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The Third Miss Symons by F. M. (Flora…

The Third Miss Symons (original 1913; edition 2012)

by F. M. (Flora Macdonald) Mayor

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1276138,839 (3.44)44
Title:The Third Miss Symons
Authors:F. M. (Flora Macdonald) Mayor
Info:tredition (2012), Paperback, 96 pages
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned
Tags:Audiobook, Classics, Women, Victorian, 19th Century, 20th Century, 2012, England

Work details

The Third Miss Symons by F. M. Mayor (1913)

  1. 10
    Consequences by E.M. Delafield (amysisson)
    amysisson: Both books are about young women who don't quite fit in with their families, for reasons they don't understand, in a time when marriage was a woman's only acceptable goal.
  2. 00
    Thank Heaven Fasting by E.M. Delafield (amysisson)

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The Third Miss Symons was the first novel published by Flora MacDonald Mayor, the daughter of an Anglican clergyman and professor of classics. It had been preceded by a collection of short stories in 1901, and two more novels and some ghost stories came later. I read F M Mayor’s 1924 novel The Rector’s Daughter in 2015 – it’s a beautiful, poignant novel, though a sad one. It was through the introduction of that novel, that I got the sense that Flora Mayor was more than the quiet, Victorian, clergyman’s daughter we might envisage from her novels – which all do seem to run along rather similar lines. Having read history at Cambridge Flora later became an actress, before eventually turning to writing.

The Third Miss Symons – for me at least, was rather depressing. The Rector’s Daughter was merely sad, it was also compelling and quite brilliant. I was relieved that this was such a short novel, I started it late one evening and finished it the following morning. It offers us a rather bleak and probably not unrealistic portrait of the life of a woman whose destiny it is to never fully connect with anyone, and to remain without a recognisable role or purpose. There is a pall of deep unhappiness that exudes through the novel, I felt the mood and the atmosphere of the novel briefly affected my own mood. No doubt it is testament to the skill of Flora Mayor as a writer that she manages to produce this atmosphere of wasted years so effectively.

Henrietta Symons (generally called Etta) is the third daughter in a large Victorian family, she is a misfit in the middle of the family. An argumentative, cross little girl she grows up to be a querulous woman, without any natural charm or attractions. Etta irritates her mother and sisters, there is little in the way of comfort or softness about her life, while her elder sisters are the pretty, conventionally good Victorian daughters Etta continues a round peg in a square hole. For several years Etta dedicates herself to her younger sister – the fourth daughter born when Etta was eight, Evelyn becomes the focus of all the love Etta is desperate for. While Evelyn is a baby, Etta is allowed to help, and in time the little girl does develop a strong affection for her older sister her ‘little mummie.’ This great capacity for love that Etta, has really should be her saving grace, only it isn’t. Misunderstood by the adults around her, they immediately assume her valiant attempt to replace Evelyn’s dead canary to be nothing more than simple naughtiness.

Unexpectedly, perhaps Etta nearly gets married. Mr Dockerell is not exactly a Prince Charming but he seems to like Etta, and Etta enjoys his good opinion, for a short time.

“And perhaps she loved him all the more because he was not soaring high above her, like all her previous divinities, but walking side by side with her. Yes, she loved him; by the time he had asked her for the third dance she loved him.”

One of Etta’s sister’s returns home and in a bit of spectacularly malevolent spite deliberately turns Mr Dockerell’s head – because she can. Etta’s chance of marriage and a family of her own, is over, and her sister Louie marries somebody else soon after. Etta never really manages to get over her bitterness toward Louie – and in a sense this disappointment blights her life. While Mayor allows us to feel some sympathy for Etta, just like the members of Etta’s own family, we are unable to really like her – or fully engage with her. Etta is one of those difficult people, who without trying, put our backs up, who never seem to fit.

As Etta’s brothers and sisters marry, leave home and start their own families, Etta’s life is further narrowed. As an unmarried daughter at home in a house of servants, her life lacks purpose, and to add insult to injury she is viewed by others as being of little worth too.
As she ages Etta learns little – she never learns how to acquire friends, she has money at her disposal which in middle age she uses to study and travel – yet nothing seems to bring her any kind of fulfilment. In his preface to this edition John Masefield says…

“In a land like England, where there is great wealth, little education and little general thought, people like Miss Mayor’s heroine are common; we have all met not one or two but dozens of her; we know her emptiness, her tenacity, her futility, savagery and want of light; all circles contain some examples of her, all people some of her shortcomings; and judgement of her, even the isolation of her in portraiture, is dangerous, since the world does not consist of her and life needs her. In life as in art those who condemn are those who do not understand; and it is always a sign of a writer’s power, that he or she keeps from direct praise or blame of imagined character.”

Mayor understands Etta completely, the sad, uselessness of Etta’s life – so much of it brought about by her own personality.

This is a novel (novella really, I suppose) that I spent a very short amount of time with, but it felt longer. I think The Rector’s Daughter is almost certainly Flora Mayor’s masterpiece – and I very much want to read The Squire’s Daughter (1929) should I ever come across a copy. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Dec 23, 2017 |
The Third Miss Symons by FM Mayor - probably better than I think it is: Good

Interesting book, well written about an unpromising topic. The author made me feel sympathy despite my actual feelings about 'Miss Symons' herself.

