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The rising tide by M. J. Farrell

The rising tide (original 1937; edition 1937)

by M. J. Farrell

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210855,654 (3.82)56
Title:The rising tide
Authors:M. J. Farrell
Info:London : Virago, 1984, c1937.
Collections:Your library
Tags:Irish, 20th Century, Literary Fiction, Virago

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The Rising Tide by M. J. Farrell (1937)


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This social commentary starts in 1900. Lady Charlotte McGrath is mistress of Garonlea, a huge gothic house in Ireland. Her husband Ambrose is devoted and afraid of her. She has four daughters and a son. Mousy Muriel who is loyal to a fault; poor Enid who is pushed to make a bad decision; beautiful Violet has all of the promising suitors; Diana who is terrified of her mother and of Garonlea; and Desmond the son who is his mother's favorite. Desmond brings home, Cynthia, his bride to be. There the story really takes off as Lady Charlotte and Cynthia begin their battle for rule of Garonlea, and the Great War changes everything.

First published in 1937, Virago published this edition in 1984.

Read March 2014 ( )
  NanaCC | Jul 26, 2015 |
M.J. Farrell (Molly Keane)’s depiction of an Irish estate in the first decades of the 20th century is excellent, well-written, involving and a good portrait of the changing times. The title refers to changing fortunes and fashions and the natural rise and fall of a number of characters that is the result of the unstoppable, dispassionate forward rush of time. The cold and controlling Lady Charlotte is contrasted to her daughter-in-law, Cynthia, whose rise is the main plot. Cynthia is the center of the book, at once appealing and fascinating and monstrously selfish. Farrell gets in the head of a number of her characters and her narration is distant and analytical as well gripping – the passions and misfortunes of the characters are clearly felt. The changing times move from a period where women had rigidly defined roles to a more open, but still treacherous, era. Excellent, highly recommended.

The main plot is taken up by Cynthia’s rise to power and her gradual decline in fortune but Lady Charlotte’s influence is felt throughout the book. It opens at the beginning of the 20th century, with Lady Charlotte firmly in control of the family estate, Garonlea. Garolea lurks as a charcter in the book – no one can escape its suffocating atmosphere though many try. Lady Charlotte is a principled, tightly controlled and dictatorial mother and wife who embodies repressed Edwardian views. She is often unsympathetic, but has her good qualities – she does genuinely think she does what is best for her children. She is also clearly able to see Cynthia’s bad qualities, which many others are blind to. Her four daughters are mostly unhappy under her reign – some escape to happy or unhappy marriages but the single daughters, Muriel and Diana, are left to suffer at home. Farrell is very effective in showing the stifling atmosphere in just a few quick scenes. Diana, the most rebellious, is the main narrator and her attraction to Cynthia is a defining point of her life. Desmond, the cheerful, easygoing only son, has had a better time of it as he is generally not at home and he marries Cynthia, an acceptable match and a woman that he genuinely loves. The conflicts between Cynthia and Lady Charlotte, Cynthia and Garonlea, Cynthia and despair, Cynthia and various lovers, Cynthia and her children and Cynthia and time take up the rest of the book.

In many ways, Lady Charlotte is compared unfavorably to Cynthia. Cynthia is gregarious, social and sympathetic, especially to Diana, who comes to Rathgrass, Cynthia and Desmond’s house, to escape the unhappiness at Garonlea. She represents a move away from the straitened Edwardian era what with her more liberated behavior – drinking, dancing, living a pleasant lifestyle instead of a rigidly adhering to duty. However, Farrell is merciless in her criticism of Cynthia – both in her perceptive analyses and the portrayal of Cynthia’s effect on others. At times, Cynthia’s good qualities are inseparable from her bad ones. For example, her true and lasting love of Desmond makes her judgmental towards other relationships and causes her to coldly hold herself apart from her supposed friends and even her children. In some ways, Cynthia triumphs over Lady Charlotte and Garonlea but by abandoning from the old principles of duty and obedience, and making her power based on her looks, her flirtatious inaccessibility and her ability to navigate the social world, she is left with much less during her decline. Lady Charlotte ruled with an iron fist until her end. Cynthia, in a different way, is also horribly cruel to her children. In a couple quick scenes, the author skillfully catches Lady Charlotte’s dictatorial cruelty at Garonlea as well as the nervous terror of Cynthia’s son and daughter. The conflict between generations is an important part of the book and it is effectively shown how difficult childhoods, and the restricted position of women, affect many of the characters throughout their lives. ( )
3 vote DieFledermaus | Nov 13, 2012 |
In The Rising Tide, Molly Keane captures perfectly early twentieth-century Irish gentry: a social class in decline, although its members were certainly unaware of it. Lady Charlotte French-McGrath rules her family and their estate, Garonlea. She is a distant, cold woman: "mean, although not so mean as her husband whom she had taught to be mean." Lady Charlotte treated her daughters with disdain, wishing they would marry well but looking down on all aspiring suitors. As a result, eldest daughter Muriel never married. Enid married for love, but paid a high price. Beautiful Violet chose a man beneath her, but since "she was twenty-four and still unmarried the outlook seemed gloomy enough to justify the acceptance of the gentle ornithologist's slightly abstracted suit." And Diana attached herself to her brother's wife Cynthia, whom she adored.

