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The Squire by Enid Bagnold

The Squire (1938)

by Enid Bagnold

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Showing 5 of 5
The only Bagnold that I've previously read has been her 4**** The Happy Foreigner (and on Kindle her 4½**** nonfictional war diary A Diary Without Dates), but I saw the movie adaptation of The Chalk Garden years ago, have Four Plays by Enid Bagnold (unread), and have been meaning to rewatch the movie which I've had around the house for ages. It was one of those many Oscar-worthy performances by Deborah Kerr, and Hayley Mills was my very first screen crush over a half-century ago.

I've been promoting Bagnold (thus far unsuccessfully) as a Monthly Author on the VMC group, and this was an excuse to get a Bagnold read while simultaneously participating in a Persephone Readathon.

The Squire will probably be more attractive to female than to male readers – much more attractive, in fact – and although men may be able to appreciate the novel intellectually, its focus on pregnancy and motherhood is going to be gender-specific to most readers.

Upstairs? Or Downstairs. Personally, I found the servants more interesting than "the squire." ( )
  CurrerBell | Feb 2, 2018 |
The Squire is a novel which has more recently been re-issued by Persephone books, my edition however a nice original Virago green. Enid Bagnold – the author of four adult novels was also the author of the famous children’s story National Velvet. In this novel she celebrates childbirth and motherhood and the changing nature of a woman’s life – her prose is richly sensuous, languorous like the slow, contented movements of a woman heavy with child.

“The children seemed to cast their Precursors like shadows about the house, sometimes tangibly, in the sound of a voice, sometimes by suggestion, because it was striking the hour for their return from a walk, sometimes mysteriously, because inside the shell of their mother’s head the children were painted like angels on the roof of a chapel.”

A largely plotless novel – never a problem for me – it is a novel of astute observation nevertheless, with some brilliantly drawn child characters. To be honest I wasn’t certain how I would get on with this novel – I am very happily childless – on the face of it this was a novel that was likely to irritate me. However – I actually loved it – I loved it more as it went on, and it probably took me about forty pages to properly settle into it – but I actually surprised myself with how much I enjoyed The Squire.

The Squire of the title is the lady of the house – The Manor House on the village green, in her husband’s temporary absence abroad she becomes the squire. The household; which include the ageing butler Pratt, cook, a couple of maids, the squire’s four children and their Nurse await the imminent arrival of a new baby. The cook is not a great fan of new babies – and takes the opportunity to leave – so the squire hurriedly looks for a replacement – a decision needing to be made quickly. Pratt the butler is a world weary old retainer; he views his temporary squire with irritation, which he is too self-serving to allow to show. Pratt dreads the new cook – he’s seen all this kind of thing before.

“There was the squire in there interviewing the temporaries. Venomous adders of temporaries. There were two more that he had just let in, sitting now in the hall. Before God his life was a black one, he thought carefully hanging his coat on the hook on the pantry door. He had learnt his beautiful trade for nothing. It was the end of service, the outside last limit. These strange, modern creatures were edging away from everything he understood. The garden light streamed in at the pantry window, and Pratt felt all the savagery of the man who is nearing sixty and has always been on the wrong lines.”

A cheerful window cleaner calls, two maids plan to go to a local dance, and the life of the people of The Manor House continue as the mother to be ponders the life of the ‘unborn.’ Her four boisterous children, constantly demand attention, squabbles erupt between members of the downstairs staff and the squire bears it all with calm equanimity. We see the squire relaxing in her garden; we see her love and appetite for food.

The midwife who has attended the squire on four previous occasions – arrives, met with genuine affection off the bus, the two women come together almost as old friends. The midwife settles into the room prepared for her, and the squire can relax – her baby may now be born safely at any moment. They discuss motherhood and birth – as one professional to another – the Squire is relaxed, the relationship between these two women one of intimate respect and deep understanding.

Across the road, a contrast to the squire, lives Caroline, she tells the squire all about her latest lover, her restless pursuit of adventures as she contemplates going abroad again. The squire’s mood is entirely opposite, but she reflects upon her own youth, how once she had enjoyed fun and frivolity but how now she is entirely caught up with the life of her family. The squire attempts to describe childbirth to her friend:-

“ ‘Pain is but a branch of sensation. Perhaps child-birth turns into pain only when it is resisted? I’m aching, I’m restless, I can’t tell you now. But there comes a time, after the first pains have passed, when you swim down a silver river running like a torrent, with the convulsive, corkscrew movements of a great fish, threshing from its neck to its tail. And if you can marry the movements, go with them, turn like a screw in the river and swim on, then the pain … then I believe the pain … becomes a flame which doesn’t burn you.’
‘Awful!’ said Caroline, shuddering. “

The Squire feels like a pretty brave book for 1938 – Bagnold’s portrait of motherhood is that which existed within a particular class of course – that doesn’t make it any the less true. Naturally a woman in her forties expecting her fifth child lower down the social scale would possibly tell a rather different story – and yet many of her preoccupations may have been similar.