Henrietta is the third daughter and fifth (but not last) child born into a well-to-do Victorian family. The book charts her life as an ordinary, maybe plain, child into a socially awkward and bad-tempered adult. Thanks to her sister's meddling, she loses the only suitor to come forward and ends up an old-maid, left at home to run the household for her widowed father, constantly searching for affection and for a place in the world.

A deeply dissatisfied woman with no place in society and no useful characteristics, the story is one of unfulfillment in a time when women of her class were only considered useful as wives and mothers.... or as elderly ladies dispensing 'charity'. I can only thank my lucky stars that I was born when I was. Whilst born into the working class, at least I have had the opportunities afforded me by (ever improving) equality and being allowed to find my own place in the world!
( )
  Cassandra2020 | Jan 24, 2016 |
Henrietta ‘Etta’ Symons is the titular Miss Symons in this short chronological novel by F M Mayor, who is probably better known for The Rector’s Daughter. Etta is the third daughter in a large, upper-middle class Victorian family. She’s overlooked by her family and is a loner, despite initially having a great capacity for love and desiring affection.

The novel follows Etta from birth to death – she never really makes much of an impression on life. Her one attempt at finding love is thwarted and as she gets older and becomes more belligerent her siblings tolerate her, but are grateful that she never stays too long. She, in turn, finds it hard to put down roots and so travels extensively. She has one redeeming feature – her generosity. Despite the family’s neglect of her, she’s always ready to be a shoulder to lean on or to bail them out with monetary gifts.

The main thread running through the novel is of how older unmarried women in the Victorian era were deemed worthless. If they were unable to find a man to love them then that must be due to some failing on their part – and like a self-fulfilling prophecy this happens to Etta.

I enjoyed reading this book, despite the rather pessimistic nature of it. At times I wanted to shake Ella and tell her to get a grip, but at the same time I felt an inordinate amount of sympathy for her – she had so much love to give, but love bypasses her. She shows strength by refusing to feel sorry for herself despite her lack of spouse and leads a successful, if ultimately unfulfilled, life. I will definitely try one of Mayor’s two other novels. ( )
  Bagpuss | Jan 17, 2016 |
This is a very sad and depressing book; I can't say I enjoyed it much. It did made me very thankful I have such a close and loving family, unlike Etta in this book. ( )
  kathleen586 | Mar 30, 2013 |
Certainly more a novella than novel, and a good thing, too, because the subject matter is just a tad too depressing for my taste. Mayor describes the life of a spinster, from her unloved childhood through unprepossessing middle adulthood, on into her bitter spinsterhood and eventual death. Mayor is a good writer, and she manages she inject humor into the story despite its rather grim premise. It was a fast read, I never bogged down in any spot, and the ending even offers redemption for the third miss Symons, yet I was happy when it was done. You can't help feeling sorry for her and disliking her at the same time, and the whole time I was reading I thought that I never wanted to become like her in any way. Also, the story doesn't expand beyond the narrow bounds of her life; I can enjoy tragic tales, when they have a deep message to convey, or especially beautiful writing, or relate to my life, and this wasn't the case here. This reading, therefore, was a mixed experience for me, as it was a well-written depiction of a woman's life, but with a limited scope and depressing subject that made me glad to finish it quickly. ( )
  nmhale | Apr 12, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
F. M. Mayorprimary authorall editionscalculated
Masefield , JohnPrefacesecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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It would be wrong to describe Flora Macdonald Mayor as a forgotten novelist, and inaccurate, too, at least to a certain extent, to claim that she is underrated. (Introduction)
Miss Mayor's story is of a delicate quality, not common here, though occurring at intervals, and always sure of a choice, if not very large, audience among those who like in art the refined movement and gentle line. (Preface)
Henrietta was the third daughter and fifth child of Mr. and Mrs. Symons, so that enthusiasm for babies had declined in both parents by the time she had arrived.
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From book cover: "Why was it that people did not love her?  She was not uglier or stupider or duller than anyone else...why had God sent her into the world if she were not wanted?First published in 1913, this is the story of Henrietta Symons from her birth to her death, and the most perfect account in English fiction of those women who, throughout the ages, have neighter married nor loved - the spinster, the maiden Aunt, the surplus woman. Henrietta is the third daughter in a large Victorian family, the misfit girl without the beauty or the talent to be loved. Querulous, bad-tempered, her meaningless life passes aimlessly by. But Henrietta has one saving grace. She knows herself to be what she is, and self-knowledgem however bitter, turns her life of defeat into a certain kind of victory. . .

The Third Miss Symons was first published in 1913, the first novel by a writer of genius whose small body of work had been all but forgotten until her later novel, The Rector's Daughter was recently republished. Like Jane Austen, F.M. Mayor's canvas is a small one, but the economy of her prose and the infinite compassion of her understanding present truths are universal. The quiet perceptions of this novel reverberate long after the book has been put down.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0860681319, Paperback)

Henrietta Symons is the third daughter in a large Victorian family, a misfit with neither charm nor beauty. Querulous and bad-tempered, she watches as her life passes aimlessly by, clinging to her one saving grace—she knows herself for what she is, and self-knowledge, however bitter, turns her life of defeat into a kind of victory.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:44 -0400)

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