Back in the very early days of the Ramblings, I wrote about a wonderful Virago Modern Classic – “The Love Child” by Edith Oliver. I was on a bit of a voyage of rediscovery with VMCs at the time, and this one had been highly recommended by Simon at Stuck in a Book. It’s been out of print for many years, but I’m very happy to see that Simon has managed to help it back into print via the British Library Women Writers series for which he’s series consultant- which is marvellous news!

As I wrote at the time, “The story concerns Agatha Bodenham, whose mother dies leaving her on her own, with no resources to fall back on as she has led a dull, lonely, reclusive life and has no close friends or nearby family. We see her unable to relate to her aunt at the beginning of the book and it is obvious she is unable to deal with people at all – we would probably described her as “emotionally damaged” nowadays. Agatha, in her loneliness, conjures back into life her make-believe childhood friend, Clarissa, who is everything that Agatha is not – spontaneous, lively, curious and mercurial. Initially, only Agatha can see Clarissa but gradually, as Agatha’s love suffuses her, Clarissa becomes real to everyone.

Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, the rest of the book revolves around Agatha and Clarissa’s intense love for each other, the destructive effect of the incursion of outsiders, and a very poignant but not unexpected ending. The book is beautifully written, very readable and surprisingly complex. Clarissa represents in some ways Agatha’s repressed maternal love, an outlet for the emotion that she has never been able to express. She also in some ways is the person Agatha might have been, had she been brought up in a different environment and allowed to blossom instead of having her growth stunted.

This is a remarkably good book and Olivier’s handling of the various emotions between the two main characters and those who circulate around them is masterly. She’s very good at conveying the intense feelings they have and the differences (and also similarities) between Clarissa and Agatha. In different ways, each only exists because of the other and so any exterior influence is bound to destroy the bond between them with catastrophic effect.”

My view of the book hasn’t changed over the years – it’s a beautifully written and evocative work, and I was happy to have the chance to revisit it. I commented in my original post that it was such a shame the book was out of print, so it’s wonderful to see it available again in a stunning BLWW edition.

Both editions are lovely in their own way!

The new release comes with the usual excellent supporting material of preface, 1920s facts and a mini biog of Olivier. And as well as an intriguing afterword by Simon, the book also includes some wonderful extracts from Olivier’s autobiography which add an extra level of interest to what is a marvellous book. “The Love Child” was Olivier’s first novel, and I suspect is still her best known, probably because Virago chose to focus on it. Like all of the BLWW books, as well as telling a compelling and moving story, “The Love Child” shines a light on women’s lives in the past, the choices available to them, society’s expectations and the emotional effect of these elements. This is a superb addition to the range and highly recommended from here! 😀