Honor Arundel

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Celia Boyd

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[Certain of Honor Arundel's] characters are types, her style taken out of context can seem self-conscious. However, this is to ignore her basic intentions. I feel that she is directly in the Louisa Alcott tradition, writing stories that the teenager girl might wish to have written for herself…. Of course, Honor Arundel is not a romantic writer, as Louisa Alcott certainly was…. Miss Arundel pauses to explore the undergrowth. She always knows why her characters behave in the way they do. Her great strength is that she does not need to parade this knowledge, but it is there, and the story rests firmly on these careful if unwritten foundations. She writes often in the style that an articulate teenage girl would wish to use, and subtly explores the female problems of growth within a realistic setting. In that these problems might appear stereotyped and self-conscious, perhaps her style only echoes the reality. What teenager does not often appear a self-conscious type to the casual beholder?…

Miss Arundel is not concerned with preaching any contemporary doctrine. She presents a slice of life clearly felt. One has the impression that her characters were alive before the novel began and will continue to live after the last page. This is particularly true of the Emma trilogy…. (p. 40)

Bill [in The High House] is a subtle character study; Honor Arundel is at her best in his depiction. His public image of a cardboard cut-out model of the young man from a good family at University is a complete facade. (p. 41)

The breadth of human experience and the insights into human psychology contained in the Emma books make them highly suitable for the contemporary teenage girl. More important, they are good stories. With an Honor Arundel book, one wants to know what happens next.

This is particularly so with The Terrible Temptation. (p. 42)

Patricia Craig in a recent article in Nova deplores the continuation of sexual stereotypes in children's fiction. "In 1968 Honor Arundel, whose literary aim seems to be to reconcile teenage girls to a future of domestic subordination, brought one of her books to a would-be satisfactory conclusion with these remarks: 'Yes he would be a very good doctor. And she would be a doctor's wife and would have to put aside her ambition to become an interior decorator. It was a pity, just as she had become interested, but it could not be'."

This is a very sweeping dismissal of The Longest Weekend, a novel which seeks to explore the difficulties of reconciling oneself, not with domestic subordination but with motherhood. Eileen is an unmarried mother who quite fiercely rejects her lover's offer of marriage when she finds she is pregnant. Her parents, particularly her mother, rise to the occasion with supreme understanding. The problem is that Eileen's mother comes to love Gay, her grand-daughter, with a consuming maternal passion, and gradually tries to ease Eileen out of her role as mother. (p. 43)

Joel at length breaks down the reserve and resentment which Eileen has been harbouring against him. He had in fact asked to see Eileen in hospital when Gay was born, but Eileen's mother had refused to let him see her and had not told Eileen of his call. Honor Arundel leaves a great deal unstated. Eileen's mother had set too high a standard in every way for her daughter to emulate. (pp. 43-4)

[Joel] is no male chauvinist. Eileen's future with him as a doctor's wife in under-developed countries will be far more stimulating and fulfilling than in her parents' suburban...

(This entire section contains 1613 words.)

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intellectual haven, with her mother attempting to be all in all to Gay. Compared with a doctor's skills the art of interior decorationis unimportant, whether the doctor is male or female. Having resisted marriage with Joel for several years, Eileen obviously does not succumb at this point because she wants a life of secure domestic subordination. Accepting Joel is tantamount to accepting her role as Gay's mother.

Patricia Craig does not mention that on his first day with Gay, Joel dries her and dresses her when she gets soaked in the rain, butters her bread, wipes her nose, takes her to the farm and finally bathes her. He naturally takes over half the housework in the cottage over the weekend. To take the passage quoted in Nova out of context and parade it as evidence that Honor Arundel is in favour of stereotyping sexual attitudes is unjustified. The background story changes the situation completely…. Honor Arundel is surely in favour of individual fulfillment for every girl, whether this means marriage or a career or a combination of the two. (pp. 44-5)

Miss Arundel takes a … look at intra-family feelings in The Two Sisters, a book for younger teenagers. The story would be more accurately titled The Father, as the characters of his two daughters pale before the Celtic energy of Dennis Cafferty, an Edinburgh electrician of Irish ancestry.

