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Anyone interested in giving this question a go....(borrowed by Winterwren from an online readers guide, I think)

Compare the three female characters—the mundane and muddled Hartley, the demure and clinging Lizzie, and the fierce and implacable Rosina—in their attitudes toward love and their approaches to Charles.

Are any of them free?

Do they seek freedom?

Compare Murdoch's depiction of them with her handling of the male characters.

Is sexual difference and "the nature of women" a theme in the book?

Likely to be spoilers, I suspect, if anyone hasn't finished reading the book yet ;)

A very daunting set of questions, I think, but maybe we could nibble away at different aspects of them, between us.

I actually felt the book was more focussed on the nature of marriage, rather than the nature of women. There was a lot of small comments here and there from different characters about how marriage is a mystery, and no-one can tell from the outside whether it works or not, or whether it is happy or not. Charles on his drunken night out with Peregrine in London spent some time discussing the marriages of certain friends and speculating on how happy or otherwise they were. He seemed to take great satisfaction in deciding that most of them weren't.

Plus his apparently very deliberate acts to break up Peregrine's marriage with Rosina - the impression I got was that he did that much more because he resented their relationship, rather than because he actually wanted Rosina for himself.

And Hartley, somehow, mysteriously, wanting to stay in her marriage, despite it's apparent misery (in Charles judgement, as least) - a very mysterious marriage, and yet somehow it seemed to work for the two of them within it. Is Hartley free?? I guess so, yes. Free to choose to remain with Ben, despite Charles efforts.... :confused:

(I'm not really answering the original questions at all am I! Never mind - I'm interested in any comments the rest of you have, all the same)


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I agree that marriage is a strong theme in the book, but the three women are to obviously different not to be a motif themselves.


I don't agree with you that Hartley is free. She's in an unhappy marriage with an almost tyrannical husband, and having been in that situation for so long she cannot imagine being in another situation. She is not free to choose, because she has no concept of another option. There is only her marriage. She certainly doesn't seek freedom.


Lizzie is difficult for me. On balance she is probably not free because she is a victim of her desire to belong to somebody, although she does not seem to have much trouble transferring her affections. I remember her being described as something like 'one of those sweet girls that men cannot help falling in love with'. I know people like that, and the sweetness is inherent, but also a product of wanting to ingratiate oneself so that there is always someone to love you. Lizzie needs love to feel whole, and as such is not free.


Rosina I'll have to think about.


The question about whether Murdoch handles the women differently from the men is a tough one. I think she does. The women seem to be clearer characters and very fixed, you always know how they will react (well, apart from Rosina, but unpredictability is inherent to her character). The men on the other hand are more mysterious, and do unexpected things.


Phew, you're not making things easy, are you? I wonder what others have to say, and whether what I'm saying makes any sense at all :D

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I can sort of see what you're saying about Hartley - but I'm not sure. I'm finding that I just don't know how to evaluate her marriage. Charles's view of it is clearly not at all impartial and unbiased - he really wants to believe that she is unhappy, so that he can justify being her "rescuer".


We're also led to believe that Hartley's own account of things is also untrustworthy. Some of the worst things she tells Charles the first time she comes to his cottage, she later confesses that she invented and exagerated - and Titus confirms this. Titus also suggests that at least some of the problems in the marriage are due to Hartley herself - her tendancy to hysteria for example - rather than all the problems being due to Ben.


So, I guess I don't really know how bad to believe things really are - though they clearly aren't all sweetness and roses.


:confused: I wonder if that's part of Murdoch's intention - that you just can't tell from the outside what a marriage is really like. :confused: She does seem to delight in giving contradictory hints.




Really interesting comment you make about the men and women being depicted differently - I hadn't noticed that at all, as I was reading, but I think you're right - it would be far easier to sum up each woman in a sentance or two, than it would the men. They are simpler and not so layered, somehow.

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