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Critical Essay by Christine Wick Sizemore
SOURCE: "The City as Mosaic: P. D. James," in A Female Vision of the City: London in the Novels of Five British Women, University of Tennessee Press, 1989, pp. 152-87.
In the following essay, Sizemore analyzes the role of London, with its mosaic of villages and people, in James's fiction, especially A Taste for Death and Innocent Blood.
A strong sub-genre of urban fiction is the detective novel. Throughout the twentieth century, women writers have infiltrated this seemingly "masculine" genre. Among contemporary writers, P. D. James, in particular, presents a complex portrait of the city as a mosaic in her detective stories and her novel Innocent Blood. The city in these works is an intricate picture built up out of many small pieces. But the mosaic is not only an image of the city in these works; it is also the method of a detective or mystery novel. From the point of view of the detective, it is not just a question of putting together pieces of a puzzle, because the picture has not yet been created. The detective must create it by fitting together the small pieces available. The pieces which P. D. James' detectives must use to create their picture of the city are London's "villages," all the districts of London that must be connected together to form a coherent whole.
The concept of London as a collection of villages echoes throughout P. D. James' works. In Unnatural Causes (1967), the male detective Adam Dalgleish refers to the district of Soho as "a cosmopolitan village tucked away behind Piccadilly with its own mysterious village life." In Skull Beneath the Skin (1982), a character who is a drama critic explains: "No one has all the London gossip. London, as you very well know, is a collection of villages, socially, occupationally, as well as geographically." In Innocent Blood (1980) Norman Scase, who is tracking the heroine, thinks of London as a place, "which asked no questions, kept its secrets, provided in its hundred urban villages the varied needs of ten million people." In her most recent work, A Taste for Death (1986), it is a female detective, Kate Miskin, who sees the mosaic of city, the linking of all the villages into an overall pattern. As she looks from the balcony of her Lansdowne Road flat, she thinks to herself:
The world stretched out below her was one she was at home in, part of that dense, exciting conglomerate of urban villages which made up the Metropolitan Police district. She pictured it stretching away over Notting Hill Gate, over Hyde Park and the curve of the river, past the towers of Westminster and Big Ben.
Kate Miskin not only sees the individual villages and landmarks, she also sees the pattern that links them:
This was how she saw the capital, patterned in police areas, districts, divisions and sub-divisions. And immediately below her lay Notting Hill, that tough, diverse, richly cosmopolitan village.
The image of the connectedness of the urban villages belongs to P. D. James' female characters, and it reflects their ability to connect to other people. Kate Miskin, unlike the traditional detective, is willing to get involved with others, and it is she who has the vision of London as a pattern, a mosaic. This is an image of London which Philippa Palfrey in Innocent Blood learns to see when she learns to connect with other people. Furthermore, it is the female characters, Kate Miskin, Philippa Palfrey and Cordelia Gray, another untraditional detective, who recognize the beauty of the city and celebrate it. There is nonetheless a hint in A Taste for Death that Adam Dalgleish, in the earlier works a typical uninvolved male detective, may start to see the beauty of the city as he gets to know Cordelia Gray.
The Tradition of the Detective Novel
The urban mystery or detective story began to appear in England in the late nineteenth century. Raymond Williams notes that it emerged as a "predominant image of the darkness and poverty of the city … became quite central in literature and social thought." If the image of the city is that of darkness, then the urban hero becomes the one who can penetrate that darkness and make sense of the city. Williams explains:
the urban detective, prefigured in a minor way in Dickens and Wilkie Collins, now begins to emerge as a significant and ratifying figure: the man who can find his way through the fog, who can penetrate the intricacies of the streets. The opaque complexity of modern city life is represented by crime; the explorer of society is reduced to the discoverer of single causes…. [Sherlock Holmes' London is]: the fog, the gaslight, the hansom cabs, the street urchins, and through them all, this eccentric sharp mind, this almost disembodied but locally furnished intelligence, which can unravel complexity,… the clear abstract system beyond all the bustle and fog.
The tradition of the detective novel clearly deals with the questions and darkness of the city, but from Williams' description, it seems to do so in a particularly masculine way: the rational abstract intelligence, elevated and separated from others, which isolates and differentiates until it identifies a single cause.
Feminist critic Carolyn Heilbrun, however, finds that the British tradition of detective novels is not as strictly masculine as it first appears. She points out that British detective novels contain autonomous and well-developed female characters and sympathetic male characters. Even if Sherlock Holmes is the "quintessential male" in his excessive ratiocination, his female clients and antagonists are strong and resourceful women. Heilbrun also sees a clear difference between the violent, gory "tough-guy" tradition with limited roles for women that evolved in American detective novels and the British tradition of "effete," "charming," and "tender" male detectives: "Manliness … was left for the Watsons in the outfit. The British in their detective fiction from Holmes on, were the first, and perhaps the last, to equate manliness with stupidity." Although ratiocination remains a prominent trait in British male detective heroes, the macho quality admired in American fiction does not appear. Heilbrun links the tradition of sympathetic male detective heroes to the success of many of the women writers who took over the British detective story in the 1920s and 1930s; furthermore Heilbrun notes a "special phenomenon" in these British women mystery writers. They start out with a charming, gentlemanly male detective, but then they bring in a woman character who begins to take over whole books: Sayers' Harriet Vane, Marsh's Agatha Troy, and Christie's Miss Marple.
Heilbrun hails P. D. James as the inheritor of this tradition. After creating a successful male police detective in Adam Dalgleish, James wrote An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972) and created private detective Cordelia Gray, to whom she returned in Skull Beneath the Skin (1982). In A Taste for Death Cordelia Gray appears briefly, and the female police officer Kate Miskin is introduced. In 1980, Heilbrun praised James as the best detective novelist of the tradition of Sayers and They in the past two decades: "The best of P. D. James' detective novels raise the genre to new heights…. [They] preserve all the glories of the earlier detective fiction while adding a modernity of detail and setting, and a concern with contemporary problems that does more than resurrect a past genre: it both recreates and strengthens it." Furthermore, P. D. James' works portray a city as not just a place of darkness. The dark alleys and corners are there, especially in the early Adam Dalgleish novels, but Cordelia Gray and Kate Miskin see light and change in the city as well as darkness.
P. D. James' portrayal of contemporary problems reveals a woman's viewpoint, particularly in the Cordelia Gray and Kate Miskin novels and in Innocent Blood. Although P. D. James creates the traditional uninvolved, rational male detective in Adam Dalgleish, she creates female detectives in Cordelia Gray and Kate Miskin who are not only autonomous and strong, but also exhibit some of the qualities of involvement with and concern for other people that the psychologists Carol Gilligan and Jessica Benjamin particularly associate with women. P. D. James too identifies these qualities as female. In a 1977 interview James said: "I believe … that women are as intelligent as men and in many ways as able, but women have got other qualities as well. These are qualities of sympathy and of understanding (an instinctive wish to look after people who are weaker than themselves) and of less aggression. This is what the world wants!" SueEllen Campbell even thinks that the women characters cause a "generic shift" in these detective novels which, like Sayers' Gaudy Night, have a "thematic richness" that is "at least partly a response to the presence of a heroine … for whom there is no established formula." This shift created by the focus on female characters and female concerns becomes even more pronounced in P. D. James' Innocent Blood, with its young, developing heroine.
