Janet Hobhouse died of ovarian cancer in 1991 in her forties. She didn’t finish editing The Furies, but it’s seen as her greatest work. It deserves to be read.
Reviewers invariably treat it as autobiography rather than the novel it was published as, and it certainly has the feel of autobiography. The trajectory of the narrative has all the repetitiousness and random intrusions of life itself. It starts before the narrator is born, with the tangle of family that led to her:
That my mother, who viewed herself as as related to very few other beings in the universe, should have descended in a mere three generations from this world of wealth and kindness, this reliable multiplicity of connected others, this cohabitation of cousins, aunts, servants etc., says something about the speed of American life in this century, which cannot only provide a solitary immigrant with the means to create, in a matter of decades, a secure and well-populated dynasty, but can also, and at the same rate, take all these steps in reverse, reducing, as in our case, a huge, prosperous, civically active and internationally connected clan to a mere handful of desperate solitaries, operating like ball-bearings in outer space.
The book follows the narrator through childhood and adulthood, to the horror of her mother’s suicide and the sudden plunge into cancer. A postscript of apparent recovery; we know this wasn’t to last. It’s a book and a life with many tragedies. I felt the same as one reviewer who said to read this book is to get to know Janet Hobhouse, only to lose her. She seems like someone who would have been worth knowing.
Her prose has an unusual quality: confessional, honest without a hint of apology. Her story is compelling, giving the feel of life without even zooming in on many scenes, but capturing the flow of it.
(PS: Couldn’t help being delighted by the similarity of title and name to my novel. Hobhouse/Hobby – The Furies/ The Fur.)