The Ordinary Life of the Extraordinary Mrs. Hope

Despite warnings of needing to “get through” the book, I truly enjoyed Deerbrook. The characters were well developed and the story-telling was well paced. My complaint with the novel was not that the story was poorly written but that the narrative choices were relatively uninspired.

The novel began with two warring families, lead by loud-mouth, troublesome women, Mrs. Rowland and Mrs. Grey. I was immediately reminded of Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice as the reader followed Mrs. Grey and her perturbed, but tolerant husband. Then came two sisters, one fair and a bit vapid, and one bright but plain, reminiscent of Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. Both sisters love and are disappointed, but ultimately marry the man they desired. And of course, who could forget the evil step-mother, or in this case mother-in-law, Mrs. Rowland. There is not enough space in this blog for me to rail against the characterization of the evil Mrs. Rowland. However, I was thoroughly intrigued by the complexities developed in Hester.

While being the novels token beauty, she became much more than just the genres vain sister. Hester was complex. She had problems, but unlike other beauties, such as Marianne, she was self-aware and struggling to better herself.  Hester showed an innate personal weakness of selfishness and jealousy, and her struggle with those she loved to overcome. While I enjoy this new and interesting characterization of the female mind, it is the end of her struggle that bothers me most.

As the novel becomes more of a story about the patience of good overcoming the spread of evil, Mrs. Rowland and the plague, Hester’s internal dialogue falls away. The reader is left thinking that she has been reformed from selfish to righteous, but by what catalyst? The defining moment of her transformation appears to be marriage, motherhood, and poverty. These things seem to be what the novel is suggesting humbles her. However, she still shows jealously at Margaret’s attachment to the baby and Maria, and her vice follows her from relative prosperity into poverty. Her story disappears as the novel concludes its intended purpose: a sort of generic parable about patience and poverty and goodness. The evil are killed or their kids are killed, and the good become prosperous – yada yada. The one stand-out, unique woman is smothered out by a morality story, and we are left to wonder what truly happened to Mrs. Hope?

 

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