The Early Detective Novels: Adam Dalgleish and Cordelia Gray
P. D. James' awareness of the differences in qualities associated with men and women is evident in her portrayal of her male and female detectives. Adam Dalgleish is a typical British male detective: although he is a published poet, he is still analytical and non-involved whether he is observing the streets or interrogating people. Yet even in an early novel, A Mind to Murder (1963), he feels guilty about this detachment:
His job, in which he could deceive himself that non-involvement was a duty, had given him glimpses into the secret lives of men and women whom he might never see again except as half-recognized faces in a London crowd. Sometimes he despised his private image, the patient, uninvolved, uncensorious inquisitor of other people's misery and guilt. How long could you stay detached he wondered, before you lost your own soul?
In Unnatural Causes one of the suspects sums up Dalgleish's professional detachment, saying, "Doesn't being a policeman protect your privacy? You have a professional excuse for remaining uninvolved…. I think you are a man who values his privacy." Although this sense of privacy and uninvolved rationality places Dalgleish in the tradition of male detective heroes, P. D. James makes clear the cost of his non-involvement. All his personal relationships are sacrificed to this stance. In some period before the series began, he had a wife, but she and their baby died in childbirth. Another woman is in love with him, but at the end of Unnatural Causes she leaves to take a job in New York because she can "no longer bear to loiter about on the periphery of his life." P. D. James said in a recent interview with Dale Salwak that she is conscious of these qualities in Adam Dalgleish. She did not want to create a character so perfect that he would be boring: "I do have to remind myself there are things about his character which I don't admire. He's so almost completely detached at times, even a little cold, and I wouldn't have thought easy to work for at all." Only his writing poetry, like Holmes' playing the violin, shows his potential for sensitivity.
Cordelia Gray does not have to feel guilty about detachment because although she is strong and autonomous, she does allow herself to get involved. At the beginning of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, her openness to involvement almost undermines her professionalism. Cordelia Gray is faced with keeping a detective agency open all by herself after the suicide of her partner, who had cancer. Her first case, the seeming suicide of Mark Callender, takes her to Cambridge, where she almost succumbs to the undergraduates' offer of camaraderie. She had not been to the university herself; her mother died at birth, and her father, a revolutionary, took her out of convent school at sixteen so she could join him on the continent. When the Cambridge undergraduates take her for a picnic and a ride in a punt, she is almost lulled into giving up her case and agreeing that Mark Callender's death is suicide. Cordelia Gray, however, is more independent and plucky than the undergraduates, and she perseveres, enduring threats and even an attempt on her life. Finally, she does get involved after she has solved the mystery of Mark's death. When Miss Leaming, Ronald Callender's secretary, kills him upon learning that he grotesquely murdered their son, Cordelia protects the woman, not really for her own sake, but because Miss Leaming is Mark's mother and Cordelia grew to respect Mark during her investigation. She also hated Ronald Callender for desecrating Mark's body and setting Mark up as an object of contempt. Cordelia carefully helps Miss Leaming to make it look as if Sir Ronald committed suicide. She manages to stick to her story even under Adam Dalgleish's questioning, although she knows he suspects the truth. In spite of the supposed detachment required of a detective, Cordelia is not afraid of sympathy for and involvement with people. She was genuinely fond of her partner, Bernie Pryde, and at the end of her questioning by Dalgleish, she bursts into tears, partly of relief, but mostly for Bernie, whom Adam had fired even though Bernie idealized him. She lashes out at Adam, "after you'd sacked him, you never enquired how he got on. You didn't even come to the funeral."
In both An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and Skull Beneath the Skin, it is Cordelia, with her acceptance of involvement and connection, who walks around London. Even though both novels in which she appears are set primarily outside London, they both open with Cordelia walking down Kingly Street, just past Oxford Circus, to her office. She has kept Pryde's detective agency solvent by taking cases searching for lost cats and dogs. She has even trained her inefficient elderly secretary, Miss Maudsley, to help look for cats: Miss Maudsley "managed to conquer her timidity when in pursuit of cat thieves and on Saturday mornings walked purposely through the rowdy exuberance and half-submerged terrors of London's street markets as if under divine protection, which no doubt she felt herself to be." Also in Skull Beneath the Skin she gets involved even at risk of her own life by trying to save the young murderer, who is terrified into trying to drown himself. In response to the monstrous selfishness of the real villain, Ambrose Gorringe, Cordelia cries in anger, "You killed him [the young murderer], and you tried to kill me…. Not even in self-defense. Not even out of hatred. My life counted for less than your comfort, your possessions." After dealing with Ambrose, Cordelia finds it reassuring to get a call from Miss Maudsley, who urges her home to find a Siamese cat because it belongs to a girl who is just out of the hospital after a leukemia treatment. The city has room for detectives with compassion.
In P. D. James' early detective novels, her male detective, Adam Dalgleish, does not see the city as a positive place where missing cats can be found. When Dalgleish walks through Soho in Unnatural Causes, he correctly identifies it as a village, but it fills him with disgust:
It was difficult to believe that he had once enjoyed walking through this shoddy gulch…. It was largely a matter of mood, no doubt, for the district is all things to all men, catering comprehensively for those needs which money can buy. You see it as you wish. An agreeable place to dine: a cosmopolitan village tucked away behind Piccadilly with its own mysterious village life, one of the best shopping centres for food in London, the nastiest and most sordid nursery of crime in Europe…. Passing the strip clubs, the grubby basement stairs, the silhouettes of bored girls against the upstairs window blinds, Dalgleish thought that a daily walk through these ugly streets could drive any man into a monastery.
Some of the same aspects of the city are portrayed in Innocent Blood. The city is seen as reflecting an observer's mood. Although a district is vividly portrayed as a "village" within the city, here, from a male point of view, it is a grim district with no redeeming qualities. The same disgust is present in Shroud for a Nightingale, when the male Sergeant Masterson goes into London to interview an informant and ends up at a macabre dance contest at the Athenaeum Hall. The urban districts are there, but are not yet seen as part of the glittering tiles of a mosaic.
The same difference is evident in male and female observation of architectural change and renovation. Bernard Benstock, writing primarily about the Dalgleish novels, notes that almost "every important building that serves as the central stage of her tragic dramas has been converted from something else, and each is either in the process or in potential danger of being reconverted or abandoned or torn down in turn." This awareness of architectural change is especially vivid in the city where the male observers, as in Dickens, are disgusted by the change, but the female observers, as in Lessing, can delight in it. In Unnatural Causes, Adam Dalgleish goes to London to search for a suspect and walks through a mews which has just been renovated:
The cobbled entrance was uninviting, ill-lit and smelt strongly of urine. Dalgleish … passed under the archway into a wide yard lit only by a solitary and unshaded bulb over one of a double row of garages. The premises had apparently once been the headquarters of a driving school…. But they were dedicated now to a nobler purpose, the improvement of London's chronic housing shortage. More accurately, they were being converted into dark, under-sized and over-priced cottages soon, no doubt, to be advertised as "bijou town residences" to tenants or owners prepared to tolerate any expense or inconvenience for the status of a London address and the taste for contemporary chi-chi.
