This was a serendipitous find on the library sale shelves. I recognized the title, having seen the 1942 film. It stars several of my favorite actors: Claude Rains, Bette Davis, Gladys Cooper (the perfect imperial matriarch), and Mary Wickes as a sassy nurse. I learned from Turner Classic Movies that Paul Henreid made his film debut in this, and that he always credited Bette Davis for his success.
I was curious to see how the book compared to the film, particularly the ending, which (in the film) I found rather sentimental and implausible. As I discovered, the film is a pretty faithful adaptation, right down to the ending. As I expected, I enjoyed the book more. It felt deeper and richer than the film, despite its stellar cast.
Now, Voyager is the story of Charlotte Vale (of "the Boston Vales"). She is a "caboose" child, born long after her three brothers. She has heard all her life that her arrival brought her mother no joy. Mrs. Vale has been equally frank about expecting her unwanted daughter to stay at home and care for her. She has dominated Charlotte her whole life, down to her hairstyle, the clothes she wears, and the food she eats. Under this treatment, Charlotte has become the complete spinster aunt, with a bun of hair and steel spectacles. When she finally suffers a nervous breakdown, her sympathetic sister-in-law Lisa gets her admitted to Cascade, a sanitarium run by Dr. Jacquith. Once Charlotte is well enough, Lisa helps her to escape again by arranging for her to take a cruise to Europe. The story opens with Charlotte sitting on a terrace in Gibraltar, watching her ship at anchor and waiting for a fellow-passenger with whom she is touring the island. It follows her as she reclaims her own life, growing out of the constrictions her mother imposed on her, finding friends and love and a new purpose in life.
I really enjoyed her story, watching her re-birth - which isn't an easy one. Eventually she returns home to her mother, but not to her old life. I loved that part of the story, despite knowing (from the film) how it turned out. I have read that Olive Higgins Prouty was considered something of a pioneer in writing about mental illness and its treatment. I liked Claude Rains' portrayal of Dr. Jacquith in the film, and he's an even more attractive character in the book. I feel like I could benefit from a stay at Cascade, particularly these days.
I still have an issue with the ending. Charlotte takes on a project that I find rather implausible and pretty problematic (Dr. Jacquith has some serious reservations about it as well). But it takes up less space in Book-Charlotte's story, and I feel like she is better-suited to deal with it than Film-Charlotte. I do understand why she does it. And as with Lily Dale, I accept that I have to accept the character's choices. (Now that I think about it, there are some distinct parallels with Lily Dale.)
In looking for information about Olive Higgins Prouty, about whom I knew nothing at all, I discovered that she wrote a series of five novels about the Vale family. This is the third. The second book focuses on Charlotte's sister-in-law Lisa. The first and fifth are about Lisa's daughter Fabia, who becomes a nurse in part to recover from an unhappy love affair. Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am a sucker for a series, particularly a family saga. I immediately went looking for copies of the other books. The "Fabia" books are rare and shockingly expensive, even in later paperback editions. I have requested the second, called simply Fabia, from inter-library loan. The "Lisa" novel (and how could I resist a sympathetic heroine named Lisa) is also in short supply, and unfortunately none of the three is available as an ebook. But Now, Voyager has been reprinted many times and is easily available. I also found inexpensive copies of the fourth book in the series, Homeport. In all of this browsing, I discovered that Prouty wrote Stella Dallas, a title I recognize from the film with Barbara Stanwyck (which I haven't seen). It too was considered ground-breaking, in its treatment of motherhood. Virago has reprinted this one, a copy of which will soon be on the TBR shelves.
I had just been congratulating myself on my bookish restraint this year. Then I found the Patricia Wentworth reprints at Murder by the Book, and now I have a literary crush on Olive Higgins Prouty. Verily pride goeth before a fall.