the education of harriet hatfield

I bought May Sarton’s THE EDUCATION OF HARRIET HATFIELD at Black Sheep Books in Montpelier, VT. I chose this book because I love May Sarton’s writing but had never read any of her fiction. Writing this post, I discovered that this volunteer-run community space closed its doors in June of 2011.

What struck me most about this book as I was reading was how it felt as if it belonged in a different time–not the subject matter–but the tone, which is slow, almost plodding, but maybe that’s not the right word because it’s a pleasurable tone, a calming one, one that allows for deep breaths and contemplation. Early on, I turned to the front of the book, expecting it to have been published in the fifties. But no, 1989. And when I came to page 276 (out of 320), even knowing when it was written, I was surprised again, because of how the line attaches the book to the present, to read:

I am proud to be who I am, ‘still crazy after all these years,’ as Simon sings it.

It’s not that things don’t happen in the book, because things do. From the first page, the reader knows that Harriet is sixty and that her life partner has just died:

I have been living since her death in a strange empty silence, wondering who I am now, and perhaps also who I was while she lived.

We also know right at the beginning that her partner left her some money, and because of that, Harriet feels as if she has “real power” to do what she wants.

Most of Sarton’s sentences carry the reader along at the same pace, but a few caused me to pause and reread them for their lyric quality:

And here we are across the blue linen, the light shining on our glasses, but despair has joined us in the last few seconds….

I am amazed that her voice is the same as ever, as though a voice could be like a heartbeat, what remains when the body itself is diminished, is fading away.

Life is proceeding as it does in small rushes, eddies, and a slow inexorable coursing onward through the human landscape.

Sarton writes, “This is the way my life is these days.” And the writing echoes that matter-of-fact sentiment–no bells and whistles, no changes in point of view, no playing with time. Just a story–from the beginning to the end.

7 thoughts on “the education of harriet hatfield

  1. Hello, Cynthia!

    While I did know of some of Sarton’s fiction, I did not know of The Education of Harriet Hatfield. I have put in a request for it with my local library. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    One of my all-time favorite novels is her Kinds of Love (1970), a story of the community of Willard and what it means to live there. it is written in Sarton’s rich but lyrical style. She’s a favorite author, although I have not read her in some time. Again, I appreciate the reminder.

    Karen

  2. Hi Cynthia,
    If I am recalling correctly, I was with you when you bought this book. You recommended that I get her book Journal of Solitude which I did. Those were delightful times in Montpelier. I’m heading back there next week. Sad about the bookstore that closed.

  3. I love sentences that make me pause, reread, and then underline. And a slower pace sounds wonderful to me right now, especially after finishing work on a boxing memoir. This one is definitely going on my TBR list.

  4. Pingback: Life at Sixty | KM Huber's Blog

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