The novels of Gail Godwin are contemporary classicsevocative, powerfully affecting, beautifully crafted fiction alive with endearing, unforgettable characters. Her critically acclaimed work has placed her among the ranks of Eudora Welty, Pat Conroy, and Carson McCullers, firmly establishing Godwin as a Southern literary novelist for the ages.
Father Melancholy's Daughter, is widely recognized as one of the author's most poignant and accomplished novels a bittersweet and ultimately transcendent story of a young girl's devotion to her father, the rector of a small Virginia church, and of the hope, dreams, and love that sustain them both in the wake of the betrayal and tragedy that diminished their family.
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About the Author
Gail Godwin is the author of ten novels, three of which were nominated for National Book Awards. A Southern Family and Father Melancholy's Daughter were both NYT bestsellers and Main Selections of the Book of the Month Club. She has been translated into 12 languages. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and the recipient of an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and letters. She holds a doctorate in Modern Letters from the University of Iowa and has taught in the Iowa writers Workshop, Vassar and Columbia. A native of Asheville, N.C., she now lives in Woodstock, N.Y.
Read an Excerpt
Although I did not know it then, my life of unpremeditated childhood ended on Wednesday, September 13, 1972. The weather that day in Romulus, Virginia, was warm and sunny; the sky an unclouded Shenandoah blue. I had been in first grade for three weeks. The schoolwork I found easy, insultingly so. It was the social side of things, the winning over of other children that was going to demand my subtler energies. I was, and was destined to remain, an only child, and was more practiced in the management of adults.
That morning I had dressed by myself because Daddy had Wednesday Mass and had gone next door to the church to "set up shop," as he called it, and Ruth, my mother, was completely taken up with an overnight guest, a woman she had known at boarding school. The visit of this person had been anxiously anticipated by my mother for reasons I failed to understand. From the moment she had arrived the evening before, sauntering arrogantly up our walk and making her arch comments about the rectory, I had taken a dislike to Madelyn Farley.
I remember well the dress I put on that fateful Wednesday morning. At Romulus Country Day School, girls were allowed to wearjeans or corduroys by then just like the boys, but since I was the Rector of St. Cuthbert's daughter, I guess it was thought that I should uphold the old ways a little longer. My dress was one of several new ones that Ruth and I had bought over in Charlottesville, the nearest good town for shopping before Romulus built its giant mall.
It was a blue and brown plaid of soft cotton, but with some percentage of miracle fiber in it so it didn't have to be ironed, andthe reason I liked it was because it had these wonderful buttons all the way down the front. They were of a magical dear amber color that changed according to the light and they were shaped like little cats' heads, even with the eyes and noses and whiskers etched in.
"Those are real buttons, Margaret," Ruth had said in the store when I was insisting on this dress. "Every time you put it on, you'll have to button them all the way down, and every time you take it off you'll have to unbutton them."
"I don't care, I want it," I said. "I don't mind buttoning the buttons."
"Well, just remember, I'm not doing it for you. I've got enough buttons of my own to worry about." My mother had this way of talking. She would say something that sounded simple and harmless in her light, melodic drawl, but underneath you often got the feeling she was saying something quite different at the same time.
When I came down to breakfast on the morning of September 13, I was waiting for Ruth to see how well I had buttoned every one of the little cats' heads, but before she could even notice anything, the woman named Madelyn started acting chummy with me, asking how I liked school.
"It's okay, I guess," I said. Not one of my brightest answers, but I could tell she wasn't truly interested. The chumminess was for my mother's benefit.
