…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
It was last year that I read Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was the reason I bought this collection of Orwell’s work, but I was in the mood to read another novel about a female character – the previous one being Dickens’ Bleak House which I read over two years ago.
A Clergyman’s Daughter is about Dorothy (rather than Esther), who is in her late 20s. The novel is set in the 20th century and Dorothy is the clergyman’s daughter, daughter to the Rector of Knype Hill, a small town in East Anglia.
We begin with her on a typical day as she wakes up and organises the house and things for her father (similar to Esther would do in Bleak House for her guardian, John Jarndyce) – the things her mother used to do before she passed. Dorothy is the woman of the house and keeps things together, and in order, more so than her father gives her credit for, and he doesn’t make it easy for her – running up debts and brushing them off as being of little consequence – really there seems little love between them.
Then just as things are getting on top of Dorothy (or perhaps because of), she finds herself on the streets of London (some one-hundred miles away) suffering from amnesia.
She promptly meets and befriends a young lad who is with a couple of other girls and they go off to find work hop-picking, begging, scrounging, stealing and sleeping rough along the way in order to survive.
When the hop-picking work comes to an end she regains the memory of her past (but not about what happened to her on the last night in Knype Hill) and all the stories that have been in the newspapers, about ‘The Clergyman’s Daughter’ who ran away with a man, she realises, were about her.
Due to these stories about her she can’t immediately return home, but she writes to her father and tries to get him to send her some money. In the meantime she ends up sleeping rough on the streets of London until a relative finds her and sorts her out with a job and lodgings as a school teacher.
This is a further experience of subsistence, but at first she finds a good way to teach the children in her care (I am again reminded of Esther in Bleak House). The children had never been taught as such, they were only trained to impress their fee-paying parents by returning home with neatly written work copied out of books, for example, but at first Dorothy changes all of this and holds affection for the children, that is until the dragon of a head-teacher puts a stop to it.
In the end the school term ends and Dorothy is laid off, but just as she is heading back out onto the streets again the guy from her home village (the one who she supposedly ran away with) rolls up in a taxi to take her back home, where her life returns to how it was before she left.
As I followed Dorothy on her ordeals I witnessed how she changed and when she returned home we read of her acceptance of her now lacking faith in God – she was naturally strongly devout in the beginning. For a short time upon her return she is aware of her changes, but comments that her soul is still the same, she questions things and looks deep within, that is until she busies herself with her commitments and her mind gives in and returns to the monotony of her life as it was.
“…mere outward things like poverty and drudgery, and even loneliness, don’t matter in themselves. It is the things that happen in your heart that matter… Beliefs change, thoughts change, but there is some inner part of the soul that does not change. Faith vanishes, but the need for faith remains the same as before… And given only faith, how can anything else matter? How can anything dismay you if only there is some purpose in the world which you can serve, and which, while serving it, you can understand? Your whole life is illumined by the sense of purpose. There is now weariness in your heart, no doubts, no feeling of futility, no Baudelairean ennui waiting for unguarded hours. Every act is significant, every moment sanctified, woven by faith as into a pattern, a fabric of never-ending joy.”