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'The Best of Anya'

BrianPK
Reader
Location: Ireland

Postby BrianPK » Tue March 29th, 2011, 4:29 am

"Michy" wrote:Perhaps that's why PG stated in her foreward that "modern readers" would find a troubling element in Jenny's relationship with her father; she's acknowledging, at least to some degree, that the discomfort may be due in part to different social customs in our modern times. However, she does state right out that there is an incestuous tone to their relationship, and she goes on to cite several examples, all of which are valid and well-stated. She concludes that the reader's discomfort comes from the fact that this aspect of Jenny's relationship with her father is only partially developed and never fully explained or resolved.

But different social norms notwithstanding, I still agree with her assessment because of the reaction of the priest who was close to Jenny and her father (his name is Father Brown). I actually pulled my copy off the shelf and took another look at the passage I referred to in my earlier post. When Jenny's father is upset about her immigration to America and begging her not to go, Father Brown tells him, "It is better for everyone, and I have seen that for you both there's danger in your feelings for the girl." To me, this shows that it's not just a modern reader's interpretation of social behavior that is no longer an acceptable norm, but this is Seton herself implying that there was something a little more than "fatherly affection" in Charles' feelings for his daughter.

At any rate, I don't feel that these particular comments of PG's were slanderous or in any way demeaning of Seton's work; she was validly pointing out a significant aspect of the plot of Devil Water that might cause trouble for some readers. I happen to agree with her assessment, although I realize everyone doesn't.


Is it possible that the priest is misinterpreting the closeness of the relationship between father and daughter? Or even possibly Anya Seton herself not quite realising how this incident would be interpreted? Most people from "normal" family backgrounds back in the early 60s were remarkably innocent and would possibly never have heard of incest as such. As I say it's years since I read the book and I would need to read it again to get a sense of this passage. But I fail to understand why Anya Seton would deliberately attempt to ruin a good story by introducing a strictly taboo subject to a 1962 readership, most of whom would have been outraged at the thought of incest. But if you are correct and the possibility of an unnatural relationship was hinted at ,then that's another good book ruined forever for a lot of people. However I think, even today, most of us could accept incest in a novel involving unsympathetic characters like Caligula or Nero but not involving characters where the author is inviting us to become emotionally involved in their lives as in this novel.Having read most of her other books in which she has never attempted anything like this I can't see why Anya Seton would suddenly deliberately seek in Devil Water to offend or trick her readership.I think the priest was probably a fool. :)

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Tue March 29th, 2011, 5:55 am

Father Brown was definitely not a "fool," and there are too many other incidents in the book that all add up to something besides pure fatherly affection in Charles for Jenny. There is the fact that both Jenny's stepmother and her husband dislike her relationship with her father. There is another passage I came across (I was looking for the one where her father had kissed her on the mouth) where Jenny is sitting on his lap (she's about 15), her father has had a bit too much to drink, and he is talking about taking her to France and all the wonderful things they'll do there. As Seton worded it, he was talking to her sensuously, like a lover. Then Jenny suddenly said something that broke the spell, and her father felt like cold water had been dumped on him. Then there is the aforementioned kiss on the mouth, and the fact that it made Jenny feel uncomfortable. I am sure there are other examples I could cite, but as I said, it's been over a year since I've read it.

No incest actually took place; Seton had Jenny immigrate to America and that put an end to it. I suppose that is why it didn't ruin the book for me, and also that I was able to "make sense" of Charles and his conflicting feelings, as I mentioned in my earlier post. Besides the fact that I think Jenny is the best heroine Seton created -- that is why Devil Water is one of my favorite Setons.

It is puzzling to me, though, why Seton chose to put this element in her story. There is very little recorded about Charles Radcliffe and nothing about Jenny (there is no written documentation to prove she even existed). So the field was wide open for Seton to interpret their personalities however she wished. Perhaps she thought this would add another layer of "interest" to her story? Or perhaps there was something in the oral history passed down in her family that hinted this was the nature of Charles' relationship with his daughter (Jenny Snowdon was connected to the Seton family several generations back). PG puts a Freudian spin on it, and suggests that Seton's own adulation for her glamorous father might have had something to do with it. I don't go in much for Freud, but who knows.

Since Anya Seton's no longer alive for us to ask, we'll never know.
Last edited by Michy on Tue March 29th, 2011, 5:57 am, edited 1 time in total.

BrianPK
Reader
Location: Ireland

Postby BrianPK » Thu March 31st, 2011, 11:14 pm

"SCW" wrote:Maybe I'll re-enact the scene from Dead Poet's Society before I read Philippa Gregory's introduction then. ha ha
But its good that she's helped Anya Seton's work be re-published. I've ordered Avalon and Devil Water for my birthday

Hope you enjoy those books as much as I did.Let us know how you get on. I was recently looking at the Amazon.com site (I normally concentrate on the amazon.co.uk one) and was glancing through the customer reviews of Avalon and was quite surprised at the no of people who were downright upset with Philippa Gregory over her belittling introduction.Ignore her intro. to Avalon seems to be the message from people who loved this book.
Last edited by BrianPK on Fri April 8th, 2011, 10:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Fri April 1st, 2011, 4:17 am

I think her foreward to Avalon was the one that irked me the most; I felt she was overly-critical of the way Seton structured the novel. I honestly wondered why the publishers included such a half-hearted endorsement of the book.

But the book itself is really good - I love the time period and the setting and the bittersweetness of the story.

SCW
Avid Reader
Preferred HF: Lately World Two or the time immediately before and after this period
Location: Australia

Postby SCW » Fri April 8th, 2011, 6:18 am

I'm reading Avalon now, but I skipped the PG intro.


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