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Frost In May

(Frost in May #1)

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,627 ratings  ·  162 reviews

The Convent of the Five Wounds, where Nanda Grey is sent when she is nine, is on the edge of London--but in 1908 it is a world unto itself. For the young girls receiving a Catholic education behind its walls, religion is a nationality, conformity an entire way of life. In this intense, troubled atmosphere--caught to perfection by a superb writer--passionate friendships are

Paperback, 208 pages
Published April 30th 2019 by Virago (first published 1933)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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Dec 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: virago
4.5 stars
This is an autobiographical novel about life in a Catholic Girls school, quite closely based on White’s own life. Like the protagonist of the novel, Nanda, White was a Catholic convert at the age of nine and was sent to a school very like the one in the book. Nanda wants to be a good Catholic as is shown in her prayer on her first night at the convent:
“Nanda felt a wave of piety overwhelm her as she knelt very upright in her bench, her lisle-gloved hands clasped on the ledge in front of
Feb 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Get thee to a nunnery.

I had this sentence in my brain bank since I don’t know how long. I finished the book yesterday and was thinking about what I would say in the review and this kept on popping up to my forebrain, so I decided to lead off with it, as it is sort of apropos…. but then wondered where that sentence came from or if I made it up in my head. It is from Hamlet. So there. 😉

The book dragged a bit in the latter third of it, but overall I liked Frost in May a great deal. 🙂

I was born and
Nov 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars

Though this book is set in a pre-WWI convent boarding-school and my Catholic elementary (co-ed) education started shortly after Vatican II, I recognize plenty in these pages. During my read, I told my husband (who was raised Lutheran and later became a Baptist) there was no need for Protestants to create absurdities they supposedly found within the Catholic Church—more than enough existed in reality.*

I was a bit bored at the descriptions of some of the rituals, perhaps because I don’t f
Anna Luce

“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. I don’t think your will has been quite broken, my dear child, do you?”

After converting to Catholicism, nine year old Nanda Gray is sent by her father to the Convent of Five Wounds. Although Nanda is open to the teachings of her new religion, life at the convent is not easy. Alongside the other girls Nanda has to adhere the strict rules and routines imposed by
Roman Clodia
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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. I don't think your will has quite been broken, my dear child, do you?"

At first it seems that this is a book about Catholicism but really I think it's about how religion is used as a cover for the performance of power specifically, here, patriarchal power even when it is wielded by female hands as is the case with the nuns in charge of this school.

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
After a Summer spent pulling off the shelf each and every cheapo Virago I ran across, accumulating a shelf=full (from left to right and vice=versa)--cheapo runs pretty much anything under three bucks or so ; six dollar used pb's is over doing it--I ran out onto the internets and ordered this one special (ninety=five cents, no shipping charge) because my shelf already contained its Trilogy Sequel. That's right folks. This novel's sequel is a trilogy. Which makes it a tetralogy and you know how mu ...more
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first read this book many years ago and it was interesting to re-read it. This is based on Antonia White's own experiences of life in a convent school. When we first meet Nanda (Fernanda)Grey, she is nine years old and on her way to the Convent of the Five Wounds at Lippington. Her beloved father is a convert of only a year and so Nanda is greeted at the school with a kind of amused wariness and acceptance that she isn't quite one of them and excuses must be made for her mistakes. The novel lo ...more
We've all been there, sort of. That is, we've all seen this basic story unfold, the slow dawning of a worldly realization within the walls of a formerly impregnable fortress, the heady push into the free air, when the idols have crumbled and the game is up. We've not all been to a Convent School For Girls, though, exactly, and that's what makes this story instantly mesmerizing. Here, we are between the wars, 1930, and the convent school is place of sheltered neutrality for the female children of ...more
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. ...more
Beth Bonini
In her introduction to this novel, author Elizabeth Bowen claims (asserts?) that this is the only girls' school story which can be thought of as, not only a classic, but also a work of art. It's a book which has been long known to me mostly because of Virago founder Carmen Callil's championship of it; indeed, it was the first Virago Modern Classic to be published. Although Callil had grown up in Australia, and not England, her own childhood spent at a Catholic boarding school meant that she had ...more
It will not be an easy task for me to write a review of this book. I am afraid it will be too personal but I hope a reader forgives me.

I should explain at the beginning that I grew up in a very Catholic country. Some say that is more Catholic than Vatican, at least it was, because nowadays it is changing. It shouldn't be my memoir but I must add also that I went through a religious zeal (Catholic, of course), a kind of conversion from a rather passive belief (in my teenage years) and then, you c
Unforgettable story. I finished this 3 weeks ago and still don’t know quite how to review it. Almost anything I say about it will give the story’s ending away. It was somewhat spoiled for me in reading the blurb on the back cover (which I wish I hadn’t). So I’ll leave it at a story which felt like real life, so much so I wish it didn’t. Read it.

