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Mary Hocking

Does anyone know anything about Mary Hocking? She was one of those authors whose books were always on the library shelves when I first began work in the late '60s, and I suppose because she mostly seemed to appeal to the older ladies among our readership, I automatically consigned her to the category of hopelessly passé and of little interest. I hadn't given her a thought for years, until a few weeks ago, I came across a Virago Modern Classics copy of her 'Good Daughters' in a charity shop. I usually investigate any green covered Virago paperback that I find, so this one drew my attention straight away.

The novel was published by Virago in 1995, only eleven years after its first publication, which is quite a short interval by usual Virago standards. I began to read the book a couple of nights ago, and so far, am enjoying it. My curiosity about the author was awakened, and, as she doesn't get a mention in any of my reference books, I decided to try Google. Apart from lists of her novels, and the fact that she was born in 1921, I have found virtually nothing. It seems strange that she should have dropped so completely off the edge of the literary world. Does any one know anything about her? Is she still alive - that is quite possible given her date of birth?

The name is completely new to me, I'm afraid. I don't even recall seeing any of her books in shops.

A new name to me too - her bibliography at fantastic fiction goes up to 1996, when she published 'The Meeting Place'. She is listed on Wikipedia as a current member of the Royal Society of Literature. Seems to be still with us, but perhaps no longer writing. At 89, who could blame her?

I promised to write something about 'Good Daughters', the Mary Hocking novel that I read recently, and which sparked my curiosity. I'm still intrigued by the way she seems to have gone from first novel in 1961 to Virago Modern Classic in 1995, seemingly having become neglected and therefore worthy of rediscovery almost before she had established herself!

'Good Daughters' is the first part of a trilogy about the Fairley family, and as far as I can tell from the little I can find about Mary Hocking's biography, is very much based upon her own family. It certainly carries the conviction that these are real people, living actual lives. The family consists of the parents and three daughters, of whom Alice is the middle one, 12 years of age at the opening of the book, and, I would surmise, the character based upon Mary herself.

The father, Stanley Fairley, very much dominates this book, although most of it is told from the viewpoint of his daughters, particularly Alice. It would be easy to see Stanley as a monster and he is not an easy man to like, yet it is clear that despite everything, his wife and daughters love him deeply and he has qualities which make him admirable. Stanley is headmaster of a boys' school in a deprived area of London in the 1930s, and a Methodist lay preacher. He attempts to run his home strictly in accordance with his religious beliefs, so that his daughters are not allowed to go to the cinema unless the film being shown can be demonstrated to be educational: inevitably, they become extremely skilled at manipulating facts in order to see films of their own choosing. He also strictly controls the friendships he allows his daughters to have, so that at one point Alice, having discovered that a friend's father is having an affair, feels she dare not reveal this information because her father would not allow her friendship to continue.

One of Stanley's saving graces is his social conscience: he shows genuine concern for the plight of the poor and unemployed and is one of the first to become aware of the threat posed by Hitler in Germany. In fact his mother-in-law complains that a letter she has received from him has 5 pages about the Reichstag fire, and one of family news. Towards the end of the book, when the daughter of the emigré family next door has disappearred in Germany on a visit to her Jewish grandparents, he is the only person to offer any practical help or support. But overall, it is the way his wife and daughters constantly succeed in subverting his more extreme attitudes that gives him a humanity which might otherwise be lacking.

Mary Hocking mostly writes well, although there were a few sentences which I had to stop and read over and over before they made any sort of sense: the odd comma or a change in word order would have made a great deal of difference in those cases. Despite that minor irritation,I enjoyed this book, and shall certainly look out for the other two volumes in the series, 'Indifferent Heroes' and 'Welcome Strangers'.

I have just read Good Daughters which I borrowed from the library, I wanted to read the rest of the trilogy but was informed they are out of print (Ihave them now thanks to Amazon) I relly enjoyed the book and have tried to find out more about the author with no luck. Is she still alive?

Not related to this thread, so sorry about hijacking it but just wanted to say hello and welcome to Sue who appears to be the latest newest member and this is her first post!

Hello and a very warm welcome from me, Apple  hello2

Anyway back to the subject, the name rings bells with me (for a change) but I can't place where, I do have a vague memory of this author being on the bookshelf of my grandparents or could be aunts I can't remember clearly when I went to visit as a kid. But I could be making that up, but the name does seem vaguely familiar.

