Mock Motherhood:  Emma Evan’s Matronly Mask

Jeannie Nagel

            Motherhood is a choice all females come to face at one time or another.  It is a role that requires constant attention and allows for little deviation.  Motherhood is a job that is honored, respected and praised by society.  It is also a choice shunned by some liberal feminists.  In Margaret Drabble’s, The Garrick Year, the lead female chooses motherhood.  Emma Evans holds feminist notions and the audience would expect her to reject the role of motherhood in support of feminism.  Emma, in fact, does the opposite and embraces motherhood.  However, a closer examination reveals that she is merely using motherhood as a mask.

            She uses motherhood to be accepted by society and to keep herself from growing as an individual.  Emma is afraid of what she can and might be if she grows as an individual.  She is entirely devoted to her children, but at the same time she is inconsistent in her affection for them.  When she enters into an affair with Wyndham she cannot bring herself to become the woman she could be and ultimately chooses motherhood in the end.  Instead of developing her individual self and possibly being rejected by society, she retreats to motherhood to hide her real self in a role that is already approved.  Emma’s false role of mother is nothing more than a mask to cover her fear of individuality.

            One of the first and most obvious self-descriptions of Emma is of her as a mother, “I had just finished putting Flora to bed, and I came downstairs, splashed and bedraggled from her bath” (6).  Emma takes great responsibility for her children and is the dominant parent in their lives.  She views them as hers entirely and doesn’t want David to worry about them, “David, my darling,” I said, […] “don’t you talk to me about those children.  You have hardly any right to talk to me about those children.  So kindly don’t.  Those children will be seen to all right, and it will be me that sees to them, so don’t you bring them into any of our discussions” (20).  Emma has little else in her life and spends a majority of her time taking care of the children.

            Her daughter Flora provides her with a purpose and meaning to her life, “I was devoted to Flora, entirely against my expectations, so that every time I saw her I was filled with delighted and amazed relief” (35-36).  She spends her days feeding Joseph and entertaining Flora.  Emma plays the perfect mother role, “When I am puzzling about the location of my heart, I have only to look at Flora to discover what seems at times to be the whole of it” (63).  She is a dedicated, supportive, and loving mother.

            As a mother, Emma is also terribly bored.  She loves and adores her children, yet she often views them as bothersome.  She is tired of feeding Joe and taking care of Flora.  Her children are demanding and she feels that they hinder her, “[…] those with children, however unwillingly with them, are in many ways irrevocably cut off from those without” (51).  There is a feeling of separation and difference from other people because of the children.  Emma can no longer do things a single woman might.  Society views and treats Emma differently and also expects different things than they would from a childless woman.  A great example of this is when Emma realizes Wyndham ignores her at the party because she is pregnant, “Wyndham did not so much as cast a glance in my direction, except when he took my hand:  his eyes swept perfunctorily over my form and left it at that.  I did not blame him.  I would have done the same.  I knew I was disqualified” (13). 

Emma does not enjoy this difference and does not view motherhood positively, “I often think that motherhood, in its physical aspects, is like one of those trying disorders such as hay fever or asthma, which receive verbal sympathy but no real consideration, in view of their lack of fatality, and which, after years of attrition, can sour and pervert the character beyond all recovery” (9).  Emma feels that she was forced into the role of mother, “After thirteen months we had Flora, I was furious:  she was David’s responsibility, we owed her to his carelessness, I was appalled by the filthy mess of pregnancy and birth and for the last two months before she was born I could hardly speak to him for misery” (35).  Not only does Emma feel she was forced into motherhood, but she tires to keep a separate identity from the children by stating, “I have always made it a principle of suiting myself rather than the children” (47).  This struggle between Emma’s devotion to her children and her desire for independence shows the insincerity with which Emma plays her role as a mother. 

Emma plays the role of mother because it happened to her, not because that is what she would have chosen.  Emma is a well-educated, strong woman and has several opportunities available to her.  Upon learning that the family will have to move to Hereford, Emma becomes upset; “I found the idea of going to Hereford peculiarly upsetting.  I had been promised a couple of months before a very pleasant job as a newsreader and announcer by a television company” (9).  This job would have allowed Emma to expand herself beyond the role of mother.

Although she enjoys her children, Emma is looking for something new, “And after three years of childbearing and modeling maternity clothes, I felt in curious need of a good, steady, lucrative job” (10).  She needed a way to escape from the constant demands of motherhood and a way to identify herself as an individual, separate from being a mother.  Emma’s position leaves her hopeless and feeling deprived of a definition of herself, “I could hardly believe that marriage was going to deprive me of this too.  It had already deprived me of so may things which I had childishly overvalued:  my independence, my income, my twenty-two-inch waist, my sleep, most of my friends […], a whole string of finite things, and many more indefinite attributes like hope and expectation” (10).  This deprivation leaves Emma undeveloped and searching for a personal definition of self.

