Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 20, 2018

The Georges’ Wife, by Elizabeth Jolley, guest review by Margaret (Meg) Broughton

Viking 1993

Elizabeth Jolley Week might be officially at an end, but the reviews keep coming!

Guest reviewer Meg Broughton has rounded off her reading of the Vera Wright trilogy with a review of the last book, The Georges’ Wife, published in 1993 and awarded The Age Book of the Year (1993 and the National Book Council Banjo Award for Fiction (1994).

The novel opens with Vera and George going to Australia, but not as a couple. He is in a cabin by himself, she is in a cabin sharing with three other women. On the ship Vera meets a widow and refers to her throughout the novel as the ‘Widow’. Vera is called ‘Migrant’ by the ‘Widow’ and is taken under her wing.

‘It isn’t a repetition,’ Mr George says when I meet him at the station, ‘It isn’t a repetition, is it, of that fellow Metcalf? This isn’t the same sort of thing is it?’ …’I tell him of course it is different. I am older now…I am a doctor now and in my first resident appointment. I remind him that I am the mother of two daughters and that, above all, I belong to him, Mr George.’

Like the other two novels in the trilogy the story weaves from the past, to the present and to the future.  Metcalf, Magda, Gertrude and Ramsden are revisited, and new characters are introduced. Felicity and Noel are bohemians and a strange couple. They tell her:

‘We are seriously trying to live among real people.’….’You can’t leave us now. We need your ordinariness.’

She again becomes part of a triangle! Noel has TB and Vera also suffers from the disease.

Like Mr George, I wonder…

‘How can you, Vera, ….How can you be manipulated, Vera, by someone whose interests are purely superficial and acquisitive?’

He asks this question with regard to the ‘Widow’ – I asked it a few times myself during the reading of the three novels.  Vera is obviously intelligent and very sexual. She craves love and acceptance… 

At the end of the novel we know that Mr George is suffering from Alzheimer’s’, her parents and Eleanor have died; and her daughters Helena and Rachel are successful in their medical fields. She also marries Mr George in Australia.

The Georges’ Wife is a very satisfying end to the trilogy.

Further reading can be found at ‘Elizabeth Jolley, Mr Berrington and the Resistance to Monogamy’ at
https://openjournals.library.sydney.edu.au/index.php/JASAL/article/viewFile/9676/9564.

You can see Meg’s reviews of the first two in the trilogy by clicking these links: My Father’s Moon and Cabin Fever. These reviews of Jolley’s semi-autobiographical novels prompt me to make time to read/re-read them in the light of Brian Dibble’s biography Doing Life which I read in 2016.  If you check out my review of the bio you can see that I noted Dibble’s analysis of Jolley’s relationship with the older Leonard Jolley, and the reference to how she cared for him in his declining years in aged care is linked to The Georges’ Wife.  Here it is this tender passage again:

They both came to regard the Alfred Carson arrangement as one where they could enjoy being together.  Since the mid-eighties Elizabeth had come to feel there was more tolerance in their marriage, and she did not get so angry with him; age, she realised, distanced her from passions, negative ones included, and besides , she was learning to conserve her energy.  Although she had felt it all along, she could more readily see and say each was to the other someone completely trusted and sustaining. She enjoyed her daily or twice-daily visits, when she would tell him her news and push his chair through their quiet neighbourhood as he rehearsed for her the names of plants and trees.  Fond memories of those walks, and the last stage of their lifelong companionship, are invoked in the opening and closing passages of The Georges’ Wife where Vera pushes Mr George’s chair along green leafy streets.  (Doing Life by Brian Dibble, UWAP, ISBN 9781921401060 p. 224)

That’s such a beautiful image, I think.  So many people focus on Jolley’s unusual domestic arrangements, but at the end of the day she was not just one of Australia’s finest writers, she was a devoted wife who genuinely loved her elderly husband and took care of him in his last years.

Thanks again, Meg, your contributions have been most welcome!

Author: Elizabeth Jolley
Title: The Georges’ Wife
Publisher: Viking 1993
ISBN 0 670 85265 1


Responses

  1. […] See Meg’s guest review at ANZ LitLovers […]

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  2. Thanks Meg, your accounts of the trilogy and its relation to Jolley’s life have been fascinating. Lisa, I’m trying to keep up! I can see both Doing Life and The George’s Wife on the TBR shelf behind me. Please don’t start on Thea Astley any time soon (though I see I do have Collected Stories) I still have Christina Steads to read.

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    • Don’t worry about Thea, Bill – it’s Indigenous Lit Week next, starting July 8th!

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      • You’re right, I’d forgotten! I’ll write up All That Swagger tonight/tomorrow and get started on Don’t Take Your Love to Town.

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