When Jane marries the elderly grocer William Chirp, she thinks she has moved up into the comfort of middle class. Instead, she discovers that William exerts a control over her life that forces her to live like a prisoner. His tight fistedness and suspicions so affect Jane that even after his death, she finds herself trapped in a penny pinching paranoia and resorts to scavenging for food out of garbage bins and taking her silverware with her everywhere in a shopping bag. Utterly forgotten for over 80 years, neither the book nor its author are mentioned in any history of 20 th century English literature. Yet Trevelyan is arguably the finest novelist of the generation to follow Virginia Woolf and William’s Wife is one of the most powerful psychological portraits in all fiction.
As a story about a woman at the mercy of a domineering and abusive husband, William’s Wife is a novel still resonant and relevant in today’s world. Even more, it’s one of the most effective accounts of the onset and experience of mental illness, of a paranoia and miserliness that gradually takes over Jane Chirp’s life and leads her to move to ever more cramped and dingy flats where she surrounds herself with her belongings like a besieged hermit.