Zoë (Ann) Fairbairns Audrey C. Foote - Essay

Audrey C. Foote

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The title introductory poem "The March of Women" and the author's preface all declare that this large novel [Stand We at Last] has a feminist theme and purpose. But those who expect militant propaganda will be surprised by Fairbairns' evenhandedness, good humor and, above all, lively narrative skill with which she devises a large cast of convincing characters, both female and male, and places them within a well-depicted historical framework that extends for over a century.

That history is often harsh, but the fiction is humane. The major characters, mostly lower-middle-class English women from 1855 to 1970, endure and usually prevail against the universal as well as particular privations and troubles of their times and class…. Yet while the laws, institutions and customs are often repressive or demoralizing to these women, blame is almost never placed on their individual lovers, fathers, husbands or even employers. Interestingly, the men characters are often shown as more generous, better tempered than their mates. Moreover, while the women are indeed usually disadvantaged by their society, the author suggests that attainment of independence is ultimately within their grasp.

As this is very much a novel and not a tract, any pattern among these varied lives is only partial; rather, certain designs occasionally repeat: girlish energy and ambition are somehow foiled or burn out; discouragement and depression follow, and then abandonment to often embittered dependence, usually but not always on men.

Audrey C. Foote, in a review of "Stand We at Last," in Book World—The Washington Post, March 6, 1983, p. 4.