Life After Life

Life After Life

by

Kate Atkinson

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Sylvie Todd Character Analysis

Ursula’s mother and Hugh’s wife. Sylvie was born to Llewellyn and Lottie Beresford, both of whom were very traditional and conservative people. When Sylvie’s father died when she was a teenager, she and her mother fell into poverty until she met Hugh and he married her at seventeen. Sylvie, like her parents, is also extremely traditional; she views being a wife and mother as a woman’s highest calling. She has five children to prove her point: Maurice, Pamela, Ursula, Teddy, and Jimmy. But Atkinson critiques Sylvie as being hypocritical, as Sylvie is sometimes unfaithful to Hugh (whether she thinks of other men in some timelines or sneaks away to London in others) and sometimes negligent as a mother. When Ursula is raped and becomes pregnant, Sylvie blames Ursula for the incident and is exceptionally cold to Ursula throughout her life, despite the fact that Ursula’s lack of knowledge about sex stems from Sylvie’s inability to talk to her about it. Ursula, therefore, is distant from her mother in many timelines, because her love is fickle in times of crisis. When Teddy dies in World War II, Sylvie becomes completely distraught and decides to commit suicide by taking sleeping pills.

Sylvie Todd Quotes in Life After Life

The Life After Life quotes below are all either spoken by Sylvie Todd or refer to Sylvie Todd. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Hachette edition of Life After Life published in 2013.
Four Seasons... , 11 Feb 1910 Quotes

“God surely wanted this baby back,” Bridget said when she came in later that morning with a cup of steaming beef tea.

“We have been tested,” Sylvie said, “and found not wanting.”

“This time,” Bridget said.

Related Characters: Sylvie Todd (speaker), Bridget (speaker), Ursula Todd, Dr. Fellowes
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
War (I), Jul 1914 Quotes

Motherhood was her responsibility, her destiny. It was, lacking anything else (and what else could there be?), her life.

Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
Armistice (V), 11 Nov 1918 Quotes

Bridget went flying, toppling down the stairs in a great flurry of arms and legs. Ursula only just managed to stop herself from following in her wake.

Practice makes perfect.

Related Characters: Ursula Todd, Sylvie Todd, Bridget
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:
Like a Fox in a Hole, Sep 1923 Quotes

“There are some Buddhist philosophers (a branch referred to as Zen) who say that sometimes a bad thing happens to prevent a worse thing happening,” Dr. Kellet said. “But, of course, there are some situations where it’s impossible to imagine anything worse.”

Related Characters: Dr. Kellet (speaker), Ursula Todd, Sylvie Todd, Bridget, Adolf Hitler
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:
Like a Fox in a Hole, Aug 1926 (I) Quotes

“But he forced himself on you,” she fumed, “how can you think it was your fault?”

“But the consequences...” Ursula murmured.

Sylvie blamed her entirely, of course. “You’ve thrown away your virtue, your character, everyone’s good opinion of you.”

Related Characters: Ursula Todd (speaker), Sylvie Todd (speaker), Pamela Todd (speaker), Hugh Todd, Howie
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:
Like a Fox in a Hole, Jun 1932 Quotes

“Intact?” