Friday, February 5, 2016

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1945)

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a lovely little story about a young widow who leaves the home of her in-laws and moves with her two children to an isolated cottage by the sea. It is here, in the British coastal town called Whitecliff, that Irish author Josephine Leslie (writing under the pseudonym R.A. Dick) introduces her lead character Lucy Muir to Daniel Gregg, a sea captain who has passed on to a dimension too big for him to describe in earthly words. The two begin a romance of sorts and the story takes the couple through to their long-awaited reunion at the end of Lucy's life.

"Little Mrs. Muir," as she is so often described by those around her, realizes upon the death of her "adequate" husband that she has been left an "inadequate" income and rather than remain under the obligation of in-laws, she discovers there are "other ways to live." So with that, little Lucy asserts her independence by walking out the door and finding a place she can call her own. This sudden strength of character also gives Lucy the courage to stand up to the ghost that haunts Gull Cottage: her future partner, Captain Gregg.

I loved this story first as a television series and then as an old black and white film but now that I have read The Ghost and Mrs. Muir in its original form, I think the book tells the story best. The author writes with ease and her descriptions - of a breezy March day or the end of one's life - are perfection.

And now, since my "reviews" tend to focus on the position of women in the environment they occupy during their time in history, here goes: 

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir can be seen as a transitional novel, following in a lesser (literary) degree stories like The Awakening (1899). Lucy doesn't want "more" out of life, however. She wants less. No clubs. No societies. No golf. No bridge. She wants to be left alone, to live alone, and as the house agent states with great concern, "without a man's protection." 

It must be acknowledged, however, that Lucy does live with a man, an invisible ghost man, but a man nevertheless and she depends upon him a great deal for advice and protection. Lucy buys Gull Cottage with Gregg's money and, most notably, obtains financial security when she anonymously publishes a book he has written. To the outside world, Mrs. Muir is self sufficient and Leslie's novel introduces the concept that a woman can desire autonomy even if she can't achieve it on her own. And in the same way that later authors will deal more specifically with female independence, and future decades of readers will accept it, Lucy passes the torch and financial security on to the next generation. She says to her daughter:

“Oh, yes, I will [continue to give you an allowance after you are married],” said Lucy, “you don’t know how humiliating it is to have to ask even for a penny to buy a stamp.”

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a classic in American culture, a story loved by many. Five stars for the memories and an enjoyable read. 

An in-depth and well-considered analysis of the book can be found here.


Hariklia said...

Very interesting. I remember the film and vaguely remember the TV series, but had no idea about the book.

Jimmy Olsen said...

Thanks for listing The Ghost and Mrs. Muir Leslie. The movie is a favorite of my grand daughters, who watch it again and again in b&w, and that's something for a nine and eleven year old. So thanks. Now I will buy them the book. - Jim