Martha in Paris by Margery Sharp (1962)

This is the the sequel to Margery Sharp’s 1957 novel The Eye of Love.

Review by Mary P:

Martha, an orphan, living with her aunt and uncle is taken under the wing of Mr Joyce, a rich furrier. He employs her uncle and gives her an allowance. When she is 18 he decides, as she shows talent, she should spend two years in Paris at an artist’s studio. He arranges lodgings for her with a widow and her daughter.

Martha single-mindedly pursues art, by chance meeting Eric a young Englishman working in Paris when she is having lunch in the park. He lives with his English mother in Paris. Martha visits weekly, to use their bathroom which with its constant hot water makes her feel at home. (This in sharp contrast to the French plumbing of her lodgings.)

Whilst Eric’s mother is away in England Martha and Eric sleep together, and the inevitable happens. The final section of the book tells how Martha deals with her pregnancy and the birth of her baby boy.

This is the second of three books that Margery Sharp wrote with Martha as the main character. Martha is not a conventional romantic heroine. She is described as ‘fat’ and ‘stocky’ and plain. She is oblivious to those around her and single-mindedly ploughs her own furrow. She is simply not interested in anyone but herself, and in particular spending every moment that she can drawing and painting. Paris serves her well as it takes art seriously, and she concentrates on learning what she can from the studio she attends.

The comedy in the novel lies in the contrast between her character and the more conventional people in the world around her. They simply fail to comprehend how single minded she is and either ignore this or misinterpret her motives to be less selfish. Hence she visits the Taylors weekly for a hot bath, missing the constant hot water and soaks in the bath she enjoyed at home. Eric and his mother imagine her visits to have a more romantic motive. Thus she arrives for her first visit, not with a gift for her hostess but with clean vest and knickers wrapped in a parcel ready to take a bath.

Margery Sharp writes in a very unsentimental, matter of fact way, and adopts a rather subversive take on what appears to be a rather conventional romantic set up.

So Martha although is economically dependent on Mr Joyce, she acts as an independent woman pursuing her own goals in a ruthless way. She is a woman who intends to pursue a career as an artist without letting domesticity or the conventions of married life throw her off course. Margery Sharp ignores gender-based conventions of behaviour and portrays Martha as a feminist. We may not feel entirely comfortable about how she treats people but we can’t help but admire her spirit.

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2 thoughts on “Martha in Paris by Margery Sharp (1962)

  1. Pingback: Meeting Martha: The Eye of Love | Margery Sharp

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