Thursday, November 8, 2012

Footprint Upon Water by Barbara Fitzgerald

Footprint Upon Water is written by Barbara Fitzgerald. "Who?" you are saying. Well that is exactly the point. Barbara Fitzgerald was born in 1911 in Cork and died in Dublin in 1982. She was the daughter of the Archbishop of Armagh and gained a first in Modern Languages in Trinity. Her husband Michael was a nephew of Edith Somerville of the Somerville and Ross writing partnership, authors of The Experiences of an Irish R. M. (1899). Her first novel We Are Besieged was written during the war and published in 1946. This second novel was not published until a year after after her death in 1983 and is reprinted this year as a 'forgotten novel'.
It is a beautifully produced book with the look of a classic, and would certainly catch your eye on the book shop book shelf. The choice of the Sir William Orpen painting 'The Mirror' sets the tone of shabby country grandeur.
Set in  the early twentieth century in  Fellowescourt, a Georgian house backed by mountains in the fictional village of Glenmacool in Co. Cork, Susan, orphaned at three when her parents drowned while sailing, lives there with her grandfather Captain Fellowes and her five spinster aunts. One of the aunts, the virtuous Katharine, nicknamed 'the Pope' forms an attachment with a young parish curate which infuriates the Captain. Waiting until he becomes Rector until he asks permission to marry Katharine, even then he is accused by the bully Captain of being after her money- he must meet a minimum income before they can be married, cutting his daughter off from her inheritance in the process. Papa's word is Law. Terrified of their bellowing father, and fearing it wrong to oppose him, his daughters' submission just exacerbates his tyranny.
Uneducated and unaware of the changes happening in the world with the likes of Mrs Pankhurst, we see instead the continuation of the landlord and his tenants world, with Aunt Harriet venturing out on Christmas eve with presents for the village children. The description of the village cottages is grim; dark, dank and dirty. There's encounters with village vets, not considered a gentleman by Harriet's sisters because "if that's so, how does he come to be a vet?", and a gradual emergence of the daughters standing up to their father.
This book has all the ingredients of the 'Big House' novel and is reminiscent of Molly Keane and Kate O'Brien, or even J.G.Farrell's 1970 classic Troubles. It has housemaids and a nanny with her country inflections "it's that that does be worryin' me". It has the elephant foot umbrella stand and a visiting dressmaker. But in New Ireland old attitudes are becoming irrelevant and this is what the daughters will have to face up to on the death of their father, the Colonel. Spanning forty years this novel is just a really good read. You get right into the characters and the writing feels in no way dated. It is an insight into the Ireland of the time and the way certain members of society had to come to terms with the changes taking place.
Officially launched yesterday (7/11/2012) by Mary Kenny, I hope that many people will discover the writing of Barbara Fitzgerald.

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