E.M. Delafield Consequences Reviewed by Serena Trowbridge

Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive


E.M. Delafield


UK Paperback

ISBN: 1903155029

Pages: 426; Price: £10.00

Date Reviewed: April 2004

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2004

Note: the covers of Persephone Books are gray with a cream coloured title & author inset; the endpapers, different for each title,are seen in this image.



General Fiction


When Jane Austen wrote about her heroine Emma that she had "created a heroine that no-one but myself will like", she set a precedent that has been followed in a worthy fashion throughout novels of the last few centuries. Consequences, E M Delafield's last novel, is one of these. Having said that, there were moments whilst reading this novel when I wondered if even the author liked her creation. Alex Clare, the heroine (or, perhaps, anti-heroine) of this novel, is everything that a fashionable woman of the late Victorian era shouldn't be, and she is described as "weak", "unattractive" and so on throughout the book.

Published in 1919, the novel tells the tale of the life of Alex, starting with her awkward and troublesome childhood years in the nursery, under the stern rule of the omnipotent Nurse and pitted constantly against the priggish and plain Barbara. As she grows up, Alex is too indoctrinated with the dream of Victorian womanhood to ever consider rebelling against it, and strives to achieve the pinnacle of success after her social debut - marriage - but in her one act of courage, breaks off her engagement. Her fate is considered to be sealed, and the second half of the book looks at the possible fate of a woman who doesn't fit the inexorable mould of Victorian society. The characters drawn here are drawn from life, I believe, as the story reflects much of the author's own life, and the realism and brutal detail of the wretched life that was forced upon women of this era makes compelling reading.

Readers who have enjoyed E M Delafield's The Diary of a Provincial Lady, a hilarious novel much loved by generations of mothers and daughters, should not expect another light tale here, however; this is serious stuff. Delafield shows here a remarkable gift for creating an awkward and unhappy girl with whom almost anyone can identify at some point. The pressures of society, family, school and religion all play their part in creating the misery of Alex, and the novel is accurately described in the Preface as 'A scream of sheer horror against Victorianism'. I have to be honest and say that this is an unremittingly miserable novel - with the brief respite of the image of a small boy called Cedric entertaining himself during a church service by hanging from a pew by his teeth. Having said that, it also says a lot of things about women's lives in this period, and contains such well rounded and believable characters that it is well worth a read.

The endpapers of this Persephone book are from a Silver Studio block-print furnishing fabric, sold by Liberty's in 1896, around the time that Alex was a debutante. It's called "Thistle" and its spikiness and slightly bilious colors reflect the nature of the book extremely well: to quote the Persephone website:

"We also chose this material because there is something oppressive about it; there is the imagery of thick greenery difficult to fight through and of the thistle - Alex herself is prickly, but also ensnared - scratched - by thickets of convention and etiquette."