A moral fable about the narrow and starved existence that results from self-sacrifice, this novel traces a Victorian woman's suffocating and stunted life. More than a case history of an underdeveloped individual who chooses loyalty to a friendship over the lure of romance, the story criticizes the values of nineteenth-century middle-class society and the destructiveness that lurks beneath the façade of good manners. Less well known today than her contemporaries Virginia Woolf and Rebecca West, May Sinclair (1863–1946) was considered England's most distinguished female novelist in the years preceding World War I. Her other works include short stories, philosophical texts, a biography of the Brontë sisters, and several poetry collections. Combining stream of consciousness with a traditional narrative, Life and Death of Harriett Frean reflects its author's mastery of modernist techniques.
"This small, perfect gem of a book … looks unsparingly at the moral degeneration of one woman as her heart hardens into a protective bitterness." — Jonathan Coe