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Frost in May

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The Convent of the Five Wounds, where Nanda Grey is sent when she is nine, is on the edge of London--but in 1908 it is a world unto itself. For the young girls receiving a Catholic education behind its walls, religion is a nationality, conformity an entire way of life. In this intense, troubled atmosphere--caught to perfection by a superb writer--passionate friendships are The Convent of the Five Wounds, where Nanda Grey is sent when she is nine, is on the edge of London--but in 1908 it is a world unto itself. For the young girls receiving a Catholic education behind its walls, religion is a nationality, conformity an entire way of life. In this intense, troubled atmosphere--caught to perfection by a superb writer--passionate friendships are the only deviation. Nanda is thirteen, a normal, quick-witted, spirited girl, when, catastrophically, she breaks the rules and pays too large a price for her transgression. First published in 1933, Frost in May has been compared by critics to Colette's Claudine a l'Ecole and to Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man..


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The Convent of the Five Wounds, where Nanda Grey is sent when she is nine, is on the edge of London--but in 1908 it is a world unto itself. For the young girls receiving a Catholic education behind its walls, religion is a nationality, conformity an entire way of life. In this intense, troubled atmosphere--caught to perfection by a superb writer--passionate friendships are The Convent of the Five Wounds, where Nanda Grey is sent when she is nine, is on the edge of London--but in 1908 it is a world unto itself. For the young girls receiving a Catholic education behind its walls, religion is a nationality, conformity an entire way of life. In this intense, troubled atmosphere--caught to perfection by a superb writer--passionate friendships are the only deviation. Nanda is thirteen, a normal, quick-witted, spirited girl, when, catastrophically, she breaks the rules and pays too large a price for her transgression. First published in 1933, Frost in May has been compared by critics to Colette's Claudine a l'Ecole and to Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man..

30 review for Frost in May

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    4.5 stars This is an autobiographical novel about life in a Catholic Girls school, quite closely based on White’s own life. Like the protagonist of the novel, Nanda, White was a Catholic convert at the age of nine and was sent to a school very like the one in the book. Nanda wants to be a good Catholic as is shown in her prayer on her first night at the convent: “Nanda felt a wave of piety overwhelm her as she knelt very upright in her bench, her lisle-gloved hands clasped on the ledge in front of 4.5 stars This is an autobiographical novel about life in a Catholic Girls school, quite closely based on White’s own life. Like the protagonist of the novel, Nanda, White was a Catholic convert at the age of nine and was sent to a school very like the one in the book. Nanda wants to be a good Catholic as is shown in her prayer on her first night at the convent: “Nanda felt a wave of piety overwhelm her as she knelt very upright in her bench, her lisle-gloved hands clasped on the ledge in front of her. "Oh dear Lord," she said fervently in her mind, "thank you for letting me come here. I will try to like it if You will help me. Help me to be good and make me a proper Catholic like the others."” The novel covers Nanda’s life from the age of nine to fourteen. It is the first of four autobiographical novels. White had mental health problems throughout her life and she referred to them as “The Beast”. When she was twenty-two her mental health was so bad that she was admitted to a public asylum, Bethlem (whose nickname was bedlam). She didn’t really begin to write until her mid 30s. The novel vividly describes daily life in a convent school. There are no beatings and direct physical abuse, the cruelties are psychological. It is about expectation and not disappointing The Lord (or Our Lady). The little things are cumulative, like putting salt on the stewed fruit as a form of mortification. The girls were expected to sleep on their backs with their arms folded across their chests: “That way ... if the dear Lord were to call you to Himself during the night, you would be ready to meet Him as a Catholic should.” The whole is about the crushing of innocence and the smothering of the natural instincts of children. Nanda is a convert to Catholicism and so is automatically viewed with some suspicion. The goal of the nuns is generally to break the will of the child to ensure they become the right sort of Catholic. Mother Radcliffe, the Mistress of Discipline is a particularly unpleasant character, the more so as she appears kind and pleasant: “'You are very fond of your own way, aren't you, Nanda?' 'Yes, I suppose so, Mother.' 'And do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely? Broken and re-set in God's own way. I don't think your will has been quite broken, my dear child, do you?' “ The ending is very powerful and shocking, describing Nanda’s expulsion from the school. Her distress and her father’s coldness are very well written and it is clear that White is writing form her personal experience. This is a well written and competent description of life in a Catholic Convent school in the early twentieth century and a great advert for atheism!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    Though this book is set in a pre-WWI convent boarding-school and my Catholic elementary (co-ed) education started shortly after Vatican II, I recognize plenty in these pages. During my read, I told my husband (who was raised Lutheran and later became a Baptist) there was no need for Protestants to create absurdities they supposedly found within the Catholic Church—more than enough existed in reality.* I was a bit bored at the descriptions of some of the rituals, perhaps because I don’t find them Though this book is set in a pre-WWI convent boarding-school and my Catholic elementary (co-ed) education started shortly after Vatican II, I recognize plenty in these pages. During my read, I told my husband (who was raised Lutheran and later became a Baptist) there was no need for Protestants to create absurdities they supposedly found within the Catholic Church—more than enough existed in reality.* I was a bit bored at the descriptions of some of the rituals, perhaps because I don’t find them as exotic as they might seem to someone not born and raised Catholic. I nostalgically enjoyed reading about others. The “old girls” of the school would understand the latter feeling. And the former criticism is a quibble; everything is seen, and understood, from the mind of the young, devout convert Nanda and it’s all necessary. When I read The Abbess of Crewe in (all-girls, Catholic) high school, our teacher said it was an allegory for Watergate. Since this work was published pre-WWII, I can’t say it’s an allegory for what came to my mind.** Regardless, it’s a chilling account of what can be done to young, spirited minds, girls who feel a sometimes-surprising (to themselves) affinity for the enclosed world they live in. The nun in charge of the school is methodical and certain of her methods, but ultimately the attitude of the parent at the core of Nanda’s life (and conversion) is more heartbreaking. The structure of this work is astounding. Halfway through, I couldn’t have said that, because it’s all about the ending (as is the unwritten portion of Nanda’s own novel). Halfway through, I didn’t think I’d care about reading the sequel; now, I feel compelled to follow Nanda, to see what becomes of her complex soul. ______________________________ *Elizabeth Bowen in the 1948 introduction, which I read after reading the novel, writes: “There exists in the mind of a number of English readers an inherited dormant violence of anti-Popery…Some passages [in Frost in May] are written with an effrontery that will make the Protestant blink—we are very naïve.” **Also from Bowen's introduction: “This book is intimidating. Like all classics, it acquires further meaning with the passage of time. It was first published in 1933: between then and now our values… have been profoundly changed. I think it not unlikely that Frost in May may be more comprehensible now than it was at first.”

