Frost in May
First sentence: Nanda was on her way to the Convent of the Five Wounds.
Reflections: As noted in the introduction, Frost in May is of the genre known as "school stories": books about the horrors of boarding school. These stories usually concern boys' schools, and those written about girls were insulting and unrealistic. Antonia White attempted to change that with this, her first novel, published in 1933. Nanda is a quite normal and ordinary 9-year-old heroine, sent to a convent school following her parents' conversion to Catholicism. She is devout and excited about her new faith. Bit by bit, she is broken down by the nuns who stifle creativity, independent thought, and freedom of expression. Nanda struggles to reconcile her early enthusiasm with reality: How could an institution be wrong that was evidently so divinely inspired, that had survived for nearly two thousand years in spite of persecution and slander, that stood firm through scandals, heresies and schisms?
My main reason for reading this book is that it it was the first Virago Modern Classic to be published. Virago Modern Classics celebrate women writers, often resurrecting and reprinting older works which may have gone unrecognized. Antonia White writes in a style not unlike Jane Austen, often poking fun at Nanda's world. Convent-educated herself, she no doubt spoke from direct experience. I've recently acquired about 10 Viragos by hunting through various used bookshops, including some other works by White. I'm looking forward to becoming better acquainted with our "literary foremothers," by reading more Virago Modern Classics. ( )