The narrator is Barbara Marsham, an older woman, an observer who in
the end does a bit of match-making. In the telling of Faithful's story, the narrator's own story is told.
As the book progresses, the reader sees the narrator change attitudes, notably her attitude toward invalids in the south of
The story begins with a visit to the vicarage by the narrator to her old
school friend, Mary Purcell.
Like several Whitaker titles [Lil, Don, Rose & Lavender,
My Honey], it is the story of two neighboring households: Hurstcombe Vicarage and Hurstcombe Hall.
Like other titles, it involves a romance of childhood friends; in this case, the daughter of the vicarage, Faithful, and
the heir to the Hall, Peter Armitage. whom Mary, the vicar's wife, has mothered.
"They were all playing croquet when I arrived... one lovely July evening....
It was in the old days of croquet, soon after its first introduction, before it faded and languished and finally quite disappeared
before the superior attractions of tennis, though in these later days it has revived again in a much more scientific and difficult
The eldest child is eighteen-year-old Faithful
"a curious name, but it is a family name among the Purcells, and I think
it fits her. She is such a dear girl!"
The narrator comments that Faithful is indeed
"dear... as I apply it to [her] and others of her sort... the gift of attracting
love independent of qualities of mind or person, merits or relationship, which are necessary to most of us to secure it...
Did I detect any character flaw in her besides that sweet quality of being a dear girl? Yes... I detected that defect
in Faithful which was really hardly more than an exaggeration of a virtue, and which is so uncommon a fault that it is unnecessary
to warn the greatest number of girls of the present day against it—a little
overstrained desire for self-sacrifice.... As I came to know Faithful better, my first impressions of this characteristic
were fully confirmed. She would give up her share of something when the whole point and pleasure of the thing was that
every one should share alike; she would take the worst when every one specially wanted her to have the best, would withdraw
from some expedition to let someone less acceptable go in her place."
Mary's niece, Winnie Lake, comes to the vicarage. In conversation with
Faithful, she says,
"Fancy, what a difference in our prospects! You with every comfort
and luxury at the Hall, with a devoted husband and everything to make life pleasant and enjoyable, and waited on hand and
foot; and poor little me doing nursemaid to all those brats at home, or if I can't stand that, having to turn out and earn
my own living by teaching other people's brats, or being companion to some tiresome old woman like Mrs. Marsham. Now
it would not matter if it were the other way about.... Well, it's a pity we can't change places..."
In Chapter 6, the narrator returns "to India for two years." In her
absence both the Vicar and his wife, Mary, die. Several years later, Mrs. Marsham meets Peter Armitage in a hotel in
the South of France, where Mrs. Marsham has wintered several years with her "dear invalid" husband.
Peter has married Winnie.
"I could not help wondering... how Faithful had managed it... Left
to himself... Peter Armitage would have gone on in dogged faithfulness to his life's end, and certainly Winnie was the very
last sort of girl he would naturally have chosen." It is not a happy marriage.
Meanwhile the Purcell family has faced the tragedy of death and economic
hardship, made harder by Winnie's betrayal of trust and friendship. The boys are scattered (one to clerk in a London
bank, two to Australia), the girls to London where Faithful must earn a living for both herself and her young sister.
When Mrs. Marsham and Peter learn of little Peggy's death from a newspaper announcement, Winnie's perfidy prevents their expressions
of sympathy and offers of care and support from reaching Faithful.
Fourteen years pass. Chapter 8 provides an account of Faithful's life
as an unmarried, poor gentle woman in London. Faithful's employment as a daily governess is described in counterpoint
to Mrs. Marsham's relationship with her maid, Marshall, and Miss Kirby, her paid companion. When Mrs. Marsham and Faithful
meet by chance, Mrs. Marsham is dismayed that poverty and work have so changed Faithful's appearance, although her character
remains the same--she is often ill-used by her employers (the Berry family) yet offers love and unselfish self-sacrifice in
return. Faithful is particularly fond of the eldest daughter, Bertha.
Bertha takes the children to sea, while Faithful remains in the house
on Nottinghill doing maid's work. The younger children meet and begin a friendship with a kindly, wealthy, older gentleman
whom they call "the Boojum." Bertha is enticed from her melancholy over her first love (a medical student) to
join in the fun. There is every appearance of "Auld Robin Gray" come calling upon pretty, young Bertha.
"Why, it was the very same old business over again, and, would you believe
it? Peter Armitage was again the subject in hand."
Faithful has every intention of unselfishly removing herself so that
Bertha can be the happy bride of a rich man. But, Barbara Marsham takes matters into her hands,
"chasing away the last little sparks of self-scrifice into corners
and ruthlessly trampling them out. There was no room for self-sacrifice in her [Faithful's] life. It was her plain
and bounden duty to be happy, to come first, to be taken care of and considered, to receive handsome presents. It would
have been the cruellest unkindness to Peter Armitage if she had resisted.
"All the same she had dreadful compunctions over the whole business, feeling
as if she must be defrauding some one else, or as if it must be wicked to be so happy."
So Peter and Faithful are married and live happily at Hurstcombe.
"But she [Faithful] has still occasional pangs that so much happiness must
be wrong or at any rate dangerous, for when we were talking the other day of her many blessings, she said rather wistfully,
"But whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth."
"And I answered, "Yes, but He sends the chastening when it is required, so
we need not look about and make it for ourselves. And when we don't require it, I think He likes His children to be
happy. I am sure I do. Even in this world the Good Shepherd often feeds His sheep in a green pasture and leads
them forth besides the waters of comfort."
Views of Victorian life and culture:
ideal of womanhood
p. 12 "Mary, though goodness and kindness itself, was not one of those irrationally
unselfish mothers who are, I consider, a downright misfortune to their families... [giving rise to] "odious children... letting
their mothers slave about without a word or thought of gratitude. It is not the children's fault, poor souls!
