Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Frost in May” as Want to Read:
Frost in May
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Frost in May

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  669 ratings  ·  60 reviews
Nanda Gray, the daughter of a Catholic convert, is nine when she is sent to the Convent of Five Wounds. Quick-witted, resilient, and eager to please, she adapts to this cloistered world, learning rigid conformity and subjection to authority. Passionate friendships are the only deviation from her total obedience. Convent life is perfectly captured by Antonia White.
Hardcover, 221 pages
Published 1978 by Virago Press (first published 1933)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Frost in May, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Frost in May

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,478)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
On the surface, this is a classic girls' school story, largely autobiographical, told with a simplicity that belies the book's underlying complexity. For it's a Catholic convent school, and recently converted Nanda has somewhat more to face there than the usual run of classes and tests, sports, and midnight feasts. White's portrayal of the school, the students, and the nuns is clear and unsparing, and I was surprisingly caught up in Nanda's experiences, particularly at the shattering ending.
Rebecca Foster
(Nearly 3.5) “And do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely? Broken and re-set in God’s own way.” The first-ever Virago Modern Classic, and a noteworthy one: a novel about a young girl’s experience at a Catholic boarding school between the ages of nine and 14. Nanda (short for Fernanda) Gray is an eager convert when she arrives in 1908, but the Convent of the Five Wounds is a place that quashes all individuality and questions any attempts ...more
An abbreviated bildungsroman of an early teenaged Anglo-Catholic girl whose three years in a convent school bring her to the realization that however ardent her faith, the thrill she gets from art and literature frequently exceeds the one she's expected to be feeling from religion.

Based, apparently, on White's own life, the author's life-long religious practice does not inhibit her from presenting Catholicism of the early 20th century in its most Gothic aspect.

From the name of the convent ("the

Frost in May is the story of Nanda Grey a young catholic convert during her four years at the Five Wounds convent school. Nanda is just nine when she comes to the school, and stays until her sudden departure when she is thirteen. Nanda quickly becomes part of the life of The Five Wounds, and its often harsh strictures. She forms friendships (which are frowned upon) with girls of a higher social standing, enjoying their company as is typical of young girls at school together. Although she once or

This book looks at a young girl's entry in to a convent school at the beginning of the 1900s, and how she adapts to it, as well as in which way's she resists it.

This was a good book, ever so slightly twee with its "But darling, DON'T you find it's all simply TOO vile..." etc., but all things can be forgiven for the character of Léonie, the thinking lesbian's Lolita.

I really enjoyed the first few chapters of this which I picked up and read in a library, although once I had bought a copy to cont
A beautifully written book about a young girl sent to a Catholic boarding school in England in the 1930s, and how the strict discipline and strong friendships she forges there shape her life. So much more interesting than I can say in a short review. The pettiness of the nuns (as well as the kindliness of some at times) and the rivalries of the schoolgirls ring true.

If you've been raised Catholic or gone to a Catholic school (as I did) it will help you understand some of the details mentioned, b
Cody VC
Quite a nice look at the conflict between the spiritual appeal of religions like Catholicism and the cult-like tendencies that can creep in. The ending did feel a little abrupt, despite the real-life basis, and there's a few things here and there that modern-day readers would probably have less patience for, so this gets four instead of five stars. One thing I'd like to add: the writing didn't seem "twee" but rather appropriate for when the book was written (1933) and, in fact, better than some ...more
Teresa Pitt
I first read Frost in May when Virago first reissued it back in the 1970s. I can still remember sitting up in bed at 3 o'clock in the morning to finish the book with tears pouring down my face and choking with sobs. I went to a convent school in Australia of the same order of nuns as the ones who had Antonia White in their clutches for four crucial years of her childhood. The difference with me is that they had me in their clutches for twelve years, from age 5 to age 17. I was there from 1950 to ...more
Zen Cho
My two favourite things in this book

1) The headmistress's speech to the girls, that old staple of school stories, runs as follows.

"Some of that severity which to the world seems harshness is bound up in the school rule which you are privileged to follow .... We work today to turn out, not accomplished young women, nor agreeable wives, but soldiers of Christ, accustomed to hardship and ridicule and ingratitude."


