A very odd sounding novel, this, but notable for a sympathetic portrayal of a doctor who performs abortions.
Review by Sue R:
A dramatic novel set before and during World War One, it relates the story of Charles Hoyland, “the little soul” of the title, and how he loses it. The epigraph at the beginning of the book is a quotation from Marcus Aurelius: “Thou art a little Soul bearing about a corpse”.
The book is divided into 4 parts.
Part I introduces the main character, Charles Hoyland, his friends and family. The Hoyland family live beyond their means. Charles Hoyland is arrogant and selfish, incapable of meaningful, permanent relationships with men or women.
Part II focuses on Charles’ return from the war. Slow to enlist, he was seriously injured after only 5 weeks. Without resources, he takes a job as a tutor to Anthony Clayton, a shy, bright boy in the Peak District.
Part III relates Charles’ impact on the Clayton household. He corrupts the boy to clear the field so he can marry the sister, Diana – he has fallen in love for the first time. Mrs Clayton, though blind, senses his intentions and his demise.
Part IV focuses on the sisters he abandoned – Rose in work, Maisie incapable of keeping a job after running away from school. Ironically she is seduced by her brother’s pupil. Rose appeals to Charles’s friend McCabe who returns from the front. He tracks down and confronts Anthony, meeting with a much-changed Charles.
It is an interesting book with a compelling portrayal of the degeneration of a human being. The character of Charles is without any redeeming features: he is arrogant and totally self centred… “Hoyland cared for nobody but himself…his very soul, if he had one, was atrophied by persistent self indulgence”(p.33)
Careless of women, he abandons his mistress Lelia and has no sympathy with his friend McCabe. McCabe is a much more attractive character. He, despite the dangers, performed abortions, including one for Lelia, not for money but because he had such compassion for women in this situation.