The darkness of the houses and the snob appeal of the district recall Dickens' description of the Barnacle house in Little Dorrit, an ill-smelling, cramped house located on the fringes of a fashionable neighborhood:
Mews Street, Grosvenor Square, was not absolutely Grosvenor Square itself, but it was very near it. It was a hideous little street of dead wall, stables, and dunghills, with lofts over coachhouses inhabited by coachmen's families, who had a passion for drying clothes and decorating their window-sills with miniature turnpikegates…. Yet there were two or three small airless houses at the entrance end of Mews Street, which went at enormous rents on account of their being abject hangers-on to a fashionable situation.
In Shroud for a Nightingale, the renovations Dalgleish encounters in North Kensington are less chic and even grimmer than those in Unnatural Causes:
Number 49 Millington Square, W.10, was a large dilapidated Italianate house fronted with crumbling stucco. There was nothing remarkable about it. It was typical of hundreds in this part of London. It was obviously divided into bed-sitting rooms since every window showed a different set of curtains, or none, and it exuded that curious atmosphere of secretive and lonely over-occupation which hung over the whole district.
In Skull Beneath the Skin, however, the renovation of Cordelia Gray's flat off Thames Street is seen in a positive light:
as she moved from the single large sitting room to her bedroom she could see spread below her the glittering streets, the dark alleyways, the towers and steeples of the city, could glimpse beyond them the necklace of light slung along the Embankment and the smooth, light-dazzled curve of the river. The view, in daylight or after dark, was a continual marvel to her, the flat itself a source of astonished delight…. No building society had been interested in a sixth-floor apartment at the top of a Victorian warehouse with no lift and the barest amenities…. But her bank manager, apparently to his surprise as much as hers, had been sympathetic and had authorized a five-year loan.
The buildings Adam Dalgleish sees throughout London have been thoughtlessly chopped up into small bedsitters or carelessly renovated with a false attempt at chic. Cordelia, who has done some of the renovation herself, is rewarded by a glorious view of London that sustains her after her sorties out into the countryside to solves murders. Although both detectives go into the city of London in the course of these early novels, it is Cordelia Gray who is portrayed as the lover of London.
Not only Cordelia but even one of the female murderers has a more positive view of the city than Adam Dalgleish. A Mind to Murder is set in London in a psychiatric clinic located in a Georgian Terrace house on an imaginary London square with a mews to the rear. Occasionally the story follows characters to their London residences, such as Nurse Bolam's flat in a narrow terraced house at 17 Rettinger Street N.W.1. The ground floor smells of "frying fat, furniture polish and stale urine," but in summer evenings she could "watch the sun setting behind a castellation of sloping roofs and twisting chimneys with, in the distance, the turrets of St. Pancras Station darkening against a flaming sky." In P. D. James' early detective novels, it is only the women, whether they be detectives or murderers, who see the beauty of London.
A Taste for Death
In James' most recent detective novel, A Taste for Death (1986), which is set entirely in London, there is some hint that Dalgleish can change. A friend mentions that Dalgleish was seen dining with Cordelia Gray; perhaps he is beginning to learn from her. In A Taste for Death, the victim is for the first time someone Dalgleish knew, however briefly, Sir Paul Berowne, a government minister, and Dalgleish worries whether he is too involved. Dalgleish is less sure of himself in this novel. He is no longer writing poetry and is somewhat "disillusioned" with police work. He asks himself: "And if I tell myself that enough is enough, twenty years of using people's weakness against them, twenty years of careful non-involvement, if I resign, what then?" This time, though, he recognizes that he is involved. After a difficult interview in which he tries to get information from the Special Branch, Dalgleish thinks:
what depressed him most and left him with a sour taste of self-disgust, was how close he had come to losing his control. He realized how important it had become to him, his reputation for coolness, detachment, uninvolvement. Well, he was involved now. Perhaps they were right. You shouldn't take on a case if you knew the victim. But how could he claim to have known Berowne … a three-hour train journey, a brief ten-minute spell in his office, an interrupted walk in St. James's Park? And yet he knew that he had never felt so great an empathy with any other victim.
In spite of feeling empathy for Berowne, Dalgleish still remains a rational man. Upon hearing a priest suggest that he thought he saw the stigmata on Berowne's hands shortly before the minister was killed, Dalgleish is shocked and even feels "revulsion" towards "the bizarre intrusion of irrationality into a job so firmly rooted in the search for evidence … demonstrable, real." When two assistants discuss Dalgleish, one says to the other, "AD likes life to be rational. Odd for a poet, but there it is." Even if Dalgleish remains rational and is depressed by his involvement, he nonetheless has a vision of London in this novel similar to those experienced by female characters in P. D. James' other novels. While an Assistant Commissioner looks into a file, Dalgleish looks out over the city of London and contrasts Manhattan, whose "spectacular soaring beauty always seemed … precarious," with the gentler panorama of his own city:
London, laid out beneath him under a low ceiling of silver-grey cloud, looked eternal, rooted, domestic. He saw the panorama, of which he never tired, in terms of painting. Sometimes it had the softness and immediacy of watercolour; sometimes, in high summer, when the park burgeoned with greenness, it had the rich texture of oil. This morning it was a steel engraving, hard-edged, grey, one-dimensional.
Here Dalgleish actually stops to observe the city below him and draws an analogy between the variety of London and styles of painting.
P. D. James introduces a new female character, Police Inspector Kate Miskin, in A Taste for Death. Kate, an illegitimate child whose mother died in childbirth, was brought up by her grandmother in a "meanly proportioned, dirty, noisy flat … of a post-war tower block" and attended a multi-racial state school, Ancroft Comprehensive. Kate has no nostalgia for her childhood. She is delighted with her new job and her flat in an old Victorian building near the corner of Lansdowne and Ladbroke Roads because it allows her to escape the past: "She had little feeling for the past; all her life had been a striving to struggle free of it." When asked why she chose police work, Kate thinks to herself: "I thought I could do the job. I was ambitious. I prefer order and hierarchy to muddle." Kate says she prefers order and hierarchy and freedom from the past, but she naturally involves herself with people, and during her first case, she comes to terms with her past. When she and Adam Dalgleish go to visit Berowne's mistress, Carole Washburn, the male detective admires Kate's feminine ease with people:
It was typical of her, thought Dalgleish, this unsentimental, practical response to people and their immediate concerns. Without hectoring or presumption, she could reduce the most embarrassing situation to something approaching normality. It was one of her strengths. Now, above the tinkle of kettle lid and crockery, he could hear their voices, conversational, almost ordinary.
Listening to them, Dalgleish suddenly feels, that they "would both get on better without his male, destructive presence."
When Carole Washburn has some information to give the police, it is Kate she asks to see. She and Kate meet in Holland Park, and she tells Kate about a letter Berowne received from a girl who committed suicide. As Kate talks to Carole about Berowne's wife, Carole bursts into tears. Kate's first impulse is to invite Carole back to her flat for coffee. Kate at first checks herself, then submits to her own feelings of sympathy:
suppose Carole were required to give evidence in court, then any suggestion of friendship, of an understanding between them could be prejudicial to the prosecution. And more than to the prosecution; it could be prejudicial to her own career. It was the kind of sentimental error of judgement which wouldn't exactly displease Massingham if he came to hear of it. And then she heard herself saying:
"My flat is very close, just across the avenue. Come and have coffee before you go."
Kate knows she should be careful not to be "sentimental" and become involved with people while investigating a case, but she does anyway. She met her lover, a theology librarian, when she went to investigate a stolen book. This time, when she sees how distraught Carole is, her sympathy for people and, as P. D. James says of women in general, her "instinctive wish to look after people who are weaker" than she is, take precedence over her "better" judgment.
In this novel Kate also comes to terms with her past in the person of her aging grandmother. Kate doesn't want her grandmother to move in with her because she cherishes her freedom and is committed to her job. Nonetheless, when her grandmother is mugged, Kate takes her in and realizes that personal relationships are even more important than her job:
Nothing is more important to me than my job. But I can't make the law the basis of my personal morality. There has to be something more if I'm to live at ease with myself. And it seemed to her that she had made a discovery about herself and about her job which was of immense importance, and she smiled that it should have happened while she was hesitating between two brands of tinned pears in a Notting Hill Gate supermarket.
Kate Miskin comes to terms with her past, and it is not surprising that someone who can come to terms with her own past and who values involvement with other people above the law can, like Maureen Duffy's characters, see the past in the city and recognize that nature is part of the city. Like Dalgleish, Kate too can see the panorama of the city; from the balcony of her flat, she looks out over London past "the great limes [lindens] lining Holland Park Avenue":
To the south the trees of Holland Park were a black curdle against the sky, and ahead the spire of St. John's church gleamed like some distant mirage…. Far below to her right under the high are lights the avenue ran due west, greasy as a molten river, bearing its unending cargo of cars, trucks and red buses. This, she knew, had once been the old Roman road leading westward straight out of Londinium; its constant grinding roar came to her only faintly like the surge of a distant sea.
Kate meets witnesses in Holland Park, and every night she looks out at the lime trees and the plane trees that line the great rivers of avenues. She learns to deal with her own past, and she can connect London and Londinium. She can see the mosaic of the city.
P. D. James' most vivid portrayal of London is not in one of her detective novels, although A Taste for Death comes close, but in Innocent Blood (1980). Several reviewers call Innocent Blood a "straight" novel, but Nancy Joyner points out that it still includes many elements of the traditional mystery form: two violent deaths described in detail; two amateur detectives, Philippa Palfrey and Norman Scase; clues that lead up to a final revelation, and the London setting. It is in this novel, as Philippa Palfrey tries to put together the pieces of her past to find her identity, that London and its many districts and neighborhoods are presented in great detail and that the image of London as mosaic emerges most strongly. It is particularly important because it is reflected in the novel's detective structures as well as its theme.
Philippa Palfrey is younger than the protagonists of Lessing's, Drabble's, and Murdoch's novels and her task is the establishment of identity and the development of the ability to love. Unlike most teenagers, who break with their past or at least strain against it to find their identity, she is an adopted child who must discover her past and connect with it. Philippa is like Cordelia Gray and Kate Miskin in being intelligent and independent, but unlike them she has not yet learned to be concerned for others. Although she has achieved for her adoptive parents, she has no real love for them nor does she think they really love her. Maurice Palfrey, and his second wife Hilda, had adopted Philippa after Maurice's first wife and son were killed in an automobile accident. Philippa has almost no memory of her first eight years before she was adopted. Her fantasy, aided by Hilda, has been that she is the daughter of a lord and his serving maid because she has a memory of the rose garden and the library of Pennington, a country manor house. Now she must let her fantasies evaporate and slowly, piece by piece, build up her real past. She does this by moving around London, where each district is like a small village or piece of mosaic tile that, put together, is the larger reality of London.
The city cannot create an identity for Philippa; like the small glittering tiles of a mosaic or the mirrors that Philippa and Norman Scase look into, the city can only reflect back what is before it. When Philippa goes out to find an apartment for herself and her natural mother, she sees the city as a mirror for the observer's mood:
She came to know a different London and she saw it through different eyes. The city was all things to all men. It reflected and deepened mood; it did not create it. Here the miserable were more miserable, the lonely more bereft, while the prosperous and happy saw reflected in her river and glittering life the confirmation of their deserved success.
Ultimately the city can only reflect, but that quality offers Philippa two things, a reminder of physical reality and the freedom of anonymity. When Philippa first discovers her parents' names, she takes the train from Liverpool Station out "through the urban sprawl of the eastern suburbs; rows of drab houses with blackened bricks and patched roofs." The train passed "wastelands rank with weeds" and finally arrived at Seven Kings Station near Bancroft Gardens where her parents lived. There in the "leafy privacy and cosy domesticity" of Church Lane with its "identical semidetached houses … architecturally undistinguished, but at least … on a human scale," she learns from neighbors that Martin and Mary Ducton were the rapist and murderess of twelve-year-old Julie Scase, and that her father died in prison. Her earlier fantasy about her past bursts like an iridescent soap bubble and she feels faint and sick.
Philippa regains her sense of self by concentrating on a piece of shiny paving stone that evokes the image of a mosaic tile: "she opened her eyes and made herself concentrate on the things she could touch and feel. She ran her fingers over the roughness of the wall." After Philippa grounds herself in reality by feeling the texture of the wall, she is able to see the paving stone:
It was pricked with light, set with infinitesimal specks, bright as diamonds. Pollen from the gardens had blown over it and there was a single flattened rose petal like a drop of blood. How extraordinary that a paving stone should be so varied, should reveal under the intensity of her gaze such gleaming wonders. These things at least were real, and she was real—more vulnerable, less durable than bricks and stones, but still present, visible, an identity.
Physical reality isn't much of an identity; Philippa has much to learn, including the meaning of the rose petal, red as blood, but at least she starts with one piece of identity, her physical existence. The paving stone glittering with bits of reflected light is itself a piece of mosaic revealing wonder and variety. It foreshadows the many villages that make up London and the pieces of the picture Philippa must put together of her past. Philippa pulls herself together enough to take the train back into London, but she spends "the rest of the day walking in the City." The city reflects her mood in the grey rainy sky, and even the "pavement stones were as tacky as if … [rain] had fallen heavily all day, and a few shallow puddles had collected in the gutter into which occasional dollops dropped with heavy portentousness from a sky as thick and gray as curdled milk." This time the paving stones reflect no gleam of light. Philippa will have to discover that on her own.
The city also offers Philippa the freedom and anonymity in which to get to know her natural mother, Mary Ducton, whom she brings to London after her mother's release from prison. By moving out of her adopted parents' house and renting a flat in another district, Philippa achieves anonymity for herself and her mother. They glory in it as Martha Quest did in The Four-Gated City:
Their freedom did, indeed, seem to be limitless, stretching out in concentric waves from those three small rooms above Monty's Fruit and Veg to embrace the whole of London. The freedom of the city—of the lumpy grass under the elms of St. James's Park, where they would search for a spare length of grass … and lie on their backs, staring up through a dazzle of shivering green and silver and listening to the midday band concert.
The city offers Philippa and her mother the anonymity of the crowd, but it does not offer escape from their own past. As Hilary Burde discovered in Iris Murdoch's A Word Child, the past can find them in the city even if they come to the city to try to escape it. Norman Scase recognizes the opportunity that London offers but he, in his vow to avenge the death of his daughter, represents the past that haunts Mary Ducton. Norman Scase loses Philippa and Mary Ducton when they first get off the train from the prison in York, but he knows he can find them in spite of the city's anonymity:
He didn't believe for one moment they were in the country. It was in the vast anonymity of the capital that the hunted felt most secure. London, which asked no questions, kept its secrets, provided in its hundred urban villages the varied needs of ten million people. And the girl was no provincial. Only a Londoner would have stridden with such confidence through the complexities of King's Cross Underground Station.
