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Flora Mayor

John Simkin

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Flora Mayor is virtually a forgotten author. After the First World War she began work on her third novel, The Rector's Daughter. According to her biographer, Sybil Oldfield, the novel is about the 35 year old Mary Jocelyn: "Motherless from a child, isolated physically from her brothers, mentally from her subnormal sister, emotionally from her withdrawn and chilly father, and considered odd by all the contemporaries of her own social class." Merryn Williams has pointed out: "This is a longer and more complex novel, concentrating on the inner life of a middle-aged spinster, Mary Jocelyn, her unconsummated love for a married clergyman, and her lonely death."

The book had difficulty finding a publisher until Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf offered to take it on a commission basis for the Hogarth Press. The book was extremely popular with Britain's main literary figures. E. M. Forster wrote to Flora saying that: "Mary Jocelyn begins as ridiculous and ends as dignified: this seemed to me a very great achievement." John Masefield, the future Poet Laureate, also wrote to Flora: "It is a remarkable book and confirms you in your remarkable rank... It is a great advance in every way on your other two stories, though you know that I thought and still think both of them most unusually good in their own ways."

Gerald Gould wrote in The Saturday Review: "Miss Mayor has taken the subject-matter of all the serials in all the journals suitable for home reading of the last century, and made it live.... She has the true novelist's divine incommunicable gift: no shadows flit across her pages: she has but to mention someone, give him a phrase to say or even to write, and he puts on solidity and permanence."

Sylvia Lynd, was another reviewer who was very enthusiastic about The Rector's Daughter, in Time and Tide: "The Rector's Daughter belongs to the finest English tradition of novel writing. It is like a bitter Cranford. Miss Mayor explores depths of feeling that Mrs Gaskell's generation perhaps did not know and certainly did not admit to knowing. Mrs Mayor's genius struggles with exasperation where Mrs. Gaskell's struggled with the much milder demon of sentimentality... The Rector's daughter, Mary Jocelyn, is one of those sad figures of whom it is said that nothing has ever happened to them. Mrs Mayor reveals the meaninglessness of that phrase."

Despite the good reviews the book sold badly and it was soon out of print.


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