(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

For all its verisimilitude, playfulness, and wit, Godwin’s novel is beautifully and intricately designed. The novel’s action depends upon the fact that it is narrated solely from Jane’s point of view. Jane is a thoughtful, analytical, introspective woman. The reader discovers her complicated feelings about her relationships with other people through her insomniac musings, her memories, her dreams, her fantasies, her stories about others, and her endearing habit of narrating, to herself, the events in her own life—in the form of the ironically observed adventures of “Ms. Jane Clifford,” a late twentieth century “lady pedant.”

By limiting the narration to Jane’s point of view, Godwin stresses her heroine’s sense that her biological clock is ticking away, that life is passing her by. Jane compares herself unfavorably to her grandmother, her mother, and her half sister, who all seem to have enjoyed decisive, eventful, passionate lives and to be content with the way they have turned out. Even Jane’s great-aunt took charge of her own life and enjoyed a romantic—if tragic—fate. Jane contrasts herself to other women as well: the matrons whom she sees shopping in Saks, who have an assurance that she lacks; Ann Weeks, who has Gabriel’s devotion; Gerda, who has cheerfully renounced men and joined a feminist community; and Sonia, who has the marriage, family, and career that Jane wants for herself. Jane longs for the complacency, confidence, and security that these women seem to enjoy and worries that she herself will remain isolated and alone. Jane’s greatest fear—as suggested by recurrent literary allusions to Gissing’s novel The Odd Women; by the name of Gerda’s feminist newspaper, Feme Sole; and by the title of Godwin’s own novel—is that...

(The entire section is 735 words.)