Cynthia is a beautiful socialite whose life revolves around horses and the hunt. Everyone loves her, even Lady Charlotte. But when Cynthia comes into power at Garonlea, her darker side emerges. She is hard on her children, who fear the hunt much more than they enjoy it. She toys with people's emotions, and manipulates them to her advantage. She gets worse with age and with drink. As her children come of age, the power struggle begins again. Cynthia struggles to hold on to a certain lifestyle, even as the younger generation is looking for something very different.

The characters made this book. Lady Charlotte is really awful. Cynthia is simultaneously likeable and horrible, and her son Simon is a more sympathetic character, uncomfortable with the station he was born to. The loyal Diana is ever-present as Cynthia's doting conscience. And there are many others who revolve in and out of Cynthia's life, all drawn with Keane's trademark wit. While this isn't my favorite Molly Keane (that would be Good Behaviour), it was still an enjoyable satire. ( )
1 vote lauralkeet | Aug 19, 2012 |
I loved this book. In Rising Tide Keane creates women who are trapped like flies in amber. The reader sees their lives unfold, senses the hopelessness of their lives and hopes, somehow, that they can escape or, at least, find a semblance of peace.

There are three characters in this novel whose power controls everyone around them. The first, Lady French-McGrath, is the mistress of Garonlea and a most unpleasant creature. She is ramrod rigid and rules her husband and four daughters with an iron will. She wears her Edwardian virtue like unyielding metal cloak . She and her daughters, trussed up in their corsets and hobbled by the beautiful fashions of the day, are prisoners of their class. Ignorance is virtue and sex is not mentioned until the eve of the wedding where it is described in terms that make a bride physically ill. Lady F-McG keeps her eldest daughter as a companion who must serve "dearest mama's" every whim. Her two middle daughters make acceptable marriages by her standards, although one is cowed by guilt of a premarital sexual encounter and the other is a beautiful, lethargic and very dull lump. Only the last daughter, a virginal lesbian, manages to create a life filled with beauty. How Lady F-McG had a warm, loving and totally normal son is one of the mysteries of the book.

The second character who wields power is Cynthia, Lady F-McG's daughter-in-law. She is the flip side of the coin to Lady F-McG. Raised by her father in the horsey Irish society she is a beauty of classic proportions, sensual, demanding, and fascinating. She and her husband Desmond have a deep, sensual and real love and when he is killed during World War One her life falls apart. She turns to drink and lovers to bear the loss. Living in the dower house on the Garonlea estate, she throws endless parties, either ignores or terrorizes her children, flaunts her lovers, and upsets the social structure by queening it over her mother-in-law. She is the flawed heroine of the novel, but despite her promiscuity, alcoholism, and vanity Keane makes the reader sympathize with a woman trying desperately to hang on to her youth and find a semblance of the love she lost when her husband was killed.

The third and, in my opinion the creepiest character, is Simon, Cynthia's son. He and his younger sister have apparently hated their mother from childhood since she forced them to ride like adults in cross country hunts. They were terrified to the point of nausea. They grow up watching Cynthia run after lovers who become younger and younger while ignoring or belittling her own children. Simon and Sue, over whom he has an unwholesome control, are a twosome who wait patiently for their chance to degrade Cynthia and bring her down from her lofty throne.

As interesting as these people are, the lesser characters are the glue to this novel. The three sisters and their sad lives; I wanted to read more of them. The fourth sister Diana who loves Cynthia and her children and see the tragedy unfolding, powerless to prevent it. Lord F-McG, the weak husband who allows his wife free rein to abuse his daughters by rigidly enforcing the rules of Edwardian manners.

