The title character in this 1938 novel by Enid Bagnold is a mother in her 40s expecting her fifth child. Her husband is usually by her side, but this time, his work has called him away, and she’s left to run the home and prepare for the birth, making her “The Squire,” a title Bagnold uses throughout the novel instead of giving her a name.
I appreciated the use of this title, largely because it emphasized how much this book would be about the world of women. Men are so absent that a woman takes a man’s title. There are a few male characters, but it’s the women who make the decisions, including some about the fates of the men.
The book is slow and meditative and doesn’t have much of a story beyond the typical household business and, of course, the birth and first weeks of the new baby’s life. This being a fifth baby, even that is somewhat routine in that everyone involved knows how it’s likely to go, even if their feelings in the moment are somewhat complicated. Other than that, there are servant problems, a single woman friend who visits, and various squabbles and other incidents among the children.
I very much liked how woman-centric this book was. It centers not just on what happens to women but on how women, particularly mothers, feel about their lives. I was occasionally irritated that the only women whose feelings get significant attention in the story are those whose lives center on children (the mother, the midwife, the nurse). All other women are, at best, incidental and sometimes downright bothersome. I think, though, that Bagnold is just so focused on the experience of motherhood here that women outside that circle are simply not her concern. Still, I might have liked this even more than I did if a wider variety of women had been allowed more of an inner life.