Consequences is the story of Alex Clare who we meet as a young girl learning to play a game of the same name. Alex learns to play the game quickly and wants to show her siblings her way of playing. While we see that she quickly gets the childhood game, she remains perplexed about the life of grown-ups and what she later sees as a mockery of personal closeness for which she desires. The inability or refusal to play this game of navigating through society is of course inexcusable (particularly for women) during this time and since there are limited options for women, leads her to her ultimate consequence. Alex watches while all around her people win at society’s game, even people who may be undeserving. As a child she marvels at the follies of her school friend and younger sister. I began to see as Alex aged that she became more thoughtful and perceptive of her situation and the reasons for her struggles. My attitude toward Alex changed dramatically as she began to open to further thought and analysis of her position. By the warmth of a fire she reflects on forgiveness, about what it means to her and why her family was not able to bestow forgiveness upon her. The few reviews that I have read about reactions to Alex’s character include frustration with her behavior and her naivety, but really she could have acted in no other way. After all, it is the way she was raised.
I am not yet ready to say that Alex is a (true) failure. Throughout the novel she repeatedly pronounces that she is and feels surely that everyone around her knows that she has failed: “Only 10 years, and the bitterness of a lifetime’s failure encompassed her spirit”. For a woman living in her time period she is a failure simply for not marrying, she is a failure for leaving her religious Order, she is a failure for many many things. Alex is not a failure though because she has the courage to defy society even when she knows it will mean disgrace. The consequences for such defiance during this time were very real yet she always selected her path. She is a hero, possibly in the same manner that we now view Edna of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Anna Karenina.
Maybe she fails because she is Alex, a mixed up, confused, and ungrateful person. Maybe if the convent, in which she sought the ultimate love, had been more open to personal relations, maybe if Alex’s family had been able to be closer to her instead of “hard and self-contained” they may have been able to redirect her. Maybe it is because of their failure to attempt to understand her distress that she fails. This we see clearly in the epitaph where her family sits puzzled. This of course is another artifact of the time.
EM Delafield is best known for her novel The Diary of a Provincial Lady and appears from my reading of the preface to have had a similar life. I loved this story and intend to seek out more of Delafield’s work.