Molly Keane Garrett Epps - Essay

Garrett Epps

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I read Good Behaviour in one sitting, and, when I'd finished, shook the book like a greedy child hoping one more goody would fall out.

Keane's characters are the impecunious Anglo-Irish gentry between the wars, and her central character is Aroon St. Charles, one of those poisonous unmarried female relations who infest every extended family….

But as Aroon recounts her path to manipulative spinsterhood, Keane performs the difficult trick of getting us inside this unattractive, overweight woman to see the naive but appealing girl she once was. Aroon is betrayed by her adored brother Hubert…. She is betrayed by her mother, who regards her from birth as a rival for the love of the unfaithful Major St. Charles. She is betrayed by the father himself, who loves her but can never quite take seriously her hopes for love. When, at last, Aroon has her sticky revenge, the reader has come round to her side, and sadly agrees that she has made the very best of a bad bargain….

Keane is working the same social and literary territory that inspired Evelyn Waugh. Indeed, several characters in Good Behaviour might have wandered, in an absent-minded daze, out of Vile Bodies. But her formidable skills let her stay in the ring with an established master like Waugh, taking the jumps with ease. (p. 39)

Garrett Epps, "Three First Novels," in The New Republic, Vol. 184, No. 23, June 6, 1981, pp. 38-40.∗