Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Precious Bane, by Mary Webb

Read, reviewed, and sent to another Bookcrosser in September, 2007

I had read this book as a child or young teen, without understanding much of it. I found it among my mother's possessions; I don't think she knew I was reading it.

I'm really enjoying it the second time around. The descriptions of the land and wildlife are lyrical, almost poetic, and delightful. The descriptions of the people are insightful. The voice is the first person, that of an old country woman reminiscing about her girlhood, young womanhood, and first love. I love the quaint old English country expressions, and even recognize some as the origins of American country expressions still in use.

Prue is a gentle, thoughtful, imaginative girl with a facial disfigurement, a harelip. Superstitious people in the community believe her to be bewitched, or a witch herself. Her brother, Gideon, is a hard-driving, ambitious young man.
He says to her, "You and me ha' got to work, Prue."
"I ain't afeerd of work," I said.
"Well, there'll be a plenty. I want to make money on the place - a mort of money. Then, when the time's ripe, we'll sell it. Then we'll go to Lullingford and buy a house, and you shall hold up your head with the best, and be a rich lady."
"I dunna mind all that about being rich and holding up my head."
"Well, you must mind. And I'll be churchwarden and tell the Rector what to do, and say who's to go in the stocks, and who's to go in the almshousen, and vote for the parliament men. And when any wench has a baby that's a love-child, you'll go and scold her."
"I'd liefer play with the baby."

About her brother, Prue says, "He was ever a strong man, which is almost the same, times, as to say, a man with little time for kindness. For if you stop to be kind, you must swerve often from your path. So when folk tell me of this great man and that great man, I think to myself, Who was stinted of joy for his glory? How many old folk and children did his coach wheels go over? What bridal lacked his song, and what mourner his tears, that he found time to climb so high?"

The ending was not entirely a surprise, as it was foreshadowed throughout. The "Precious Bane," the curse, was not Prue's harelip, as one might think. The curse of the land and the farm did not lie with her, even though her neighbors and the townspeople suspected her of being a witch. No, it lay at the feet of her hard-driving, ambitious, unfeeling brother.

Additional reviews may be found here .

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