The Education of Harriet Hatfield

May Sarton, Author
May Sarton, Author W. W. Norton & Company $18.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-02695-5
Reviewed on: 06/01/1989
Release date: 06/01/1989
Sarton's 19th novel echoes many earlier themes: the comfort of friendship; relationships between women; the precarious balance between union and solitude, the bond between people and their pets, and what it means to live an elegant life and achieve an elegant death. After the death of her companion of 30 years, 60-year-old Harriet Hatfield opens a bookstore for women in a changing, predominantly blue-collar neighborhood near Boston. Following a newspaper article in which she is labeled a lesbian, a word that very ladylike Harriet has never thought to use, she becomes the target of threats and abuse from an unknown assailant. As Harriet moves from the well-ordered life of a sheltered companion into the rougher, wider world, she begins to redefine herself. Sarton uses the bookstore as a backdrop against which to paint a series of predictable thumbnail sketches of women, but these portraits are pale and thin. Although there is a clarity to her unadorned prose, the richness of varied voices does not come through and emotions are many times too carefully circumscribed. Sarton's mainstream, ``proper'' heroine counterbalances gay stereotypes, but the focus on issue rather than character diminishes the novel's impact. (June)
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