A Drama in Muslin by George Moore
bought from Kennys Bookshop
Summary from Goodreads:
A reprint of the first edition written in the 1880s, this is generally considered to be the best version of one of Moore's greatest books. Set in Ireland in the 1880s against a backdrop of Land League troubles in Co. Mayo, and in Dublin, where the social life revolves around the Vice-Regal court in Dublin Castle, this depicts the efforts of a mother trying to catch socially suitable husbands for her daughters, and chronicles the results.
This was an interesting book for a number of reasons. I like Irish history and the book takes place in the 1880's in western Ireland during the activities of the Land League, so there is the historical aspect to it. But the most interesting thing was the picture it painted of the lives of five girls born into the gentry of the West of Ireland. They had been sent to a girls school for much of their lives and when they were of age, they had to join society and begin their quest to find husbands. The mothers of the girls were quite interesting and for the most part, not very sympathetic characters. Mrs. Barton, the mother of Olive and Alice, the two main girls, is a beautiful, mostly empty-headed woman whose main goal is to get Olive married to an important man. Because Olive is the "beauty" of the family, she is the main focus of her mother's plans. Alice, the older, quiet, plain daughter is not really part of her mother's plans. All focus is on Olive. This sets the stage for the dramatic differences between the girls' lives for much of the book. The book paints a stark picture of the realities for young women at the time -- either marry (and hopefully to a wealty man) or face spending your life alone, whispered about and with no real purpose. In fact, the search for a husband was so important that there are several instances where it is referred to in military terms and the mothers are compared to real military leaders in their style of going after a husband for the daughter.
There are some glimpses of the peasants and their plight. But the main focus is on the landowners and their daughters. The view presented of the Land League and their activites is from the landowners' side of the issue. For the most part it shows that they had little understanding of the actual situation of the tenants of their land. They were only concerned about how much of the rents they would be able to collect. The reader gets glimpses of the poverty, but then the story goes straight back into the dances and parties and in this way shows the complete lack of concern and awareness on the part of the daughters and mothers.
From a historical and societal perspective, I thought the book was excellent. I did have a bit of a problem with some of the dialogue. In several places, the girls' dialogue seemed overwrought -- such high emotion that sometimes it seemed unreal. But then again, if your life was so constricted these fits of emotional ranting might be the only way to break out of the norm. I was quite pleased that Alice ended up with the happy marriage because she was considered plain, too smart, and basically unmarriageable at the beginning of the book. She proved to be a true friend, a wise person, a good sister and daughter and learned to be uncompromising when it came to decisions about her own life. She was the exception in the story. So, overall, I did enjoy the book although it took me awhile to get into the story at first.