Thanks for the recommendation Jo. Your review is excellent!
Teresa Pitt
Aug 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Josephine (Jo)
This book brought back many memories for me of my education at a Catholic convent school. Nanda's father is a convert to Catholicism. Her father decides to send Nanda to the convent school of The Five Wounds where she can be educated as a Christian and also learn much more about her newly adopted faith. Nanda is extremely intelligent and has studied all the necessary books on the Catholic faith (she can answer any question her new religion with the ease of a girl much older). She is not however ...more
A curious autobiographical novel with some truly unpleasant things to say about Catholicism.

I've always found 20th century Catholics interesting. Some of the great authors of the century struggled, converted, or lived their whole lives under the Catholic banner - Graham Greene, Dorothy Sayers, Evelyn Waugh. I always found the underlying current of resigned faith charming, or intriguing, even as it was as alien to me as trying to understand a foreign language.

I have been thoroughly shaken awake
(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
Jan 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 04, 2020 rated it liked it
This is not at all the amusing story about convent life, nor about adolescence and friendship as I had expected. It is, however, about Catholicism at its best with its numerous rituals, masses and prayers, all wrapped up in a doctrine of guilt and remorse. The personal musings are few and lacking in passion and it is only towards the end of the novel that Nanda's voice begins to be heard. ...more
Charles Edwards-Freshwater
A little masterpiece that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.

I think what I appreciated most about White's work is the way it dives so unrelentingly into the ins and outs of catholicism within convent schools and the strange rituals and severe measures that this way of life entails. It explores the whole concept in a way that is both seductive and off-putting in equal measure, perfectly captured by Nanda's wavering feelings between the two extremes and her struggles and adorations about t
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.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: realism
Frost in May is about a centimeter away from being pure memoir, and it has the cool, unaffected distance of one, which is what you need when talking about something as overheated and emotional as a group of young girls in a convent school, hiding copies of Candide and pretending not to have friends. White clearly conveys Nanda's experience of her youth, but it's tempered with an adult understanding, and an unconventional one, not "but it all worked out fine in the end" but "this was only for a s ...more
Nov 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 24, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars. It is difficult to talk about this novel because anything one needs to say will invariably give away the ending. The ending is the whole story: Frost in May (the innocent bud of youth frozen and killed before it has a chance to bloom). Even that is saying too much.

One thing I can talk about is the style of the novel. As pointed out by Elizabeth Bowen in the introduction, it is a school-days novel for adults but written in a child's language, which is appropriate since we are seeing ev
I didn't expect to like this as much as I did but it was riveting and once I got into it, I didn't want to stop reading it. I guess it helps that I am Catholic, raised and grew up with it, with contradictory views on the religion. Because much like my own take on it, the book and the protagonist (so by extension, the author), have complicated feelings on Catholicism. The book shows the rigid rules in a Catholic school and convent, the ridiculous beliefs that permeates the dogma, etc etc. But it ...more
These days we have come to expect any book set in a Catholic girls' school to be full of stories of evil nuns and ritualistic abuse. Frost In May, written in 1933, might appear a bit of a let-down at first - the nuns don't seem that bad, everyone is pretty well behaved -yes there are tears, but mostly the girls just get on with their lives.

The central character, Nanda Gray, is the nine year old daughter of a Catholic convert, and as such has to fit in with the born and bred Catholics who mostly
Nov 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nanda Grey is a 9 year old girl who at the age of 9 is taken by her parents to a convent school outside London. The year is 1908 and Nanda's father has only just converted to Catholicism so the very religiously strict nuns already have a jaundiced view on Nanda. What follows is a story of Nanda's five years in an institution that's primary purpose seems to crush individuality for the sake of faith so whilst not physically abusive the various nuns use words to break the spirit of their pupils. Th ...more
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
This one honestly read a little like a horror novel.
To a modern reader, the incomprehensible and often contradictory rules at the Catholic boarding school must seem inhuman and horrifying. The way these little girls are actively discouraged from pursuing their interests and developing friendships is utterly devastating.
Still, White absolutely understands how the nun's system of withholding praise and the elaborate rituals must appear quite seductive to a little girl. The nuns appear as Old-Tes
Oct 18, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Reading the 20th ...: Frost in May by Antonia White (Feb/March 2019) 28 18 Feb 19, 2019 11:39AM  

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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,

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