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The Life and Death of Harriett Frean

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  540 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
Harriett is the Victorian embodiment of all the virtues then viewed as essential to the womanly ideal: a woman reared to love, honour and obey. Idolising her parents, she learns from childhood to equate love with self-sacrifice, so that when she falls in love with the fiance of her closest friend, there is only one way to confront such an unworthy passion. Or so it seems.. ...more
Paperback, 184 pages
Published April 14th 1980 by Virago (first published 1922)
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Paul Bryant
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
I got this from the notorious 1001 Books you Must Read or We Will Put Your Household Pets in a Food Blender We Are Serious. I know some people do not like that list much but this slender bitter novel from 1922 would have otherwise passed me by completely.

This novel is a ferocious yet so genteelly understated attack on that exalted Victorian female virtue of self-denial. The idea is that you live a life of private misery because you do nothing to make your parents or anyone else the least bit ups
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
"Pussycat, Pussycat, where have you been?
"I've been to London, to see the Queen.
"Pussycat, Pussycat, what did you do there?
"I caught a little mouse under the chair."

Baby Harriett (Frean) laughs everytime her mother recites this to her. Her parents wonder what it is here which their baby finds funny.

The very first novel I've read which starts with a nursery rhyme.

Later, after about an hour of nonstop reading, Harriet Frean is already 68 years old, dying of the same cancer which killed her mother
Nov 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modernism
4.5 stars
This is a brief novella; readable in one or two sittings and was written by May Sinclair in 1922. It was Sinclair who coined the term “stream of consciousness” when reviewing Dorothy Richardson. Sinclair was a suffragist and modernist who also was influenced by Freud and psychoanalysis. Sinclair is an accomplished novelist, but most of her work is rather puzzlingly out of print.
This is a study of the Victorian notion of women and their role. The story of Harriet Frean’s life from birth
Ana Rînceanu
The graceful, simple writing wastes no time in making understood Harriett Frean's upbringing, her idolization of her mother and the desire to emulate a passed down sense of beauty and moral courage. This book will stick with me, I will probably analise Harriett's life with more interest than she did.
Aug 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I reread The Life and Death of Harriett Frean for my thesis, as Sinclair is an author whom I am focusing on. I loved the book the first time around, and my second encounter with it was no different. First published in 1922, elements of the novella feel incredibly modern. I love the way in which Harriett is followed from her early childhood until her last days. Sinclair's account of the life of a fictionalised Victorian woman, who goes against gender stereotypes in several ways, is a joy and deli ...more
Aug 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An entire lifetime in 138 pages. A concise, poignant look at the dangers of being who we think we should be rather than truly living.
The title says it all...The story started when Harriett Frean was a baby and her mother cooed over her, reciting a nursery rhyme. It ended when she was dying at the age of sixty-eight, while she listened to the same nursery rhyme from somewhere at the back of her head, and her last words were "Mamma".  If the author had made the title "The Life and Death of Spinster Harriett Frean", then there's nothing more to say in this review.

Harriett was an old maid; otherwise, hers was a very ordinary life
Apr 18, 2015 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Karen and Bettie
18 APR 2015 - spied on Karen's update and on Bettie's update. Free download at Project Gutenberg:

Mar 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1001, get-paper-copy

Harriett Frean is an only child and she thinks highly of her papa and her mamma. As she grows older, she starts to think highly of herself. In her mind she is above all of her friends because her father is intellectual, her mother is elegant and she (herself) is such a good child.

later in life, she falls in love with her friend's fiancé but she refuses to act upon it at it would destroy her friend's life. Because of this choice, she has an even higher opinion of herself.
Oct 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Okay so even though I only gave this 3 stars I'm still really glad I read it. The author, May Sinclair, was a poppin' writer, feminist, and suffragette in the early 1900s who was hugely influential to modernist literature but she's almost completely forgotten. She wrote over 23 novels, 39 short stories, a couple poetry collections, and some crucial literary criticism. In fact, she was the first one to use the term "stream-of-consciousness" in a literary sense. Along with all this her books were ...more
Apr 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 1001, english
Who is Harriett Frean? she is an insignificant women with no past no present and no future.
Her life is so empty, the book reminded me of the curious case of Benjamin Button , which contained an insignificant life as well.
There are a lot of lessons that you could learn from this book, such as never be too good, never give up your dreams , and be yourself.
Harriett seemed to me that she hadn't developed a personality of her own in her entire life, the book began with Harriett the child , and she ha
Apr 18, 2015 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Karen
Ruth Mcauley
Jan 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
This short novel tells the disturbing tale of a Victorian girl named Harriett Frean and her attempt to live a "morally beautiful" life... a decision that becomes more difficult when she falls in love with her best friend's fiancé. The story calls into question whether or not doing the moral thing always leads to the greatest happiness for everyone involved and explores the concept that you may be mistaken when you let your actions be dictated by what you think other people want for you. I really ...more
This short novel concerns the life of Harriet Frean, a woman of the late nineteenth century. It's told in succinct, almost plain style, using select episodes to illuminate a whole life. It is also a dark and harsh critique of late Victorian morals and propriety as well as an examination of the dark side of familial bonds. Harriet makes several choices according to the repressive and self sacrificing dictates of her parents' Victorian values. However, instead of improving the lives of those affec ...more
Oct 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
What a sad little book. I could relate to Harriett who often sacrificed what she wanted for what she thought others wanted, and it just resulted in no one actually getting what they wanted. Such a sad existence, and even the most simplest choices turned out to be the wrong ones.

