The Sugar Mother

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

At the beginning of THE SUGAR MOTHER, Cecelia Page, a pretty, charming obstetrician, and her fussy professor husband Edwin seem to have a marriage which will easily withstand a year of separation, while Cecelia travels abroad on a fellowship. When two vulgar women beg a refuge for the night, however, claiming to have locked themselves out of the house they have rented, Edwin finds himself helplessly involved with a pair who intend to take over his life. As the story proceeds, Edwin gradually turns away from his life with Cecelia and her feverishly up-to-date, uninhibited friends to the comfortable, old-fashioned pattern created by Mrs. Bott, a pattern he had not previously realized he desired. Together, she and her plump daughter Leila play the role of doting wife. Mrs. Bott doles out folk wisdom, cooks incessantly, and treats Edwin as lord of the manor, providing a logical basis for every wish he expresses. After Mrs. Bott has made some comments about what she calls “sugar” mothers for the production of children, her plump young daughter Leila joins Edwin in bed, shortly thereafter announces her pregnancy, and in due time provides him with a son. At year’s end, Edwin can only suppress his suspicions that the child is not his and hope that somehow Cecelia will not return.

In THE SUGAR MOTHER, as in her other novels, Jolley studies the developing relationships of a group of characters who are separated from a larger society. Here, however, the setting is not a lonely ranch house or isolated health farm, but simply a country house a short walk from Edwin’s school. There is another difference from other novels by Jolley.

Although once again in THE SUGAR MOTHER there is a pathetic protagonist whose vulnerability arises from a craving for love, along with a seemingly innocent predator who will take emotional and financial advantage of such a protagonist, Edwin is happier than most of Jolley’s victims. He chooses his isolation. He could have walked to rescue; he could have followed up his early impulses and enlisted the help of friends more decisive than the doggy Daphne. Instead, he has chosen between two illusions. Tired of the pretense of modernity, he has turned to the pretense of an earlier family system which, if based on deceit, at least is soothing to his ego.