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Marguerite Poland


Chapter 17:
Questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 4 March 2014
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Another critical point is reached in the story.

The drought is broken. With the sudden rain, a flood of a different nature devastates Frances's life.

She, Helmina and Benedict come across the starving mother of Dorcas, abandoned by Kobus Pumani and forced to live on roots and from food which Dorcas can pilfer from the mission.

Back at St Matthias, Emily Farborough appears unconcerned with this injustice because she has received other desperate news, namely that Benedict has been "visiting" Dorcas Pumani.

Emily decides to send Dorcas away, and to punish Benedict. Frances is so angry that she confesses that she and Victor have committed the identical sin of having had sexual intercourse.


Was Frances at all responsible for her sexual encounter with Victor?

Many would answer with a glib "Yes!" After all, she admits she knew about sex.

It was all around her on the mission station, she said, and in the unwanted babies that were left abandoned at the church door.

And, following Victor's lead, she had also ridiculed Helmina's prudish warnings on this subject.

Finally, she believed herself guilty. And there lies the problem! Frances HERSELF says she is guilty!

But are we to believe her? Think about it carefully.

Frances went to Victor's room for no other reason than to see whether or not his clothes were there. She did NOT expect to find Victor in his room, and certainly did NOT intend to have sexual intercourse with him.

Remember this: she felt guilty about the fact that she had allowed Victor to kiss her down at the stream! Is it likely she would willingly consent to his going further?

And another thing -- she never allowed him to kiss her again.

Since that day when Walter had caught Victor and Frances together at the stream, Frances's affections towards Victor had become distinctly icy.

Victor was beginning to treat her as a conquest, while she felt most guilty because she had allowed him to kiss her.

On the day when Victor discovered Walter and Frances together at the piano, it was very clear to Victor that a bond was growing between the two. He was about to leave for Johannesburg and he knew very well that, within a very short time, he would lose her to his rival.

The only way he could prevent that was to trap her into having sexual intercourse with him. By Victorian standards, such an action would constitute marriage in her mind.

Frances would therefore be his forever -- and he could go to Johannesburg knowing that she would wait faithfully for him.

On the fateful day in question, Victor had to journey into King William's Town. Before leaving, he attempted to win her affections but she was deliberately curt towards him.

He responded by suggesting that he might not come home but might rather proceed directly to Grahamstown -- and then to Johannesburg. She might not see him again.

His reply intended to provoke a reaction from her but he received none -- just a cool, uncaring reply. No outward reaction whatever.

Victor then played a game with her. He knew she would worry about him. He therefore deliberately returned home very late that night, making sure that her emotions would be stretched to breaking point.

He guessed she would rush to welcome him back -- and he would have her alone to himself, late at night and with no one to interrupt.

On his way back from King, he ran various scenarios over and over through his mind of what would happen when they met. Each ended in the same way: with his taking her virginity and claiming her as his possession.

Victor was quite correct. Frances was indeed very worried -- helped on by her mother who repeatedly suggested the possibility of Hector having gone lame, or perhaps an accident.

It was now late at night. Frances was in her nightdress but could not sleep. Eventually she decided to go to Victor's bedroom to check in his cupboard to see whether or not his clothes were there.

The point is that she wanted to settle in her own mind whether he had gone directly to Grahamstown, or whether he was indeed late in returning home -- and therefore the possibility of an accident.

If his clothes were missing, it would mean he had packed and headed for Grahamstown and Johannesburg.

If his clothing was still there, however, it meant he was supposed to be coming home and might be even now lying in the dark somewhere -- injured, or even dying.

Victor caught her in his bedroom. He was correct. Her relief at seeing him sent her into his arms. For her it meant no more than a huge sisterly hug of relief.

He, however, used the opportunity (as he has been mentally planning the whole way home) to help himself to her virginity. Frances had no way of knowing the depths of depravity in Victor's scheming.

Did she willingly offer her body to him? Certainly not! "She neither thought nor feared," says Marguerite Poland.

Frances was NOT expecting sexual intercourse. The author points out that she quickly discovered his embrace was "too urgent".

And then there was the sudden pain of UNEXPECTED intercourse - "too sharp and unexpected," says the author.

It is true that she had a vague understanding of sex -- but this was theoretical and not at all practical. She did not expect Victor to do that to her.

More importantly, she had certainly not give her consent -- and would NEVER have done so!

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

In a good novel, nothing happens by accident.
  • Why then does Marguerite Poland portray these graphic incidents as happening during a time of heavy rain? (4)

[Need help?]

"Mzantsi went down the path towards the gate of the Farborough's garden and he opened it and went through, treading softly on the gravel path between the beds of flowers. Ragged crows tossed across the sky above him in the wind. He went, a lonely old man in a black alpaca coat."
  • What has Benedict done to deserve being reported to Emily Farborough? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Mzantsi is initially hesitant to report Benedict. Why? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why does Mzantsi eventually decide to report Benedict to Emily? (8)

[Need help?]

Why does Frances confess to her mother that she and Victor had had sexual intercourse? (5)

[Need help?]

What does Emily Farborough mean when she says to Benedict, "Am I to understand that that heathen vice that shields you from 'consequences' is practised, here on my mission, within sight of my church?" (4)

[Need help?]

"The tragedy of Frances's outburst to her mother is that Helmina witnesses her words."
  • Why is this a tragedy? (5)

[Need help?]

"Help me." Her hand reached out for Walter's.

"How?" His eyes were steady on hers.

"Undo my sin with Victor."

"By compounding it with another?" The sob was swelling in her throat. "I love you too much for that," he said.
  • What does Frances want Walter to do? Explain. (4)

[Need help?]

  • What does Walter mean when he asks, "by compounding it with another?" (4)

[Need help?]

  • This is a critical moment in the relationship between Frances and Walter. Why? (4)

[Need help?]

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