Sue wrote:
I have just read Good Daughters which I borrowed from the library, I wanted to read the rest of the trilogy but was informed they are out of print (Ihave them now thanks to Amazon) I relly enjoyed the book and have tried to find out more about the author with no luck. Is she still alive?

Hello Sue, and welcome to the board. Please do have a good look around, and make yourself at home.

It looks like Chris-l is the only one here sufficiently knowledgeable here on Mary Hocking to answer your question, so you'll probably have to wait till she gets on here! (Unless someone else can answer you, that is...)

Yes, welcome to the board, Sue! Have a look around, make yourself at home.

As Himadri said.

I wish I could claim to be knowledgeable on this (or any other) subject. I certainly remember Mary Hocking's novels being popular in public libraries in the 1960s and early 70s, but I didn't read any at that point. My attempts to find out any information about Mary Hocking and why she seemed to have abruptly disappeared from the scene, drew a blank. I concluded as I could find no obituary or other mention of her death that she might possibly be still alive, but that is pure speculation.

I'm glad you enjoyed the book, Sue, as I did. I haven't yet got around to searching Amazon for copies of the other two in the series, but maybe now that you have nudged me in that direction, I will make the effort.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on those, and other books.

Someone has asked about Mary Hocking. I met Mary Hocking when she came to our religious community, The Anchorhold,  in Haywards Heath Sussex. She came there seeking spiritual advice from Father Slade. I was given the task of teaching her the Tai Chi. She was a very apt pupil and had a spiritual emanation of her own enhanced by the tai chi practice. She was a very rational person with a sense of humor. She could detect the hidden aspects of personality i.e. see behind the ridiculous masks that people wear. I do not know whether she is still alive but she lived in Lewes near Church row. The last news I had of her was that she had changed religion to become a roman catholic. I retain a very happy memory of our friendship. Incidently she also wrote poetry. I do not know whether she is still alive but I guess she might be in her eighties.

Hello hesperie
Just noticed you were another newbie on board, (sorry to detrail the thread) but just spotted your first post and wanted to say hello and welcome the board, from me, Apple!

Thanks for adding that information, hesperie. How long ago was it that you met Mary Hocking? According to the information given in my copy of 'Good Daughters', she was born in 1921, so by now would be 90 or 91.

Welcome to the board: I look forward to hearing more from you!

Mary Hocking came to the Anchorhold in1982. I found a letter from her this morning. she is concerned about that modern state of mind which is "racing and unquiet, longing for stillness which we are unable to achieve" she explains how her vocation as a novelist is taken up seeking the right words which "flows over into her prayer life becoming an extension of my  failure to find the right word" "I find myself treating God as the great proof reader"
      Mary was seeking a solution to this problem through oriental methods which she had heard about from the bishop of Winchester. She wanted proper guidance and not just an unguided "self indulgent experience."
     I'll probably come across some more material when my office is better organized. I'll let you know.

Letter from Mary Hocking dated 1996: Dear David, I send my easter greetings to the Anchorhold,I must express penitence! I have been feeling so guilty that I haven't been in touch to thank you for the Christmas presents.
At Tymawr, plentifully armed with books ,I had flu and had to stay for four extra days to recover, during which time books did not get read. I have had a lot to do on a new move, and the last one is due out on the 18th April and is interfering somewhat with the new one. So I am in rather a muddle.How do you feel about Kathleen Raine?She seems to be so intensely concerned with herself, in spite of her mystical leanings (Kathleen died in 2003) . Have you read Braudel's The Mediterranean? Marvellous...............Mary Hocking

I've been trying to work this infomation into what I know about Mary Hocking, which is basically confined to what can be gleaned from her bibliography. As far as I can tell, her last published work was 'Safari West', which did indeed appear in 1996. This is not a novel, but a book about West Penwith, in Cornwall. I'm not sure what 'the new one' she refers to in her letter might have been - maybe she found herself unable to finish it. Did she, from what you know of her, live in Cornwall? In 'Good Daughters', the mother's family are Cornish, I think. All very intriguing!

Dear Chris,
          I notice that Mary Hocking is listed in the white pages in Lewes. She may be amenable to an interview. You can mention my name David Smith from the Anchorhold. I hope she is well, she was a very robust kind of person. I hope in quoting her, I have not verged on indiscretion. This site is excellently conceived and intelligently contributed to.

hesperie wrote:
This site is excellently conceived and intelligently contributed to.

