I’m not sure how many people are still reading or intending to read The Soul of Kindness, but if you haven’t finished reading it yet, maybe you could come back here and post your thoughts about the various relationships in the book when you have.
So then, what do we all think of the various relationships in The Soul of Kindness? I felt there were a lot of different dynamics which are interesting.
Flora and Richard are married at the start of the novel; she is the beautiful bride that her mother Mrs Secreten has been preparing her for, her whole life. With her goddess like beauty, she is sure to be the centre of attention. Right from the start the reader understands that this is exactly where Flora is used to being.
“Here I am!” Flora called to Richard as she went downstairs. For a second, Meg felt disloyalty. It occurred to her of a sudden that Flora was always saying that, and that it was in the tone of one giving a lovely present. She was bestowing herself. “
Flora organises her life the way she likes it. Surrounds herself with people who indulge in what Richard at one time disloyally thinks of as “Flora worship.” She counts on Meg to never forget her birthday, Meg who always looked after her, protected her at school. Flora’s domestic like pet the novelist Patrick is on hand whenever she wants, and is adept at smoothing out any ruffled feathers. She doesn’t seem to give anything much in return to these people – except her lovely self. Meg’s brother Kit worships her, his adolescent like adoration is taken as simply her due by Flora, and when she buys him an expensive suit – everyone but Flora is acutely embarrassed by the connotations of such an extravagant gift. True she buys him a suit, and takes him food when he is ill, all while aiding his unrealistic expectations. All this allows Flora to think of herself as a good person, a ministering angel. Flora has now dispensed with her mother – who spent her life turning Flora into the woman she is now, and now must sit in the country with her housekeeper/companion awaiting rare visits.
“Miss Folley, I can smell spice cakes” said Flora, shaking hands with her. It was just that touch of homely graciousness one connects with the Royal ladies, Miss Folley thought”
Poor Mrs Secreten, one of several rather lonely characters, in mocking her friend Miss Folley to Flora in a letter she knows Miss Folley will read, she damages maybe the best relationship she has. While she fears for her health, she realises that should there be anything really the matter with her, she would not be able to count on Flora for help. Mrs Secreten is lonely after Flora’s marriage, she has spent years devoting to herself to Flora and then suddenly she is gone. Mrs Secreten is left with her housekeeper/companion Miss Folley. Miss Folley is yet another sad character; she has taken to reading out letters to Mrs Secreten – which she says were written to her by her various lovers many years ago. Mrs Secreten recognises the envelopes and the writing from her seat across the room; it is obvious that Miss Folley has written them herself with the sole intention of reading them out. In mocking Miss Folley to Flora, Mrs Secreten betrays her, it is quite a toe curling painful moment, and Mrs Secreten slowly comes to realise what she has done to Miss Folley and feels sorry for it.
To me Richard is a rather insipid character and very much feels like an also ran within the relationship with Flora. I think this must be why he turns to Elinor Pringle. He doesn’t seem to be sexually attracted to her, but Richard recognises in her, someone who like him, is rather alone within their marriage. This is a recurring theme; Elinor and her husband are mismatched, live fairly separate lives. The loyal Patrick is in love with the unsuitable Frankie, who has no feelings for Patrick. When Frankie turns up unexpectedly at Patrick’s flat on Christmas day, Patrick’s joy is heart-breaking, his delight in a recycled Christmas gift sadly pathetic. Meanwhile Meg is also in love with the wrong person, Patrick! She treasures the times she spends with Patrick – eking out the minutes till he leaves her again. Liz is very much her own woman, she has a brief fling with Kit, but doesn’t seem too bothered when he ends it after they row about Flora – or is she bothered? Paul Bailey in the introduction to my edition suggests that Liz is the sanest and most fulfilled character in the novel, – and although she seems a bit of an odd character, I think she is.
Two other peripheral characters are Percy and Ba – they are wonderful, at least I thought so. Flora doesn’t quite approve of Percy at first, but does approve of Ba. Percy wants to marry Ba, and Flora thinks it a good idea. Ba knows Percy needs her more than she does him, although Percy doesn’t recognise it in himself. He is quite lost when Ba goes to France without him for a week. They are a very old fashioned married couple, Ba knows how to manage her irascible husband, with her frequent “yes, honey” to placate him in his rages.
Then what about Richard and Elinor? Richard is married to the beautiful Flora – but he is unfulfilled I think. Elinor is older, unhappily married and apparently not attractive to Richard, but he enjoys her company, and he sees her behind Flora’s back. What is it that Elinor has that Flora doesn’t?
What did you all think about these relationships and various dynamics?
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