They are brought up to be selfish from their babyhood, and I sometimes wonder whether such mothers merit the diadem such unselfish
martyrdom seems to deserve or severe punishment for the cruel injustice they had done their children."
p. 14 "...as his mother had died when he was quite a baby, Mary
Purcell had taken him under her wing when she came as a young bride to the Vicarage... So she mothered him as she did
all helpless creatures."
p.35 Faithful "brought in a spray of wild roses... put this into the middle
of the cabbage bouquet [ambassador of love] in the middle of the drawing room table and let it ramble with its own
exquisite gracefulness among the books which at her touch lost all their geometrical precision.
"She opened the old upright piano... she played a simple little accompaniment
and sang, with an unaffected fresh young voice... She did not make a fuss about it or want to be pressed, or make excuses...
but just did her best"
p. 117 speaking of Winnie
"all agreed with me in pitying him and condemning her. Ill health was
her excuse... there is no saying whether she would have lived quite as long and been as strong doing her duty and thinking
of her husband's happiness at home. She tried various lines. At one time she affected to be intellectual and held
a sort of salon of kindred spirits and wrote verses, some of which struggled painfully into print. Then she was aesthetic
and wore strange and weird coloured garments of peculiar construction, and could not live without a lily [here probably falsehood]
in the room."
p.130 "Those twenty years had made an old woman of me, and gradually
taken from me the ability to take care of other people, which mattered the less as there were no longer any of mine who required
ideal of manhood
p. 20 "but some men are boys all their lives... though it always
surprised me that the mill of a public school and two years at Oxford had not ground down some of his angularities and peculiarities
and made him more like the average young Oxonian who certainly does not err on the side of self-distrust and awkwardness."
p. 19 "Hurstcombe church was homelike, too, old and quaint and peaceful.
I like to think of it when I have a headache in this hurrying world, with the moss [maternal love] and
the lichen [solitude] on it old walls and the soft yew-tree [sorrow]shadows on the grassy mounds and crooked
headstones. I hear it has been restored since then, and I never wish to see it again... modernized, or worse still,
turned into a modern antique."
medicine & public health
p. 17 Peter's "father was an invalid, or fancied himself so, and fancy,
by the way, is one of the most painful diseases, no remedy for which exists in the British Pharmacopaoeia, and he spent most
of his winters in the south of France."
p. 32 "Mr. Armitage was a valetudinarian, entirely wrapped up in his
own symptoms, which he imagined were entirely unique and beyond the understanding of the medical profession.... I saw
his chair wheeled into the room with every precaution to avoid jar or shaking and noticed his expression of exquisite suffering
when a door in some distant part of the house banged... undeserving object on which to lavish so much care and attention."
p.33 "who had been in India... likely to understand liver complications
p. 113 Mrs. Marsham to Mary Purcell re. the village's expectations of the
"you ought to have beef tea laid on like hot water, and port wine by the
hogshead, and black-currant jam and cod-liver oil and new flannel..."
p. 130 of Marshall, Mrs. Marsham's companion:
"She had, to be sure, never learned hospital nursing or studied hygiene,
or even attended first-aid classes, but she had old-fashioned remedies that the young folks laughed to scorn, but which were
p.167 "The Berry girls had had the measles (I never knew such children
for having measles!) and lessons were in abeyance, though I could not make out that this lightened Faithful's labours in any
perceptible way. There had been a proposal that , when the children were convalescent, Faithful should take them to
education & literacy
p. 26 "On the large round table in the drawing room [at the Hall] books were
arranged with mathematical precision..."
p. 45 "...there was never a word or a hint of the progress of the small romance
whose pages I had perused with such satisfaction and whose end seemed so very simple and plain that there was no need to do
what I am sorry to say I have a bad habit of doing, take a peep on to see its conclusion."
p. 127 "Perhaps, as I am writing for feminine readers, I may venture
to say, as I did to myself that day, was it not just like a man?"
p. 129 "...if I were writing a chronicle of my own life I could fill
my pages with many incidents which to me at any rate were of deepest interest. There were meeting and partings, marriages
and deaths, tragedies and comedies, laughter and tears. I have had my share of sorrow—who has not? But,
thank God! I have had my share—sometimes I think more than my share of happiness, and I think that, perhaps with
one or two exceptions, I would live my life over again, and certainly would not exchange it for that of anyone else, though
now its brightness comes chiefly from the light of other days and from the "sure and certain hope" of the future."
p. 163 "Washing day is always a busy day with us. I have to arrange
the girls' lessons so as not to require much supervision that day.
"Mrs. Berry is so unfortunate with her servants. She had to send away
the last at half an hour's notice. There used to be plenty of nice girls Hurstcombe, but London girls all seem dirty
or dishonest, or untruthful or unsteady. It was several days before Mrs. Berry could find a new one, and the girls and
I did the work. It was quite a piece of fun for them, and I thought it was good for them to learn to be useful."
p. 182 "He brought her books to read—oddly selected, to
be sure, but what would you expect?—and illustrated papers, and told her a great deal about horses and dogs..."
language of flowers
"fragrant shadow of a cedar" strength
"great elm trees" dignity
"big Scotch fir" time, elevation
"clematis... roses... wisteria" mental
beauty, love, and
"a garden... for sweet smells. I can smell it now sometimes across
all these scentless years, with gardens sacrificed to lawn tennis or bedding-out plants or carpet gardening. I remember
to this day the scent—no, that is too suggestive of Piesse and Lubin—the
smell of sweet peas [delicate pleasure] and mignonette[your qualities surpass your charms],
pinks [always lovely] and roses [love], that first evening as I leant back in my deck chair and Mary described