Thanks for that, hesperie - that is really good to hear!

Please do stay around, look around the other parts of the board, and join in. We'd be more than pleased to se eyou here regularly!

Thank you, hesperie, your info. has led me to look up Mary's novels for my wife who I think would like them.  

That is an amazing piece of news! Thank you so much for taking the trouble to respond. I'm not sure that I have the courage to contact her directly - although I suspect few authors are unhappy to recieve letters from admirers of their work. Perhaps I need to make an effort to read a little more first.

I never thought when I started this topic that it would lead to a direct response from someone who actually knew Mary Hocking.

I begin to recall other facts about Mary Hocking. Her father produced a dictionary called "ships lost at sea". It's a fascinating work which unfortunately I lost during a move.

Here's a poem by Mary dated 1983. It's about a lily pond which I used to look after at the Anchorhold:
Sunlight moves between the awning of branches,
Dances incessantly along the arteries of the tree,
While green flames fan the leaves.
The endless business of water over stone
disturbs the surface of the pool
And all a shimmer, reflections climb towards their images-
purple daisies breathless in the heat
and the massed stillness of berberis.
Only the water lily rests in implacable calm
on its island fan of leaves.

Obedient to the unceasing flow of power
trees and flowers allow life to move within them;
Demanding no explanation,
presenting no alternative strategy,
They consent, without analysis, to the imperative of being.
Give us grace so to accept our summer benediction,
Storing it against the time
When the veil is drawn between us and the light.

Mary Hocking is alive and has been living in Lewes East Sussex.  She is in her mid-nineties and very alert mentally, but has had increasing problems with her hearing and eyesight.  She has recently moved into Holy Cross Priory near Heathfield.

Judy, thank you for that information. It has prompted me to go on to Amazon and order 'Indifferent Heroes', the second volume in the trilogy which began with 'Good Daughters'. Obviously, as this is a secondhand copy, she will derive no benefit in terms of royalties, but if you are in touch with her, she might care to know that there is still interest in her work.

Sadly, I heard today that Mary Hocking died on Tuesday, aged 93.  There seem to be no obituaries online yet;  it was in looking for some that I found this topic on Google.

I was told that she hadn't been able to write novels for several years because her eyesight failed, which is very sad - I guess she must have had several books still in her head.

I only knew Mary slightly, some years ago, but I remember her as a very pleasant and interesting lady.

I, too, will be looking out for obituaries. It seems very sad that her work seems to have so quickly fallen into what I can only regard as undeserved obscurity. I do hope there is someone out there who can do her justice at her passing.

Mary Hocking Funeral

Mary died on 17th February.  One of my good friends visited her regularly and I will post details of her Requiem Mass and funeral when I have them.
We are all parishioners of St Pancras Church Lewes.

it usually takes the papers a few days to get obituaries in.M

Mary's funeral and Requiem Mass will be at St Pancras Church Lewes at 12 noon on Thursday 13th April 2014.

Sometimes in NZ it can take a couple of months, though a little acknowledgement of the death of someone mildly important will be put in earlier.  

I have no knowledge of Mary Hocking beyond what is in this thread but have been interested at how many people have come to the site because they have googled or otherwise checked her name.  Perhaps we should mention some other more obscure authors and hope for a similar reaction - it has been good to hear from people who have met or known Mary, and I shall keep an eye out for any of her books in second-hand sales.  Thanks.
sometime Virago

Thank you to all for the information about Mary Hocking. Really useful to know all these aspects of her life.
I was at Virago when she was published in the Classics series and equally met her in one of her other endeavours, as co Trustees of a sheltered housing facility for women in Brixton - the Friendly Almshouses.
I am putting together a now better-informed piece in appreciation of Mary, though not exactly sure where it will appear. Will let you know if it does.

Mary Hocking

Thanks.  I will be very pleased to read your article when it appears.

Writing about Mary Hocking

Hello all, I've read the posts with great interest. I'm a fan of Mary's work and planning to write something - hopefully an academic article - about her books. I've set up a Wikipedia page but there's clearly so much more to say! I'd be delighted to hear from the people on here that knew her, or knew people that knew her. I wonder if she left an archive? If she had relations who inherited her library? Best Wishes, Nick

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