Mary Renault's Early Contemporary Novels

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Although best known for her later historical fiction, Mary Renault began her career with several novels set in contemporary England. The last of these, The Charioteer, has a large fan following, and is therefore discussed on its own page.

Renault’s earlier contemporary novels are:

  • Purposes of Love (1939) – American title Promises of Love
  • Kind Are Her Answers (1940)
  • The Friendly Young Ladies (1944) – American title The Middle Mist
  • Return to Night (1946)
  • North Face (1948)

The first four novels were written in England. After Renault won the MGM award for her fourth novel, she was financially enabled to relocate to South Africa, where she wrote the rest of her books.

Purposes of Love
Kind Are Her Answers
The Friendly Young Ladies
Return to Night
North Face

Plot Summaries

  • Purposes of Love - Vivian, a trainee nurse at a large hospital, is introduced to Mic, a lab technician, by her brother, Jan. They fall in love, but it is an uneasy relationship, in part because of differing schedules, in part because it is Vivian's first serious relationship (she is not ready for commitment; the relationship with Mic follows a fling with another trainee nurse), in part because Mic was previously in love with Jan, and has something of a complex about growing up as an illegitimate child. The book ends with Jan's death in a car accident and Vivian and Mic making commitments to each other. The homosexuality in the novel is understated.
  • Kind Are Her Answers - Kit, a GP, is unhappily married to Janet (who loathes sex, and has fallen out of love with Kit). He meets Christie on an evening call-out to an elderly patient to whom she is niece. They begin an affair, initially for sex, but fall in love. Christie, an actress, is frivolous and unfaithful; and Kit soon realises he has developed another mésalliance. He feels trapped, as there is no hope for divorce and his relationship with Christie is far from ideal. Meanwhile Janet finds solace with a religious group, a member of which falls in love with her. Kit sees this happening and feels sorry for the young man. The novel resolves as Janet goes as a missionary to Africa and decides to stay there, and Christie decides not to marry another suitor and commits to Kit.
  • The Friendly Young Ladies - Elsie, a very silly young woman who is unhappy at home with her bickering parents, seeks out her older sister Leo(nora), who ran away from home several years ago. She stays for several months on a houseboat with Leo and Leo's lover Helen. Their sexuality is understated and so Elsie never realises the true nature of Leo and Helen's relationship. Elsie fancies herself in love with Peter, a doctor who treated her briefly when she was at home; and she introduces him to Leo and Helen. He makes a play for both women, who play games with him. This leads to a quarrel with Elsie, who goes back home. In the course of all this Leo has a brief affair with a writer friend Joe, and realises how much she cares for him. As the book ends she is trying to decide whether to remain with Helen or go with Joe to America.
  • Return to Night - Hilary, a local GP after giving up on her ambitions in surgery, saves the life of Julian following a head injury in a riding accident. The two become involved, but the relationship is overshadowed by Julian's controlling mother, who is not that much older than Hilary (who is in her thirties) and who heartily disapproves his theatrical ambitions (for reasons that are revealed towards the end of the novel).
  • North Face - Neil, who made a mésalliance and is now getting a messy divorce, takes a walking/climbing holiday at a boarding house in Devon. There he meets and falls in love with Ellen, and in the course of their confidences to one another we learn (a) the details of each's failed past romances, and their unconventional approaches to relationships; and (b) that they share an interest in rock climbing. The progress of Neil and Ellen's romance is watched by two old maids.

Fan Activity

The fanbase for Renault’s earlier works is not as large as for The Charioteer or her historical novels. However, they have not been completely forgotten.

Analysis of Different Editions

In 2009, leolane brought to the attention of the maryrenaultfics community the existence of two editions of Purposes of Love: the original, which was published in 1939; and a "new" or "revised" 1968 edition.[1] Having been curious about the words "new" and "revised" ever since trueriver had first brought them to her attention in 2006[2], as well as from seeing a reader's memories of a different ending[3], queen_ypolita followed up with a detailed comparison of reprints of the two editions,[4] made in multiple posts to her Dreamwidth journal from 22 August 2010 to 8 November 2012. (See her comparisons of chapters 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-15, 16-17, 18-20, 21-22, 23-24, and 25-26.)