Cafferty—articulate, imaginative, extravagant, frustrated—seems almost a caricature of the W.E.A. devotee, hell-bent for Ruskin; but as the book proceeds, the man's arrogance places him finally in the world of reality, giving him the breath of life. The undercurrent of possessiveness towards his daughters never completely breaks the surface as jealousy, but is always disguised as some other emotion….

By the end of the story, the reader sees that his possessiveness was largely due to his excessive energies, which will now be channelled into intellectual pursuits. The claustrophobic aura that his over-large Celtic personality had created will be dispelled somewhat. (p. 46)

Throughout the book the main characters are constantly seen through the eyes of Caroline, a child of nine. She is not as clever as her sister or father, and is slow to come to terms with the fact. The story attempts to bridge childhood and adolescence in that the two sisters, while coping with completely different problems, still retain a warm, loving understanding.

As with most of Honor Arundel's books, Green Street is set in Edinburgh. Miss Arundel's theme, the merging of class differences, runs through the book, just as Green Street itself runs through the lives of her characters…. The three girls organize a petition to try to save the street, and are helped in their crusade by a famous architect, Campbell Crichton, with "a craggy interesting face and a lock of dark hair that kept falling over his forehead". He seems to me to be something of a stereotype, and in one way the plot itself is similar to that of many other children's books, in which the children succeed where the adults are apathetic. But the plot is subordinate to the theme, which is I think a plea for a classless society. (pp. 46-7)

Like Green Street, The Girl in the Opposite Bed is concerned with the merging of class differences, though it is a novel of infinitely greater power and insight. (p. 49)

The title The Girl in the Opposite Bed refers ostensibly to Jeannie seen from Jane's viewpoint. But it could just as easily refer to Jane herself, from the point of view of Jeannie and the rest of the ward. Just a girl who was recovering from having her appendix removed. Thanks in part to Jeannie, Jane has learned how to make friends: "it was arguing and laughing and having jokes together and fighting and making up and being kind". By forgetting herself, Jane finds herself.

In that the factual circumstances of a death in hospital are movingly explored and honestly described, I feel that this book breaks new ground. Honor Arundel again is writing in the direct Alcott tradition, but without the Alcott sentimentality. Jane is helped to face, unshrinkingly, what is usually ignored or glossed over in books for young people set in a contemporary background. (p. 50)

In Honor Arundel's books there is a tendency for some characters to conform to certain stereotyped patterns—not sexual ones, however. The pattern is usually that of fairy godfather, Campbell Crichton in Green Street and Stephen McTaggart in the Emma series being obvious examples. Perhaps this is legitimate in that young people do need adults to help them: to pretend otherwise is unrealistic. However, as Miss Arundel's heroines mature, so their creator gains discriminative insight, in that her characters no longer lack individuality.

She does work to a formula, if her very diverse themes can be classified as such. Her heroines are usually placed in a solitary situation often away from parents or friends. From this stand-point they must make certain decisions or accept inevitable situations. In no way does Miss Arundel advocate a subservient role for the female sex. Rather she seems to imbue her characters with a determination to be independent and to learn from their experiences. (p. 51)

Celia Boyd, "Growing Pains: A Survey of Honor Arundel's Novels" (copyright © 1973 Celia Boyd; reprinted by permission of the author and The Thimble Press, Lockwood Station Road, South Woodchester, Glos. GL5 5EQ, England), in Signal, No. 10, January, 1973, pp. 38-51.

Though the British slang may present minor difficulties, [The Blanket Word] is really a cut above most teenage "problem" novels in the maturity of its viewpoint and in its treatment of serious problems without undue self-importance…. Both Jan's surprise at the depth of her sorrow over a mother she never really felt close to and her learning to accept the financial and emotional debt she owes her brother are neatly understated. Anyone who has ever faced the death of a parent, or merely felt the conflicting tugs of rebellion and family responsibilities should find Jan a steadying companion.

"Young Adult Fiction: 'The Blanket Word'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1973 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLI, No. 11, June 1, 1973, p. 606.


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