The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera is a story which held my attention from the very first page.
Miss Prudencia Prim, the heroine of this novel, begins by answering an ad for a librarian in a remote village, San Ireneo de Arnois. She takes the position in the household of the Man in the Wing Chair, (who is never named), to catalogue his books. The household is filled with children, his nieces and nephews and other children from the village, where he educates them, according to his principles, to be able to think.
The village turns out to be a kind of utopia where the occupants have chosen to live a simple life, working no more than six hours each day to allow them time to think and read and live. The community was founded by the Man in the Wing Chair. Miss Prim’s character, and the story, develops through the conversations she and other characters have about books, literature, education, philosophies and life.
Miss Prim becomes a member of a feminist group, who set out to find her a husband. At first Miss Prim is deeply offended, and can not understand why the women believe she needs a husband, but later she comes to understand their philosophy and they make a list of possible husbands. The women are full of good sense and their works are the backbone of the community.
Miss Prim and the Man in the Wing Chair clash very often over their respective opinions of the merits of books, for example, Miss Prim defends Little Women, while the Man in the Wing Chair says the book is sentimental rubbish. I’m on Miss Prim’s side here, Little Women may be sentimental, but that doesn’t make it a bad book in my opinion or Miss Prim’s. They also clash on whether Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy is the perfect man.
The Man in the Wing Chair runs rings around Miss Prim in arguments. Miss Prim is very correct and has strong opinions, however during their arguments she becomes heated and angry and lashes out verbally, while the Man in the Wing Chair is always calm, clever and amused. He is unfailingly courteous and good tempered, two qualities which make him a contender for the perfect man in real life.
Not surprisingly, Miss Prim falls in love with the Man in the Wing Chair and realising that their beliefs are too different for him to commit to her, she leaves the village to go to Italy, as advised by his mother, who says that a woman’s education is not complete until she has travelled to Italy. There, Miss Prim finds faith and the book ends. There is hope that Miss Prim will return to the village and a romance with the Man in the Wing Chair.
The book had a feel of Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, possibly because of the way Miss Prim’s education is guided by her conversations with the people who live in San Ireneo de Arnois and by the Man in the Wing Chair. I enjoyed the book very much, but wanted more from it. It wasn’t quite a romance or about religion or philosophy or literature, more of a mish mash of a lot of interesting things. Still, I would recommend The Awakening of Miss Prim as a very enjoyable read.