  3. 4 out of 5

    JimZ

    Get thee to a nunnery. I had this sentence in my brain bank since I don’t know how long. I finished the book yesterday and was thinking about what I would say in the review and this kept on popping up to my forebrain, so I decided to lead off with it, as it is sort of apropos…. but then wondered where that sentence came from or if I made it up in my head. It is from Hamlet. So there. 😉 The book dragged a bit in the latter third of it, but overall I liked Frost in May a great deal. 🙂 I was born and Get thee to a nunnery. I had this sentence in my brain bank since I don’t know how long. I finished the book yesterday and was thinking about what I would say in the review and this kept on popping up to my forebrain, so I decided to lead off with it, as it is sort of apropos…. but then wondered where that sentence came from or if I made it up in my head. It is from Hamlet. So there. 😉 The book dragged a bit in the latter third of it, but overall I liked Frost in May a great deal. 🙂 I was born and raised a Catholic, and went to Catholic grade school and so reading this book was like strolling down memory lane … of encountering some of the things that the main protagonist in this novel, Nanda, encountered. She went to a convent school starting at age 9 and her last day there was on her 14th birthday. So I guess that was roughly from 4th to 8th grade. She lived on the convent grounds with the rest of the ~100 girls who went to the school. She went to the school because her father had recently converted to Catholicism and although not rich, wanted to send his only child to the school so she could get a Catholic education. The novel is about the nuns in the convent, some of Nanda’s schoolmates, about everyday life in a convent, and some of the stuff she (and I) were taught in a Catholic school. Time period is early 1900s and location is England. There was one very funny part of the book that was completely unexpected, and I laughed out loud. It was when Nanda went to confession. When you go to confession you are supposed to enumerate each and every bad thing you did since your last confession to a priest. And he would absolve you of your sins but ask/command you to do penance for your sins. Such as “say 10 Hail Marys and 3 Our Fathers”. You wouldn’t be talking to the priest face-to-face…you said your confession in a booth in which he was in one small cubicle and were in in an attached cubicle with a screen in-between. For all I know when I was saying my confession he was reading the latest issue of Newsweek while I blathered on about having bad thoughts or wishing I had a friend’s toy (that’s a sin because you should not covet your neighbor’s goods). Anyway, a priest would hear hundreds of confessions a week, and multiple that by how many years he was a priest, and you can imagine that pretty much whatever he said was by rote. With that introduction then, I came upon this: • “…It is a week since my last confession, Father, and since then I have been guilty of distraction at prayers and being uncharitable to my neighbour, and I’ve told a lie twice and I’ve been idle and jealous and disobedient and angry and conceited, Father.” • “Very good, my child, very good,” murmured Father Robertson. Whatever one’s sins were, Father Robertson always murmured., “Very good,” in the same gentle, sleepy voice. There was a legend that once someone had confessed: “Father, I have committed murder,” and Father Robertson had answered: “Very good, my child. And how many times?” 😂 In my book there was a review of the book probably from 1934, written by a David Tilden, when the book was first published in the US. So I thought I would use the first sentence from each paragraph of the review to sum up what this novel was about without giving away spoilers. • Nanda was 10 when the door of the convent of the Five Wounds closed between her father and herself, breaking off the life of home with its shabby rooms and comforting smells of tobacco and buttered toast. • “Frost in May” is the story of Nanda’s next four years at school in the convent, and frost itself is hardly more luminous and delicate than Antonia White’s telling, • Cruelty was implicitly in the doctrine that Mother Radcliffe explained to the child in whole-hearted and well-meaning faith: “Every will must be broken completely and re-set before it can be with God’s will. And there is no other way.” • Sometimes to the cruelty of greed, there was added an edge of resentment that still lurked unsuspected beneath the coifs of the nuns, as in the mocking smile of Mother Frances, who once had made a sensation because of her beauty when she was presented at court and had been famed for her fearlessness in riding the hounds. • Yet when Nanda’s father gave her a chance to leave the convent to enter a high school, the child astonished herself by bursting into tears. • “Frost in May” cannot help but be startling, even shocking, to many readers who do not share the views of Nanda’s father. So that is about all I have to say except for three more things. • At my grade school and church there was a convent where the nuns resided. One Saturday I got to go in the convent…I and some other boys as I recall had to do some cleaning. I remember they fed us hot dogs for lunch. That’s all I can remember…sorry. The hot dogs tasted good. • In the book Antonia White describes the death of some martyrs. Wow, the way Church authorities put people to death were pretty gruesome. Having the person sentenced to die to lie on their back and then putting a heavy wooden door on them and then weighting the door with heavy rocks crushing the person to death. 😲 • The girls get a sermon by a priest about hell which was enough to make me vow to be a good man for the rest of my days. It included mention of worms crawling out of your dead body…and your soul roasting in the flames of Hell, and then at the end of the world your body would join your soul in Hell and therefore you would now experience the excruciating pain of your body being burnt alive…. for frigging ETERNITY. (The priest did not say ‘frigging”.) Notes: • This novel is semi-autobiographical in nature…the first in an eventual series of four books following the same character from her ninth through twenty-third year. Following Frost in May are The Lost Traveller, The Sugar House, and Beyond the Glass, and together they give an account of Antonia White’s formative years, and the emotional turmoil which shaped her adult life. • If you get the Virago edition on this book, you will get an Introduction by Elizabeth Bowen as an added bonus. Reviews (sorry…there were a lot of interesting reviews!): • https://www.theguardian.com/books/201... • https://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com/20... • https://leavesandpages.com/tag/frost-... • she tends to be much more positive than the above reviewers: https://bookssnob.wordpress.com/2009/... • https://monicasbookishlife.blogspot.c... • https://amywelborn.wordpress.com/2017...

