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Purposes of Love (1939)

von Mary Renault

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1125194,543 (3.61)17
Mary Renault's inventive debut novel: A love-triangle drama set against the backdrop of hospital life Working in a hospital in 1930s Britain, two colleagues fall into an emotionally charged relationship. Vivian and Mic work demanding jobs and must endure long gaps between their secret meetings. But it is their relationship with Vivian's brother, Jan, a charismatic scientist, that really complicates their union. Before falling for Vivian, Mic had nursed feelings for independent-minded Jan. As for Vivian, her romantic experience has left her with doubts about commitment. For this fraught trio, big questions about love'what and whom it is for'demand answers. In this powerful, sparklingly written debut tale of romance between the wars, Mary Renault showcases the talents that made her one of the twentieth century's most beloved novelists.… (mehr)
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Loved her "Greek" novels, but she began her career with standard-fare romance-in-real-life stories. The writing is a good cut above the bodice-ripper trade, but the dialogue isn't something US readers in the 21st centuy would consider "normal," although it may have been in WW2 Britain.

I was surprised (given the publication date) at how casually the lovers discuss her abortion, essentially dismissing it in a couple of paragraphs; we Americans tend to think no one ever had one before Roe v. Wade, or if they did it was a big-time traumatic event.

(reading dates approximate) ( )
  librisissimo | Oct 21, 2020 |
A story with a very unusual atmosphere. Vivid evocation of the exhaustion and drudgery of nurses' work in a 1930s hospital. There is a powerful sense of loss in the central relationship, because the heroine makes an emotional and sexual misjudgement. Strangely haunting; in fact an incredibly powerful read, if a little intense and introspective at times.
2019: I have just re-read it and although this was the third time, over a period of many years, it almost felt as if I was reading it for the first time. I think we are meant to like and admire Vivian's brother Jan, but I found him rather inhuman. ( )
1 abstimmen PollyMoore3 | Oct 16, 2010 |
Re-reading this novel after a couple of years, I was once again surprised how modern some aspects of the story are. ( )
  queen_ypolita | Jun 16, 2008 |
Purposes of Love was Mary Renault's first novel which I ended up buying from Amazon Marketplace a while ago. What I read about it sounded interesting but I wasn't sure if I would like it - after all, I found Kind Are Her Answers and North Face more or less boring.

At the centre of the novel is Vivian Lingard, 26-year old student nurse. She took up nursing to do something useful with her life, as a test to find out if she could do it. At the beginning of the novel her elder brother Jan, a geologist, is visiting and introduces her to his friend Mic, who's just starting in the pathology department of Vivian's hospital. When Jan goes away, Vivian and Mic start spending time together and eventually become lovers. But the first time Mic kisses her, it is because she reminds him of her brother with whom he had been in love (it is not made clear if Mic and Jan had been lovers) and she is hurt but later believes that Mic wants her for who she is. Their relationship is conducted in secret as it would see her (and possibly him too) out of job. Mic is an illegimate son of a man who cared enough to pay for his education but the lack of father and connections is a very sore spot for Mic and a source of a sense of inferiority. He wants to take responsibility over seducing Vivian but she resents this intrusion on her independence.

What was fascinating in the novel was the no-nonsense approach to sexuality and physicality. Vivian, Jan and Mic are all to some extent bisexual (even if Vivian does not really take up her friend Colonna's offer), Mic tells Vivian about his only lover before her - a man at Cambridge (later on in the novel, Jan interprets the relationship as arising from Mic's sense of inferiority). Vivian observes Colonna starting a relationship with a senior nurse, Valentine. Vivian and Mic are soon having sex without any intention (on Vivian's side at least) of getting married in any short-term future. At one point, Vivian takes something to terminate her suspected pregnancy. All of which had me reading in a haze of fascinated admiration - not quite believing how the book could have been published in 1939 and wondering how come I've never heard it mentioned as a brave and daring book of its time. Apparently the response was generally positive even if reviewers felt uncomfortable with the overt treatment of sexuality.

The book was apparently revised for the 1968 edition (according to Penguin reprint of 1986); I don't know what the changes were. What I know of Mary Renault's writing habits and of the revision of The Charioteer between 1953 and 1959 editions, she probably removed some of the unnecessary padding to tighten up the story. But without access to the 1939, I'm not sure. It seems that reprints of the American 1939 edition are available but I'm not sure if the 1939 UK and US editions were identical in all other respects but the name. ( )
2 abstimmen mari_reads | Aug 28, 2006 |
I wrote on Purposes of Love at some length on my LJ: http://queen-ypolita.livejournal.com/17867.html. ( )
  queen_ypolita | Aug 8, 2006 |
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AutorennameRolleArt des AutorsWerk?Status
Renault, MaryHauptautoralle Ausgabenbestätigt
Dunant, SarahEinführungCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt

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Published in the US as Promise of Love. The new edition, published in the UK in 1968, was revised, possibly extensively.
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Mary Renault's inventive debut novel: A love-triangle drama set against the backdrop of hospital life Working in a hospital in 1930s Britain, two colleagues fall into an emotionally charged relationship. Vivian and Mic work demanding jobs and must endure long gaps between their secret meetings. But it is their relationship with Vivian's brother, Jan, a charismatic scientist, that really complicates their union. Before falling for Vivian, Mic had nursed feelings for independent-minded Jan. As for Vivian, her romantic experience has left her with doubts about commitment. For this fraught trio, big questions about love'what and whom it is for'demand answers. In this powerful, sparklingly written debut tale of romance between the wars, Mary Renault showcases the talents that made her one of the twentieth century's most beloved novelists.

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