Marking Time

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

MARKING TIME is as compelling a story as THE LIGHT YEARS, its popular predecessor in THE CAZALET CHRONICLE, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s series tracing the fortunes of an English family through the middle decades of the twentieth century. In THE LIGHT YEARS, Howard traced the private and public lives of her appealing characters up to Chamberlain’s naive declaration of peace; in MARKING TIME, she takes the Cazalets and their connections through two eventful years, from September, 1939, to Pearl Harbor and the American declaration of war.

Although as in her first volume Howard penetrates the consciousness of a number of characters, in MARKING TIME she focuses especially on three girl cousins, who must deal with the always difficult task of growing up at a time when their fellow-subjects are discovering the depths of Nazi perfidy and the real danger of defeat. Howard traces the development of Louise Cazalet, the oldest cousin, who broadens her experience first with the brilliant, loving family of a new Jewish friend and then in the more squalid environment of provincial theatre; of Polly Cazalet, as she finds her vague fears being realized, first in German bombings, then in her mother’s terminal illness; and of Clary Cazalet, who learns to love her stepmother even as she keeps alive her faith that her father, missing since Dunkirk, will eventually return home.

Although her painstaking relation of details and her leisurely pace are reminiscent of the nineteenth century, Howard has a firm grasp of the changes in public and private life which were taking place in the 1930’s and 1940’s. She shows her characters reluctantly relinquishing their grasp on the safe world of inflexible manners, tidy inheritances, and country house havens. Fortunately, as Howard demonstrates in this compelling novel, The Cazalets have not given up the inner strength and the sense of family which will enable them to survive.