Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Back to the Classics Challenge 2020: The Winds of Heaven

Weirdly, working from home not been conducive to my on-line life. I apologize that I haven’t been reading and commenting on my friends' posts in the last couple months. Moving forward, I will be better and get back to the swing of things because I do miss it!

I have been reading, however, and for the Back to the Classics category “A classic with nature in the title”, I read The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens in my lovely Persephone edition, pictured. The disinterested storytelling style of The Winds of Heaven reminded me a tad of Dorothy Whipple, another Persephone author, but I think I’ve enjoyed the Whipple novels I’ve read so far more.  I found the quiet interludes compared to the melodramatic moments a little too uneven for my tastes. Despite this quibble, I really did like the novel and will read more from Dickens in future.

First published in 1955, the story is about Louise, who is widowed at 50 something. Louise’s husband bullied her and left her with only debts upon his death. Since she cannot afford to support herself, she is shunted between the homes of her self-centered grown daughters in the spring, summer and fall while spending the winters in Portsmouth on the charity of a school friend who runs a hotel. Louise’s only occasional solace is her awkward granddaughter Ellen, her son-in-law Frank and her newfound friend, Mr. Disher.

Her eldest daughter, Miriam, lives in upper middle-class comfort in a London suburb with the aforementioned Ellen and two younger grandchildren, who are clearly more favored by their parents.  Louise’s youngest daughter, Eva, is an aspiring actress who lives in a London flat and her middle child Anne, lives with her farmer-husband in the country.  All three daughters see their mother as a burden, even though all three have space enough to allow her to live with them permanently. Louise longs to live independently, but that would require her taking a job, which is an anathema to her daughters. They don’t want her around, but they also don’t want the shame of their mother having to work for a living. 

It’s all very bleak with a few moments of brightness for Louise. Louise’ interactions with Ellen are touching, particularly since it is clear that Ellen sympathizes with her Grandmother because she too is unwanted. And Louise’s relationship with Mr. Disher is delightful, from the moment then meet by chance in a tea shop and she learns he is a salesman by day but in his spare time a writer of lurid, pulp fiction paperbacks. I think that Dickens excelled in her characterization here, which is why it was sometimes so sad to read, because the reader really feels for the characters when they suffer. But I will say, without spoiling things, that the book was satisfactorily resolved for me.