Also present at this historic dinner party were Picasso and Stravinsky. Yet this handful of modernist classics fails to tell the full story. Sinclair championed the work of the Imagist poets led by Ezra Pound , and even wrote a novel in verse using the Imagist method, The Dark Night. Like much of her work, it is seldom mentioned in surveys of modernist literature.
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Her mother said it three times. And each time the Baby Harriett laughed. The sound of her laugh was so funny that she laughed again at that; she kept on laughing, with shriller and shriller squeals. Her father considered it. The cat perhaps. The cat and the Queen. Every evening before bedtime she said the same rhyme, and Harriett asked the same question. When Nurse had gone she would lie still in her cot, waiting. The door would open, the big pointed shadow would move over the ceiling, the lattice shadow of the fireguard would fade and go away, and Mamma would come in carrying the lighted candle.
Her face shone white between her long, hanging curls. She would stoop over the cot and lift Harriett up, and her face would be hidden in curls. That was the kiss-me-to-sleep kiss. And when she had gone Harriett lay still again, waiting.
Presently Papa would come in, large and dark in the firelight. He stooped and she leapt up into his arms. That was the kiss-me-awake kiss; it was their secret. Then they played. Papa was the Pussycat and she was the little mouse in her hole under the bed-clothes.
But she never did. Only once she dreamed that she heard footsteps and saw the lighted candle, going out of the room; going, going away. The blue egg stood on the marble top of the cabinet where you could see it from everywhere; it was supported by a gold waistband, by gold hoops and gold legs, and it wore a gold ball with a frill round it like a crown.
You would never have guessed what was inside it. You touched a spring in its waistband and it flew open, and then it was a workbox. Gold scissors and thimble and stiletto sitting up in holes cut in white velvet. The blue egg was the first thing she thought of when she came into the room. It belonged to Mamma.
Harriett thought: If only she could have a birthday and wake up and find that the blue egg belonged to her ——. Ida, the wax doll, sat on the drawing-room sofa, dressed ready for the birthday. Little finger and toenails were marked in the wax, and she smelt of the lavender her clothes were laid in.
And her mother had told her that she must lend Ida to Connie Hancock if Connie wanted her. You must do what your little guest wants. But she had to; and she was sent out of the room because she cried. It was much nicer upstairs in the nursery with Mimi, the Angora cat. Mimi knew that something sorrowful had happened. He sat still, just lifting the root of his tail as you stroked him. If only she could have stayed there with Mimi; but in the end she had to go back to the drawing-room.
If only she could have told Mamma what it felt like to see Connie with Ida in her arms, squeezing her tight to her chest and patting her as if Ida had been her child. And when it was all over she took the wax doll and put her in the long narrow box she had come in, and buried her in the bottom drawer in the spare-room wardrobe. She pretended Ida was dead; lying in her pasteboard coffin and buried in the wardrobe cemetery. You came to it by a row of tall elms standing up along Mr.
Behind the last tree its slender white end went straight up from the pavement, hanging out a green balcony like a bird cage above the green door. The lane turned sharp there and went on, and the long brown garden wall went with it. Behind the wall the lawn flowed down from the white house and the green veranda to the cedar tree at the bottom.
Beyond the lawn was the kitchen garden, and beyond the kitchen garden the orchard; little crippled apple trees bending down in the long grass. She was glad to come back to the house after the walk with Eliza, the nurse, or Annie, the housemaid; to go through all the rooms looking for Mimi; looking for Mamma, telling her what had happened.
Some day I shall have a little baby. He must have thick, flossy hair like Mimi, so that I can stroke him. Which would you rather have, a little girl or a little boy? She would be like Mamma, and her little girl would be like herself. The school-treat was held in Mr. All afternoon she had been with the children, playing Oranges and lemons, A ring, a ring of roses, and Here we come gathering nuts in May, nuts in May, nuts in May: over and over again. Some of them were pushing and snatching.
She knew what she would have. She would begin with a bun, and go on through two sorts of jam to Madeira cake, and end with raspberries and cream. Or perhaps it would be safer to begin with raspberries and cream.
She kept her face very still, so as not to look greedy, and tried not to stare at the Madeira cake lest people should see she was thinking of it. She could draw herself in at the waist with a flat, exhausted feeling, like the two ends of a concertina coming together. She was doing this when she saw her mother standing on the other side of the table, looking at her and making signs. They were all turning round and looking at her.
And there was the crumby plate before her. She could feel her skin all hot and wet with shame. And now she was sitting up in the drawing-room at home. Her mother had brought her a piece of seed-cake and a cup of milk with the cream on it. Being naughty was just that. Doing ugly things.
Being good was being beautiful like Mamma. She wanted to be like her mother. Sitting up there and being good felt delicious. And the smooth cream with the milk running under it, thin and cold, was delicious too. Suddenly a thought came rushing at her. There was God and there was Jesus. But even God and Jesus were not more beautiful than Mamma. It might make something happen. Saying things like that made you feel good and at the same time naughty, which was more exciting than only being one or the other.
What did she think—what did she think God would do? It had come all of a sudden, the thought that she must do it, that she must go out into the lane; and when she found the door unlatched, something seemed to take hold of her and push her out. Nothing could undo that. She had disobeyed by just standing outside the orchard door. Disobedience was such a big and awful thing that it was waste not to do something big and awful with it.
So she went on, up and up, past the three tall elms. She was a big girl, wearing black silk aprons and learning French. Walking by herself. When she arched her back and stuck her stomach out she felt like a tall lady in a crinoline and shawl. She swung her hips and made her skirts fly out. That was her grown-up crinoline, swing-swinging as she went. She made herself a nosegay. Past the second turn you came to the waste ground covered with old boots and rusted, crumpled tins.
The little dirty brown house stood there behind the rickety blue palings; narrow, like the piece of a house that has been cut in two. It hid, stooping under the ivy bush on its roof. It was not like the houses people live in; there was something queer, some secret, frightening thing about it. The man came out and went to the gate and stood there.
He was the frightening thing. When he saw her he stepped back and crouched behind the palings, ready to jump out. She turned slowly, as if she had thought of something. She must not run. If she ran he would come after her. Her mother was coming down the garden walk, tall and beautiful in her silver-gray gown with the bands of black velvet on the flounces and the sleeves; her wide, hooped skirts swung, brushing the flower borders.
Her mother took the bunch of flowers out of her hand and looked at it. She was holding the flowers up to her face.
Life and Death of Harriett Frean
With no real avenues to a proper education, travel, or influence outside of their often protective and limited family circle, these women were not given the opportunities to ever think for themselves or develop a sense of true self. As such, many must have suffered dull, unfruitful, deeply unsatisfying lives that were spent pouring out tea in stuffy, cluttered parlours and caring for their rapidly ageing parents. Harriett Frean was one of these women, and her sheer helplessness and passivity both infuriated me and left me feeling desperately sorry for the generations of women like her who never had the chance to truly live. This short book charts the life of Harriett Frean, from birth to death. Her mother and father are both very moral, good, upright people who consider themselves liberal intellectuals.
May Sinclair’s Modernist Masterpiece: The Life and Death of Harriett Frean
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