Remembering Mary Hocking: Good Daughters

Mary Hocking, Good Daughters (1985)


I love being introduced to new-to-me authors, so when Heavenali announced she was hosting a “Remember Mary Hocking” event, I was glad to join in. I decided to start my exploration of this prolific twentieth-century British novelist with Good Daughters, the first in a trilogy about the Fairley family. The three daughters of the title fall into a common literary (or mythic) pattern: there’s the oldest girl on the cusp of womanhood, the youngest still in childhood, and the middle daughter between the two, uneasily edging into the adult world. Although we move between their perspectives, and even get a glimpse at the inner lives of other characters from time to time, it’s the middle child, Alice, who is really the center of the novel. Little information is available about Hocking’s life, but from what there is I suspect that Alice is something of a self-portrait, and the story drawn from at least some autobiographical elements. The time is the mid-1930s, the place Shepherd’s Bush in London, where the girls’ idealistic but somewhat obtuse Methodist father teaches in a boys’ school. His strict rules of conduct and the needs and wishes of the growing girls clash at times, as when oldest sister Louise wants to take part in a community theater production. Meanwhile, through the lives of friends and neighbors Alice is exposed to secrets and intrigues that don’t fit into the morals of her sheltered life. It’s all part of growing up in a rapidly changing world, and Hocking paints this family portrait with a good deal of skill, capturing the painful, exciting, messy process of discovering oneself in relation to other people.

Yet the very fact of appreciating the small, intimate joys of family life, of luxuriating in the slow passage of the lengthening days, seemed to cut Alice off from Claire. Claire, whether lying in the hammock reading, or playing with Badger on the lawn, lived completely in the golden hours as though evening would never come, and Alice was aware of something she had lost. She was also aware of Louise moving away from them all.

After so much time spent getting to know these characters in detail, when events unraveled rather hastily at the end I felt somewhat let down. I’m curious to know how their story continues, though, and I’m sure I will look into the sequels (Indifferent Heroes and Welcome Strangers) at some point. These carry the Fairleys through the war years, and I wonder how they will deal with the upheavals to come. Thanks to Heavenali for introducing me to an unfamiliar author who was worth the effort to track down. I’m excited to see what discoveries other readers have made this week.