Dolly

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512

DOLLY begins with the visit of a child to her sick uncle in Belgium. The young girl, already wise beyond her years, is Jane Manning, the narrator of this novel. From her childish observations of her aunt’s mannerisms grows an intense distaste, especially as she compares the worldly Dolly to...

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DOLLY begins with the visit of a child to her sick uncle in Belgium. The young girl, already wise beyond her years, is Jane Manning, the narrator of this novel. From her childish observations of her aunt’s mannerisms grows an intense distaste, especially as she compares the worldly Dolly to her genteel parents, Henrietta and Paul. The title character in the novel is Henrietta’s sister-in-law, and when Dolly’s husband dies, she returns to London and exacts a monthly stipend from her mother-in-law, and after her death, from Jane’s mother.

Jane reveres her parents, whose innocence and devotion to each other help them to keep the world at bay. They live orderly, measured lives of utter conventionality, never desiring more than they have.

Dolly, on the other hand, is a grasping, self-centered opportunist, who despises the Mannings’ tame household in an unfashionable part of London. She seeks glamour, excitement, and most of all, the security of love and money. Ungrateful for the financial support she demands, she expects it once again when Jane’s parents have both died. Caught up in a last-gasp courtship with a course limousine-for-hire businessman, Dolly manipulates Jane into paying her way to a weekend in a hotel with him, only to estrange her niece and lose the man anyway. Jane is at this time making her own way in the world, attending university and, later, becoming a best-selling children’s writer and a feminist lecturer. For Jane the world is indifferent to her struggles to define herself, but she comes to understand that her aunt Dolly, as vulgar and self-serving as she is, has taken a different approach, one that may have required more courage and, ultimately, a kind of dignity in the face of her futile striving for love and security.

Anita Brookner’s novels are not for the reader who demands nonstop action or intrigue. Hers are quieter stories where simpler, no less heroic, humans attempt to make the sorts of connections with each other and with society that complete life or at least give it meaning. DOLLY is at once a character study and a bildungsroman, and Brookner is masterful at both; for example, she is able to define in a simple phrase the avarice of her protagonist by describing her hands as “predatory.” Likewise, her narrator matures in understanding when she can finally accept that her aunt is not only her family burden but also an exemplar of another means of finding a room of one’s own. DOLLY is, then, more than a story about the responsibilities of kinship: It is also an evocation of the kindred nature of women.

Sources for Further Study

The Antioch Review. LII, Summer, 1994, p. 538.

Booklist. XC, October 15, 1993, p. 395.

Chicago Tribune. February 13, 1994, XIV, p. 6.

The Christian Science Monitor. February 22, 1994, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 13, 1994, p. 10.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, February 20, 1994, p. 12.

The New Yorker. LXX, April 11, 1994, p. 99.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, November 22, 1993, p. 50.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, January 9, 1994, p. 3.

The Women’s Review of Books. XI, June, 1994, p. 23.

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