And, finally, Garonlea the manor house is a character much like Manderley or Robin Hill. In Lady French-McGrath's day it is a hellish place for her children, full of rules not to be broken and subjects never to be discussed.. Cynthia throws out everything ugly after Lady F-McG dies and turns it into a frantic party house; Simon, in a twisted vision, returns the house to its dismal Edwardian ideal only to have Cynthia rescue it one last time. Temporarily.... ( )
6 vote Liz1564 | Oct 11, 2010 |
The Rising Tide is my first foray into reading Molly Keane’s novels. It’s the story of a family, the French-McGraths, who live in a crumbling, Gothic house in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century. Garonlea is the home to Ambrose and lady Charlotte French-McGrath and their five children. When their son, Desmond, marries Cynthia, the French-McGraths’ lives are changed—sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

I’ve never read anything by Molly Keane before, and I wonder why I’ve never heard of her before randomly buying this off of ebay a couple of months ago (strange how chance works). I loved the atmosphere of this book and the almost sinister atmosphere of the house (I have to love any book with a house like Garonlea in it).

What I love about the characters of this novel is that there are no extremes, but everyone is completely different: you have the sister who breaks away from the family (to a degree) by becoming pregnant, and the daughter who leaves home to live with her brother and sister in law. Lady Charlotte, although a tyrant, is not a caricature; and Cynthia, the life of the party, has a deeper side to her. The character I felt the most sorry for out of all of the family was Ambrose, the father, who suffers under the delusion that his wife is wonderful. I loved all of the characters, despite their flaws, and that to me is the sign of a great novel. I really cared about and wanted to get to more all of these people, even Cynthia with her drinking, partying, and men friends, and forcing her children to hunt although they’d rather be reading.

The theme of the passage of time is especially strong, leading to an interesting reflection on how much these characters change—or don’t—throughout this extremely well-written novel. Because the book takes place between the years of 1900 and the 1920s, when so much change took place in the world, this theme is particularly brought home to the reader. I’m off to look for more books by Molly Keane, as I absolutely fell in love with her writing style. ( )
2 vote Kasthu | Aug 27, 2010 |
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What don't we know about the Early Nineteen Hundreds.
Molly Keane started to write in the 1920s, for "pin" money when she too was in her twenties, using the pseudonym M. J. Farrell which name she borrowed from an Irish public house as she clattered by on her Irish horse near her Irish home in County Wexford after a hard day's hunting. (Introduction)
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From the back cover: "And darling, we're going to change it so enormously. Pull the whole place up by the roots--cut its hair, paint its face, give it some royal parties. Oh, we'll lay the ghosts"
In 1900 Lady Charlotte French-McGrath continues to rule her family and household with a rod of iron. She is mistress of Garonlea--a huge gothic house in Ireland--, wife to Ambrose French-McGrath and mother of Muriel, Enid, Violet, Diana and Desmond. Their life flows on until two events, years apart, which irrevocably break Lady Charlotte's matriarchal hold. The first is Desmond's marriage to the beautiful, lively Cynthia. The second is the First World War bringing the grief of bereavement and finally shattering the rigid codes of the Edwardian era. Cynthia enters the jazz age and on the surface her life passes in a whirl of fox-hunting, drinking and love-making. But the ghosts of Garonlea are only biding their time: they know the source of their power, a secret handed on from one generation to the next...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0860684725, Paperback)

In 1900 Lady Charlotte French-McGrath is mistress of Garonlea, a huge gothic house in Ireland. She rules her household and her family -- husband Ambrose and children Muriel, Enid, Violet, Diana and Desmond -- with a rod of iron. Desmond's marriage to the beautiful, lively Cynthia and, several years later, the onset of the First World War are the two events which finally, and irrevocably, break Lady Charlotte's matriarchal hold. Cynthia enters the Jazz Age and on the surface her life passes in a whirl of fox-hunting, drinking and love-making. But the ghosts of Garonlea are only biding their time: they know the source of their power, a secret handed on from one generation to the next.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:01 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

'The Rising Tide' is a riotous enthralling portrait of leisured life at the family home of Garonlea, in the early years of the century. Previous novels by Keane include 'Loving and Giving', 'Good Behaviour', 'Time After Time', 'Young Entry', among others. This ed. originally published: as by M.J. Farrell. 1984.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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