Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

As characters pass in and out of Leonora’s life, the effects of love on the lover and on the beloved are explored from all angles. Early, Leonora pities Meg for her shameless infatuation with Colin, but later she is guilty of the same extreme. She is conscious enough of appearances not to let her emotions show to the extent that Meg does, but after James leaves her, she breaks down and cries in Meg’s presence. Even as she sobs, she is embarrassed by what love has reduced her to: Helpless as she was, she could still feel a sense of shame at what was happening to her. It seemed the final touch of irony that she should break down in front of Meg of all people. Fumbling for her handkerchief, she struggled to control herself, to produce some explanation for this most uncharacteristic behaviour, but Meg forestalled her with soothing words.

Leonora can no longer deceive herself into believing that hers is a chosen and tranquil solitude; it is instead an unwanted loneliness that her proper, aging male companions cannot dispel. Her pride keeps her from taking James back, but it can no longer be of much help in easing the pain that she feels.

James makes Leonora feel young for a while—and terrifyingly old once more when he is gone. A fruitwood mirror that James lends her, so in keeping with Leonora’s Victorian taste, lets her see herself as the young woman that would appeal to a man as young as James: “The fruitwood mirror was. of course, very much Leonora’s style. The glass had some slight flaw in it. and if she placed it in a certain light she saw looking back...

(The entire section is 649 words.)