  4. 4 out of 5

    luce

    | | blog | tumblr | ko-fi | | “Do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely? Broken and re-set in God’s own way. I don’t think your will has been quite broken, my dear child, do you?” After converting to Catholicism, nine year old Nanda Gray is sent by her father to the Convent of Five Wounds. Although Nanda is open to the teachings of her new religion, life at the convent is not easy. Alongside the other girls Nanda has to adhere the stric | | blog | tumblr | ko-fi | | “Do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely? Broken and re-set in God’s own way. I don’t think your will has been quite broken, my dear child, do you?” After converting to Catholicism, nine year old Nanda Gray is sent by her father to the Convent of Five Wounds. Although Nanda is open to the teachings of her new religion, life at the convent is not easy. Alongside the other girls Nanda has to adhere the strict rules and routines imposed by the nuns. The girls are discouraged from forming friendships as these are 'against charity' and lead to 'dangerous and unhealthy indulgence of feeling'. Their conducts are constantly monitored, so much so that the girls have few occasions in which they can simply 'be'. While Nanda comes to regard her convent as her home, and does try her best not to disobey the nuns, she also questions their authority. Antonia White articulates beautifully Nanda's desire to nurture her own individuality. Although Nanda cannot always make sense of her discontentment towards the constraining atmosphere of the convent, her indefinite and contrasting feelings are rendered with incredible empathy and attention. White also captures a particular phase of growing up, that passage from childhood to adolescence. While Nanda does experience idyllic moments and grows fond of two other girls, she can't quite reconcile herself with the convent's ideal of femininity. Yet, she also craves acceptance—from her father, the nuns—and, however unsuccessfully, she does attempt to iron out her personality. The way in which the nuns inculcate notions of evil and guilt into Nanda and the other girls can be upsetting. Not only that but every day the girls are subjected to or witness to humiliations and psychological punishments. Thankfully, Nanda's 'forbidden' friendships alleviate the mood of the novel. White's dramatisation of her own time in a convent makes for a compelling read as her examination of Catholicism is both interesting and illuminating.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    "And do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely? Broken and re-set in God's own way. I don't think your will has quite been broken, my dear child, do you?" At first it seems that this is a book about Catholicism but really I think it's about how religion is used as a cover for the performance of power specifically, here, patriarchal power even when it is wielded by female hands as is the case with the nuns in charge of this school. When "And do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely? Broken and re-set in God's own way. I don't think your will has quite been broken, my dear child, do you?" At first it seems that this is a book about Catholicism but really I think it's about how religion is used as a cover for the performance of power specifically, here, patriarchal power even when it is wielded by female hands as is the case with the nuns in charge of this school. When Nanda rebels, it's not against religious teaching in itself but against the school rules that aim to stifle all individuality, creativity and personality. Friendships are frowned upon because they are dangerously self-indulgent, and reading matter is rigidly controlled: 'story-books' are confiscated but tales of the martyrs involving the horrific and gory deaths of saints are required reading. A girl who enjoys performing in a school play based on the Divine Comedy finds herself thrown out of the cast as she's having way too much fun, and the final crisis for Nanda is precipitated by her assertion of her imagination (view spoiler)[ in a 'racy' though harmless 'novel' she's writing to amuse her friends. (hide spoiler)] Notably, the event that breaks Nanda is not so much the reactions of the nuns but that of her father: (view spoiler)[ his disowning of her, his refusal to let her call him 'daddy' anymore, his ice-cold rejection in the face of a minor piece of mischievousness is out of all proportion to her behaviour (hide spoiler)] which reverberates through the following three novels and Nanda/Clara's troubled relationships with men and the tension between wanting to please and to be approved versus her own sense of submerged identity. If God in this book is the ultimate patriarchal father-figure, it's Nanda's human father who shapes her young life. White is a delicate, sensitive prose stylist and while this follows many of the tropes of the 'school story' (at least as it exists for girls), this has much in common with other 'death of the heart' books where a young girl on the brink of adolescence finds herself in conflict with a system which intends to tame, subdue and shape her to some twisted feminine ideal.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I first read this book many years ago and it was interesting to re-read it. This is based on Antonia White's own experiences of life in a convent school. When we first meet Nanda (Fernanda)Grey, she is nine years old and on her way to the Convent of the Five Wounds at Lippington. Her beloved father is a convert of only a year and so Nanda is greeted at the school with a kind of amused wariness and acceptance that she isn't quite one of them and excuses must be made for her mistakes. The novel lo I first read this book many years ago and it was interesting to re-read it. This is based on Antonia White's own experiences of life in a convent school. When we first meet Nanda (Fernanda)Grey, she is nine years old and on her way to the Convent of the Five Wounds at Lippington. Her beloved father is a convert of only a year and so Nanda is greeted at the school with a kind of amused wariness and acceptance that she isn't quite one of them and excuses must be made for her mistakes. The novel looks at Nanda's experiences and al the strange rituals and requirements of Convent life, along with that of an education always dominated by religion. Nanda is always trying her best to conform, while naturally testing her boundaries as any child does and slightly resentful of the denial of 'special friends' and rules about everything from reading matter to how the girls are to bathe. Despite the fact that friendships are frowned upon and fought against, of course Nanda makes them. It is the beautiful Leonie De Wesseldorf, half French and half German, from an old Catholic family of wealth and privilege, who, without meaning to, brings about her downfall. In essence, this is a school story - about a young girl, growing up in a closed community. However, the ambiguous feelings of religion hang over everything Nanda does. She both embraces her religion fervently and yet fights against it, even without meaning to. As all children do, she understands far more than the adults think she does. "If they were vague about heaven, they were very definite indeed about hell. Nanda felt a great deal more positive about the conditions of life in hell than in, say, the West of Scotland or Minneapolis," states the author with, one feels, only too much truth. It is because Nanda tries so desperately to please both at school, and at home, that you feel for her so strongly at the end of the book. A very moving and wonderful read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    After a Summer spent pulling off the shelf each and every cheapo Virago I ran across, accumulating a shelf=full (from left to right and vice=versa)--cheapo runs pretty much anything under three bucks or so ; six dollar used pb's is over doing it--I ran out onto the internets and ordered this one special (ninety=five cents, no shipping charge) because my shelf already contained its Trilogy Sequel. That's right folks. This novel's sequel is a trilogy. Which makes it a tetralogy and you know how mu After a Summer spent pulling off the shelf each and every cheapo Virago I ran across, accumulating a shelf=full (from left to right and vice=versa)--cheapo runs pretty much anything under three bucks or so ; six dollar used pb's is over doing it--I ran out onto the internets and ordered this one special (ninety=five cents, no shipping charge) because my shelf already contained its Trilogy Sequel. That's right folks. This novel's sequel is a trilogy. Which makes it a tetralogy and you know how much I love those--Rikki's got one two, Durrell's got one, who else? They're just slightly cooler than a trilogy which are tootoo common ; and more sensible than a never=ending cereal, seriously. So that's one list (the tetralogy list). Here's another list. School novels. Joyce has one. And paring it down slightly, Girlschool novels. Not so many of them? Here's the band Girlschool ; Motörhead used to tour with them. But you're probably too cool for school ; too cool for rock n roll. Read this little nugget from White (also, it's a YA the way YA's used to be but adults can read it too) ; you'll get some of them anti-Catholic sentiments purged ;; some of your anti-authoritarian urges purged ;;; you'll feel so good about your Have-It-My-Way BadAss Self. Maybe you'll mentally rewrite it as, you know, one of those Muslim Schools for girls which teaches naught but obedience to Allah. Or you'll just be glad for publicly funded secular education for all. I've got three more White's lined up myself.

  8. 5 out of 5

    J.

