James Hanley: A Kingdom
Medog Evans was a blacksmith. His wife died, leaving him with two grown-up daughters. One day, he had had enough of blacksmithing so he sold up and bought a hill farm in Wales. Initially, he took his elder daughter, Lucy, along with him. However, one day she travelled to Prestatyn for a day out, on her own, where she met David Stevens, a postmaster. They exchanged letters. He proposed. They got married and she left the hill farm. The burden then fell on the younger sister, Cadi, who dutifully worked with her father till his death, which is where this book starts.
There has been little contact between Lucy and her husband, David, on the one hand and Cadi and their father on the other. Indeed, David has never met either, even though they do not live far away. Cadi did have one brief love interest. A missionary who visited the area showed an interest and wrote to her but, as she was not too enthusiastic in her letters (though clearly enthusiastic in her feelings), the missionary returned to Africa, never to return. There was also limited contact with the locals. One man was suggested as a possible husband for Cadi but nothing came of it. In short, Cadi and her father have devoted themselves to the farm, which has clearly been a struggle, with only a little reading as her outlet.
Once Lucy comes back for the funeral, the stresses between the two sisters re-emerge. They quarrel, Lucy feeling uncomfortable at being there and Cadi resenting her sister and her happiness. The arrangements for the funeral cause more problems – Cadi inadvertently arranges it on market day. All the while, we gradually learn the story of the two sisters and their father. More particularly, we learn how the two sisters have very different aims and ambitions and how, in the end, they resume their old paths. I feel that this is one of Hanley’s finest books. The conflicting motives of the main characters, the past catching up with the present and then retreating again, the struggle to find what is right for each individual and how that might affect others are told with great strength and compassion by Hanley.
First published 1978 by André Deutsch