Poor Papa has lost his faith again." or, later, "Even Mr W.T. Stead said, Let us strengthen our navy, for on its fighting power the peace of Europe depends.
Macaulay follows the fortunes of a family from 1879 until the aftermath of WWI, her central thesis being that stuff just happens to individuals and societies without any generation being markedly different from the previous one. The patriarch of the family is a deeply religious man who embraces one creed after another in an elusive attempt to find a faith in complete consonance with his conscience. By far the most interesting character, in my view, is Rome, a charming cynic who tries to get through life without engaging with it.
However, except for a short, delightful chapter where two children ride the London Underground on a Sunday afternoon, Macaulay doesn't show the interest in London, or in characters' inner lives, that Woolf does in Mrs. Dalloway, which focuses on one day in 1923.
As the novel opens, Mama and Papa Garden live in their comfortable London home with their six children, the eldest Vicky is already twenty-three the youngest Una a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl.
Told by an Idiot is too, though the story if more dispersed, since it concerns a large number of characters in a single family. Worthy in its way, Manns book is essentially a work of pessimism. As Ms Macaualay puts it: The brief pageant, the tiny, squalid story of human life upon this earth, has been lit, among the squalor and the greed, by amazing flashes of intelligence, of valour, of beauty, of sacrifice, of love.
The stories of the six children: Victoria, Stanley (female), Maurice (male), Rome (female), Irving (male), Una (female), are told with enough detail to build real characters, not just placeholders.
As I was reading this book, I started marking pages because of clever sentences I read. The book covers the entire life of Garden family for three generations. There are so many things to consider but in spite of all the life-changing events, there isnt really a plot or storyline to the book. Among six Garden children, Rome and Stanley have the most developed characters. In the final page of Final chapter, the author looks at each of Garden family members, parents and the six siblings, and gives a concise summary of how variously they had all taken life. Is it Maurice who had not plunged into life; he had fought it, opposed it, treated it as an enemy in a battle?
I really liked it - a wry romp, tracing a late Victorian (then Edwardian, then Georgian), somewhat absurd family, mostly in broad brushes, from 1870s to just past WW1. Although it does delve into two or three character's minds deeper, I was surprised how distinctive personalities emerged, and that I cared about them. Macaulay also observes that we like to think, especially when young, that our generation as modern and new - progress; but really we've far more in common with older generations than we care to admit.
She read history at Somerville, and on coming down lived with her family first in Wales, then near Cambridge, where her father had been appointed a lecturer in English.