So a child (I’m not telling which kind) is born and after which the midwife remains in the house for the usual number of days. On the day appointed the midwife hands the baby over to Nurse – and goes on her way – her job done, and done well. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | May 8, 2016 |
20 Jan 2011

Read for All Virago All August.
Steeped in maternity and family, a rather amazing Virago for its time, and now. Like being immersed in the waiting suspension of late pregnancy and the milky intimacy of a new mother. The female Squire running her house contrasts with the sere butler and communes with her midwife and friend, again contrasted with their virginity and rather desperate youthfullness respectively. Hugely engaging; absorbing in all respects. ( )
1 vote LyzzyBee | Aug 29, 2011 |
When our title character's husband leaves the household for his annual buying trip to India, the mistress of the house becomes "the Squire" in his absence. Well into her 40's, she is also very near to her delivery date for her fifth child. This situation sets off a book-load of introspection, reflections, musings, self-analysis and observations on the nature of love, and the things that are important to a woman's life. Among all that (which can get a bit overdone at times) are vignettes of life that are often quite realistic. Each existing child has a distinct personality, and the Squire loves each of them for their qualities. She also has those Exasperated Mother moments that even parents of an Only know much too well. There are fascinating glimpses into the less-than-optimal servant situation (Mr. Hudson does not run this household with a firm and unflappable hand, and Mrs. Bridges is not reigning supreme down in the kitchen) and the mystical, if limited, relationship between a new mother and her mid-wife. If this book were a musical recording, I would call it overproduced---too many violins, by half. But it was a solid 3 1/2 star read. ( )
1 vote laytonwoman3rd | Jul 15, 2011 |
Written between 1921 and 1930, this is a rather amazing story about a woman, the Squire, in the latter stages of her pregnancy through the birth of her fifth baby. Her husband is away in India for three months of every year, a "Bombay merchant", so the Squire is left to manage her home and give birth to their child on her own.

Although its revelations aren't shocking by the standards of our time, I can imagine that they might have been in the early 30s, as Bagnold frankly discusses love, sexuality, childbirth, breast feeding and raising children.

The book is almost sensual in its languidness, its only sharp moments the occasional discord of a cook who must be fired, a butler who drinks, and a friend and neighbour who is still a woman "made for love", an echo of the Squire's younger self. It is beautifully written, a contemplative book which evokes the cycle of life (with death as a constant shadow in the background but naturally, not disturbingly so). Although it was set in a particular era, one which still had "this old feudal nonsense in a toppling world" with its class system of those who serve and those who are served, Bagnold's thoughts about motherhood, birth and being a woman are timeless.

I particularly enjoyed the author's insights into the love of a mother for her children. Bagnold set out to write about something which hadn't been done before and I do think she succeeded. ( )
6 vote tiffin | Nov 15, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Enid Bagnoldprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sebba, AnneIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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From the village green where the Manor House stood, well-kept, white-painted, the sea was hidden by the turn of the street.
Harold Nicholson once compared Enid Bagnold's talent with a slowly dripping tap. (Introduction)
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From the cover:
"I look at those other creatures, my own, so deeply known...I shiver and I love. No young man ever came near that...I grew luminous, I walked about like a torch. But the light went down"

At the Manor House on the village green, the household waits in restless suspense. The master is in Bombay, the mistress, its temporary squire, is heavy with child and languorous. Her four young children distract her with their demands, her friend Caroline tells the squire of her latest lover, her restless adventuring a sharp contrast to the squire's own mood. And watching and waiting for the birth, the squire contemplates the woman she was, "strutting about life for spoil" and the woman she is now, another being, "occupied with her knot of human lives". First published in 1938, this is a beautiful and sensuous novel, exploring the themes of childbirth, motherhood and maturity in rich and delicate prose.

Enid Bagnold (1889-1981) spent some of her childhood in Jamaica but lived in London for most of her life. During the First World War she worked as a VAD nurse and later as a driver in France. The author of four adult novels, she also wrote the famous children's story National Velvet, and was a distinguished playwright.
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