Archive for the ‘Diana Tutton’ Category

Guard Your DaughtersSimon raved about it, Rachel adored it, and I think we were all convinced I was going to be equally enraptured by Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton.  But to my surprise as much as anyone’s, I was not.

Published in 1953, Guard Your Daughters centers on the Harvey girls who live in rural isolation with their mystery author father and hyper-sensitive mother.  There are five daughters but the eldest, Pandora, has recently married and moved away.  Now, having tasted freedom, she is determined that her younger sisters have the same opportunity as she to escape the stifling bonds that exist within the family.  When she broaches the subject with Morgan, the middle child and the narrator of the book, her sister is more amused than tantalized:

‘I realise now that we’re an odd sort of family.’

‘Well of course we are.’

‘But I mean – Oh, Morgan, I do want you all to get married too!’

‘Five of us?  I doubt if even Mrs Bennet managed as well as that, unless she fell back on a few parsons to help out.  However, dearest, we’ll do our best.’

I think the intention is for the Harveys to appear eccentric (instead of simply poorly educated) and if I had been able to view them as such then perhaps I might have found the book charming.  But instead of personalities, Tutton gives them interests, which is not at all the same thing.  Thisbe, the second eldest, dabbles at writing poetry, Morgan half-heartedly plays the piano, Cressida is the homemaker (mostly out of necessity, it seems), and Teresa, the baby at fifteen, is an enthusiastic but undiscerning reader.  We hear more about Thisbe’s bottom than we do about her thoughts or personality and the others aren’t much better off; Morgan is a remarkably dull narrator, recording her observations without ever attempting any analysis of her situation or family members.    As a group, they at best bored me and at worst irritated me to the point where I wondered how I could make it through the rest of a book about such shallow, lazy, ungenerous creatures (Cressida is perhaps the exception to that, but Morgan seems to ignore her even more than she does her other siblings).  I was particularly irritated by some of their cattier comments to one another, revealing jealousies that are typical between sisters but which were underlain with very little affection.  And Morgan’s petty criticisms of other people’s appearances still bother me – if you are going to do that, you had better be Flora Post.  Only Flora, with her typically blunt and unemotional delivery, could say such things and still leave you liking her, knowing that the criticism had nothing to do with making herself feel better at another’s expense.  I have no such confidence about Morgan’s motivations.

The Harvey girls’ largely self-imposed isolation is somewhat broken up by visits from outsiders – they meet two young men over the course of the novel – and a new friendship with a flashy young neighbour and her equally fast set of friends.  But, to be honest, these outsiders mattered very little to the story as a whole and any encounters with them merely emphasized the episodic nature of the book.  A visit from one of the young men, however, did give Morgan cause to consider her father’s work and I will be forever thankful for that since the description of the charts Mr Harvey uses to map out the movements of the characters in his mystery novels was my favourite moment in the entire book.  I do like hearing about how authors work.

Comparisons to Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle are inevitable – there are too many similarities to be overlooked and they were published only five years apart (in 1948 and 1953) – but the Mortmains are superior to the Harveys in every conceivable way.  Part of the charm of Cassandra’s diaries is how clearly she sees the people around her and how very interested she is in them.  She adores her family, knows them each as well as they do themselves (or likes to think she does), but has no illusions about them (just as they have no illusions about her).  They exhaust her and try her patience but she clearly shows what, despite their very real flaws, is most loveable about them.  Morgan never manages to do that, never even attempts it, and I never felt the kind of connection between her and her sisters that there is between Cassandra and any member of her family.  And as for eccentrics, well, who could possibly be more eccentric than Topaz?  Cassandra and Rose try to masquerade as conventional young ladies whereas the Harvey girls affect eccentricity (or, rather, Tutton affects it for them).  Even Rose at her most desperately snobbish is more endearing than any of the Harvey girls at her very best.  At least Rose had purpose and ambition; the Harvey girls, with the exception of Pandora, are a sadly lifeless, charmless bunch.

I did not loathe Guard Your Daughters but neither did I find it particularly special or memorable.  Tutton’s writing can feel a bit cheap at times but it is serviceable.  For me, the greatest sin is that the girls are so unrelentingly flat and boring.  If you are looking for an I Capture the Castle readalike, you had much better try The Montmaray Journals by Michelle Cooper, which has a narrator every bit as complex and intelligent as Cassandra.  Or, better yet, just reread I Capture the Castle.

Read Full Post »