Propper and Porter). You wonder, and you mind, because it's hard to know what she means by doing that.
But this is Mrs. Seton's first novel. Maybe the next one (and hopefully there will be a second) will give us an answer.
Susan E. Burke, in a review of "The Sea Change of Angela Lewes," in Best Sellers (copyright 1971, by the University of Scranton), Vol. 31, No. 11, September 1, 1971, p. 254.
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