Beyond the Glass is the last book in an autobiographical series of novels by Antonia White. The story opens with the heroine, Clara Hughes-Follett (neé Batchelor) seeking a marriage annulment, on the grounds that the relationship had never been consummated. The cover art on this Virago Modern Classic edition is from A Girl’s Head by Sir George Clausen, and was brilliantly chosen based on this paragraph:
Isabel looked at the photograph of Clara at sixteen. Her fair hair was neatly tied back with a black bow and she wore a white, embroidered blouse with a V neck so modest that it barely revealed the base of her smooth neck. Her lips were pressed together in the effort to conceal their fullness of which she had always been rather ashamed; her eyes looked out, clear and unconfident. (p. 29)
The annulment process promises to be long and drawn out, involving both civil and church proceedings. Clara moves back home with her parents during this time of transition. This proves somewhat stressful, as Clara is now 22 and unaccustomed to her father’s smothering influence. When Clara begins to socialize again she meets Richard Crayshaw. It’s love at first sight, and their feelings for one another are intense. Clara also finds work writing advertisements. It appears things are looking up, but the careful reader will detect cracks in Clara’s façade. Years of repression and the endless quest for parental approval finally take their toll, with nearly disastrous consequences. The title of this work is a reference to Alice in Wonderland (“through the looking glass”), and refers to Clara’s stay in hospital. The glass metaphor works well, conveying the Clara’s emotional fragility. And because it is based on White’s own experience, it feels very real.
Clara’s recovery takes a long time, and the book ends on a sad note with the future uncertain. The introduction to this novel states that White always intended to write a final installment in which Clara’s life settles down and becomes almost happy. Unfortunately, she was unable to write more than a chapter, even though she lived for 36 years after publishing Beyond the Glass.
Read about the previous books in this series: