St John Ervine, Mrs. Martin’s Man (1914)

The title character has married a sailor, contrary to the wishes of her family, the Mahaffys. ‘She was a woman of middle height, very slender and very pale. She had calm, passionless eyes and a gentle look, and although she was not a beautiful woman or even a women of good appearance, she had physical qualities which made her attractive to men of a hard, rough type. She looked fragile, but beneath her lean appearance there lay a great hiddens tory of nervous force which enabled her to execute gigantic tasks. It was this quality of the implacable which enabled her to open the hardware shop and make it prosper [… 7]

at the opening of the novel she awaits the return of her husband from sea, following a telegram saying that he is tired of the sea; she thinks back to the time when she was living with Mrs. Crothers at Ballyreagh, who has housed her since she was rejected by her family after her marriage to James, a man of strong personality but a lowly sailor; on coming home from sea, James cows Mrs. Crowthers (threatening to remove Martha), and Mrs. Crowther first relents, then loses spirit shortly afterwards and dies, leaving the house to their occupation; Mr. Mahaffy dies, reviling and disinheriting his daughter, but Esther, Martha’s sister, comes to stay with her instead of with her brother; she remembers the birth and death of her first child, which drove James from her (‘he had always been a restless an, but after the death of her baby, there were added to his restlessness anger and sullen tempers and swift changes of mood’); James had turned to Esther, growth beautiful (‘Her lips were full and red and she had little white, sharp teeth. Her breasts were like round towers’); they turn to kissing; she won’t let Esther leave the house for fear of confirming rumours that, but James is tired of both of them (‘crying a girning’); she has a child, Jamesey; she decides to opens a shop and her husband announces that he is coming home no more, though leaving her pregnant with her second child, Aggie (‘the terrible infamy of desertion’); she keeps it to herself that James has deserted her even form her sister, whose bed he has deserted likewise; she prospers; Henry writes to the Queen to find James; on the day the letter arrives—sixteen years after his departure —Martha and Esther confide frankly in each other for the first time; Martha reflects, ‘mebbee, it’s as well for Esther to be havin’ him love her like that, than for her not to be havin’ no one at all!’ [68]; notable conversation between Henry, Jane and Martha in which Henry offers the view, ‘A sure, there has to be sailors, an’ sailors needs women the same as other men!’ [75]; note discourse of decency which arises when Henry tells of sailor’s wife visited by three pretenders, to which Jane, ‘ Ah quit talkin’, Henry and’ be decent!’ [76]; ‘huggin’ and kissin’ your own sister’s [husband] … it’s not decent’ [83]; ‘tay’s the national drink of Ireland’ [91]; meanwhile, Esther is dreaming back to James, the ‘strong rough man, with arms that could crush you and lips tha pressed fiercely on yours’ [89]; enter James: ‘a dark bearded man, rough of aspect, and surly of manner … he looked uncertain’; ‘Come in .. You must be in need of your tay!’ [94].

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