2) Leonie de Wesseldorf. omg omg what an awesome character.
Frost in May tells of Nanda's four years at a Catholic boarding school before WWI. Nanda is 9 years old when she joins, a relatively recent convert along with her father, and fourteen when she leaves. I found the description of her over time very convincing - from a child, unsure of herself and eager to please, to a teenager developing ideas and interests of her own and becoming increasingly aware of the dilemmas and injustices of life.

The descriptions of Nanda's religious struggles are also rea
Conatins the first two books of this autobiograpical series of 4 novels. Frost in May concerns her childhood at an exclusive convent school (based on that of the Sacred Heart)before World War I. This is the best of the series. The Lost Traveller continues the story (though the characters name and some of the plot points from the first book have been changed). Her parents are now drawn as individuals. Still interesting.
The second volume contains the last two novels. The Sugar House concerns Clara
I read this in a day after being laid up after a nasty fall. Although beautifully written and well rounded characters I found the subject matter disturbing. The so called education of these young girls was nothing but brain washing and their individualism was completely squashed. I dread to think the kind of life Nanda would have after she left the school. It was a man made, narrow and restrictive education which, to me, has nothing at all to do with loving god and your fellow man or to do with ...more
Izzy Douglas
Sep 26, 2013 Izzy Douglas is currently reading it
I decided to read this book because my mum recommended it as a classic.

This book fills the "classic" category on the bingo board.

A quote that I liked from this book was “She read on and on, enraptured. She could not understand half, but it excited her oddly, like words in a foreign language sung to a beautiful air. She followed the poem vaguely as she followed the Latin in her missal, guessing, inventing meanings for herself, intoxicated by the mere rush of words. And yet she felt she did unders
This is a story of life in a convent boarding school. It appealed to me, as I’d graduated from a college run by the same order. Frost in May is hailed as a classic, and is apparently somewhat autobiographical in nature. That stands to reason, after all, because how else would the author have knowledge of such a life! Antonia White wrote beautifully, and evoked the atmosphere with a keen eye to detail. The swish of the nuns’ skirts, the muffled click of the rosary beads, the vague air of mystery ...more
This is the story of a young girls intense and traumatic experiences at the Convent School of The Five Wounds.
Nanda is intelligent, affectionate, passionate, stubborn and loyal - she reminded me very much of the young Jane Eyre. I liked her immediately and it was with an uneasy and sometimes appalled fascination that I followed her absorption into the overheated and (to me) alien atmosphere of the school.

The Convent School itself reminded me of Lowood, whose mission to save the souls of it's you
Wonderful, beautifully detailed novel, the first half more so than the second. This (autobiographical) story is firstly about a girl's experiences at a Catholic school, and secondly about the girl's relationship with her father.
I was spoiled about the ending, but that only meant I spent the last half of the book feeling that gradual, overwhelming horror of watching a traimwreck.
What added the extra dimension to an already-good novel was knowing that this was 'real,' and based on what happened to
This book and Antonia White's novels about Clara Batchelor are strongly autobiographical. In this first one, which is the story of her school days, the heroine is called Fernanda Gray. All of them are minutely detailed, beautifully descriptive and often heart-breaking.
All I could think was 'Poor little girl!, Poor Antonia / Eirene'.
Fernanda tries so hard to be good, to please her over-bearing father and to conform to the authoritarian convent regime. When she gets into trouble it is due to a mis
I thought I would hate this ... and I did, bit not to the expected degree. The book followed a catholic convert, Nanda Grey, entering the Convent of the Five Wounds and the trials and tribulations of her schooling years. It was quite well written, with a nice flowing prose without being too descriptive (which really does bother me), and it wasn't too heavy in Catholic(ness) which was a mercy. It is interesting how I with regular monotony liked and hated the central character in equal measure as ...more
Melanie Williams
Fascinating, detailed, intensive, well-written ....
Emily Harrington
At first I found this book rather boring, but towards the middle it picked up pace. The ending was a bit abrupt, but it's no doubt well written. However, it's terrifying. Every time I read a bit, I left feeling unsettled. I'm so glad it's over, and thank whatever exists in the beyond and is good, that I was not born Catholic, mor did I ever have to go to a Catholic boarding or day school. Not meant to offend anyone whom this religion works for-we find faith on our own path, and I know things hav ...more
Charlie Trafford
Seen the television adaptation many years ago, just starting the book
Originally published in 1933, I can see how this reads totally differently to a post WWII mind. " a calm and factual record of the slow death of the soul"...hmmmm, I don't know. but an interesting look nonetheless at a young middle class girls' mind in the early-mid 20th century as she is sent from the bosom of her family into a religious boarding school environment designed to train her into a sheep rather than educate. I can see how it influenced the writing of such as Evelyn Waugh and others. ...more
Mariana Flores
This is a well-written story of a young Catholic concert who is send to an all-girls boarding school fun by cloistered nuns. If this school is even a slight reflection of pre-Vatican II, White did a fabulous job of presenting the Catholic culture and religion.
The ending left me not only heartbroken, but a little dissatisfied. I would have liked to have seen what happened to Nana afterwards.
The story of Nanda Grey who starts attending boarding school at the Convent of Five Wounds. It was an interesting insight into life in a catholic convent school, I'm glad I didn't go to one like this! A lot of it was based on the author's own life. I loved Leonie de Wesseldorf right from the first description of her.