The story was written very clearly and simply, with little emotion, yet it was full of feeling and emotion. Definitely a surprising little gem.
T.L. Bodine
Dec 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this novel in one sitting as part of a British literature course I took. I read dozens of books that semester, but this one stuck out and has haunted me ever since. It is, in its own quiet and understated way, one of the most disturbing novels I have ever read.

Essentially, the story revolves around the detached illustration of the way well-meaning social rules can create a monster.
Stephanie "Jedigal"
Enjoyable and quick read. I liked Harriet the child more than Harriet the adult, but I wouldn't if that wouldn't be true for the vast majority of human beings if I could know them all in both states. The author does a nice job of showing a person who doesn't even realize how insular and self-centered her viewpoint is until very late (too late) in her life. Somehow the reading of it is not nearly as depressing as the message of it.
Not many people seem to know about May Sinclair. But she was a genius. This little gem reads like a dream.

"'It's silly,' Lizzie said, 'not to be able to look at a new thing because it's new. That's the way you grow old.'"
Persephone Abbott
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How much information, brain development, are we designed to take in? More than is comfortable? A quick and objective read. Social protection, self interest, and the deep insecurity of the middle class, this novel cuts to the heart of the good life.
Shilpi Mittal
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
A beautiful compilation that portrays life of a woman who is taught to sacrifice since her childhood but still unable to comprehend whether her sacrifices made her life complacent or miserable... Is it good to think just about yourself at times in life...
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
What if you don't get out enough? You will die wondering if it is better not to have lived at all, that's what. Nobody could live a duller life than Harriet Frean of The Life and Death of Harriet Frean by May Sinclair. Sinclair was a suffragist and Harriet Frean is the opposite, a woman who is raised to be "nothing but beautifully behaved." Harriet never tries to be anything but beautifully behaved and chugs along dutifully and self-sacrificingly until, at the end of her life, she's gained an in ...more
I have mixed feelings about this classic from May Sinclair, primarily because it really speaks to a particular person and mentality, which differs diametrically from mine. That said, I have to give it high marks as it is well written and I can understand why it is a true classic.

Harriett, having grown up and conditioned to a particular culture and way of thinking, believes that acting "beautifully" is the right and only way of living. Stuck within the structural confines of this conditioning, sh
Oct 11, 2012 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was intrigued by a novel that covered an entire lifetime in such a slim volume, and this book certainly delivered the impact of a much larger tome with admirable concision. It follows the life of Harriet Frean as she grows up the only child of an upper middle class Victorian couple, through to her spinsterhood - but it is not the events of her life that make this novel powerful. It traces the moral and cultural shifts of the late Victorian period - which I was completely unaware of - and the d ...more
Jun 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: easy-or-quick
3.5 stars really. This is an account of a woman who is taught to 'act beautifully' above all else and prides herself on it from cradle to grave. This book, written in 1922, shows the foolishness of this endeavour and Harriet becomes trapped by her hero worship of her parents, although she prefers to exalt in her martyrdom. The one issue I would have is the fact that the book suggests she ruined other people's lives by her decision, whereas I would say they could've taken different decisions too.
This book was very short and seemed to be written in vignettes but there was a lot of messages under the surface such as; by being so good and self-sacrificing are you giving up promises of a happy and fulfilling life. Harriet put up bars of protection to surround herself but in the end they became bars of imprisonment. It was a quick fast read and I would highly recommend it for the messages conveyed within.
Dec 05, 2014 rated it liked it
This book is an easy read but very rich in lessons which are applicable even today. Hareiett idolizes her parents and sacrifices her love to the ideals they taught her. I hope when I grow up to be an old woman I wont regret that many decisions and I wouldn't look back and see how much I hurt people who are dear to me. I felt that Harriett lived a meaningless life and she ended up destroying important and valuable things.
Amanda Wallace
May 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a story about the pressure to "Behave beautifully" it highlights the restrictions of women and the expectations of them to exist in no other place than the domestic sphere. I felt the end was quiet heart breaking as she does not learn anything of real value, she does not break away from her parents teachings - it reflects how many women probably led their lives. Which shows how far we really have come.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

May Sinclair was the pseudonym of Mary Amelia St. Clair, a popular British writer who wrote about two dozen novels, short stories and poetry. She was an active suffragist, and member of the Woman Writers' Suffrage League. May Sinclair was also a significant critic, in the a
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