Olive TracyOctober 3, 2013
So. More Amy Le Feuvre. This one is called Olive Tracy, and follows the title character over roughly the span of the Boer War. At the beginning, she’s the de facto housekeeper of her family’s home, which she shares with her mother, her younger sister Elsie, and Osmond, the invalid son of her dead eldest brother. The oldest sister, Vinny, is unhappily married and living in London, while another brother, Eddie, is in the Army, and not behaving as his family would wish him to. Then there’s their neighbors, Sir Marmaduke and Lady Crofton, and their two sons: Marmaduke is a captain in the army, and in love with Olive. He’s also steady and reliable and not super attractive in a way that made me think of Lord Algy from Pretty Kitty Herrick. Mark, the younger brother, is even more dissolute than Eddie, and seems to have been given up, even by his parents, as a bad lot.
Olive’s troubles begin when Marmaduke — Duke for short, thankfully — goes off to South Africa to keep an eye on Mark. He proposes before he leaves, but she turns him down, and only afterwards realizes that she might have feelings for him after all. Then her mother dies, and the Tracy household is split up, with Elsie going one way and Olive and Osmond another. Also the Boer War begins, and is omnipresent and awful in the background. Somewhere in there, Olive finds God in the same way that everyone finds God in these books, which is, I don’t know, either the most weirdly flat conversion I’ve ever read, or pure mysticism. Or both.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, “this” being both Amy Le Feuvre’s brand of religious fiction and my reaction to it. Part of it, of course, is that I find religion in fiction and in history a lot more interesting that I find religion espoused by modern-day people who would like me to act according to their moral code instead of my own. But part of it is definitely that matter-of-fact mysticism.
Another part, maybe, is related to how I feel about Precious Bane. Precious Bane has always felt more like Sci Fi or Fantasy to me than it does like a historical novel. It’s hard to identify the setting as Shropshire in the early 19th century, and easy to believe it takes place on an alien planet, with an alien culture and (especially) alien plants. Amy Le Feuvre unintentionally creates an alternate universe in a similar way.
I like the way Le Feuvre’s characters have different personalities that predispose them to different kinds of problems. If the solutions to all of these people’s problems are the same, well, Le Feuvre is convincing enough that it feels perfectly comfortable to believe that she’s writing of a world where things really do work that way. It’s not the real world, but that’s okay. It helps that the characters who find God retain both their personalities and their problems. It’s sort of like what I’ve been told about therapy: you can’t really just fix your problems, but you can acquire tools for dealing with them. And in the strange alternate universe chronicled by Amy Le Feuvre, there is only one tool, and it’s God.
I’m just kind of impressed, I guess, by the faint touch of realism evident in the messes most of Le Feuvre’s characters have made of their lives. Not that this, or her other books I’ve read, are in any way realistic. But there’s something about them — about the way people get better and worse and don’t know how to talk to each other or manage their lives — that kind of is. And there’s something seductive about the idea of handing all your worries over to someone else, someone absolutely trustworthy. And Le Feuvre conveys that appeal instead of doing as other authors of religious fiction do and making everyone prigs.
So that’s it. That’s the appeal, for me at least. I have made my peace with liking these books, and I’m looking forward to reading Her Kingdom again this fall, curled up in a big, comfortable chair with a hot toddy, or some other drink of which Le Feuvre would disapprove.