Sunday 5 November 2017

Fraud: Mrs Marsh

Mrs Marsh. Let's think for a moment about that name. To refer to a character so formally, and a character to whose inner life the reader is given full access, is surely unusual and even subversive. It's determinedly old-fashioned. Its male equivalent is the simple surname, as in the cases of Bland in A Private View or Sturgis in Strangers.

Mrs Marsh has more than a little in common with Mrs May in Visitors: similar names, both widows, both fond of the painter Turner. Mrs May is the central consciousness in that later novel, and at the time critics reacted with some consternation to a character whom they were invited to know so well and yet whose authorial denomination seemed so antique, so distancing. But none of this is about propriety but about how such characters think of themselves: some people think of themselves in one way, others in another - a point Brookner makes about Miriam at the start of Falling Slowly:
On her way to the London Library, Mrs Eldon, who still thought of herself as Miriam Sharpe...

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