Narrating the most intimate details of the feminine experience surrounding the birth of her second child, Jane Gray surrenders herself to the fate that is her physical nature and sees herself as drowning in a “willing sea.” Her confessional narrative glides effortlessly in and out of two distinct voices, one debating, as it were, with the other. Speaking in the third-person, Jane narrates the events of her past and her present. When she shifts to the first person, she comments on her feelings about the events, as though to find interconnections and some center for those events and persons that constitute her life. For example, in speaking of her new baby, she regrets having omitted feelings for the child: “I did not want to include one man’s child in the story of my passion for another man. I felt compromised, I felt condemned.” Unable to verbalize her feelings with another person, she debates within herself, equally unable to bring those debates to a resolution until the end of the narrative, when once more she resumes her writing. Her poetry eventually provides the unity, saving her from the drowning.
Married to a musician (Margaret Drabble herself had been married to an actor), Jane confesses that it was she who had sent him away, preferring to have their baby by herself, with the help of a visiting midwife. The novel begins with the breakup of the marriage and the appearance of Jane’s cousin and closest friend, Lucy Otford, to offer what help Jane will accept. In strong contrast to Jane, Lucy enjoys an active life with her own children and with her profession, both of which she has been able to connect, as Jane has been unable to do. Efficient and well ordered, Lucy does what Jane allows her to do, then leaves, and in her place Lucy’s husband arrives to sit with Jane. His visits become regular, so that when the doctor approves of the resumption of her sexual activity, James wordlessly and easily slips into bed with her as though by mutual consent.
Jane had already cut off...
(The entire section is 823 words.)