Inspired by the yahoo Susan Howatch group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/howatch/), here’s a quick look at some of Starbridge’s mothers.
Two of the most significant are Lyle Ashworth and Dido Aysgarth. Lyle’s motherhood is not as vivid as Charles’s fatherhood, but it is far more realistic. There is no doubt that she sees Charley with ambivalence. He reminds her of the wild passion of the late Bishop of Starbridge; how Charles took her away from it; how long it took her to love Charles and how her two sons are reminders of different lives.She ruthlessly gets rid of Dinkie Kaufmann from Michael’s life, but doesn’t have the same connection with Charley – she can see, just by looking at Michael, what he needs her to do, whereas sorting Charley out is far more difficult.
That’s a reflection of how much she controls Charles and how much Charley, despite or rather because of his exaggerated priggishness, is more like his real father.
Dido’s motherhood falls into two categories: step-motherhood and motherhood. Her own children turn out reasonably well – it is Christian and Norman, the eldest two, who suffer most, but it is not clear that this is because Dido is awful. Rather, it is because of their father’s decisions and the influence he has had on them. Dido doesn’t like Christian at any point in the story, it is true, and it is also true that Aysgarth meets her when Christian is at a vulnerable stage in his own life – he is about 15, I think.
Given that, you could argue that she has stepmothered poorly. But look at James – not brilliant, but in his own life he suffers and works hard and comes through. He has a sort of “old fogey” defence mechanism that shields him from serious harm. The same could be said of Primrose, and she probably dislikes Dido for other reasons – she thinks she is some kind of floozy.
It’s the Aysgarths’ less than perfect first marriage, the death of their mother and the eccentricities of their father that are more to blame in destroying Christian and Norman – at least more so than Dido. A case could easily be made for Christian simply wanting to destroy himself out of boredom – or out of a sense of emptiness.
As an aside, Lyle’s instruction to Venetia to marry Eddie is a total disaster and ruins Venetia as surely as her relationship with Aysgarth, if not more so. Lyle thinks she is being motherly, caring – but really she is trying to relive what happened to her. In doing so, she condemns Venetia to nearly forty years of pain (before Lewis and Nick come along).
Anne doesn’t get to mother Nick nearly enough, because Jon is already convinced that Nick is given to him as a kind of clone. Jon’s first wife Betty did a lot of the mothering in Martin and Ruth’s lives, because Jon chose to be absent at sea for quite a lot of it. Jon has a serious issue with fatherhood and as a consequence he destabilises the mothers in his life.
What of Rosalind, the bear? We never meet Nick’s children and we hear of Rosalind’s fears about them. We never see any parenting at all in this relationship – what is that trying to say about building a family with someone you simply want to hold on to?