"Oh, come on now, Margaret," said Ruth, laughing. "You love school." She sat in her accustomed seat in our breakfast nook, the she'd had built 'into the recesses of an old-fashioned bay window when we had moved into the rectory. The bay window had once been part of the dining room before my mother had talked Daddy into getting the vestry's permission to knock out a wall. It was her favorite spot in the rectory, this breakfast nook that she herself had designed and implemented. Here she drank coffee, made her lists and wrote letters, often slipping out of her loafers and stretching her legs out in front of her on the pale yellow window-seat cushions corded with bright orange. Occasionally she did watercolors of Daddy's garden, which was really many different gardens, depending on the season and the particular time within that season. Once she made me sit across from her, where the woman named Madelyn was now sitting, and had tried to do a watercolor of me. It was not a succcss, although I almost went crazy keeping still. I pretended to like it, because she was so unhappy with the way it had turned out. But she was right. It had made me into a blurry little girl with flat brown curls and eyes as undiscerning as a blue-eyed doll's.
Now, hugging her coffee mug secretively to her chest, as if concealing a small, warm pet that belonged to her alone, Ruth was bragging to the visitor about how well I could read. Her rings flashed in the morning sun. Though she had stayed up most of the night talking and laughing with her friend, she looked fresh and lovely, particularly in comparison to Madelyn Farley. My mother was a collection of pleasing colors, with her honey-smooth tan, aquamarine eyes, and the silky hair with its red and gold and even some bluish lights. Lately she had taken to wearing her hair pulled back severely with a tortoiseshell clip, ever since one of our parish ladies had told her she looked more like a college girl than a rector's wife. With the bright fall sunshine upon her, she seemed partly made out of silky, liquid light herself. It is right there, in that vivid instant of my appreciation of her, that I preserve some genuine feel of what my mother was to me, some essential Ruth-ness about her that has not become blurred by my father's and my subsequent romanticizings of her, or worn thin by our obsessive retrievals. It's not a lot, but it's better than nothing. It lives on in me, that glowing little moment of paradise, when I walk towards her light and her colors as towards a treat; I am sure of my welcome, sure of her esteem. Even the unlovely visitor serves a purpose by providing a contrast: that's what you might look like if you are outside the light, when you are only basking in it briefly before taking to the road again.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Abandoned by her mother at age six, Margaret Gower grows up with her loving, but frequently depressed father. An Anglican minister, Father Gower is the quintissential high-church Anglican, and a model of patience and compassion. Like Margaret he has been fundamentally changed by his wife's departure. Margaret is the model devoted daughter, but much responsibility falls on her young shoulders. And much of Margaret's mind is taken up with trying to figure out the enigma that was her mother. Though both Margaret and her father have been deeply wounded by her mother's absence, this is not a story of ruined lives or sadness. It is a beautiful story about a family and a community, and how they deal with loss.
I read the sequel to this book, Evensong, two years ago. Even though I didn't find that book worth keeping (the first part was interesting, the second half was fairly predictable and dull), I was intrigued enough to make note of the first book's title. I was happy to finally come across Father Melancholy's Daughter at the Phoenix VNSA sale in February.Margaret's life took a terrible twist at age six. Up until then, life had been happy - her father was rector of a small Virginian Episcopalian church, while her mother tended the house and played the rector's wife. Then, one day, her mother's dear friend from college arrived, and the next day the two left together on a supposed week-long get-away. Margaret's mother never returned. Margaret grew older, tending to her father throughout his moments of "The Black Veil" (aka depression) and wondering why her mother left, and trying to figure out how that made her who she is.I found this book to be very uneven, though still intriguing. The first part dragged horribly, in part because I didn't know what the present-tense was. Margaret reminisced about her childhood, but from what vantage point? As a 12-year-old? A teen? It was also quite redundant with its stream-of-consciousness thought process. Once the narrative established that Margaret was well into college and it stopped the constant flashbacks, the story gained quick momentum and became enjoyable. I almost didn't make it through those first hundred pages, though. It's not a bad coming of age tale, but it's not a very mesmerizing one, either. This one won't be staying on my bookshelf.
I loved this for its depiction of a family and a community. What I will re-read the book for though, are the portraits of Margaret and her father as two intelligent, complex and essentially good human beings trying to make sense of their lives.