The Garden of Contentment by Elinor Mordaunt (1902)

Is this book fiction? Our reader, Mary, wasn’t sure. Like Elizabeth and her German Garden (1898) (which is mentioned in this book) it isn’t entirely clear! The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English – which has a very short entry for Mordaunt – says this book was written while she was in Mauritius, drawing on her memories of England.

Review by Mary P:

The book, appearing under the pen name Elenor Mordaunt,  is written in the form of 22 letters written by Elenor to Paul over the course of a year. Elenor is an upper middle class woman, an invalid living in a village and sharing her home with her clergyman brother James. Her letters concentrate on her garden, and her contact with her fellow villagers. The book is full of literary allusions and quotations. In the course of her letters she muses on relationships and friendships, and whether or not her friendship with Paul will lead to marriage.

Elenor Mordaunt has written a book that will appeal to literary gardeners. Gardening is clearly her passion, and she fills her writing with details of what is growing in her garden during the course of a year. She gives her correspondent Paul advice about his own garden planting, and frequently quotes other writers on the theme of gardeners and flowers.

As an invalid Elenor is also in a position to observe her fellow villagers. Her descriptions of Miss Penelope’s late flowering romance with the Doctor are very tender. Her conversations with the less well off members of the community are used for comic effect. Mrs Seales tells her that marriage is the proper state for women, and that many plainer and sicklier have found husbands. In her opinion it is Elenor’s learning that they are afraid of ‘ Men are powerful aferred of a wife knowin’ more than themsen.’

Running through this rather rambling novel are the writers comments about friendships and in particular the role of women expressed through the voice of Elenor which I can only assume to be that of the author. Commenting on Miss Penelope’s relationship with the Doctor Elenor writes ‘ I wonder why in the world clever women were created; they don’t like themselves, and nobody likes them; they are admired and they are esteemed, but it is the timid and dependent ones who are loved’. The reader is left feeling that marriage to Paul, if in the end accomplished, will result in confining Elenor’s independence and spirit.

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One thought on “The Garden of Contentment by Elinor Mordaunt (1902)

  1. Pingback: Neglected Women Writers’ Month: Elinor Mordaunt | theliterarysisters

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