London may be secretive, but Norman Scase has a map, and like a good detective he can fit the pieces of a puzzle together and discover which urban village Philippa has chosen.
These villages, or districts, are described in even greater detail in Innocent Blood then in P. D. James' other novels. When Maurice Palfrey, Philippa's adoptive father, thinks back to his first wife and their selection of a house, he remembers that they tried to decide which district had the character they wanted: "All districts of London were apparently impossible for her. Hampstead was too trendy, Mayfair too expensive, Bayswater vulgar, Belgravia too smart." Finally they find Caldecote Terrace in Pimlico. After the death of his first wife and her son Orlando, Maurice marries his dowdy secretary Hilda, not really because he loves her, but because she weeps for Orlando. Hilda is not a society woman like his first wife; she prefers to keep house and cook. Pimlico becomes Hilda's village, and when Norman Scase loses Philippa and Mary Ducton on the subway, he finds the Palfreys' address, Caldecote Terrace, which "lay on the fringes of Pimlico, southeast of Victoria and Ecclestone Bridge." When Norman goes there he discovers "a cul-de-sac of converted but unspoiled late eighteenth-century terraced houses which lay off the wider and busier Caldecote Road." Although he feels "like an interloper entering a private precinct of orderliness, culture, and comfortable prosperity," he is on his mission as a detective and has trained himself to observe carefully. At first he imagines what the district is like:
They would, he imagined, affect to despise the smartness of Belgravia; would enthuse about the advantages of a socially mixed society, even if the mixing didn't actually extend to sending their children to local schools; would patronize as a duty the small shopkeepers in Caldecote Road.
He soon gives up his reverie and starts to observe the area carefully:
The street had an impressive uniformity; the houses were identical except for variations in the patterns of the fanlights and in the wrought-iron tracery of the first-floor balconies. The front railings guarding the basements were spiked and ornamented at the ends with pineapples. The doors, flanked with columns, were thoroughly intimidating; the brass letter boxes and knockers gleamed.
Kevin Lynch notes in The Image of the City that a "city district in its simplest sense is an area of homogeneous character, recognized by clues which are continuous throughout the district…. The homogeneity may be of spatial characteristics … of building type … of style or of topography. It may be a typical building feature…. Where physical homogeneity coincides with use and status, the effect is unmistakable. In Pimlico, as P. D. James describes it, the eighteenth-century terraced houses have an "impressive uniformity," varying only in the shapes of fanlights and the patterns of wrought-iron tracery. Although Maurice Palfrey is the professional sociologist, Norman Scase's intent focus on detection and eye for details give him accurate "preconceptions" of the upper-middle-class liberal inhabitants of this district. The physical boundaries of the district are reinforced by its visual characteristics, and together they clearly delineate the "urban village."
Pimlico is a well-defined district with clearly differentiated public and private paths. Norman Scase knows that he cannot watch the Palfreys' house from Caldecote Terrace because he would be noticed. In Caldecote Road, the public area, however, he is safe:
The road was in marked contrast to the terrace, a disorderly muddle of shops, cafes, pubs, and the occasional office, typical of an inner London commercial street from which any glory had long departed. It was a bus route, and small, disconsolate groups of shoppers, laden with their baskets and trolleys, waited at the stops…. Here, if not in Caldecote Terrace, he could loiter in safety.
Although Norman at first mistakes the plain, unassuming Hilda for a maid, he finally identifies her and trails her, hoping for a lead to Philippa:
Pimlico was her [Hilda's] village, and it became his, bounded by Victoria Street and Vauxhall Bridge Road, two flowing thoroughfares like unnavigable rivers over which she never ventured to pass.
Pimlico's clearly marked public and private paths and the unmistakable boundaries of the two thoroughfares define the district. Within it are not only housing and shopping facilities but even recreational areas. It has its own park, Embankment Gardens, with a view of the Thames. Hilda goes there to eat lunch on summer days and to lean on the parapet, staring "at the gritty fringes of the Thames, plumed with gulls, at the great barges as they grunted upstream, slapping the tide against the embankment wall." The Thames functions not only as an edge for the district, but also as a link with the rest of London, as the barges go upstream. In spite of the specific boundaries, Hilda is content to stay within the confines of Pimlico because she already knows other parts of London; she grew up as the only child of working-class parents "in a small terraced house in the poorer part of Ruislip." Philippa, however, feels that Pimlico is part of the "charade" of a fabricated past. She thinks her reflection in the mirror of her room in Caldecote Terrace is inaccurate and unreal. She "had half expected the image to fudge and quiver like a reflection seen in a distorting mirror." The district of Pimlico alone, no matter how well defined in and of itself, cannot reflect back to Philippa a complete identity. To get that she must go out into the city of London and get to know other districts.
To discover her past, Philippa needs to see the other districts of London anew. As she looks for her own apartment in the city, she gains a new perspective:
Once, from the security of Caldecote Terrace she would have seen the meaner streets of north Paddington, Kilburn, and Earls Court as fascinating outposts of an alien culture, part of the variety and color of any capital city.
Now with disenchanted and prejudiced eyes she saw only fifth and deformity; the bursting bags of uncollected rubbish, the litter which choked the gutters … the walls defaced by the scribbled hate of extremists of the left and right.
Philippa also feels uncomfortable with the people of the district:
The alien shrouded bodies crouching on the curbside, watching from the open doors, threatened her with their strangeness; the prevailing smells of curry, of herded bodies, of scented women's hair, emphasized the sense of exclusion, of being unwanted in her own city.
Philippa learns to accept strangeness and finally even to be concerned for others when she moves into her apartment on Delaney Street with her mother.
P. D. James describes Delaney Street as being "at the Lisson Grove end of Mell Street" near Praed Street and Edgware Road, but Delaney Street is a made-up name, as are Mell Street and Caldecote Terrace. Although P. D. James uses real main streets like Praed Street and Edgware Road, Victoria Street and Vauxhall Bridge Road, she often makes up street names for residences in her novels. Frequently these names are very close to real street names. For instance, there is a Caldecot Road (without the final e) in another part of London. There is no Delaney Street, but there is a Delancey Street. Mell Street, as Nancy Joyner notes, is "clearly modelled on London's Bell Street." In A Taste for Death, the most urban of all her traditional detective novels, James adds an author's note when she uses real street names for residences: "My apologies are due to the inhabitants of Camden Hill Square for my temerity in erecting a Sir John Soane house to disrupt the symmetry of their terraces and to the Diocese of London for providing, surplus to pastoral requirements, a Sir Arthur Blomfield basilica and its campanile on the banks of the Grand Union Canal."
Delaney Street first gives Philippa the anonymity that she needs to put together her past. Safe in her newfound anonymity, she can get to know the district. Delaney Street becomes her new "village":
the core of their joint life lay in Delaney Street and Mell Street. Philippa told herself that she couldn't have found a better part of London in which to be anonymous. The district had a life of its own, but it was one in which the sense of community was fostered by seeing the same familiar faces, not by inquiring into their business. Delaney Street was a quiet cul-de-sac inhabited chiefly by the middle-aged or elderly living above their small family shops. It had something of the atmosphere of a self-sufficient, ancient, and sleepy village, a sluggish backwater between the great surging rivers of the Marylebone Road and the Edgware Road.
