Originally published alongside Ulysses in the pages of the legendary Little Review, Mary Olivier: A Life is an intimate, lacerating account of the ties between daughter and mother, a book of transfixing images and troubling moral intelligence that confronts the exigencies and ambiguities of freedom and responsibility with empathy and power. May Sinclair’s finest novel stands comparison with the work of Willa Cather, Katherine Mansfield, and the young Virginia Woolf.
As a child, Mary Olivier’s dreamy disposition and fierce intelligence set her apart from her Victorian family, especially her mother, “Little Mamma,” whose dazzling looks cannot hide her meager love for her only daughter. Mary grows up in a world of her own, a solitude that leaves her free to explore her deepest passions, for literature and philosophy, for the austere beauties of England’s north country, even as she continues to attend to her family. But in time the independence Mary values—at almost any cost—threatens to become a form of captivity itself.
This extraordinary novel translates traditional novelistic materials into an interiorized modernist narrative with utmost inclusiveness. It makes a savage, ironical analysis of Victorian family life that can be set alongside The Way of All Flesh, Father and Son, To the Lighthouse, or The Fountain Overflows No one will be able to ignore May Sinclair again.
— Hermione Lee, The Times Literary Supplement
May Sinclair’s great literary works tell of the inner lives of quiet women.
— Joanna Griffiths, London Review of Books