Father Melancholy’s Daughter

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 673

FATHER MELANCHOLY’S DAUGHTER begins with Margaret Gower’s statement that her childhood ended when she was six, the day on which her mother walked out without an explanation, leaving the child and her father, a kindly Anglican priest, to fend for themselves. This novel covers the next sixteen years of Margaret’s life. During her childhood, she attempts to assure herself that such abandonments are not unusual, meanwhile organizing her own life around her father rather than developing an independent identity. When he dies, Margaret is forced to find a direction for her own life. Realizing that she cannot do so without knowing the truth about her mother, Margaret contacts the woman whom she always held responsible for her mother’s leaving. What she learns frees her from the burdens of the past.

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Such earlier novels by Gail Godwin as A SOUTHERN FAMILY and A MOTHER AND TWO DAUGHTERS stressed the same conflicts between duty and freedom, conformity and independence, which so trouble most of the women characters, including Margaret, in FATHER MELANCHOLY’S DAUGHTER. However, this novel differs in that both the problems presented and the solutions considered are religious, as well as practical. Except for that alteration in viewpoint, the book is much like earlier works, marked by vivid realistic detail, accurate dialogue, and superb characterization.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. March 19, 1991, XIV, p. 1.

Godwin, Gail. “A Dialogue with Gail Godwin.” Interview by Lihong Xie. Mississippi Quarterly 46 (Spring, 1993): 167-184. In this interview, conducted after Father Melancholy’s Daughter was written, Godwin describes her ideas about writing “major-key” and “minor-key” novels, both types about women trying to find their own identities. She reveals that all of her novels have dealt with the spiritual aspects of the central characters; if Father Melancholy’s Daughter is unusual in this regard, it is because she has used a formal religious setting to explore that spirituality.

Hill, Jane. Gail Godwin. New York: Twayne, 1992. The first full-length critical study of Gail Godwin’s work, this book examines the autobiographical elements in the novels, the theme of the young woman looking for an independent life, and the importance of the South. Father Melancholy’s Daughter was unfinished as Hill’s book went to press; it is mentioned only briefly. Includes a chronology, a bibliography, and an index.

The Hudson Review. XLIV, Autumn, 1991, p. 500.

Library Journal. CXVl, February 1, 1991, p. 103.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 3, 1991, p. 2.

Mickelson, Anne Z. Reaching Out: Sensitivity and Order in Recent American Fiction by Women. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1979. This book tries to determine whether a “new woman” has emerged in the fiction of American women writers since the rise of the modern women’s liberation movement. The chapter on Godwin proposes a major theme: the struggle to be independent while maintaining union with others. Although Father Melancholy’s Daughter was written more than a decade after this study, Margaret Gower’s story is an expression of the same struggle.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, March 3, 1991, p. 7.

Southern Living. XXVI, May, 1991, p. 83.

Sternburg, Janet, ed. The Writer on Her Work. 2 vols. New York: W. W. Norton, 1980-1991. Godwin’s chapter, “Becoming a Writer,” tells the story of her decision, at the age of five, to follow in the footsteps of her mother, a professional writer of stories. Godwin’s own life resembles a novel, with divorce (her mother’s and her own), suicide, romance, and the struggles of a young writer to be published.

Time. CXXXVII, March 25, 1991, p. 70.

The Times Literary Supplement. May 24, 1991, p. 21.

The Times-Picayune. April 7, 1991, p. E6.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, March 17, 1991, p. 4.

Wimsatt, Mary Ann. “Gail Godwin’s Evolving Heroine: The Search for Self.” Mississippi Quarterly 42 (Winter, 1988): 27-45. Wimsatt describes the typical Godwin heroine: a woman struggling (often in the South in the late twentieth century) for self-determination in spite of the family and romantic ties that hold her back. Although this study was done a few years before Father Melancholy’s Daughter appeared, readers will find insight into the character of Margaret Gower.

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