Book Reviews

Frost In May by Antonia White | Book Review

Frost In May by Antonia White | Book Review Frost in May by Antonia White
Genres: British Literature, Fiction, Religion
Original Publication Date: Originally published in 1933. Republished by Virago Books in 1978.
Source: I purchased this book
Find the Author: Website, Goodreads, Amazon

In Frost in May, Nanda Gray, the daughter of a Catholic convert, is nine when she is sent to the Convent of Five Wounds. Quick-witted, resilient and eager to please, she accepts this closed world where, with all the enthusiasm of the outsider, her desires and passions become only those the school permits. Her only deviation from total obedience is the passionate friendships she makes.

Convent life is perfectly captured – the smell of beeswax and incense; the petty cruelties of the nuns; the eccentricities of Nanda’s school friends.

Frost in May is Antonia White’s autobiographical novel about the devastating effects of the Catholic Church upon a young girl.

Fernanda Grey enters the Convent of the Five Wounds at the age of 9.

Frost in May Is About Life In An English Convent

At first, Nanda finds comfort in the rituals of the Catholic Church.

But as she grows older, she begins to change her mind.

She still loves some of the rituals. However, the hypocrisy and oppression of the students begin to bother her.

The goal of the nuns seems to be to break down the girls so that they are utterly miserable. Their whole purpose in life is to be in service to God at whatever the cost.

Nanda does quite well at school academically, but the nuns feel that she has too much “self-love” and is not totally devoted to God. Her whole personality must be destroyed to do so.

She starts writing a novel about her experiences. When the novel is discovered by the nuns, the results are life-changing.

Final Analysis

The book does sometimes have pages and pages of Nanda’s inner thoughts. These were interesting, but I much prefer when there is dialogue and Nanda responds to other people.

Not knowing anything about the Catholic Church, I was confused about the rituals and the names of the Saints. I had to constantly do research on them so that I would understand what was happening.

This book does give a very good account of what convent schools were like over 100 years ago.

Frost in May Was First Published in 1933

The novel was first published in 1933 and is set in the years just before WWI. It was republished by Virago Books in 1978. Virago chose it as their first “forgotten” classic to be republished. It is now considered by some to be a minor classic.

The book is based on a real school. The novel is highly autobiographical. Many of the events in the book actually happened to Antonia White, with devastating results.

White never fully recovered.  She spent years in and out of psychiatric institutions.

She also struggled with profound writer’s block for years after her novel was confiscated by the nuns. This had a profound impact on her family and friends. She was apparently a terrible mother and wife.

There is an amazing video from 1978 with Antonia White being interviewed about her life and work, especially about Frost in May.

This interview was conducted after Virago Press re-published this book, introducing it to a whole new audience. White seems alternately delighted and bewildered by the whole thing. She speaks a great deal about how the book came to be written and published.

Other Books You May Enjoy

If you liked this review, please read my reviews of Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker, and A Summer Book by Tove Jansson, about a young girl on a remote Finnish island.

Thank you for reading The Literary Lioness!

About Antonia White

Antonia White was born as Eirine Botting to parents Cecil and Christine Botting in 1899. She later took her mother’s maiden name, White.

Her career as a writer seems to have been driven by the desire to cope with a sense of failure, resulting initially from her first attempt at writing, and with mental illness.

Her autobiographical novels include Frost in May, The Lost Traveller, and The Sugar House.

White died in 1980.

I love books, writing, film, and television.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.