By Margery Sharp
The Flowering Thorn is a rather unsentimental novel about the journey of a pleasure-addicted, fashion-obsessed party-loving “bright young thing” of 1920’s London. She unaccountably takes on the care of a four-year-old orphan son of a servant of her aunt.
Why? Towards the end of the book, Lesley Frewen looks back:
I remember quite well the reasons why I adopted him. I had been very bored in London, and had also failed to look my best at an important dinner-party. At least, I thought it was important.… The next day I went down to my aunt’s, and found her at her wits’ end to know what to do with Pat. I thought that if I adopted him it would provide me with a new and amusing topic of conversation. If I’d known what I was taking on I shouldn’t have done it. And when I did know.… I felt like wrapping him in a shawl and leaving him on a doorstep.” “But you didn’t, did you?” said Mrs. Brooke.
She soon realizes that she can no longer afford to keep both her little apartment in her fashionable neighborhood and the child.
[The realtors] all said the same thing. For the accommodation Madam required, and at the rent Madam was prepared to pay, Madam would probably do better to try the suburbs. Lesley listened incredulously: it was as though they advised her to try Australia. There were the suburbs, of course, through which one occasionally passed in a car, and where people out of Punch borrowed each other’s mowers: but as for living there— ‘Impossible!’and so step by step, fighting every inch of the way, she was driven into the country.
Why does not she just admit defeat and give him back? Nothing legally prevents her
She thought, ‘If I don’t see this thing out I shall have something rotten inside me for the rest of my life.’ Rotten like an apple—the brown decaying core under the firm red skin.…
There is more to this girl than meets the eye.
From there we are on a very gradual journey of experiences and insights that lead to her letting go of one kind of life, and choosing to live and appreciate another kind. By the end of her growth, she becomes a “countrywoman” with all that entails: a sea change involving food, nature, fashion, physical activity, and friendship. Curiously, it does not involve becoming a devoted loving mother to young Pat ala Auntie Mame.
“I don’t like this place,” said Patrick suddenly. From the sound of his voice she knew the tears to be near: but no impulse to console awoke in her, only a faint shiver of revulsion. A crying child, a dark house.…she looked at him with an intensity of dislike so nearly bordering on hatred … for in all their enforced companionship she never once spoke to him without consciously masking her face. It was a hatred to be ashamed of, ignoble and unjust: but she did not love him the more for making her ashamed.
That is very painful to read, But surprisingly she is a great parent to Pat who is not a brilliant or exceptional boy. He is not intelligent or clever or particularly attractive. He is just ordinary in every way except in his determination to succeed in whatever he attempts. And because of necessity and propinquity, the hatred does not last. But she never adores him.
And as a result of all this non-devotion, you’ve brought Pat up damned well. “A child should be—how can I put it?—not too much concentrated on…An only child supporting the whole weight of the mother’s emotions—and sometimes the father’s as well—he leads the most exhausting life on earth. It’s what might very well have happened to Pat, if you’d been another kind of woman. My dear Lesley—you know all this better than I do, of course—a child doesn’t want to absorb a life, he wants to inhabit one. Make a happy life for him to inhabit, and you make your child happy too.—I’ve never tried it myself,” admitted Sir Philip, “but that’s the theory.”
Is that wise parenting advice or what?
Despite the lack of sentimentality, I was moved to tears in a few places near the end, one of which does involve Pat and Leslie’s relationship. And it is funny and witty along the lines of Angela Thirkell and D.E. Stevenson. Doubtless, some readers will not have the patience to journey with Lesley or “Frewen” as Pat calls her, along her slow learning curve. There is no series of dramatic revelations, great romance, or emotional epiphanies. But it is an evocative and amusing portrait of a young woman, a boy, and her friends and neighbors. I closed the book loving them all.**4 stars out of 5**
April 24, 2020