Spies – An evaluation of Mrs Hayward
‘Spies’ is a ‘Bildungsroman’ showing the main character, Stephen Wheatly’s progression from childhood to adolescence. The events in the novel also represent a sort of ‘Anti-Bildungsroman’ for Mrs Hayward, as she appears to become less mature to the reader as the events in the novel unravel. As Stephen matures through the novel, Mrs. Hayward appears more childlike and this becomes very apparent by the end of the novel. From the beginning of ‘Spies’ there is little, if any, indication that Mrs. H is the real child in the novel.
We are presented with an angelic, beautiful, perfect, eve-like woman and there is little evidence to suggest that Mrs. H is not the upstanding woman we are first presented with. This is partly due to the way in which Stephen’s views effect ours. As Stephen appears to adore and idolise Mrs. H, his opinion is then ‘pressed’ upon the reader as the only viewpoint and narrative the reader is provided with comes from Stephen himself. It is apparent from the very start of the novel that Stephen has a ‘crush’ on Mrs. H. The language used when describing Mrs.
H is that of admiration, she is described as having; ‘luscious lips’ ‘perfectly plucked eyebrows’ and always appearing to be ‘rested, calm and composed. ‘ This is in stark contrast to Stephen’s own mother who appears rarely in the novel and who can be described in one word, that being ‘rushed’. This contrast between Keith’s mother and Stephen’s shows the way Mrs. H has effectively hidden all the bad things about her and appears very proper to the outside world and it is not till his own parents are gone that he fully appreciates them. The level on which Mrs.
H interacts with Stephen changes as the novel progresses and becomes more childlike and immature. At the start of the novel Mrs. H doesn’t even communicate with Stephen directly and speaks to him through Keith; ‘Will Stephen be staying for tea? ‘ ‘Darling, doesn’t Stephen have homework to do…? ‘ This in itself is immature and shows how Mrs. H tries to distance herself from children to keep herself ‘above the rest. ‘ Later, as events unfold, Mrs. H begins to speak directly to Stephen to prevent him from revealing her secret; ‘Do you see, I’m putting you on your honour’ ‘Lets pretend all this never happened’ ‘You won’t tell anyone will you? The way in which Mrs. H addresses Stephen when she believes he has learnt of her dark secret is entirely different from the way in which she used to address him. Her language is almost childlike in itself ‘putting you on your honour’ is a very childlike thing to say.
This language is also very manipulative as it addresses Stephen’s honour and his reliability, which Stephen considers crucial, especially in wartime and with Uncle Peter as his role model. Mrs. Hayward’s lack of responsibilities also shows how she is the real child in ‘Spies’ She never has to deal with anything around the house and only ever leaves the house to post letters or go shopping. Everything is taken care for her by her husband or her cleaner. She is very much, a ‘kept woman’ which is also a factor in determining her downfall. Mrs. H is not used to being under pressure or having responsibility so when she does she cannot handle it. Instead of dealing with her responsibilities herself, as most adults would, Mrs. H tries to enlist the help of Stephen.
The most blatant indication of her childlike personality is shown when she begs Stephen to take the basket to Uncle Peter. When she begins to realise Stephen may refuse, she starts to cry in the way only a child would. She even sits like a child as Stephen describes ‘She puts her arms around her knees, the way Barbara does and rests her chin on them. ‘ Stephen compares her to Barbara Berrill, another child. Another way in, which Mrs. H is, childlike is in the way that she, not only rejects responsibility, but the way in which she doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions.
She begins her sordid affair with Uncle Peter without considering the feelings of anyone else, not even her own sister. This selfishness can be related to the way in which a child, due to a lack of life experience, cannot consider the consequences of anything it does. Mrs. H is, however, a fully-grown woman but seems to possess the mentality of a child as she cannot seem to comprehend that having an affair with her sister’s husband will cause any problems for anyone. The way in which Mrs.
H has become more childlike is very obvious when we compare the way she is presented at the start of the novel and the way she is presented at the end of the novel. At the start of the novel Mrs. H is presented as perfect but rapidly becomes dirtied as the secret of her affair becomes apparent to the reader. The end of the novel has seen the once proper, angelic and perfect woman begging in the dirt at the feet of Stephen and then when her lover kills himself, she appears not to accept responsibility for it and just carries on.