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James Hanley: The Secret Journey

The second novel in the Furys sequence revolves around Fanny Fury’s borrowing activities and, in particular, around Anna Ragner, the moneylender from whom she has borrowed extensively. Hanley gives us a detailed and fascinating portrait of Mrs. Ragner and her servant, Daniel Corkran. Mrs. Ragner is generally pitiless in her professional activities – she drives one poor borrower to suicide when she distrains her property. We see her harsh treatment of both her borrowers and of Daniel Corkran. Her borrowers are, in her view, lucky to have got any money from her and can have no complaint when she tightens the screws. Corkran has, in her view, been picked up from the streets by her and owes her everything. He not only looks after her business matters but also is her general servant, preparing her meals and even washing her knickers. She continually abuses him, telling him that he owes everything to her and that she can toss him out on the street at will. In his turn, he seems to take it all. Indeed, he has an odd relationship with her. Not only does he admire her, he is clearly linked to her in a deeper way. He continually spies on her, hiding behind curtains to watch her. Yet, if there is a sexual element to it, Hanley does not overtly show it.

Mrs. Ragner, as I have said, is ruthless in her business dealings. However, she makes one exception and that exception, of course, is Fanny Fury. The reason for Fanny’s debt was not clear in the previous book, The Furys, but is made clear here – it is to pay off the schooling of her son, Peter, despite the fact that he has been thrown out of the college. She has managed to get through the thirty-five pounds compensation she received for her son, Anthony, as well as the money she stole from her husband and is still in debt. She is unable to pay it back but Mrs. Ragner unusually renews it at a higher rate, getting Fanny further and further in debt, unknown to any of her family. We soon find out the reason for Mrs. Ragner’s generosity – her love for Peter, who has acted as messenger for his mother to Mrs. Ragner. One scene in particular brings this out, when Mrs. Ragner essentially exposes her ample bosom to Peter. Peter, who is still having an affair with his sister-in-law, Sheila, is both disgusted and fascinated.

While all of this is going on – and it takes up much of the long novel – the Fury household is gradually breaking up. Fanny’s sister Brigid comes over to take their father back to Ireland (and, right at the end, on a pilgrimage to Lourdes). Fanny’s husband, Denny, goes back to sea and we hear little of him. Anthony, the injured son, returns but is clearly not happy. Peter has given up the sea, partly to continue his affair with Sheila. The only daughter, Maureen, leaves her husband and son, though we don’t know where she goes. Sheila’s husband, Desmond, seems to be out of town much of the time on union business. Hanley shows us the pressure building up, both with these events and, of course, the money-lending business. The final Dostoevskian ending is therefore somewhat of a surprise but only somewhat.

Publishing history

First published 1936 by Chatto & Windus