Jane Gardam’s perceptive young girl protagonists are generally the brightest and the strongest characters in her novels. To this rule, Margaret is no exception. In a world where the adult characters drift on the currents of circumstance and passion, Margaret observes, pursues her own interests, and preserves her own independence. Whether she is climbing a tall tree, exploring a private estate, or crawling up a cliff to save herself from drowning, Margaret has control over her emotions and her destiny.
Although Margaret’s mother must define her own life by adopting her husband’s causes, she admires her daughter’s strength. Recognizing the fact that the adults in the book all attempt to enlist Margaret’s loyalty and to blur her judgment, Elinor notes, “She has a better brain than all of them.... She sees straight and clear. She’s strong as a lion.... She’s the child his mother should have had, poor feeble Charles.”
Although she loves Charles, Elinor realizes that he is weak. Despite his own love for Elinor, Charles could not resist his mother’s threats and broke off the engagement, hoping for an inheritance which his mother later refused. As Margaret sees, Binkie, too, is weak, fearful of illness, consumed by hatred for her mother, wasting her Cambridge education. Charles himself views Elinor as shy and self-conscious, a hometown girlfriend who was easy to forget when he was at Cambridge, now a dowdy matron. Only when Elinor...
(The entire section is 420 words.)