Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 286
A woman's journey to identity is the primary theme of Father Melancholy's Daughter. Margaret must ask not only "Who am I?" but at the same time, "What do I owe to others?" before she can answer "What do I owe to myself?" Margaret's way may be harder than most, because her own mother, who struggled with the same questions, is unavailable to her.
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There is a related theme of how one's art or work connects with one's real life. Even without any feminist message the book shows these as harder for a woman to integrate than for a man. Walter's personal life and calling are all of one piece. Ruth had to leave home and family to even begin seeking her own work. Madelyn ultimately makes of her art not only a success but a larger statement, but she does it without much of a personal support system.
The author may not intend this reading; in fact most of Romulus's longtime inhabitants dwell in an earlier psychological framework where such questions do not arise. But the conflict is there, tying together two of Godwin's recurring motifs: a woman's identity and the puzzles of creativity.
Finally, there is a subtle theme of the timeless hidden within the passing years. The rhythms of the church year are cyclic and timeless; the town of Romulus rouses itself only partially and reluctantly to admit the concerns of the late twentieth century. Margaret becomes fascinated by the life of Hilda of Whitby, an early British abbess. In the Epilogue this theme is made more explicit. Margaret visits the island where the parish's namesake saint, Cuthbert, lived in 683, and imagines a circle linking him to present day events, and these to him.