Like Pimlico, Delaney Street has clearly defined boundaries and identifiable, homogeneous physical features. It fits Jane Jacobs' definition of an ideal city neighborhood in that it offers privacy and yet some degree of community and contact. Philippa and her mother have the anonymity they need. Although they deliberately do not drink at their local pub, the Blind Beggar, in order to maintain their privacy, still "they felt accepted in the street." No longer "unwanted in her own city," Philippa can relax and begin to learn from the district.
Philippa begins to celebrate the variety and festive quality of the district as she and her mother go out into the crowds of Mell Street on marketing day:
It was a small, intimate, bustling market, cosmopolitan but at the same time very English…. Early in the morning the seller of second-hand rugs and carpets wheeled up his great wooden barrow and patterned the road with his wares…. The tarmac itself became festive. Later the market took on something of the atmosphere of an eastern souk when the brass seller arrived to set out his jangling pots, and a Pakistani who sold cheap jewelry hung across his stall a swinging curtain of wooden beads.
The shops also set the tone of the district:
Behind the stalls were the small shops: the old—fashioned draper where one could still buy woolen combinations and sleeved vests … the Greek delicatessen smelling of syrup and sharp Mediterranean wine; the small general store, clean, sweet-smelling, perpetually dark … the half-dozen junk shops.
No longer does Philippa feel threatened by strangeness and difference. She can perceive the festivity of market day and enjoy the variety of shops and people.
Having come to know the "village" of Delaney Street, Philippa can branch out to get to know some of the people of various classes that make up the city. Previously she knew only her private school friends and her adoptive father's academically and socially distinguished acquaintances. Now Philippa learns to get along with some lower-class women when she and her mother take jobs as waitresses at Sid's Place, a fish-and-chip shop off Kilburn High Road. There they share waiting on tables and washing up with Black Shirl, who knifed her mother when she was twelve; with Marlene, who has bright orange spiked hair and tattoos on her arm; and with waif-like, pale Debbie. When Debbie holds a knife to Marlene's throat, Philippa is not as calm as her mother, who, "undisturbed, by the irrational explosions of violence," merely persuades the girl to give her the knife. The incident makes Philippa, however, aware of the economic injustice of the city:
Two vivid and contrasting mental pictures came frequently into her mind: Gabriel calling for her … swinging himself out of his Lagonda, running up the steps of number 68, his cashmere sweater slung from his shoulders; Black Shirl humping to a corner of the kitchen the great bag of washing for her five children which she would wheel in a pram to the launderette on her way home. Perhaps Maurice's [Palfrey, her adoptive father] mind was patterned with equally vivid images, contrasts which had made him a Socialist.
Philippa has still not developed as much of a concern for others as her mother, who feels guilty that she and Philippa talk about the three women "as if they're objects, interesting specimens." Philippa says that it doesn't matter as long as they do not know, but Mary Ducton replies, "Perhaps not to them. It might to us." Philippa still regards others objectively, from the outside, filing people away in her subconscious to use someday when she becomes a writer, but at least as she gets to know a greater variety of people, she becomes more aware of economic injustice. She starts to connect Pimlico and Delaney Street.
It is the connection of districts that for Lynch makes a mosaic of the city. When "regions are close enough together and sufficiently well joined … [they] make a continuous mosaic of distinctive districts." Lynch explains that the districts can be connected in different ways: "District may join to district, by juxtaposition, intervisibility, relation to a line, or by some link such as a mediating node." In Innocent Blood the links that connect the "villages" and make them into a city are not only in the mind of Philippa, but also physically present in the forms of the underground and the trains, which function as the mediating nodes. Lynch defines a node as a place of "junction" and "convergence of paths." The underground and the trains represent "junction" not only in themselves, but as they connect the various districts. It is also by means of the underground that the various characters connect with each other. All the characters use the trains and the underground; there are numerous references to Liverpool Street Station, King's Cross Station, Piccadilly Circus, and the stops on the Circle Line. Even though both the "villages," Pimlico and Delaney Street, have strong boundaries in the heavily-traveled thoroughfares, these boundaries can be crossed. They function as "seams" rather than as "barriers," to use Lynch's terms, and the districts are connected into a mosaic. It is via the underground that Norman Scase first tracks Hilda and then Philippa and her mother. Although Pimlico is Hilda's "village," she leaves it once a fortnight to serve as a juvenile magistrate, a job she takes to please Maurice. Norman Scase trails her from Victoria Station, to her change at Oxford Circus to the Bakerloo line, and out at Marylebone Station. It is on this trip that Hilda leads him to nearby Delaney Street, where she stops on her way home. Once Norman Scase has found Philippa and her mother, it "was simple enough to trail them on the underground. They usually went from Marylebone, the nearest station." If Norman Scase doesn't know districts, he doesn't worry. The underground and his map of London connect the city for him: "On his larger map he traced the route of the Circle line. Bloomsbury, Marylebone, Bayswater, Kensington. The districts were unfamiliar to him, but he would get to know them." Norman's approach to the city differs from Philippa's. Although an observant detective and able to use the connecting underground system, he still needs his map to get to know the city. She, however, goes into the districts of the city, lives there, and comes to understand the people of the city. Her ability to connect becomes more powerful than that of the purely rational detective because it eventually becomes an ability to connect emotionally and value other people. She is the one who will see the mosaic.
Philippa is comfortable riding the underground, and she begins to think about connection between districts and economic policies, but before she can connect fully and learn to love others, she must come to terms with her past. At first she thinks she can get rid of the past that is merely a blur in her memory. After Philippa and her mother first get to London, she takes her mother to Knightsbridge to buy some expensive new clothes. Then they pack up everything that her mother had brought with her from prison into an old battered case and throw it into the Grand Union Canal. As the case submerges under the "greasy surface" of the canal.
Philippa felt an almost physical relief, as if she had flung away something of herself, of her past—not the past which she knew and recognized, but the formless weight of unremembered years, of childhood miseries which were not less acute because they lurked beyond the frontier of memory. They were gone now, gone forever, sinking slowly into the mud.
In her relationship with her mother, Philippa tells herself that "L. P. Hartley was right; the past was another country and they could choose whether to visit there." Philippa, who often thinks in literary allusions, is comfortable with an intellectual past, but not a personal and emotional one. When she thinks back to life with the Palfreys, and Maurice bringing her morning tea, an allusion flits through her mind, slightly misquoted from Marlowe's Jew of Malta: "But that was in another country and, besides, that wench was dead." The "wench" that she was with Maurice and Hilda Palfrey, however, is no more dead than the first eight years of her life with her mother. The only "wench" who is dead is Julie Scase, and even she lives on in her father's determination for revenge.
