This excellent, classic title was also recommended to me by a like-minded reader. I downloaded it onto my Kindle but I will definitely buy a hard copy because it is one of those classic novels that I will reach for again and again.
A the core of this story is a lesson about being kind and accepting of others who are physically different than what is considered to be society’s norm. Prue Sarn is born with a hare lip and for the first third of the book the reader is not even made aware of her difference except for a few hints from her mother. We are made painfully aware of Prue’s physical difference when she encounters other people from the village and they make cruel and mean comments about her lip.
In the 19th century, not only was a person with a physical deformity treated cruelly but they were viewed as cursed. Prue is accused of witchcraft and having something wicked in her soul that caused her lip to be “hare-shodden.” But Prue is the kindest, wisest and most patient soul in the novel. Even when her friends and family members make offhand and hurtful comments about her lip she immediately forgives them.
The most maddening figure in the book is Gideon, Prue’s brother. When Gideon and Prue’s father dies, Gideon inherits the family farm and he has visions of working the land night and day and making enough money for them to buy a fancy house and live in the lap of luxury. He makes his sister Prue swear that she will work herself to the point of exhaustion in order to help him achieve his goal. Prue doesn’t care for money or wealth or status but she agrees to help Gideon because she wants to do what will make him happy.
Gideon’s focus on producing extra crops and becoming a wealthy man is so strong that it becomes a detriment to others around him. He will not marry Jancis, his long-time sweetheart and she is pawned off by her father as a dairy maid instead. He even harms his ailing mother because he sees her as a drain on his income when she needs the doctor more and more. Prue aptly begins to call Gideon’s goal and his crop his “precious bane” which foreshadows his eventual downfall.
In the end we are left wondering whether or not any man has enough honor in his spirit to look beyond Prue’s face and into the depths of her soul and see her for the good and kind person she truly is. You will have to read PRECIOUS BANE for yourself to find out if it has a fairy tale ending.
About The Author:
Mary Webb (1881-1927) was an English romantic novelist of the early 20th century, whose novels were set chiefly in the Shropshire countryside and among Shropshire characters and people which she knew and loved well. Although she was acclaimed by John Buchan and by Rebecca West, who hailed her as a genius, and won the Prix Femina of La Vie Heureuse for Precious Bane (1924), she won little respect from the general public. It was only after her death that the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, earned her posthumous success through his approbation, referring to her as a neglected genius at a Literary Fund dinner in 1928. Her writing is notable for its descriptions of nature, and of the human heart. She had a deep sympathy for all her characters and was able to see good and truth in all of them. Among her most famous works are: The Golden Arrow (1916), Gone to Earth (1917), and Seven for a Secret (1922).