Frost In May
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...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
“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 ...more
"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.
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 ...more
Thanks for the recommendation Jo. Your review is excellent! ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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. ...more
The descriptions of Nanda's religious struggles are also rea ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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