On 10 November 2012, queen_ypolita briefly discussed her findings on maryrenaultfics.[5] She concluded:

What I found was that the 1968 text has lost around 8,000 words in comparison to the 1939 text, and the impression I get is that for the most part the text was tightened up; conversations are slightly briefer, descriptive bits less wordy, and so on. We don't know who did the edits for the revised edition, but knowing that MR, when describing her writing method, said that she loved cutting and tightening up her texts, I would have no hesitation in seeing her mark all over the changes.

Most notably, the final chapter of the 1939 is cut, which doesn't really change the conclusion the book comes to, but does give it a sense of a more open, uncertain ending in the 1968 edition, leaving some things that the original ending sets in words as a promise between the lines.

She also pointed out that the novel was originally some 120K words in length, with most of the reduction in length resulting from cutting the final chapter. As well, it should perhaps be noted that the non-sexual use of the word "queer" to describe individuals was largely changed in the later edition, presumably to avoid potential misunderstanding caused by a shift in common usage in the interim.

Book Discussion

Discussions of Mary Renault's early contemporary novels have taken place in multiple fora.

On the maryrenaultfics LJ community

For a long time the maryrenaultfics LiveJournal community did not hold a chapter-by-chapter discussion of any of Renault’s early works. Nonetheless, there were discussions about certain aspects of these books, always sparked by a fan re-reading them.

Discussions of note:


On 6th January 2013 the maryrenaultfics community announced[15] that a discussion about Purposes of Love would start on 20 January 2013, taking place over four weeks, which each week focussing on one of the following themes: Evolving text (highlighting some of the changes between the 1939 text and the 1968 text)[16]; Women, nurses[17]; Sexuality and sex[18]; Vivian and Mic[19].

On Naraht's journal

In February 2014, naraht started a chapter-by-chapter discussion of Return to Night in her journal.[20][21]

naraht has also written a fandom primer for Return to Night.[22]

In Their Own Words

In 2008 maryrenaultfics began a project which involved 'interviews' of characters from Renault's novels. Questions were posed of several characters from the early novels, though not all were answered. However, interviews were written for Leonora Lane (The Friendly Young Ladies)[23][24][25][26][27][28][29], Mic Freeborn (Purposes of Love)[30], Vivian Lingard (Purposes of Love)[31] and Hilary Mansell (Return to Night), the last-mentioned largely focusing on methods of contraception in the 1930s[32].

In 2009, Leo and Helen received invitations to the 5YO celebrations[33], as did Hilary and Julian from Return to Night[34] and Kit and Christie from Kind Are Her Answers[35]. The latter (along with Rollo, from the same book) was also asked for practical assistance[36] via the ghostly intervention of Mary Hallows, late of Purposes of Love .

In the ITOWverse Christmas series, appearances were made by Leo and Christie; Neil Langton, Ellen Shorland, and Mrs Kearsey (North Face); and Mrs Hackett (Kind Are Her Answers). A selection of characters from the early novels participated in the Commiserations at the Clubhouse series in 2010. Several characters were also featured in the 2010 Autumn Holidays series, notably Mrs Hackett (who made treacle toffee in "Down A Treacle Well"[37]), and Kit Anderson (also from Kind are her Answers), who purchased fireworks in "Blue Touch Paper"[38]).

For more details please see the article about the ITOWverse.

Fan Fiction

Up until the early part of 2014, relatively little of the fan fiction which has developed from Renault's books was based on her early works. A couple of the early novels have been nominated in the past for the Yuletide fanfiction exchange. The 2013 Yuletide exchange produced a glut of Return to Night stories, mostly but not solely written by Naraht.

Since that time, however, and in particular as a result of the 2014 [39] and 2015[40] there has been a significant upsurge in fic featuring the early contemporary novels in particular Return to Night.

Authors who have written fic either wholly set in the early novels or as crossovers with them include Naraht, Lilliburlero, queen_ypolita, fawatson and A. J. Hall.


Exchange

Planning for the first Renault exchange focused on her contemporary novels started in February 2014 for a March 2014 start on the Renault Exchange Comm[41]

That exchange produced 16 works including five based on Return to Night and one based on Purposes of Love.

