The Independence of Claire

independenceofclaireI finally have finished my second kindle book. It wasn’t boring, I guess I have just been too caught up with life. And it was not a happy and cozy book like I thought it would be. Here is the review I left on Shelfari for it:

This is the second novel by Mrs.George de Horne Vaizey, that I have read. I first read Betty Trevor from 1905 while this one was written in 1915. There is a definite change or difference in the books. The 1905 was happy, cozy while this one leaves an upset mind.

Is it dated? Sure. Mrs. Vaizey was, one can understand, a very religious woman. Not a fanatic but she had a deep faith and it comes out in her heroine’s character or in some character that gets to say something deep and profound. I enjoyed this because it’s a nice change to today’s worldly thoughts and also, it gives you food for thought.

It is also dated in that it describes situations that doesn’t really exist today but that makes this novel a social study of the time. And a very sad and scary such.

Claire Gifford has grown up with her mother, traveling around Europe, having a blast, wearing the latest fashion, never lacking a thing. She’s been educated in France. But when the book opens, her mother is doing everything to suddenly be frugal. There is no more money. Claire is shocked and asks her mother what her plans were, how she could be so careless. The mother who is 39 but looks like 25, has known for a while that they would run out of money but felt that by this time, Claire would get married and look after her. When one of the guests at the Brussel’s pension, where they are living cheaply, pays a lot of attention to Claire, she gets in to her head, that her mother wants her to marry him. She knows that she must but doesn’t cherish the thought, so she is utterly surprised, when all he wants from her, is her consent for him to marry her mother and taking her to India.

Claire knows that they want to behave like teenagers and that her presence would force them to act all grown up, so she accepts an offer to go and teach at a girl’s school in London, when another guest, who is headmistress at the school, offers her the position of French teacher.

On the ship over to England, she gets acquainted with an older woman by the name of Mrs. Fanshawe who acts like they are equals, till the moment she finds out that Claire has no money, even though she travels first class and dresses extremely well, and that she is on her way to London to teach. Mrs. Fanshawe is met in London by her son but she snubs Claire and refuses to introduce the two, to each other. Captain Erskine Fanshawe, sends his mother home in a taxi and returns to help Claire out, since part of her luggage has gone missing. Part of her hopes that they will meet again, since his mother did promise to see to that she is invited out, by friends of hers. But part of her accepts that she must not have such hopes.

What seemed like an exciting adventure, soon turns in to a very sad existence for Claire. She thought that she would be pretty well off on her salary but moving in with the English teacher, Mary “Cecil” Rhodes, soon sets her straight. Renting rooms, getting coal and paying for food adds up very quickly. She realizes that her beautiful clothes from Parisian fashion houses, will soon be worn out and she will never be able to replace them, but will look as drole as all the other teachers do who can’t afford better. Cecil is a sad being, always grumpy and with her 12 year experience, tells Claire what her future will be. Claire refuses to accept that but more and more she has a difficult time keeping cheerful. No invitations arrive, like promised, people at church do not get involved in each others lives, students do not invite their young teachers home for tea. The weather gets worse and a new expenditure is added by having to take the tube or bus to work.

Finally, one day Claire does get invited to a party, at a Mrs. Willoughby’s. She dresses beautifully, get taken down by Cecil, but heads off for an evening of mixed feelings. Janet Willoughby wants to be her best friend, till Erskine Fanshawe enters the scene and sits down with Claire. Janet, who is expected by Mrs. Fanshawe, to marry Erskine, gets insanely jealous. Meanwhile, Claire loves every minute spent with Erskine, but can’t get herself to give him her address, so they can meet again. And Janet sees to that Claire is never invited again.

Cecil starts acting strange, spending money she doesn’t have and ends up letting Claire paying their rent over and over again, promising to pay back but never does. Claire finally figures out there must be a man involved but doesn’t understand about the money. Till Cecil confesses that Major Carew and she are secretly engaged since his father, who doesn’t let him have enough money,  would not like his son and heir to marry below himself. But Cecil promises that when she is happily married to him and living in his country estate, then she will pay Claire back every penny. Claire has by now met the man, and felt only disgust for him.

What she has also discovered is, that the teachers do not socialize even among themselves. And when Christmas comes along, she is told by her landlady that she can not stay home that day. She goes to a church where she breaks down and cries and Janet, that happens to sit behind her, takes pity on her and decides that Claire must come to the Willoughby’s for Christmas Day. The only gifts that Claire receives that day, is a painted table cloth, from her thoughtless mother who thinks that her daughter is so well off on her salary and needs nothing. The other gift she receives is a cuckoo clock from Switzerland where Erskine Fanshawe is celebrating with his crowd. Janet on the other hand, does not get the gift she wants from Erskine and Claire is starting to put two and two together.

While Cecil continues her “love affair” with Major Carew and borrows money left and right, Claire gets to know the gym teacher better. She finds out among other things, from her, that Cecil was promised marriage by a cad 6 years earlier, only to find out that she had been had. Claire fears for this new relationship of hers.  Miss Sophie Blake, the gym teacher, on the other hand  is a happy woman, that lives for the day. She rents rooms too grand for her, helps her sister out money-wise, but what brings Claire and her closer over the months to come, is not this happy attitude of worry about tomorrow when tomorrow arrives, but the fact that Sophie is having rheumatism and it gets worse and worse. Claire is forced to help out her new friend money-wise, as well as loaning Cecil money. She is starting to get it tough financially herself by this point.

Too read about how Cecil uses Claire and pumps her for money, and giving it to Major Carew, made me very upset. And to see poor Sophie getting worse and worse and finally told she can no longer work since she is suffering from arthritis, is also upsetting. To read about how expensive it was to go to a doctor, how there was no social net at all and how experimental ll medicines were, made me sick to my stomach, The book really wants to show on a group, so vulnerable in society, yet the ones considered important, since they were teaching the next generation. They were needed but not wanted. They earned so little that they could not save for a pension. They were terribly lonely, never invited to things and often stuck in their rented rooms since all entertainment cost too much as well as the transportation to them. It is surprising that any one wanted to go in to that profession. A comparison between country schools and London schools was also made, since conditions were very much better in the countryside. In London everyone was on their own and the headmistress only cared, at this school, about the student’s marks. If they did well, then the teacher was treated well, but otherwise she could start looking for another job.

Sophie ends up in hospital where she doesn’t have to pay but all treatments fail. And Janet’s attempts of keeping Erskine from meeting Claire, finally fails. They do meet by chance and they do realize that they both feel the same thing for each other. What could have been a happy ending to a book though, really isn’t, since Cecil has been going out with a conman of the worse kind. When the book ends, you don’t sit with a smile on your face but feel sick in your tummy since Cecil has NOTHING left, having sold shares, everything to give to that man. She is so much worse off than a year earlier when she was already poor. How can someone survive such a thing? Someone might say, serves her right, she was a nasty character anyway. But having been conned ones has made her bitter and she does know what her future will be like. She has no beauty to fall back on like Claire nor a rich step-father in India.

The independence of Claire is really not about independence, she has a bank account with money enough for little extras during the year and in a way, she is like someone on a sabbatical year, trying something new out, but when the money is gone, she goes back to the fold and marries a rich man. She never has to starve, freeze and go without again. While Sophie’s and Cecil’s lives are ruined and can not improve at all but only go down hill. I have given it four stars because it really makes you think.


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