English novelist Anita Brookner's 1998 novel Falling Slowly brilliantly captures the moments in the lives of two sisters, Beatrice and Miriam Sharpe. In the novel's beginning two middle class sisters distinguish themeselves by getting to their mid-40's for the younger sister and 50 for the older and both never falling in love--never falling in love with work, religion, politics, art and never falling in love with another person.
At the novel's opening the older sister Beatrice has a modest career as a pianist while the younger Miriam translates French novels into English for a living. The older sister was a romantic reading 2nd rate novels supplying her with a dream of handsome Prince Charming: "she entered a room with a helpless suppliant air, as if looking for a pair of broad shoulders, of strong arms to which she might entrust her evident womaniless." At 50 years she has never found the broad shoulders, has gained weight and lost most of her youthful attractivenss, and her new music agent one night comes to tell her he has no work for, ending her modest career. Meanwhile the younger sister settled for marriage at 35 with a man she didn't love but then divorced him.
A psycholgist friend says that quite that it's quite common that women get to be over forty and have never fallen in love. Educated women with careers in ths novel after the 2nd wave of feminism still completly define their lives around men, but again that's quite commom. The novelist Brookner was born in 1928, came of age in England in the 1940s and 1950s, so she's discussing 1950s women who whose personalities were formed before the 1960s. The two sisters in the novel lose most of their women friends when the friends get married--again quite common.
The younger sister Miriam starts a passionate, erotic lunchtime affair with the handsome married man, the music agent who brutally ends her older sister's career. One Christmas day Miriam wanders alone through the park obsessing over her absent, married lover when she meets Tom Rivers, a decent single man. Miriam rejects River's invitations to dinner and lunch. The older sister comments on the novel Jane Eyre that the heroine Jane like Miriam falls in love with the rogue rather than the good man St. Rivers, so in some ways Brookner is repeating Jane Eyre with the heroine falling in love with the rogue not the decent Mr. Rivers. Same novel but over 100 years apart. Why do women fall in love with rogues but ignore the good man? In Jane Eyre, Jane is a poor orphan while her beloved is rich and domineering. In Bruckner's novel both sisters had hostile, repressive parents, so Miriam sees her married lover as having a brilliant, rich life while she is the Beggar Maid in love with the king. The difference between this novel and Jane Eyre is that Miriam has sex and cooks portable dinners every night to carry to her lunchtime meeting with her lover while Eyre neither had sex nor did she obsessively cook for her lover.
The older sister is courted by Max, her retired music agent. Neither are in love but Max proposes they live together and Beatrice has a fantasy of their marriage and retirement in Monaco. These English characters seem ready to dispense with love and settle for companionship until Max notices that Beatrice has the signs of a ministroke so he tells Miriam and then flees.
The most brilliant part of the novel is when Miriam, now abandoned by her lover, goes to her sister's rescue. The real love is between the two sisters. Brookner's writing becomes dazzingly brilliant as she transforms our persceptions of the two sisters when Beatrice is dieing from a series of ministrokes. The novelist shows Beatrice's courage, sensitivity to her sister,and honesty and Miriam's dedication to her sister. Miriam finally stops being the Beggar Maid and developes self-acceptance. The last 75 pages of this book are just brilliant when Miriam does finally love Rivers and her sister as well as recovers from losing her married lover whom she once loved. Brookner's novel leaves both the Beggar Maid and Jane Eyre behind.
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