    We've all been there, sort of. That is, we've all seen this basic story unfold, the slow dawning of a worldly realization within the walls of a formerly impregnable fortress, the heady push into the free air, when the idols have crumbled and the game is up. We've not all been to a Convent School For Girls, though, exactly, and that's what makes this story instantly mesmerizing. Here, we are between the wars, 1930, and the convent school is place of sheltered neutrality for the female children of We've all been there, sort of. That is, we've all seen this basic story unfold, the slow dawning of a worldly realization within the walls of a formerly impregnable fortress, the heady push into the free air, when the idols have crumbled and the game is up. We've not all been to a Convent School For Girls, though, exactly, and that's what makes this story instantly mesmerizing. Here, we are between the wars, 1930, and the convent school is place of sheltered neutrality for the female children of the aristocracy and well-heeled merchant class. The Stations Of The Cross For this reader, there was no disconnect from the days when I was under the guidance of much the same kind of organization. The regulated systems all fall into place, like the different prayers and devotions for the passing hours, the shifts in stage-managing the seasons of the Church. There is weight and depth in the discipline of the faith, for ... well, for the faithful, anyway. The prayers might be thought of as scales are to the musician, etudes maybe. And the seasonal shifts taken as the natural synchronization of a living faith to the earthly indicators of God's infinite complexity, mirrored in the outside world. Catholicism wisely takes the cues and codes of the observable world and ritualizes them, imbues them with the glow of transcendence. Alternately, the atmosphere of the classical Roman Catholic educational model may be thought of as relentless indoctrination, accompanied by sharp-eyed surveillance, and enforced with various kinds of cruelty, mental or physical. Just a matter of whether you found it inspirational, or not. Cold Snap Frost In May brings on the omniscient Mother Superior, the gruff but kind worker-bee nuns, and their opposites, the vindictive brittle old nuns past any sense or hope of return to the race. Did I just read this or am I remembering ... Possibly the worst are the passive-aggressive, glenda-the-good-witch nuns-- all of them filling impressionable young adolescents, dangerously close to their delicate first maturity-- full of wishful nonsense and toxic backspin. Stories of little-girls-who-just-wouldn't-listen, penances, privations and mortifications; secret reports and constant observation. There is one instance here of the 'famous game' wherein the nun called the Mistress Of Discipline judges where a hidden key may have been pocketed by one of the girls, strictly on the basis of sizing up their guilt with her withering stare. Played for carefully-instructive laughs, it is still agonizing. She is never wrong. This is not to imply that the Lord's work is always accomplished in such a direct or straightforward path : "… nothing is more pleasing to God than suffering bravely borne for our Lord’s sake. I expect you noticed that there were some children from the Poor School making their First Communion with you this morning. You must remember that they do not come from good homes like you; they are often quite pathetically ignorant. Well, one of the nuns was helping them to put on their veils and their wreaths, and one little girl called Molly had great difficulty with hers. So Mother Poitier fastened it on with a big safety-pin, but, as you know, she does not see very well, and she unfortunately put the pin right through Molly’s ear. The poor little girl was in great pain, but she thought it was part of the ceremony, and she never uttered a word of complaint. She thought of the terrible suffering of Our Lord in wearing His crown of thorns and bore it for His sake. I am sure Molly received a very wonderful grace at her First Communion and I should like to think that anyone here had such beautiful, unselfish devotion as that. She might have gone about all day with that pin through her ear, if she had not fainted just now at breakfast. Now, talk away, again children, and be as happy as you can all day long. But even in your happiness, never forget that a good Christian is always ready to take up his cross and deny himself and unite himself to the passion of Our Blessed Lord." Heaven Can Wait The seasons ebb and flow, the misunderstandings get ironed out, and the onset of a holy occasion may bring the opportunity for an actual bright line to be drawn, in the murk and incense-laden atmosphere. Or, yet again, the opposite of that, in the confounding contrariness of holding real life to a mythical mirror. Antonia White's characters are a study in natural opposites, and the girls are as intriguing as the nuns. As the clientele of the Convent Of The Five Wounds are anything but disadvantaged, the girls are often well-travelled, vaguely worldly and nearing the ripening verge of young womanhood. By turns childish, giddy, and then haughty, knowing and flirtatious, the 'little ones' are way too clever to fall for the idea of convent-forever, so devoutly pitched by the staff--the idea that a school girl would find her vocation, and choose to take vows and join the convent. The nuns know this generally won't sell, of course, but play along gamely, since the least-likely amongst the girls just may-- well, we've seen all of this embodied by Julie Andrews and Hayley Mills in cinemascope, so not much use letting the secrets out. And the author has other ideas. Her novel is pitched to a counter-crescendo midway or more through the proceedings, where our central girls are laid up in the infirmary, faking measles; their devious hanky-exchange and breathing-on-each-other program has worked!-- at least to the extent of sharing the sniffles. And here they are allowed tea and toast, can read or write as they please, and they spend days by the fireside recovering -- most crucially from the convent itself, and its rules. The Trouble With Angels Having drawn us along in the gearing-up to the liturgical year, the waves of penance and mysticism in the cold and forbidding nunnery, it is here in the glimmer of the fire-light that author White finds her tipping point. Tea and sympathy in a safe port of call, a lazy pause, a weightless lull in the strictness and conformity--before the inevitable fall. It doesn't really matter what that fall may be, as for the nuns it is the rarest of their charges who doesn't fall, who doesn't succumb to the worldly temptations of debutante balls and the ongoing jazz age outside the walls of the convent. There is sublime clarity and certainty in Antonia White's prose, a sense of having lived it, too, that counters neatly the tensions and uneasy doubts that it portrays. Five stars.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tania

    "And do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely? Broken and reset in God's own way. I don't think your will has been quite broken, my dear child, do you?" A semi-autobiographical account of a young girls life at a Catholic boarding school. Nanda's father is a Catholic convert and so sends his daughter to a Catholic school run by nuns where they try to strip away her personality. The idea of being brought up by nuns has always given me the h "And do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely? Broken and reset in God's own way. I don't think your will has been quite broken, my dear child, do you?" A semi-autobiographical account of a young girls life at a Catholic boarding school. Nanda's father is a Catholic convert and so sends his daughter to a Catholic school run by nuns where they try to strip away her personality. The idea of being brought up by nuns has always given me the horrors.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    On the surface, this is a classic girls' school story, largely autobiographical, told with a simplicity that belies the book's underlying complexity. For it's a Catholic convent school, and recently converted Nanda has somewhat more to face there than the usual run of classes and tests, sports, and midnight feasts. White's portrayal of the school, the students, and the nuns is clear and unsparing, and I was surprisingly caught up in Nanda's experiences, particularly at the shattering ending. On the surface, this is a classic girls' school story, largely autobiographical, told with a simplicity that belies the book's underlying complexity. For it's a Catholic convent school, and recently converted Nanda has somewhat more to face there than the usual run of classes and tests, sports, and midnight feasts. White's portrayal of the school, the students, and the nuns is clear and unsparing, and I was surprisingly caught up in Nanda's experiences, particularly at the shattering ending.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Beth Bonini

    In her introduction to this novel, author Elizabeth Bowen claims (asserts?) that this is the only girls' school story which can be thought of as, not only a classic, but also a work of art. It's a book which has been long known to me mostly because of Virago founder Carmen Callil's championship of it; indeed, it was the first Virago Modern Classic to be published. Although Callil had grown up in Australia, and not England, her own childhood spent at a Catholic boarding school meant that she had In her introduction to this novel, author Elizabeth Bowen claims (asserts?) that this is the only girls' school story which can be thought of as, not only a classic, but also a work of art. It's a book which has been long known to me mostly because of Virago founder Carmen Callil's championship of it; indeed, it was the first Virago Modern Classic to be published. Although Callil had grown up in Australia, and not England, her own childhood spent at a Catholic boarding school meant that she had a deep kinship with this book - and felt that it really got at the truth, not only of institutional settings, but also the peculiar emotional and power of the Catholic faith and its traditions. Another 'legendary' aspect of this book is that it is known to be based closely on the author's own life and experiences. Although it is narrated with a cool, objective tone - there is certainly no first-person confiding voice to be found here - the precision of detail rings true. Even with a reader (like myself) who lacks an insider's knowledge of Catholic instruction, and finds it to be both bizarre and even repugnant, one cannot help but be drawn into the world described within. And it is a complete world, with its own manners, traditions, pleasures and sacrifices. The protagonist is Fernanda 'Nanda' Gray, who joins the Convent of the Five Wounds when she is only nine years old. Nanda' father is a classics teacher, recently converted to Catholicism, and he wants his only child to experience the full-on Catholic immersion experience. On her first day in the school, Nanda is embarrassed, even shamed, to learn that her father has requested that she be subjected to a daily cold bath - quite surplus to the mortifications of the flesh demanded by the school. For the next five years, Nanda will devote herself to both her studies and her faith, but despite her general willingness and piety, there is always a battle going on - sometimes in background, and sometimes in the foreground - to break her spirt. As one of the nuns tells her during her first months at the convent: "The trouble with you, my dear, is that you don't seem to have any normal, natural naughtiness about you." She goes on to tell the nine year old Nanda that "the trouble with your faults is that they don't show. You're obstinate, you're independent, and if a child of nine can be said to have spiritual pride, spiritual pride is your ruling vice." The power struggle going on - not just to control the children, but to break them down entirely - is quite terrifying at times. Being good at something, loving something, being attached to something, is considered wrong - unless it is one's devotion to God. There are countless examples in the book of this pitiless system at work. I couldn't love Nanda's religion at all, but she does - despite some of its mentally terrifying aspects, and her fear that she will be 'chosen' by God for the vocation of a nun. The worldliness of Catholicism - which always seems to me antithetical to the tenents of the faith - is also very hard to grasp. Most of the other pupils in the school come from European 'old money' and families long associated with the Catholic faith. Nanda, as a middle-class English child and a recent convert, is held slightly apart, and one of the most disturbing plot-lines is the repeated attempts to separate her from her richer friends. It's a real insider's glimpse into a private world, and although I couldn't love this world the way Nanda does, the narrative compels the reader to feel the horror of expulsion along with its young protagonist.

