Enid Bagnold’s 1938 novel The Squire is apparently the only novel ever published about birth. By which the publishers Persephone mean that although there have been plenty of novels about women who have given birth, none have covered the days before and after the birth in such fine detail as The Squire.
Although there is no defined narrative arc in The Squire – rather, it is a series of interlocking events surrounding the act of birth – there is still a drive throughout the novel to hold the reader’s attention. Some critics have claimed the book is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, and you can indeed see the almost stream of consciousness style throughout.
Enid Bagnold’s novel is written extremely closely – there is so much detail that you feel almost claustrophobic within the pages. This is surely intentional, to mirror the building pressure the squire of the title must be feeling in the final days of her pregnancy when she wants everything to be just so. And there is also a strong sense of the British spirit of ‘just getting on with things’, which is surely what the squire was thinking.
For instance, throughout chapter six there is a debate between the squire and her friend Caroline about plants, and those they like and dislike. Which is a loose way to discuss things ending and beginning, with plants being a metaphor for the existing children and the imminent baby, as well as the frustrations for the squire of her servants.
What struck me as particularly interesting about The Squire is the way it approaches the intricacies of household management between the wars. The squire is consumed with handling her frustrating staff and the difficulties of replacing them with suitable people. And there is the constant anxiety and irritation for her of dealing with the problem of people who she pays to make her life easier. The minutiae of the middle classes is apparent on every page, and that in itself is a fascinating opportunity to glimpse into a bygone age.