[Ward twice mentions Catherine's difficult and dangerous experience of giving birth, first when it occurs (the passage below) and later near the novel's close, in Robert's deathbed hallucination — he dies immediately after believing he is back at the moment after his child is born and his wife has survived a difficult and dangerous childbirth. Ward, who in a novel almost entirely devoid of any sexuality or sexual feeling, here briefly indicates one of their dangers but typical of the period gives no details or even any indication of what the dangers were — something perhaps appropriate in a time when so many people knew women who had died in childbirth. Note how differently a more recent novel might handle such matters, particularly since Ward devotes so much attention to Catherine's thoughts. Given her Evangelical religiosity, how did that shape her experience of childbirth? Did she realize she was near death? — George P. Landow]

Illuminated initial D

hen came a night where every soul in the quiet Rectory, even hot, smarting Rose, was possessed by one thought though many terrible hours, and one only—the thought of Catherine's safety. It was strange and unexpected, but Catherine, the most normal and healthy of women, had a hard struggle for her own life and her child's, and it was not till the gray autumn morning, after a day and night which left a permanent mark on Robert that he was summoned at last, and with the sense of one emerging from black gulfs of terror, received from his wife's languid hand the tiny fingers of his firstborn.

The days that followed were full of emotion for these two people, who were perhaps always ever-serious, oversensitive. They had no idea of minimizing the great common experiences of life. Both of them were really simple, brought up in old-fashioned simple ways, easily touched, responsive to all that high spiritual education which flows from the familiar incidents of the human story, approached poetically and passionately. As the young husband sat in the quiet of his wife's room, the occasional restless movements of the small brown head against her breast causing the only sound perceptible in the country silence, he felt all the deep familiar currents of human feeling sweeping through him—love, reverence, thanksgiving—and all the walls of the soul, as it were, expanding and enlarging as they passed.

Responsive creature that he was, the experience of these days was hardly happiness. It went too deep; it brought him too poignantly near to all that is most real and therefore most tragic in life.


Ward, Mrs. Humphry. Robert Elsemere. Ed. Clyde de L. Ryals. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.

Ward, Mrs. Humphry. Robert Elsemere. Boston: DeWolfe, Fiske & Co., n.d. Project Gutenberg E-Book produced by Andrew Templeton and David Widger. Last Updated: February 7, 2013. Web. 20 July 2014.

Last modified 6 August 2014