Philippa also attempts to ignore the past when she watches TV. On their days off from Sid's fish-and-chip shop, Philippa and her mother watch a family drama, and Philippa thinks that the "convenient ability to live for the moment with its subliminal message that the past could literally be put behind one had much to recommend it." But even that innocuous TV show intersects with the past when they turn on the TV early and see Maurice Palfrey, supposedly an atheist, debate with a bishop. As they listen to the show. Mary Ducton reveals that she understands both her past and the nature of belief. She observes of Maurice: "Your father knows and hates what he knows. I believe, but I can't love anymore. He and I are the unlucky ones." Mary Ducton explains that she cannot love because she has to feel contrition for the murder of Julie Scase in order to receive God's forgiveness, but contrition is now impossible because she has spent her time in prison convincing herself that she wasn't responsible. The crying child reminded her of her little brother who was often beaten by their father; she had to quiet it lest more beatings occur. She says to Philippa:
I can't spend ten years explaining to myself that I wasn't responsible, that I couldn't have prevented myself doing what I did, and then when I'm free … decide that it would be pleasant to have God's forgiveness as well.
Mary Ducton understands that she must accept the past. This conversation leads to Philippa's questions about baptism, and she learns that she was christened "Rose."
Behind the name "Rose" and Philippa's relationship to it lie a series of references to roses throughout the novel. They all relate to the idea of human connection and compassion. As the novel opens, Philippa looks at a bowl of roses in the social worker's office, not "scentless, thornless … florist's" roses, but garden roses. Philippa thinks of her fantasy of a lord and maid meeting in the rose garden at Pennington. The social worker urges that Philippa trace her father through an intermediary, warning: "We all need our fantasies in order to live. Sometimes relinquishing them can be extraordinarily painful, not a rebirth into something exciting and new, but a kind of death." Relinquishing her fantasies will lead to a death for Philippa, not her own, but her mother's. Still Philippa will learn from relinquishing her fantasies even though the social worker's warning exhibited valid human concern and compassion. Other roses occur throughout the novel. There are small pink rosebuds on the curtain surrounding the hospital deathbed of Norman Scase's wife. Norman Scase does not really love his wife anymore; she had given up everything to grief and a desire for revenge, but he does sit at her deathbed and hold her hand. The punk waitress Marlene has a tattoo of hearts and roses on her arm. When Hilda, sitting on the juvenile magistrate's bench, looks down at a young girl whose baby has been taken from her for fear she or her husband beat the child, she notices a metal brooch in the shape of a rose dragging on the young mother's flimsy cotton top: "She yearned to lean over the bench and stretch out her hands to the girl, to get out from her seat and fold the rigid body in her arms." And it is when he sees Hilda clumsily trying to arrange a bowl of roses that Maurice Palfrey blurts out that he is the one who is infertile, not she: "Because of a bowl of ruined roses, because of a moment of futile compassion, he had blurted it out. Not the whole truth … but a part of the truth, the essential truth. A secret he had kept for twelve years." Although such compassion seems futile to Maurice, it lifts a burden from Hilda and makes her realize that she "needn't spend her life making up to him for a deprivation which was nothing to do with her." She can resign from the juvenile magistrate bench where she cannot help anyone; she can fulfill her long-held wish for a dog. Reacting against the fragility and messiness of real roses, Maurice decides suddenly that he doesn't like them anymore:
They were an overpraised flower, soon blowzy, their beauty dependent on scent and poetic association. One perfect bloom in a specimen vase placed against a plain wall could be a marvel of color and form, but flowers ought to be judged by how they grew. A rose garden always looked messy, spiky, recalcitrant bushes bearing mean leaves. And the roses grew untidily, had such a brief moment of beauty before the petals bleached and peeled in the wind, littering the soil.
Richard Gidez points out that Maurice and Hilda are really talking about Philippa in their comments on roses. Maurice had thought that he could take Philippa out of the messy, spiky garden of ordinary life and rear her as a perfect specimen, but now Philippa has gone back to ordinary life. Suddenly it occurs to Maurice that the roses parallel the human condition. People, like roses, cannot be judged in isolation, but rather must be perceived as growing in a garden. The messiness, the thorns, the briefness of the beauty, and the disintegration are all a part of the real human condition.
This cluster of images is tied to the city and to the central action of the novel when Philippa, who is with her mother, sees Norman Scase on an outing in Regent's Park with the blind clerk from his hotel, Violet Tetley. All the roses are in bloom: "In Queen Mary's rose garden the roses, plumped by the rain, held the last drops between delicate streaked petals: pink Harriny, bright yellow Summer Sunshine, Ena Harkness, and Peace." For Philippa, Queen Mary's Rose Garden brings back memories:
There was one rose garden which she could remember, but that had been at Pennington and her imagined father had been there…. Odd that so clear a memory, scent, warmth, and mellow afternoon light, recalled with such peculiar intensity, almost with pain, should be nothing but a childish fantasy. But this garden, this park were real enough, and Maurice was right about architecture. Nature needed the contrast, the discipline of brick and stone. The colonnades and pediments of John Nash's terraces, the eccentric outline of the zoo, even the technical phallus of the Post Office Tower soaring above the hedges, contributed to the park's beauty, defined it, and set its limits.
Nature and the rose garden are not some idyllic place away from human life and the city, but rather need the city, and not only the old colonnades, but even the new Post Office Tower. Philippa, thinking back to Maurice, connects the city and the rose garden. Like the architectural critics Jacobs and Lynch, James presents nature and the city not as contrasting elements, but as parts of a coherent whole. Even when Norman Scase climbs out the lavatory window of the pub into the "wasteland" of junk and backyards on Delaney Street, there are flowers on the waist-high weeds: "They looked so fragile with their small, pink flowers, yet they had forced their way through this impacted earth, in places splitting the concrete." Plane trees (sycamores) grow all over London, not only in Bancroft Gardens and Caldecote Terrace, but even in Delaney Street. Backyards have beautiful weeds and plane trees and the city has public rose gardens. It is in the rose garden that Philippa unwittingly makes contact with her mother's past as she smiles at Norman Scase and Violet Tetly.
Philippa had thought that she could ignore her own past life as Rose Ducton, and even as Philippa Rose Palfrey, but she cannot. Mary Ducton's past intersects with Philippa Palfrey's when they meet Gabriel Lomas at an exhibit of Victorian paintings at the Royal Academy. With some underhanded lies to Hilda, Gabriel learns of Philippa and Mary Ducton's apartment and sends a reporter there. Philippa manages to intimidate the reporter, but she and her mother decide to leave London for the Isle of Wight. Philippa even suggests that her mother change her name. Mary Ducton replies, "I couldn't do that. That would be defeat. I have to know who I am." Although Mary Ducton wants to avoid contaminating Philippa's past with her own. she does not deny her past. Philippa decides to take some of Maurice's antique silver and pawn it to finance their trip. It is at this moment that Mary Ducton for the first time calls Philippa by the name Rose: "Suddenly her mother called her back. She said, 'Rose! You won't take anything that isn't yours?'"
When Philippa arrives at Caldecote Terrace, she finds Maurice in bed with one of his graduate students. After the graduate student is dismissed, Maurice and Philippa talk, feeling an intensity between them. Philippa says that she will give up going to Cambridge and just live with her mother. Maurice finally says to her, "it's time you stopped living in a fantasy world and faced reality." He reveals the significance of her name, Rose Ducton. He points out that Philippa assumed that she was adopted after the murder, but in fact she was adopted before the murder because her mother had abused her. Her mother had been unable to stand the screaming, unloving child who had inherited her violent temper. Her mother herself had put Philippa in a foster home, and both her natural parents consented to her adoption. Philippa goes back to Delaney Street in a daze and confronts her mother angrily. Mary Ducton finally asks, "Is what I did to you so much more difficult to forgive than what I did to that child?" Philippa responds, "I don't want to see you ever again. I wish they'd hanged you nine years ago. I wish you were dead," and she flees out of the apartment into the city streets.
