I have been looking forward to reading The rector's daughter for some time, especially since I read the author's The third Miss Symons last month.
Like The third Miss Symons, The rector's daughter concerns a spinster. Mary, in her thirties, the daughter of the widowed Canon Jocelyn, has a busy life in his parish, running Bible classes, cataloguing library books and visiting parishioners. She is determined to be cheerful, even when attempts to broaden her horizons beyond these parameters are blocked by her father. Life is suddenly changed when she falls in love with Mr Herbert; they are on the brink of marriage, or so she feels, when he writes to her announcing his plans to be married to a lady called Kathy. She is shattered. We then witness the marriage of Mr Herbert to Kathy and become appalled by how such an unsuitable attachment could be made, leaving Mary behind. Mary avoids the couple as much as possible, until Kathy becomes ill and Mary carries out her parish duty of visiting her,a and there is some reconciliation, even if "there was not a spark of friendliness" any longer between her and Mr Herbert. Towards the end of the book, Mary does eventually find a life beyond that as rector's daughter, although it takes the death of the rector for this to be achieved. She moves to the suburbs and finally is able to pursue friendships, find her own views on matters and undertake some writing. So sad then that she dies before she reaches forty.
The novel is minutely observed; there is beautiful detail about each day and the East Anglian countryside, so that although time passes in the book very slowly, it is wonderfully described. This could make the book feel a little slow but I revelled in it. I found that many of the twists and turns in the plot were unexpected; I was surprised and extremely sad that Mary died when she was finally living as her own person rather than as her father's daughter.
Intriguingly, I have heard that Susan Hill has put this novel among her 4o books that she could not do without in her forthcoming Howards End is on the landing; I have yet to see this book, and am anxiously awaiting for my pre-order to arrive, and look forward to seeing what she says about it.
One more Mayor VMC title to read - The squire's daughter.
This book has been published twice by Virago. I find the picture on the front of the earlier Green edition somewhat terrifying. I cheated slightly as I did not read this book in a Virago edition; this was because although I had come across it as a VMC, I spotted it on a friend's bookshelf and asked to borrow it before I embarked on this challenge and I didn't feel that I could very well give it back without reading it because it was the wrong edition!