Caroline is in her late twenties, but matronly for her age. Tanned, awkward, husky, and unassuming she isn't a stereotypical aristocratic
daughter. She lives at the Miss
Havisham-esque decaying manor -- Hundreds Hall -- with her mother and
her brother, Roderick. Sensible and assumed to be well on her way to
spinsterhood, Caroline's practical, open, and honest personality is the
cornerstone of Hundreds Hall. Her mother is out-of-touch with
post-war Britain's changing attitudes towards the landed gentry and her
brother suffered some disfiguring burns and leg injuries and Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the war. Roderick -- as he is
the male heir -- manages the estate, but the stress and pain from his
injuries wears him down. Caroline -- and her dog Gyp -- provide some of
the only normalcy in Hundreds; she does go out in public (her mother
and brother rarely go out unless on Hall business). Clever and honest, I
have to say that I really like Caroline.
She is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Also awkward and matronly in dress, Caroline suffers from class snobbery. She was raised in a wealthy home from a position of privilege and no matter how much she rejects the dilapidated yet grand Hundreds Hall she still maintains her coolness towards their servant Betty and -- in the beginning -- she is still quite cool and distant to Dr. Faraday. I'm reminded a bit of Virginia Woolf who wrote quite extensively on women's rights to education and the importance of education for the poor, yet still had an elitist personal life and attitude at home. Caroline has a temper, can be swayed by fantasy, and at time lacks empathy for others.
Caroline does grow as a person. She tries to mold herself to the wishes and desires of others, but eventually she stands her ground, makes her own decisions, and is much more happy and free as a result. At least for a time she is happy and free.
The Little Stranger is by far my favorite Sarah Waters' novel. Part of the reason I love it is it has a maturity and depth that surpasses Waters' other works. An example of this would be Waters use of the female body as a proprietary object. Dr. Faraday, finds himself so close to -- in his delusional mind -- owning Hundreds Hall; he longs to possess the status, wealth, and respect of upper class and he truly feels that he is extraordinary enough to claim what was denied him at birth. He nearly rapes Caroline which is an attempt to possess her body (her property). He stops short of raping her with the little bit of self-control he has left. His next approach is more insidious -- he gets back into her good graces by caring for her mother and then -- rather than asking her -- he tells her they are to be married. Caroline acquiesces. Dr. Faraday plans the wedding with great gusto assuming that Caroline will be happy to be cared for and then once Caroline realizes that he doesn't mean to go to London and his true desire is Hundreds Hall, she rejects him. Dr. Faraday is stunned. It is almost as if he thought gender trumps class. As a man he will dominate and possess what he feels is his right. Caroline pushes back much to her detriment. After her suspicious death an inquest rules it a suicide... her mind was disturbed... after all a woman who has experienced loss, is all alone, and cancels her wedding must be a prime target for mental illness. The annihilation of her life yields him his desires and once again he have a story about a man who disregards a woman's right to own her own body, mind, and decisions.
The atmospheric setting and plot of The Little Stranger makes for a rich reading experience. I think the ambiguity and complexity of the characters -- most especially Caroline Ayres -- will be what draws me to re-read The Little Stranger.