Mrs. Chalmers, one of the many interesting characters in Marghanita Laski’s To Bed with Grand Music, is a widow whose husband died while serving in the navy. When we discussed the various categories of women in the novel (mother, wife, mistress, and widow), the only widow we discussed was Mrs. Betts. I think it is important to consider the role Mrs. Chalmers plays as well. She is a widow without children of her own, that would seem to make her redundant (in this society) since she cannot fill either of the two roles Mrs. Betts prescribes to women—wife and mother. Mrs. Chalmers, one might guess, is free. She appears to be a woman outside of the strict categories imposed on her by society. Mrs. Chalmers, however, desperately tries to be a mother to Timmy. There are several moments throughout the text where Mrs. Chalmers feelings about Timmy are clear. Quite early in the text, though, Mrs. Chalmers agrees to Deborah going to London to look for a job. The narrator informs us that she would have agreed to anything “so long as it would bring closer her ultimate possession of Timmy” (Laski 20). Mrs. Chalmers doesn’t simply care for Timmy; she wants to possess him. Her desire to own Timmy reflects a desire to go back and fill the role she missed, the role of mother. Despite her opportunity to escape, Mrs. Chalmers tries desperately to fill one of the two roles, as if there is nothing else for women at this time. Mrs. Chalmers does not know what to do or be if she cannot be either wife or mother. Interestingly, Deborah, who is both a wife and a mother, is the one who is able to escape these strict female roles. Deborah can escape her role as mother because Mrs. Chalmers is there to be mother to Timmy.
Laski, Marghanita. To Bed with Grand Music. Persephone Books, London.