Classic of the Month: The Rector’s Daughter by F.M. Mayor

I sought this out because Susan Hill hails it as a forgotten classic and it’s included on a list of books to read in your thirties in The Novel Cure.* It’s a gentle and rather melancholy little 1924 novel about Mary, the plain, unmarried 35-year-old daughter of elderly Canon Jocelyn, a clergyman in the undistinguished East Anglian village of Dedmayne. “On the whole she was happy. She did not question the destiny life brought her. People spoke pityingly of her, but she did not feel she required pity.” That is, until she unexpectedly falls in love. We follow Mary for the next four years and see how even a seemingly small life can have an impact.

I expect Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin chose this as a book for one’s thirties because it’s about a late bloomer who hasn’t acquired the expected spouse and children and harbors secret professional ambitions. The struggle to find common ground with an ageing parent is a strong theme, as is the danger of an unequal marriage. Best not to say too much more about the plot itself, but I’d recommend this to readers of Elizabeth Taylor. I was also reminded strongly at points of A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence and Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s a short and surprising classic, one well worth rediscovering.

Some favorite lines:

  • “she had written almost as a silkworm weaves a cocoon, with no thought of admiration.”
  • “after three years in one place, suburban people, whatever their layer in society, become restless and want to move on.”
  • “She had found self-pity a quagmire in which it was difficult not to be submerged.”

My rating:



Note: Flora Macdonald Mayor (1872–1932) published four novels and a short story collection. Her life story is vaguely similar to Mary Jocelyn’s in that she was the daughter of a Cambridge clergyman.

*I’ve now read six of the 10 titles on their list. The remaining four, which I’ll probably try to read by the end of next year, are London Fields by Martin Amis, The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, and Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope. I own the Sinclair in paperback, the Jaffe is on shelf at my local public library, and I can get the Amis and Trollope from the university library any time.

10 responses

  1. I keep meaning to go back to The Novel Cure. Perhaps there’s something in there to assuage my Brexit ills


    1. Let’s see… “anger”? “breaking up”? “jump ship, desire to”? Or “The Ten Best Novels to Cure the Xenophobic” to shove at leave voters? They probably wouldn’t read them, though 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never even heard of this book but it sounds very appealing! Thank you for highlighting it.


    1. You’re welcome! It’s definitely a forgotten classic. I’m glad I had the nudges to pick it up. At only 210 pages, it’s a pretty quick read.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. She is a writer whose works I can imagine binge-reading at some point; I’ve done a great job of collecting them over the years and a terrible job of doing anything about that! I love the idea of your reading Susan Hill’s list throughout this decade – only 4 to go, too – you’re doing well!


    1. I was surprised to find this in a charity shop for £1. I have a feeling her other books would be hard to track down.

      I can’t remember where I came across Susan Hill’s recommendation; probably in an anthology or newspaper feature about forgotten classics. The list is from The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, which is a wonderful source of book recommendations if you can ever get hold of it.


  4. I love Mayor – she was published in Virago Modern Classics so you might find her where you find those. I read and reviewed it in a double with Susan Glaspel’s “Fidelity” a few years ago


    1. Ah, that’s good to know. So I might actually be able to find her other novels!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Perhaps this is the originator of the current crop of “The ……’s Daughter” novels! Sounds worthwhile, even for someone who has long passed their thirties 😉


    1. Interesting idea! Those do seem strangely popular these days.

      I think most people will be able to relate to Mary’s feelings of being left behind by life. Or there may well be other characters in the novel you identify with more.

      Liked by 1 person

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