I don't like this cover. For some reason the sad looking wee girl picture reminds me of those 'tragic childhood' books you get :\
I think you have to remember that this book was written in the 1930s, when the style and attitudes will make more sense. That said I found this a surprisingly thoughtful and sharply observed book which avoided the more obvious, and now clichéd depictions, of nuns and the Catholic church. Yes, some of the nuns are small minded and needlessly cruel, but there was kindness and compassion there too. The book is well written and touching.
June anne
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
In the years before the First World War Fernanda Grey, whose parents have converted to Catholicism, goes to a convent school. Despite her own fervent protestations of faith she is never quite assimilated and her tendency to have passionate exclusive friendships is just one of the things that the nuns frown on.

The ending is very sudden and it cries out for a sequel, but as far as I know there wasn't one.
Maggie Mellon
Recommended by a friend as one of her favourite books from years before - I found it did not enchant and grip me now in my 50s. It is a book for young women - teenagers even - and one which now might not have aged too well. Heavy on the themes of conscience, shame, catholicism, guilt, discovery - and without any leavening of humour or real interest in others. Hard going reading when you have got past it all.
Jess Sturman-Coombs
Wow this book captures convent life in all its starkness. Mere children offering themselves to their lord before they even know what they want from life. So much is expected from them but little Nanda Gray is strong and determined to do well. This is a really touching story about a girl that does everything to conform, but will it be enough? I cried so much at the end. The story has always stayed with me.
Bish Denham
I found this book both enlightening and disturbing in its description of life within a convent school. On the one hand there is security, stability and a fairly good education for the school girls. On the other, there is a subtle kind of mental and emotional abuse, perpetrated by the nuns in the name of God. It was like looking through a door and getting a peek inside a forbidden/hidden world.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 49 50 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Invitation to the Waltz
  • Angel
  • The Rector's Daughter
  • The Fountain Overflows
  • The Tortoise and the Hare
  • Sisters by a River
  • Miss Mole (A Virago modern classic)
  • The Land of Spices
  • Good Behaviour
  • Someone at a Distance
  • One Fine Day
  • The Pastor's Wife
  • Lolly Willowes
  • The Brontës Went to Woolworths
Antonia White was born as Eirine Botting to parents Cecil and Christine Botting in 1899. She later took her mother's maiden name, White.

In 1921 she was married to the first of her three husbands. The marriage was annulled only 2 years later, and reportedly was never consummated. She immediately fell in love again with a man named Robert, who was an officer in the Scots Guards. They never married,
More about Antonia White...
The Sugar House Beyond the Glass The Lost Traveller Strangers The Hound and the Falcon: The Story of a Reconversion to the Catholic Faith

Share This Book

“She read on and on, enraptured. She could not understand half, but it excited her oddly, like words in a foreign language sung to a beautiful air. She followed the poem vaguely as she followed the Latin in her missal, guessing, inventing meanings for herself, intoxicated by the mere rush of words. And yet she felt she did understand, not with her eyes or her brain, but with some faculty she did not even know she possessed.” 9 likes
More quotes…