Published by British Library as part of their Women Writers series in March 2020.
The British Library Women Writers series is a curated collection of novels by female authors who enjoyed broad, popular appeal in their day. In a century which the role of women in society changed radically, their fictional heroines highlight women’s experience of life inside and outside the home through the decades in these rich, insightful and evocative stories.
About the Author – May Sinclair (1863-1946) was a popular British writer and an active suffragist. Her publication record is prolific, including novels, philosophy, criticism, poetry and biography, as we as her 1912 pro-suffrage pamphlet, Feminism. she has been dubbed the ‘the readable modernist’.
The Blurb – Published in 1917 before women achieved the right to vote and victory in the First World War was far from assured, The Tree of Heaven taels the intertwining stories of Dorothea Harrison and her three brothers as their lives are overtaken by the outbreak of the hostilities. as the old certainties of the previous centuries distintegrate, Dorothea takes up the cause of women’s suffrage and joins the Women’s Service Corps as Nicky, Michael and John go off, one by one, to the trenches.
My Thoughts – I was very kindly asked to take part in the British Library Women Writers series and was instantly drawn to this book due to the author’s links to the suffrage movement. Set between the Boer War and World War One the story centres around the Harrison family of Hampstead, the children are young and innocent but those times will tragically change as the 20th century dawns and society moves in to more uncertain times. As the children grow into young adults it becomes apparent they are going to face some difficult decisions regarding their futures. The boys must decide whether or not to enlist in the army and be sent to the front line and Dorothea must consider her role as an active suffragette and the difficulties that could bring, not just to her but her family as well. As the boys leaves one by one for battle you cannot help but feel drawn into the heartache the family must have suffered as they waved them off, not knowing if they would return.
This is a story that has the ability to draw you into the time it is written, it gives us an eye witness account of life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the every changing political and social dynamics of the time, the Great War affected every man woman and child in this country one way or another, it marked the end of the old life and the beginning of a new way of living. The characters live through these changes, they are part of the fabric of life at that time, they are well written and relatable, they almost have a modern feel to them and as classics go this really should be considered along with some of the greats.
This book is what I would describe as a slow burner, the pace doesn’t really change from the first page t the last, which at times I found frustrating, but for the most part I can appreciate the skill of the author to build a story that can engage its reader for the duration of the story. The story is at time heart wrenching, sad, insightful but on the whole is a very good read.
Many thanks to British Library and Maria Vassilopoulos for my gifted copy on exchange for this honest review.