Book review: ‘Mother’s Sunday’ by Graham Swift
It is a beautiful spring day in March 1924. In the English countryside, Jane Fairchild, the housemaid of the Niven family, is getting ready for a bicycle ride. As an exception, she does not have to work that day: it is ‘Mothers Zondag’ (Mothering Sunday), the annually recurring day on which all members of the domestic staff are given time off to visit their mother. However, Jane is an orphan, raised in a children’s home, so she has no one to visit that day. That is why she wants to go cycling. But this day will turn out differently than she imagined and will give her life a new turn.
- Author: Graham Swift
- Title: Mothers Sunday (Mothering Sunday)
- Publisher: Hollands Diep
- Appeared: 2016
- Translator: Irving Pardoen
- ISBN: 9789048832460
Swift draws the atmosphere in which this exceptional day takes place with a fine brush. A few years after the Great War, many families mourn one or more sons who died on the battlefields. The mood in the chic mansions is depressed, there are framed photos of young men silent forever. The once prosperous families are also doomed: most of them can no longer afford to have a whole triad of servants and servants, all that remains of the domestic servants is a cook and a maid. It is the twilight of the British nobility. Two more decades, and it will all be over, but the sons of the house who have sprung the dance of death live on as if the nineteenth century were still ongoing: they unabashedly enjoy their material and sexual privileges and count on the discretion of the staff.
For example, Paul Sheringham, the only surviving son of the family who lives in the neighboring mansion, has an affair with Jane Fairchild. That relationship has been going on for seven years; Paul once paid her for her sexual services, but over time they have become real lovers. However, Jane is well aware of her position: she cannot make any demands, she has no rights, it depends solely on him whether the relationship continues or ends.
Paul is engaged to the daughter of another wealthy family, the Hobdays, and will marry and then move out of her a few weeks after the novel’s Sunday. Jane wonders if their affair will end with that or if they will just keep seeing each other in secret, which was not uncommon in those circles. She doesn’t dare to ask, afraid of the answer.
Not an ordinary maid
That Sunday morning, the two can unexpectedly enjoy an intimate rendezvous at his home, in his own bedroom, as both the staff and his parents are absent that day. Jane notices that after the lovemaking, Paul lingers for a surprisingly long time before getting dressed and heading for a lunch date with his wife. That makes her think. Does Paul sometimes dread his new life? Did his parents force him into a marriage of convenience? Perhaps out of urgent financial need?
Jane is no ordinary maid. She not only received shelter and food in the orphanage, but also learned to read and write. Later, when she got a job as a maid in the country house of the Niven family, she timidly asked the master of the house if she could ever borrow a book from the library. When dusting off the books, she had seen titles that intrigued her and she wanted to know more about them. And Mr. Niven had not answered angrily, as she half expected, that a housemaid was not supposed to read books, but had been pleasantly surprised and agreed to her request.
Once she has started, she wants to read new books all the time, and in the end this sows the seeds for later authorship. The crucial moment that her life will give a new turn in that direction, we as readers experience this ‘Mother’s Sunday’. It is a tragic and shocking incident that deeply affects anyone who hears of it and turns all existing relationships upside down. Jane is also completely upset when she hears about it, but for her this experience means something even more: she realizes that she has the talent to come up with stories that are not literally true but are ‘drawn from life’ – in short. , that she is a writer in the making.
With that, Swift, who tells us in a breathtaking way the story of that one day in Jane’s life, of course also says something about himself and his own authorship, while still keeping himself out of the picture. Through time jumps back and forth, spanning almost the entire twentieth century, the long life of a woman unfolds who at birth did not seem to have any chance of a long and fulfilling life (she does not even know her real name and exact date of birth. ), but who would be able to claim a place for himself against all oppression. On that one day, not only her budding writing life becomes visible, but at the same time the decline of the British aristocracy.
In this beautiful short novel, Swift zooms in on that one moment in history when all lifelines intersect. With devilish pleasure, he shows how one – the sensitive, intelligent Jane – embarks on a journey that will eventually make her a successful writer, while the other – the rude, only interested in his own pleasures – Paul – is on a steady journey. downward trend. Swift allows the reader to enjoy his mastery by prolonging that one moment, that beautiful spring day in 1924. You don’t want to put the book away anymore; you would have liked to experience that significant day much longer.