Book Review: The Woman Thou Gavest Me

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, December 30, 1913:  There’s nothing much to write about for today. Am interested in reading a book that I once tried several years ago and though it too dry.

The.Woman.Thou.Gavest.Me

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Curling up with a good book is the perfect way to spend a cold winter day.

It’s obviously not what Grandma was considering reading because it was published in 1913, but I just finished reading The Woman Thou Gavest Me by Hall Caine. It was #7 on the Publisher’s Weekly bestseller list for 1913.

This book tells the story of a young woman, Mary O’Neill, who loved an Antarctica explorer, but was forced by her father to marry another man. Her wealthy father wanted to get control of some land, so he insisted that she marry a financially-struggling nobleman who owned an estate.

(Tip to the wise:  If you’ve never consummated your marriage, but instead decide to have an affair with an Antarctica explorer, be sure to use birth control if you sleep with him the night before he leaves for Antarctica.)

The Woman Thou Gavest Me touched on a lot of complex social and moral issues that people were grappling with in 1913—

  • Should marriages be based upon family and business relationships, or should they be based on love?
  • Should women be allowed to divorce? . . . and if they are allowed to divorce should they be allowed to remarry?
  • What role should the Catholic church have in determining what is acceptable in regards to marriage and divorce?
  • Is it sometimes acceptable to have an affair?
  • How should illegitimate children (and their mothers) be treated by society?

This book is worthwhile reading from a historical perspective. The themes addressed by this book reminded me of the themes that Edith Wharton, another author from this era, often explored.  The Woman Thou Gavest Me was a slow read—and felt very dated; but there was something about it that kept pulling me back to it over the course of several months.

15 Responses

  1. Sounds like an interesting book. I may have to add it to my reading list. BTW, my icon is a picture of me in Antarctica :-)

    • It’s awesome that you had the opportunity to visit Antarctica. It must have been an incredible experience. I think that you’d like this book. Most of the book is written from the woman’s point of view–but there are occasional chapters interspersed throughout the book that are written from the explorer’s perspective, including several when he was in Antarctica.

      And, I even learned some geography from the book. For example, when I read it, I was amazed to learn that people must traverse extremely high elevations to reach the south pole.

  2. Ooh….quite a tease there, Sheryl!!
    I don’t often get the chance to read, but yesterday was windy and rainy, so I spent part of the day reading!

  3. I looked up the author and he was quite a character. This book stirred up a real storm and was banned by many libraries because of loose morals! So even if it was around your grandmother may not have read it. My don’t times change. Thanks for another interesting glimpse into the past.

  4. A rather weighty list of issues in 1913. Things don’t change much in some aspects of life.

  5. Hi. I like your ‘tip to the wise’ – my Mom liked this book. Jane

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the “tip”.

      You might also enjoy knowing that I decided to read this book as a result of one of your previous comments. You mentioned that your mother liked this book when I did the post on 1913 bestsellers last fall, and I decided to read it because I thought that I might also like it. I can see why she enjoyed this book. There’s a strong story line as well as lots of “food for thought.”

      • Hi. I am cleaning my bookshelves today and I found my copy of ‘The Woman Thou Gavest Me’. My copy has a cloth cover and is pretty rough and has no date. I knew I had it…. Jane

  6. Hahaha. I guess she should have consummated her marriage first ;).

  7. That’s a pretty racy book for that era, right? I’ve never read anything from this period, I don’t think–sounds pretty interesting.

    • I was surprised how “racy” this book was. When I was reading the early chapters of this book, I kept saying to my husband–“I can’t believe it, but I think this woman is going to have an affair.” It’s not nearly as graphic as modern books, but there’s definitely enough so that the reader gets a very clear sense of what was happening.

  8. How can one resist a book with a title like that?! I am always (pleasantly) surprised by subject women writers in the past dared to handle. There was a reason they often wrote under male pseudonyms!When Jane Eyre stated “I would always rather be happy than dignified.” all of England cried shame! All of the Bronte sisters were considered ‘racy’ and unsuitable for young ladies.Even Jane Austen was suspicious literature. And still there are women in the world who must fight for their rights! Good post, Sheryl!

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