As Philippa runs through the city, experiencing the death of the last of her fantasies, the city reflects her anguish. Earlier, Maurice says to her that if his adoption order "lacks the emotional charge of the blood tie, hasn't your family had enough of blood?" Being Rose Ducton had meant abuse from the mother who had fractured her skull and drawn her blood. The city reflects her mood: "The city was streaked with light, bleeding with light. The head lamps of the cars dazzled on the road and the crimson pools of the traffic lights lay on the surface like blood. The rain was falling in a solid wall of water." Philippa runs away from the Warwick Avenue Underground station, along a "wide road, lined with Italianate houses and stuccoed villas," to the Grand Union Canal and there takes off the sweater her mother just knit her and throws it into the canal, trying one last time to jettison her past. She walks until she is completely exhausted and looks for a place to rest when suddenly a gang of youths start to chase her. She only barely escapes by ducking behind a gate and going into a "dark, evil-smelling area, almost colliding with three battered dustbins." As she sits in this cramped, stinking space,
[t]here came to her in the darkness no blinding revelation, no healing of the spirit, only a measure of painful self-knowledge. From the moment of her counseling she had thought of no one but herself. Not of Hilda, who had so little to give but asked so little in return and needed that little so much…. Not of Maurice, as arrogant and self-deceiving as herself, but who had done his best for her, had given with generosity even if he couldn't give with love, had somehow found the kindness to shield her from the worst knowledge. Not of her mother.
The thought of her mother makes Rose aware of her true feelings:
She knew, too, that what bound her to her mother was stronger than hate or disappointment or the pain of rejection. Surely this need to see her again, to be comforted by her, was the beginning of love; and how could she have expected that there could be love without pain?
Sitting in the alleyway, Philippa at last, though painfully, learns to accept her past and think of others. The city reflects her pain: "In her mind the city seemed to stretch forever, a silent half-derelict immensity, palely illumined by the recurrent moon. It was a dead city, plague-ridden and abandoned, from which all life had fled except for that band of scavenging louts." Just then the city reveals that it is not dead and abandoned; across the street she sees an elegant young woman in an evening dress. Philippa crosses over to her to ask directions. She tells Philippa that she is in Moxford Square and explains to her how to get home. Philippa hurries home to Delaney Street, which was "sleeping as quietly as a village street … [while the] rain-washed air smelled of the sea" to tell her mother that she loves her. But she is too late for her mother; Mary Ducton has already committed suicide. Philippa can still save Norman Scase, however, who has crept into the apartment and stuck his knife into the corpse. Philippa finds Norman sitting there, saying over and over to himself, "she won't bleed." Although Philippa reads the note from her mother which says "I can die happy because you are alive and I love You," she does not spend her time on the dead. She turns to Norman saying, "[the] dead don't bleed. I got to her before you." Philippa acknowledges her past and her deed, then forgets her focus on self and exhibits concern for others by helping Norman escape. She holds his head as he vomits into the sink, dismisses him, and puts her fingerprints on the knife.
After saving Norman, she calls Maurice, realizing that she too needs human connection and help. Maurice, for whom all the graduate students had been only a substitute for Philippa, arrives quickly and embraces her with "a clasp of possession, not a gesture of comfort." He takes care of the details with the police, takes her home to Caldecote Terrace, and tucks her into her own bed. Philippa learned to love her natural mother; she also needs to come to terms with her relationship to her adopted father. At the beginning of the novel, Philippa thinks she is searching for her real father whom she supposes is an earl at Pennington. She learns early that her natural father is dead and later that he was a weak man unable to protect her from her mother. After her mother's death, Philippa turns to Maurice, her adoptive father. All through the novel, even when with her mother, Philippa thinks of Maurice. She remembers how he taught her to appreciate good wine; she quotes to herself his opinion on architecture and buildings; she thinks about why he became a socialist; and she even recalls how he used to bring her tea in the mornings. When she goes back to Caldecote Terrace and finds him in bed with his student, Philippa wants to hear him say that he has missed her, but he doesn't say it. After he tells her how her real mother had abused her, she angrily asks him what motive he had for adopting her. Maurice finally responds, "Perhaps what I hoped for was love." As he thinks back to when he first saw Philippa, he reveals that her memory of the rose garden at Pennington was real, but that it was not an earl or any natural father whom she met there as a child, but Maurice.
In the epilogue Philippa reveals that she has a new relationship with Maurice. At Cambridge, she meets Norman Scase as she comes out of church. She reassures him that she will not reveal his past to his new wife, the blind Violet Tetley, but what she does not say echoes in her mind, "I used my mother to avenge myself on my adoptive father." Those feelings, however, are forgiven as Philippa and her father re-establish their relationship. Philippa explains to Norman:
"My adoptive father arranged everything; he's a great fixer. Afterward he took me on a long holiday to Italy. We went to see the mosaics at Ravenna."
She didn't add, "And in Ravenna I went to bed with him."… What, she wondered, had it meant exactly, that gentle, tender, surprisingly uncomplicated coupling; an affirmation, a curiosity satisfied, a test successfully passed, an obstacle ceremoniously moved out of the way so that they could again take up their roles of father and daughter, the excitement of incest without its legal prohibition, without any more guilt than they already carried? That single night together … had been necessary, inevitable, but it was no longer important.
Having accepted her past, gotten to know her mother, and reestablished connection with Maurice, Philippa has put together the mosaic of her past. Watching Norman Scase go down the path, Philippa hopes that in marrying the blind Violet Tetley, "he would find his patch of rose garden…. If it is only through learning to love that we find identity, then he had found his. She hoped one day to find hers. She wished him well. And perhaps to be able to wish him well with all that she could recognize of her unpracticed heart, to say a short, untutored prayer for him and his Violet, was in itself a small accession of grace." Philippa now understands the meaning of her name, "Rose," although she doesn't use it because it "didn't suit" her. She does not think she has completely learned to love yet, but she recognizes what it is and values the grace that allows her a prayer for Norman's happiness.
The references to the mosaics at Ravenna bring to an end a pattern that has run throughout the novel. Wherever mosaics or similar images have appeared, they have been associated with churches and with characters who have learned how to love. Hilda goes to Westminster Cathedral, passing through Lady Chapel, "gleaming with gold mosaics"; Mary Ducton's request to go to church raises in Philippa's mind images of London churches including "Margaret Street, in a dazzle of mosaics, gilded saints, and stained glass." Philippa discusses several times the possibility of going to Ravenna to see the mosaics, but she only goes after she has learned to love her mother and to reconnect with Maurice. The mosaics stand for the value of human connection, given only perhaps by grace as their association with the churches implies. They are like Philippa's closing spontaneous prayer for Norman Scase. As Philippa's peace of mind and awareness of grace illustrate, she has been able to put together the pieces of her life. It is a similar knowledge that has allowed her to put together the mosaic of the city and see the connections that link the urban villages.
This section contains 12,188 words
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