Emma’s personal self that could have been is discussed when her old friend Mary Summers stops by.  Mary immediately tells Emma, “And Mummy told me you had two children.  I never used to picture you with children, somehow” (108).  Emma agrees and realizes that she has turned out nothing like her past would have predicted.  She pursued an education, traveled abroad and modeled some.  Thinking about this past, Emma remarks, “It did cross my mind as we talked that our lives had turned out quite neatly upside down:  she was to have had the early marriage and the children, I was to have had the independent and faintly intellectual career” (109).  This realization makes Emma reconsider her role as mother and how it stifles her personal self.

As an independent woman, Emma does not like to lead a boring life of routine.  She wants to learn and grow.  Emma feels her role as a mother suggests that there is something wrong with her, “What was wrong with me, I wondered, what had happened to me, that I, who had seemed cut for some extremity or other, should be here now bending over a washing machine to pick out a button or two and some bits of soggy wet cotton” (159)?  Even thought Emma has been playing the role of mother for some time, she still sees herself as entirely separate from that role. 

She wants to be her real self and not linked with motherhood, “I realized more clearly that for the last few months, for the last year, I personally, I myself, the part of me that was not a function and a smile and a mother, had been curled up and rotten with grief and patience and pain. […] I hated myself.  I did not want to give myself a chance, I would rather have said no to that invitation and concentrated on my Liverpool teapots and my even temper” (131-132).  It is this fear of individual growth that leads Emma to pursue an affair with Wyndham.

Emma says she has an affair because, “It is boring, perhaps, if I repeat that I had no way of passing the time” (177).  Emma sees the affair as a way for her to be something more than just a mother.  It is a way for her to consciously choose, as an individual, what she wants to do.  For a while Emma is filled with excitement:  “I look back on that week, and on the first time I went out with Wyndham, with amazement:  so much passion, it now seems, and so little cause” (133).  As the relationship progresses Emma finds she cannot be her true self even with Wyndham.

 Emma cannot escape her idea of love:  “It’s just that I connect love-well, lying on beds and so forth-I connect that with babies.  […]  And I don’t want all that.  I just want to have a good time” (194).  She doesn’t participate in this affair for any other reason than to add a little variety to her life.  Emma wants nothing more than to be seen as something other than a mother.  And although she feels desire and passion for Wyndham, she cannot act on it:  “I feel a terrible lot about you, but I’m just not equipped to deal with it, I’m in no position to deal with it, I haven’t time for you” (194).  Besides being unable to act on her desires, Emma forgets about society’s expectations for her and receives a rude reminder when she runs into her friend Mary.

When Emma sees Mary at the restaurant, she immediately becomes aware of society’s expectations for her: “‘Who are they? He said, and I tried to explain who Mary was and what she signified.  […]  ‘I know it doesn’t matter,’ I said.  ‘It’s just that she will be so shocked” (210-202).  This encounter leads to Emma’s realization that she cannot be her real self and be accepted by society.  She has to choose between being a mother or an individual-she cannot be both.

It is after this understanding that Emma makes her choice.  Emma is in the park and runs into Wyndham.  He irritably notes that Emma is with her children:  “‘Oh Christ,’ said Wyndham, ‘do you have to bring that lot with you wherever you go’ ‘What do you mean? I said.  ‘They’re my children, I want them with me, I love them.’ ‘They’re just about all you do seem to love,’ he said with some predictability’” (223).  It is already apparent to Wyndham that Emma is choosing her children over her individual self.  Emma does not fully acknowledge this until after Flora’s accident.

 When Flora falls into the water, Emma acts on motherly instinct and is in the water at the same time Flora is.  She never once thinks about the danger to herself and is only concerned with saving Flora.  In the resulting events, Emma has time to reflect on her affair and makes a decision:

I became increasingly aware of my own strength and what a mistake I had made in trying to relapse into self-pity or the kind of romantic, self-centered indulgence that an affair with Wyndham had promised.  These things had been against my nature and against my situation, and I had not been able to go through with them.  (250)

Emma begins to understand that because of society’s expectations and her fear of individuality, she cannot make any other choice but to embrace motherhood as a mask to hide her real self. 

Works Cited

Drabble, Margaret.  The Garrick Year.  Weidenfeld & Nicholson Ltd.:  Great Britain,

            1965.