Mary Anne’s Scandal Is Today’s Snore

Statue of Frederick Duke of York
Statue of Frederick Duke of York, London

Mary Anne is a novel about Mary Anne Clarke and the scandal that she precipitated in nineteenth century England. It was penned by her great-granddaughter, author Daphne du Maurier, who may be suspected of a bit of bias.

A precocious child, to keep the family fed Mary Anne passes her proofreading work off as that of her ailing stepfather.

She marries an scapegrace who prefers the bottle to work. To support their four children, Mary Anne writes gossip columns until she discovers more lucrative employment for her brains and body. Before long, she is mistress of Frederick Duke of York, second son of King George III.

Mary Anne revels in her powerful role but piles up debts furnishing the amenities the Duke is used to. To supplement the Duke’s allowance, she begins pedaling Army promotions — and preparing her own downfall.

Although the characters are historical figures, not one of them seems real. Du Maurier fails to provide plausible explanation for the critical pivots on which the story turns: Mary Anne’s family relationships.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the duMaurier’s account is that although the Duke’s enemies accept his adultery, they are scandalized that he pushed through promotions knowing his mistress was bribed to use her influence with him. He was forced to resign as Commander-in-Chief.

Your life will be none the worse if you leave Mary Anne on attic shelf.

 Mary Anne
By Daphne du Maurier
Doubleday, 1953
351 pages
1954 bestseller #2
My grade: C-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni


Shadows on the Rock Lacks Substance

Shadows on the Rock is Willa Cather’s light, historical novel about the French in Quebec around 1700.

Apothecary Euclide Auclair came to Quebec as physician to the Count de Frontenac. When his wife died, Euclide was left to raise their daughter, Cecile, by himself.

His skill at compounding drugs makes Euclide welcome in homes of the elite as well as the poor.

At 12, Ceclie keeps house for her father, does all her mother’s charitable works, studies the classics, tends the shop when her father is out on calls, and spends hours playing with her friend, Jacques.

Between them, Euclide and Cecile know everyone and everything that goes on in Quebec.

Although there is always the potential for serious trouble from the British or the Indians, daily life revolves around petty annoyances that take on monumental proportions in the closed community. People take sides in the feud between the count and the old bishop and in the feud between the old bishop and the new one.

I kept anticipating a crisis that never came.

Euclie and Cecile are pleasant, but not memorable, characters. Their only heroism is in facing the daily monotony of their lives without complaint — a heroism that makes for better lives than for entertaining reading.

Shadows on the Rock
by Willa Cather
Alfred A. Knopf, 1931
280 pages
1931 bestseller #2
My grade: C
©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni