Well, I’m glad my little girl didn’t snatch and push. It’s better to go without than to take from other people. That’s ugly.’
Harriett is the Victorian embodiment of all the virtues then viewed as essential to the womanly ideal: a woman reared to love, honour and obey. Idolising her parents, she learns from childhood to equate love with self-sacrifice, so that when she falls in love with the fiance of her closest friend, renunciation of this unworthy passion initially brings her a peculiar sort of happiness. But the passing of time reveals a different truth.
Ironic, brief and intensely realised, The Life and Death of Harriett Frean (1922) is a brilliant study of female virtue seen as vice, and stands with the work of Virgina Woolf and Dorothy Richardson as one of the great innovative novels of the century.