Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Like the heroines of Drabble’s other novels, Jane Gray epitomizes the plight of educated women in a world in which they are fated by nature to fulfill conflicting demands on their time and energy, particularly marriage and pregnancy. An Oxford graduate, Jane surrenders herself to this fatalism, and the surrender feeds on itself to the point of near inertia. Had anyone whispered in her ear during her wedding ceremony that she had sacrificed her whole life quite needlessly or had someone said to her during the pregnancy that miscarried that she would die for it, she would have assented. No one spoke and she “connived at the world’s silence.”

Her surrender to fate, explicitly stated in the opening lines, reduces her to inactivity that infects even her writing. Into that state of inertia comes James, who both compounds her sense of drowning and, paradoxically, serves as a means of her survival. With the automobile accident serving as a catalyst for Jane’s restoration of contact with external ties, she imposes form on her own life by resuming her writing. With that form, and, therefore, meaning, she awakens from her inertia or drowning. Even the affair with James, although resumed, loses its obsessive hold on her. She thinks that in a distant time Malcolm may return to claim his family.

The gorge and waterfall of Goredale Scar are a fitting symbol of the fears and desires through which Jane has lived and from which she has emerged with a...

(The entire section is 560 words.)