  12. 4 out of 5

    booklady

    Unforgettable story. I finished this 3 weeks ago and still don’t know quite how to review it. Almost anything I say about it will give the story’s ending away. It was somewhat spoiled for me in reading the blurb on the back cover (which I wish I hadn’t). So I’ll leave it at a story which felt like real life, so much so I wish it didn’t. Read it. Thanks for the recommendation Jo. Your review is excellent! Unforgettable story. I finished this 3 weeks ago and still don’t know quite how to review it. Almost anything I say about it will give the story’s ending away. It was somewhat spoiled for me in reading the blurb on the back cover (which I wish I hadn’t). So I’ll leave it at a story which felt like real life, so much so I wish it didn’t. Read it. Thanks for the recommendation Jo. Your review is excellent!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Teresa Pitt

    I first read Frost in May when Virago first reissued it back in the 1970s. I can still remember sitting up in bed at 3 o'clock in the morning to finish the book with tears pouring down my face and choking with sobs. I went to a convent school in Australia of the same order of nuns as the ones who had Antonia White in their clutches for four crucial years of her childhood. The difference with me is that they had me in their clutches for twelve years, from age 5 to age 17. I was there from 1950 to I first read Frost in May when Virago first reissued it back in the 1970s. I can still remember sitting up in bed at 3 o'clock in the morning to finish the book with tears pouring down my face and choking with sobs. I went to a convent school in Australia of the same order of nuns as the ones who had Antonia White in their clutches for four crucial years of her childhood. The difference with me is that they had me in their clutches for twelve years, from age 5 to age 17. I was there from 1950 to 1962, well before the era of Vatican II. What struck me so powerfully in Frost in May was the unbelievable cruelty of the school and the nuns - and yet at the same time the warmth and affection that some individual nuns displayed to certain girls. The cruelty had a very specific purpose - to 'break the will' of the girls in their charge. This was supposed to make them 'better Catholics', subservient to the will of the nuns and by extension to the will of God. I cannot help comparing the nuns' techniques to those of a very clever, manipulative and abusive husband, who is just sufficiently charming and kind (at times) to keep an abused wife in his clutches, but whose real aim is to destroy her psychologically and keep her in his power. It's exactly the same technique, and I had never before read such an astute description of how a religious order 'breaks' a child's individuality and destroys her spirit. I could totally identify with Nanda in the story, and my sobbing was a form of grieving for her, and of course for myself. For anyone who has experienced the kind of schooling Nanda (and Antonia) underwent, this book is a masterpiece in its expose of the motivations of the Catholic Church in reducing people to helplessness in its power. The book is beautifully written and I found it absolutely spellbinding. All the little details of convent life were vividly portrayed and had not changed between the early 1900s and my time in the 1950s. Forty years later (this week) I read it again and, while it did not have quite the powerful effect on me that it did at first reading, I still found it compelling and remarkably insightful. What amazes me is how Antonia White (or anyone, really) could continue living as a Catholic after such an experience - unless, of course, their will had been thoroughly broken.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mela

    It will not be an easy task for me to write a review of this book. I am afraid it will be too personal but I hope a reader forgives me. I should explain at the beginning that I grew up in a very Catholic country. Some say that is more Catholic than Vatican, at least it was, because nowadays it is changing. It shouldn't be my memoir but I must add also that I went through a religious zeal (Catholic, of course), a kind of conversion from a rather passive belief (in my teenage years) and then, you c It will not be an easy task for me to write a review of this book. I am afraid it will be too personal but I hope a reader forgives me. I should explain at the beginning that I grew up in a very Catholic country. Some say that is more Catholic than Vatican, at least it was, because nowadays it is changing. It shouldn't be my memoir but I must add also that I went through a religious zeal (Catholic, of course), a kind of conversion from a rather passive belief (in my teenage years) and then, you could say, I broke free. Why I think it is important to write this here is that I felt many times the same way which Nanda felt. I went through the same doubts and fears, I found the same consolation. So, I can agree that the world of religious feelings which was described here was real. Most of the doctrine in this novel I have known but not all. It was interesting to learn new ones. Let's go to the point of the review. It is a beautiful story about a growing up, about an exploration of belief, about what religion can do (bad and good things), how everyone must find own path. You can find here a beauty of faith (mostly Catholic, but in some way, it is also more universal). On the other hand, you can find here the reasons why and when religion is enslaving. But it isn't a religious book neither anti-religious. I will stress out again, it is a great story about a young girl, her friends, her feelings. And this world, in a boarding Catholic school, wasn't nice, enjoyable or even friendly. But still, when you are young you are trying to find a way to live, to really live. The book was written in an almost charming way. There weren't very dramatic twists but there were very crucial and important events for Nanda. If you want more information I recommend a review of J. It is perfect, much better than mine.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    A beautifully observed book, Frost in May is set in a Catholic girls' boarding school in England in the 1910s. Young Nanda Gray, the daughter of a recent convert to Catholicism, at once finds herself entranced by the romanticised religiosity of the nuns and her fellow students, and uneasy with the petty cruelties inflicted by the nuns that are designed to break down those girls who take pleasure in, show an aptitude for, or independently think about, well, pretty much anything. As someone who wa A beautifully observed book, Frost in May is set in a Catholic girls' boarding school in England in the 1910s. Young Nanda Gray, the daughter of a recent convert to Catholicism, at once finds herself entranced by the romanticised religiosity of the nuns and her fellow students, and uneasy with the petty cruelties inflicted by the nuns that are designed to break down those girls who take pleasure in, show an aptitude for, or independently think about, well, pretty much anything. As someone who was educated in a similar environment to Nanda, but who never had any faith to speak of, even as a child, the experience of reading Frost in May was at once alienating and queasily familiar. No contemporary YA dystopia comes close to the kind of hothouse, authoritarian, ritualised power games that play out here—and often for such small stakes.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Josephine (Jo)

