Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The underlying ideas and images of this novel are suggested by the epigraph, a quotation from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931):So terrible was life that I held up shade after shade. Look at life through this, look at life through that; let there be rose leaves, let there be vine leaves—I covered the whole street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, with the glaze and ripple of my mind, with vine leaves and rose leaves.

The appropriateness of the quotation is reflected in the narrative method, the characterizations, the imagery, and the principal concept: that life is full of fear, frustration, isolation, disappointment, delusion, chaos, corruption, and mystery. At the same time, Taylor sees the beauty and goodness in life, as well as the ugliness and evil. Light and shadow are recurrent images, and Taylor often begins or ends a scene with short, lyrical passages referring to time of day, including the appearance of the sky, and other elements of nature, such as flowers and trees, sunlight and moonlight, heat and cold.

Toward the end of the book, Frances paints a picture like the ones she used to paint—part of a mirror reflecting hands holding up a wreath of roses. It is lovely, but she sees it as a piece of silliness and knows that she will never finish it. Nevertheless, she believes that she has spent her life well, that she has spent it all as it was given to her.

The other principal theme, that of change, has been indicated also in the discussion of narrative method and characterization: Life is change, perhaps a hackneyed theme, but in Taylor’s hands it is stated with fresh insight and subtlety.