The novel focuses primarily on character, and in particular on one character. Events exist primarily to express character. Characters other than Jane seem but pale shadows of real people, for they exist as fragmentary and ancillary parts of Jane’s life. Her opening confessional statement, “I couldn’t reach out a hand to save myself, so unwilling am I to set myself up against my fate,” is the overture to the orchestration of a series of variations on her fears and desires, conflicting fears and desires that “James and Malcolm [had] in their respective ways, died for me.” In reality, those fears and desires are for herself.
Stubbornly and mindlessly, she resists action, the kind of action embodied by Lucy, action as seen in her husband’s realization of musical success, action as represented by James and his car business, and, most of all, the action which her family traditions dictate. In this she resembles Mabel, the heroine of D. H. Lawrence’s “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” who gives in to instinct, feeling the need to do something only when the threat of drowning in “willingness” seems too threatening.
Surrendering to her nature takes form at the outset, when she insists on having her child alone, with the midwife coming in only to attend to perfunctory duties. She lies in the damp sheets of “birthing” for days, refusing to allow anyone to change them. Only James smooths them and eventually slips into them quietly, wordlessly, sharing her surrender to nature. She...
(The entire section is 621 words.)