    This book brought back many memories for me of my education at a Catholic convent school. Nanda's father is a convert to Catholicism. Her father decides to send Nanda to the convent school of The Five Wounds where she can be educated as a Christian and also learn much more about her newly adopted faith. Nanda is extremely intelligent and has studied all the necessary books on the Catholic faith (she can answer any question her new religion with the ease of a girl much older). She is not however This book brought back many memories for me of my education at a Catholic convent school. Nanda's father is a convert to Catholicism. Her father decides to send Nanda to the convent school of The Five Wounds where she can be educated as a Christian and also learn much more about her newly adopted faith. Nanda is extremely intelligent and has studied all the necessary books on the Catholic faith (she can answer any question her new religion with the ease of a girl much older). She is not however quite as well prepared for living her life as a Catholic among girls who were born into the faith, i.e. 'cradle Catholics'. There are all those little idiosyncrasies that go with living a faith until it just becomes part of you. Nanda is a very devout girl and has the zeal that most new converts have, they are often far more strict with themselves that those who were born Catholic. She develops a huge crush on one of the older girls and does all in her power to spend time with her and her group of friends. I think if Nanda had been able to bend her will to the wishes of the nuns and to obey without question, far easier than being rebellious, she would have made it to the end of her school years there. Unfortunately, she is just a little to self-willed and this leads to the shattering conclusion of the story.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    A curious autobiographical novel with some truly unpleasant things to say about Catholicism. I've always found 20th century Catholics interesting. Some of the great authors of the century struggled, converted, or lived their whole lives under the Catholic banner - Graham Greene, Dorothy Sayers, Evelyn Waugh. I always found the underlying current of resigned faith charming, or intriguing, even as it was as alien to me as trying to understand a foreign language. I have been thoroughly shaken awake A curious autobiographical novel with some truly unpleasant things to say about Catholicism. I've always found 20th century Catholics interesting. Some of the great authors of the century struggled, converted, or lived their whole lives under the Catholic banner - Graham Greene, Dorothy Sayers, Evelyn Waugh. I always found the underlying current of resigned faith charming, or intriguing, even as it was as alien to me as trying to understand a foreign language. I have been thoroughly shaken awake by this book. It quite genuinely seems abusive to children to subject them to this kind of mental torture, thought-policing, everything-policing, and all in the name of an omniscient, loving deity and his legion of particular saints and hangers-on. The nuns are, as any group of teachers, a mixed bunch of good, bad, and truly vindictive, but with the added bonus of fanaticism that places an impassable barrier between their charges and themselves. The girls are harshly discouraged from forming close friendships, and many measures are put in place to ensure that their only proper relationship is with Himself, a relationship that simultaneously teaches piety, humility, ambition, self-deprecation, the immutable lot of the female, the impossible heights of aspiration, and the agonising mixture of love and shame that comes from having a body in the world and utterly despising it. Every time our heroine feels pride, or happiness, or contentment, or excitement, one of her trusty nun teachers is there to tear her down. In fact, this is their open objective. They insinuate themselves into her life and pull it apart piece by piece, in order to make her up anew in the holy image of the Catholic child, an unattainable goal for a girl whose father only converted when she was aged eight. The penultimate adventure in that classic of the school-novel, the epidemic of measles menas glorious days cloistered in the heavenly comforts of the sick-room with the three friends she has, by some miracle, managed to foster despite the school's policy to the contrary. And of course, because it is a Catholic novel, she is racked with guilt: for having friends, for enjoying their company, and for the decidedly ungodly novel she herself has decided to write, filled with overblown romantic characters whom, she assures herself, will all have glorious conversions at the story's ending. Naturally, this is her undoing. The utter degradation, willingly undertaken, of living a life in service to something higher is foreign to me, but the subjecting of children to the same is frankly barbaric, and though the ending was harsh, and shocking, and good because of it, I finished the book angry, upset, and thoroughly out of sorts.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (Nearly 3.5) “And do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely? Broken and re-set in God’s own way.” The first-ever Virago Modern Classic, and a noteworthy one: a novel about a young girl’s experience at a Catholic boarding school between the ages of nine and 14. Nanda (short for Fernanda) Gray is an eager convert when she arrives in 1908, but the Convent of the Five Wounds is a place that quashes all individuality and questions any attempts (Nearly 3.5) “And do you know that no character is any good in this world unless that will has been broken completely? Broken and re-set in God’s own way.” The first-ever Virago Modern Classic, and a noteworthy one: a novel about a young girl’s experience at a Catholic boarding school between the ages of nine and 14. Nanda (short for Fernanda) Gray is an eager convert when she arrives in 1908, but the Convent of the Five Wounds is a place that quashes all individuality and questions any attempts at personal friendship. The nuns spout mantras like “God likes a little dull duty well done better than the most elaborate prayers” and “we work to-day to turn out, not accomplished young women, nor agreeable wives, but soldiers of Christ, accustomed to hardship and ridicule and ingratitude.” Nanda is sprightly and creative, with a naturally inquisitive mind that bends towards doubt: “over and over again she encountered those arid patches where the whole of religious life seemed a monstrous and meaningless complication.” Catholicism penetrates life to such an extent, she jokes, that “one can’t even get dressed or have a bath or eat one’s bacon and eggs without keeping an eye on eternity.” Still, Nanda tries to show her respect for such a long-lasting tradition; after all, “how could an institution be wrong that was so evidently divinely inspired, that had survived for nearly two thousand years in spite of persecution and slander, that stood firm through scandals, heresies and schisms?” A friend issues an insincere reprimand that she nonetheless takes to heart: “You’re a heretic to the backbone.” And at the end of the novel, as Nanda leaves the convent school in disgrace, it seems it may be true. I have a special fondness for women’s narratives of faith and doubt, and I think this one is housed in quite a touching coming-of-age novel, though I lost interest in some of the secondary characters. White wrote three sequels (starting with The Lost Traveller) – though for them she made the unusual choice of changing her main character’s name to Clara Batchelor. All four books are presumed to be largely autobiographical; White struggled against Catholicism but re-converted in later life, as documented in The Hound and the Falcon. It will be interesting to follow Nanda’s further adventures, all available through Virago at my local university library.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    An abbreviated bildungsroman of an early teenaged Anglo-Catholic girl whose three years in a convent school bring her to the realization that however ardent her faith, the thrill she gets from art and literature frequently exceeds the one she's expected to be feeling from religion. Based, apparently, on White's own life, the author's life-long religious practice does not inhibit her from presenting Catholicism of the early 20th century in its most Gothic aspect. From the name of the convent ("the An abbreviated bildungsroman of an early teenaged Anglo-Catholic girl whose three years in a convent school bring her to the realization that however ardent her faith, the thrill she gets from art and literature frequently exceeds the one she's expected to be feeling from religion. Based, apparently, on White's own life, the author's life-long religious practice does not inhibit her from presenting Catholicism of the early 20th century in its most Gothic aspect. From the name of the convent ("the Five Wounds") through the endless tales of mortification and sacrifice to which the girls are subjected, the overheated atmosphere also contributes to ardent boarding-school friendships, despite the nuns' best efforts to inhibit them. The narrator and her three best friends sit atop a tornado of barely suppressed emotional, sexual and intellectual energy. The shelf of "boarding school novels" is a fascinating one and decidedly more English than American, perhaps just because of differing educational customs - both Stalky and Company and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie call out for re-reading, despite my firm commitment to the unread. The shelf of "convent novels" is probably even smaller but Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede must surely be one of its leading titles.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    This is not at all the amusing story about convent life, nor about adolescence and friendship as I had expected. It is, however, about Catholicism at its best with its numerous rituals, masses and prayers, all wrapped up in a doctrine of guilt and remorse. The personal musings are few and lacking in passion and it is only towards the end of the novel that Nanda's voice begins to be heard. This is not at all the amusing story about convent life, nor about adolescence and friendship as I had expected. It is, however, about Catholicism at its best with its numerous rituals, masses and prayers, all wrapped up in a doctrine of guilt and remorse. The personal musings are few and lacking in passion and it is only towards the end of the novel that Nanda's voice begins to be heard.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    This isn't a bad book, I just found the subject matter not to my taste. This isn't a bad book, I just found the subject matter not to my taste.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    These days we have come to expect any book set in a Catholic girls' school to be full of stories of evil nuns and ritualistic abuse. Frost In May, written in 1933, might appear a bit of a let-down at first - the nuns don't seem that bad, everyone is pretty well behaved -yes there are tears, but mostly the girls just get on with their lives. The central character, Nanda Gray, is the nine year old daughter of a Catholic convert, and as such has to fit in with the born and bred Catholics who mostly These days we have come to expect any book set in a Catholic girls' school to be full of stories of evil nuns and ritualistic abuse. Frost In May, written in 1933, might appear a bit of a let-down at first - the nuns don't seem that bad, everyone is pretty well behaved -yes there are tears, but mostly the girls just get on with their lives. The central character, Nanda Gray, is the nine year old daughter of a Catholic convert, and as such has to fit in with the born and bred Catholics who mostly inhabit the Convent of Five Wounds. She begins to make friends, but close friendships are frowned upon by the nuns. Breaking the girls' spirits is more their style, prioritising God above everything else is their purpose. As the girls progress through the school, however, we begin to see little rebellions, and hope that they will come through the whole dispiriting business relatively unscathed. I have very little knowledge of Catholicism, and although some things will have undoubtedly changed, I am sure some of the attitudes expressed in this book have not. Religious schools and instruction are often in the news these days, and considering that this book was written over 80 years ago, it seems that people have been taking issue with the subject for many years. Will anything change? Do we learn lessons from books? I hope so, but wonder when that will be.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Charles Edwards-Freshwater

