Life after Work

Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes, Pulitzer Winner of 1931

“Years of Grace” ended up being a tedious read. It is a fairly heavy book and started rather unremarkably. Teenage Jane Ward is the youngest daughter of a middle class family. She falls in love with Andre, a French boy whose family is somewhat bohemian (for the time) – the 1890s, but her parents unsurprisingly disapprove of the relationship. Andre moves back to France, but Jane resolves to remain faithful to him. She goes off to college where she seems to enjoy intellectual pursuit, but returns before earning a degree because it is time for her debut, and she also suspects that college really has no meaning for her. It is just something she could do (also Jane’s mother did not approve which made Jane more resolved to go).

Back home, Jane is courted by a young man from a very wealthy family and decides to give up on the idea of ever getting together with Andre. And so she moves on to the settled life of a housewife and mother, until she falls in love with the husband of a friend and finally discovers true passion. Unfortunately she decides not to act on her desires and remains the dutiful wife and mother.

Overall, I thought this book was boring. Hardly ever does anything happen! Jane falls in love with the wrong boy? Of course she does whatever her parents want. Jane fights to go to college, but does not complete her education. She marries the “good match” her parents approve of and enjoys her husband’s riches. She finally has a bit of an adventure, but doesn’t go through with it. Jane just keeps on doing whatever everyone else expects her to do. As the author lets us look right into Jane’s thoughts, we can see how she reasons about what to do at almost any point, and while she is sometimes able to express some passion and promise, she is so self-limiting at most other times that I was wondering if she was really dense or obtuse. I have to admit, I kept on reading waiting and waiting for her to snap out of her goody-goody ways, but that never happened. She remains pretty much the same person all through her life. Meanwhile the readers can see the world and attitudes change around Jane as we follow her from her teens to grandmotherhood. That was probably the best part of the book for me.

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