There were also a number of fics based on Return to Night and Purposes of Love in the 2015 Renault Exchange.

Archives

Notable Stories: Purposes of Love

Notable Stories: The Friendly Young Ladies

Notable Stories: Return to Night

Crossover Stories

  • "Prevailing Winds" is a sequel to The Charioteer by fawatson as posted to maryrenaultfics LJ community. It consists of a series of linked stories (currently fifteen in number) starting with "You Are Cordially Invited"[65] using characters drawn from The Charioteer, Purposes of Love, Kind Are Her Answers, and The Friendly Young Ladies. The series is set in 1942/43.
  • "Each Coming Night" is a crossover story written by naraht for Makioka as part of Yuletide 2013 fic exchange. It is set in the wartime with Hilary from Return to Night working with Alec and Sandy from The Charioteer.[66]

References

  1. ^ "Purposes of Love revised for 1968 edition?", posted to MRF by leolane on 8 September 2009.
  2. ^ queen_ypolita and trueriver puzzling over the exact meaning of 'new edition' on queen_ypolita's LJ (linked to Dreamwidth import of the post), 23 March 2006. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  3. ^ oursin summarises the original ending of Purposes of Love in a comment in her journal, 8 August 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  4. ^ The following were used by queen_ypolita in her comparison of the two editions of Purposes of Love: the original 1939 Longmans text (in its 8th impression from 1947), and the 1968 revised edition (in a Penguin 1986 edition). This information comes from "Comparing Purposes of Love: 1939 vs. 1968, Chs 1 & 2", a post made by queen_ypolita to her Dreamwidth journal on 22 August 2010.
  5. ^ Post "Purposes of Love, different editions", made to MRF by queen_ypolita 10 November 2012.
  6. ^ Purposes of Love revised for 1968 edition? post by leolane on maryrenaultfics, 8 September 2009. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  7. ^ Post on Kind Are Her Answers by leolane on maryrenaultfics, 28 June 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  8. ^ Post canvassing interest in a Return to Night discussion on maryrenaultfics by cyberducks, 8 August 2005. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  9. ^ Discussion about characterisation on maryrenaultfics, started by cyberducks, 30 August 2005. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  10. ^ Discussion about where to buy copies of Return to Night in the comments of cyberducks's post to maryrenaultfics, 7 September 2005. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  11. ^ Discussion on Mary Sues in The Friendly Young Ladies started by cyberducks on maryrenaultfics, 11 December 2005. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  12. ^ Discussion on North Face started by leolane on maryrenaultfics, 19 November 2005. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  13. ^ Discussion on themes of North Face started by patroklos_ghost on maryrenaultfics, 31 July 2005. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  14. ^ Discussion on North Face started by innervoice_chan on maryrenaultfics, 14 November 2004. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  15. ^ Announcement about Book Discussion of Purposes of Love posted by queen_ypolita on maryrenaultfics, 6th January 2013. Accessed 11 January 2013.
  16. ^ Purposes of Love discussion at MRF: Evolving text, 20 January 2013. Accessed 16 February 2014.
  17. ^ Purposes of Love discussion at MRF: Nurses, 27 January 2013. Accessed 16 February 2013.
  18. ^ Purposes of Love discussion at MRF: Sexuality and sex, 3 February 2013. Accessed 16 February 2014.
  19. ^ Purposes of Love discussion at MRF: Vivian and Mic, 10 February 2013. Accessed 16 February 2014.
  20. ^ Return to Night Chapters 1-2 discussion in naraht's journal, 6 February 2014. Accessed 16 February 2014.
  21. ^ Return to Night Chapters 3-5 discussion in naraht's journal , 13 February 2014. Accessed 16 February 2014.
  22. ^ Return to Night: the FAQ you didn't really ask for by naraht Accessed 16 February 2014.