    A little masterpiece that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. I think what I appreciated most about White's work is the way it dives so unrelentingly into the ins and outs of catholicism within convent schools and the strange rituals and severe measures that this way of life entails. It explores the whole concept in a way that is both seductive and off-putting in equal measure, perfectly captured by Nanda's wavering feelings between the two extremes and her struggles and adorations about t A little masterpiece that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. I think what I appreciated most about White's work is the way it dives so unrelentingly into the ins and outs of catholicism within convent schools and the strange rituals and severe measures that this way of life entails. It explores the whole concept in a way that is both seductive and off-putting in equal measure, perfectly captured by Nanda's wavering feelings between the two extremes and her struggles and adorations about the system in place. It's so intricate and interesting - a system for where passes for certain behaviours are written on paper bound with pink ribbon, letters home and books are censored, and friendships with others and certain talents discouraged. It has the feel of a dystopia while being entirely real. The characters are great too - from the imposingly icy Mother Frances to the bored and haughty Leonie, each of the women (there are very few men in this tale) are so life-like and perfect, it's easy to imagine them all as living and breathing creatures. My one minor complaint is that the book does drag ever so slightly in the middle, but it really is a minor blip in what is a very impressive and poignant portrayal of a life that, before reading this, I could not begin to even imagine. 4.5 stars.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Zen Cho

    My two favourite things in this book 1) The headmistress's speech to the girls, that old staple of school stories, runs as follows. "Some of that severity which to the world seems harshness is bound up in the school rule which you are privileged to follow .... We work today to turn out, not accomplished young women, nor agreeable wives, but soldiers of Christ, accustomed to hardship and ridicule and ingratitude." AWESOME. 2) Leonie de Wesseldorf. omg omg what an awesome character. My two favourite things in this book 1) The headmistress's speech to the girls, that old staple of school stories, runs as follows. "Some of that severity which to the world seems harshness is bound up in the school rule which you are privileged to follow .... We work today to turn out, not accomplished young women, nor agreeable wives, but soldiers of Christ, accustomed to hardship and ridicule and ingratitude." AWESOME. 2) Leonie de Wesseldorf. omg omg what an awesome character.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    I loved it. Such an interesting account of life at a Catholic convent school and the relationship between students, nuns, and parents. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended :)

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Frost in May is about a centimeter away from being pure memoir, and it has the cool, unaffected distance of one, which is what you need when talking about something as overheated and emotional as a group of young girls in a convent school, hiding copies of Candide and pretending not to have friends. White clearly conveys Nanda's experience of her youth, but it's tempered with an adult understanding, and an unconventional one, not "but it all worked out fine in the end" but "this was only for a s Frost in May is about a centimeter away from being pure memoir, and it has the cool, unaffected distance of one, which is what you need when talking about something as overheated and emotional as a group of young girls in a convent school, hiding copies of Candide and pretending not to have friends. White clearly conveys Nanda's experience of her youth, but it's tempered with an adult understanding, and an unconventional one, not "but it all worked out fine in the end" but "this was only for a short time." (Nanda's father keeps a treasure box of his own early life labelled Haec Olim, from the Aeneid's "haec olim meminisse iuvabit," "even these things it will someday be pleasant to recall," and that's what we're working with here.) Nanda Grey is nine at the beginning of Frost in May, when she is sent to Lippington, a convent school where girls, alongside all their usual lessons, they learn about the lifelong regret of a girl who accidentally ate a piece of candy right before her first Communion. They're forbidden to have any particular friends, though of course they get and keep them anyway. Enjoying anything too much is reason enough to be forbidden it, because you might be enjoying it for its own sake and not for the glory of God. There is, obviously, a lot here that's almost terrifying in its strictness and the terror and shame, but Nanda isn't being ground down by the system as much as she's living a life within it. She sneaks poetry and friendships. Devout Catholics carelessly speculate about how their relatives will make the case for them going to heaven. A lone Protestant attracts spectacle. It is a heightened atmosphere, Nanda eventually thinks, one where everything is made, and believed to be, important, and that's the tone White perfectly captures, in part by not indulging in it herself. This is going right beside Tobias Wolff's Old School, for perfect boarding school novels that get at the claustrophobic atmosphere, unique character, and the intensity of their settings, while also being tragedies in miniature about their protagonists' falls from school-approved perfection and realistic about the meaning of all of it in the long run.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Reds_reads