  23. ^ fawatson interviewing Leo on maryrenaultfics (part one), 5 May 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  24. ^ fawatson interviewing Leo on maryrenaultfics (part two), 5 May 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  25. ^ fawatson interviewing Leo on maryrenaultfics (part three), 5 May 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  26. ^ fawatson interviewing Leo on maryrenaultfics (part four), 5 May 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  27. ^ fawatson interviewing Leo about Elsie and the war on maryrenaultfics, 5 May 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  28. ^ fawatson interviewing Leo about her parents on maryrenaultfics, 5 May 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  29. ^ fawatson interviewing Leo on maryrenaultfics (final part), 5 May 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  30. ^ Thread interviewing Mic started by queen_ypolita on maryrenaultfics, 16 June 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  31. ^ Thread interviewing Vivian started by queen_ypolita on maryrenaultfics, 17 June 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  32. ^ Thread interviewing Hilary started by queen_ypolita on maryrenaultfics, 17 June 2008. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  33. ^ Five Years On: Leo and Helen invitation by fawatson on maryrenaultfics, 5 June 2009. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  34. ^ Five Years On: Hilary and Julian invitation by trueriver on maryrenaultfics, 27 May 2009. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  35. ^ Five Years On: Kit and Christie invitation by fawatson on maryrenaultfics, 16 May 2009. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  36. ^ Five Years On anniversary preparations post with content by fawatson on maryrenaultfics, 24 May 2009. Accessed 1 August 2010.
  37. ^ "Down A Treacle Well" by Greer Watson, archived on her website. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  38. ^ "Blue Touch Paper" by Greer Watson, archived on her website. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  39. ^ [http://archiveofourown.org/collections/Renault_Exchange_2014 "Renault Exchange 2014"> Accessed 16 May 2015
  40. ^ [http://archiveofourown.org/collections/Renault_Exchange_2015 "Renault Exchange 2015"> Accessed 16 May 2015
  41. ^ "Renault Exchange Rules" Accessed 16 February 2014.
  42. ^ "The Visitor" by queen_ypolita, as archived on AO3, originally posted to maryrenaultfics LJ community. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  43. ^ "High Time Someone Did" by queen_ypolita, as archived on AO3. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  44. ^ "Summer in Scotland" by fawatson, in maryrenaulfics LJ community. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  45. ^ "The Beginning" by queen_ypolita, as archived on AO3. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  46. ^ "Brother and Sister" by fawatson, as archived on AO3. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  47. ^ http://fawatson.livejournal.com/21375.html"Decisions" by fawatson, as posted to her LiveJournal as a part of the Brigit's Flame January 2013 challenge.] Accessed 19 January 2013.
  48. ^ "Rout" by fawatson, as archived on AO3. Accessed 6 January 2012.
  49. ^ http://fawatson.livejournal.com/21863.html"Purposes of Death" by fawatson, as posted to her LiveJournal as a part of the Brigit's Flame January 2013 challenge.] Accessed 29 January 2013.
  50. ^ http://archiveofourown.org/collections/Rarewomen2013/works/777929"They Really Weren't Suited" by fawatson, as archived on AO3 as part of the rarewomen 20133 fic-exchange.] Accessed 07 May 2013.
  51. ^ "By the River" by fawatson, as posted on maryrenaultfics LJ community. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  52. ^ "Letters" by fawatson, as archived on AO3. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  53. ^ "The Girl in the Hospital Bed" by queen_ypolita, as archived on AO3. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  54. ^ "Madness" by fawatson, as archived on AO3. Accessed 11 January 2013.
  55. ^ http://archiveofourown.org/works/600906"Girl Land" by kittydesade, as archived on AO3.] Accessed 11 January 2013.
  56. ^ http://archiveofourown.org/collections/Rarewomen2013/works/783723"Coda" by fawatson, as archived on AO3 as part of the rarewomen 2013 fic-exchange.] Accessed 07 May 2013.
  57. ^ The toppiest girl in the school Accessed 16 February 2014.
  58. ^ French letters, Dutch caps Accessed 16 February 2014.
  59. ^ Sam Mansell and the case of the maiden aunt Accessed 16 February 2014.
  60. ^ A Fortunate Woman Accessed 16 February 2014.
  61. ^ "In that dark womb". Accessed 21 May 2014.
  62. ^ "Not a career any longer". Accessed 21 May 2014.
  63. ^ "How pleased along thy willowed edge". Accessed 21 May 2014.
  64. ^ "I find you're here". Accessed 21 May 2014.
  65. ^ "You Are Cordially Invited" Accessed 27 August 2011.
  66. ^ Each Coming Night Accessed 16 February 2014.