    Frost in May tells of Nanda's four years at a Catholic boarding school before WWI. Nanda is 9 years old when she joins, a relatively recent convert along with her father, and fourteen when she leaves. I found the description of her over time very convincing - from a child, unsure of herself and eager to please, to a teenager developing ideas and interests of her own and becoming increasingly aware of the dilemmas and injustices of life. The descriptions of Nanda's religious struggles are also rea Frost in May tells of Nanda's four years at a Catholic boarding school before WWI. Nanda is 9 years old when she joins, a relatively recent convert along with her father, and fourteen when she leaves. I found the description of her over time very convincing - from a child, unsure of herself and eager to please, to a teenager developing ideas and interests of her own and becoming increasingly aware of the dilemmas and injustices of life. The descriptions of Nanda's religious struggles are also realistic to me. She desperately wants to be a 'good' Catholic, but struggles increasingly with the demands placed upon her by the nuns. One of the nuns, towards the end of the book, states that their aim is to 'break the will of the girls' and this is the part that Nanda struggles with, she will not submit. Nanda grows to resent the restrictions on friendships, on the art and literature they may enjoy and on their enjoyment in general as she grows older. I have read this book before, but this time the cruelty of the regime really stood out. The nuns do not physically abuse the girls, but the manipulation is everywhere. The girls are constantly watched and reported on and their communication with family is censored. This sort of behaviour would be labelled emotional abuse in a partner or parent. But the ultimate act of cruelty for me was the way Nanda's leaving the school was handled, done in such a way as to ruin her relationship with her father. Nanda had always been very close to her father who had encouraged her learning in a way that would have been unusual for the time. There are several throw-away incidents near the start of the book that indicate the nuns do not think much of this and on finishing the book this time I came away with the impression that weakening the relationship between Nanda and her father was something they thought desirable (and maybe something that they deliberately sought to do) as it would lessen his influence with her.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Babs

    This book looks at a young girl's entry in to a convent school at the beginning of the 1900s, and how she adapts to it, as well as in which way's she resists it. This was a good book, ever so slightly twee with its "But darling, DON'T you find it's all simply TOO vile..." etc., but all things can be forgiven for the character of Léonie, the thinking lesbian's Lolita. I really enjoyed the first few chapters of this which I picked up and read in a library, although once I had bought a copy to cont This book looks at a young girl's entry in to a convent school at the beginning of the 1900s, and how she adapts to it, as well as in which way's she resists it. This was a good book, ever so slightly twee with its "But darling, DON'T you find it's all simply TOO vile..." etc., but all things can be forgiven for the character of Léonie, the thinking lesbian's Lolita. I really enjoyed the first few chapters of this which I picked up and read in a library, although once I had bought a copy to continue with it the rest didn't quite live up to that beginning. I subsequently found out that Antonia White wrote the first few chapters at the age of 16, and only picked the manuscript up again and wrote the remainder once she was in her 30s. If I was her I'd be depressed to read what I am writing now - apparently she had writers' block for another 20-odd years after Frost in May. I enojoyed this but found the ending of the plot a bit difficult to swallow: basically she wrote a slightly racy novel around the age of 13, the nuns found it and poor Nanda, for that is the name of the Jackie Collins-a-like heroine of the story, spent the next 24 hours feeling faint from fear for what the nuns would do to her. As it turns out, her father comes to the convent to pick her up and in fact it is HE who is utterly disgusted with her, with his sallow, pale face shaking with rage. Given that he has exhibited genuine, fairly 'modern' opening parental love for her, he is very learned and is a scholar in Greek, I find it difficult to believe that he then disowns Nanda and tells her he wishes she had never been born. And all for what must be some pretty juvenile if precocious scribblings about louche men who frequent opium dens and would probably wear kohl eyeliner if portraying themselves in a film of their lives. However I did enjoy reading this book, so would still recommend it, if you were interested in slightly deranged nuns and the minutae of the Catholic faith.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chrystal

    4.5 stars. It is difficult to talk about this novel because anything one needs to say will invariably give away the ending. The ending is the whole story: Frost in May (the innocent bud of youth frozen and killed before it has a chance to bloom). Even that is saying too much. One thing I can talk about is the style of the novel. As pointed out by Elizabeth Bowen in the introduction, it is a school-days novel for adults but written in a child's language, which is appropriate since we are seeing ev 4.5 stars. It is difficult to talk about this novel because anything one needs to say will invariably give away the ending. The ending is the whole story: Frost in May (the innocent bud of youth frozen and killed before it has a chance to bloom). Even that is saying too much. One thing I can talk about is the style of the novel. As pointed out by Elizabeth Bowen in the introduction, it is a school-days novel for adults but written in a child's language, which is appropriate since we are seeing everything from an 8-13 year old girl's point of view. The raw emotions expressed in this novel are heartbreaking, and utterly convincing - because the author is describing her own personal experiences as a child in a convent school: specifically, as a middle-class, Catholic convert among mostly upper-class, traditionally Catholic students. The way in which her spirit was broken is devastating; the daily punishments (and especially the rewards) prepare the reader for a very bleak outcome. The feeling that kept coming over me was one of ominous dread, and quite a bit of creepiness. I kept thinking something horrendous out of the Magdalen Sisters was about to happen (mercifully, nothing that bad ever did). Once again, I rely on Elizabeth Bowen's apt description of what the non-Catholic reader might experience: "Some passages are written with an effrontery that will make the Protestant blink - we are very naive." Antonia White's life appears to have been filled with sorrow and pain (she was married 3 times and spent a year in a mental hospital). Her convent school experiences and the difficult relationship with her father left her with crippling self-doubt. Even after publishing many novels, she still had to look at her published works on the shelf to even believe that she was a writer. You tell me if any of this was related to what happened in her childhood.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sasha

    I didn't expect to like this as much as I did but it was riveting and once I got into it, I didn't want to stop reading it. I guess it helps that I am Catholic, raised and grew up with it, with contradictory views on the religion. Because much like my own take on it, the book and the protagonist (so by extension, the author), have complicated feelings on Catholicism. The book shows the rigid rules in a Catholic school and convent, the ridiculous beliefs that permeates the dogma, etc etc. But it I didn't expect to like this as much as I did but it was riveting and once I got into it, I didn't want to stop reading it. I guess it helps that I am Catholic, raised and grew up with it, with contradictory views on the religion. Because much like my own take on it, the book and the protagonist (so by extension, the author), have complicated feelings on Catholicism. The book shows the rigid rules in a Catholic school and convent, the ridiculous beliefs that permeates the dogma, etc etc. But it also shows how the character, Nanda, has bought into it. Even when there are times she's grown bored or thinks the nuns are being too harsh, there's still a part of her that believes in the allure of it all - the traditions, the belief system, the rituals, faith, with all its contradictions. There is still something alluring about it all. What I also find fascinating about it is that we get a glimpse of the role of women in the Church. The men in this book are relegated to the side; they're a looming presence but not directly felt. Quite strange, given how all the big roles in the Church are only given to men (priests, Pope, bishops, etc), Frost In May offers a glimpse into a space that is inhabited by only women and how they both subvert and promote the patriarchal system of the Church. There is something unnervingly enchanting about the story and how Antonia White wrote it. Almost like a dream, but not saccharine at all. The story is about growing up and all the messy complexities that come with that fact. It's wonderful.

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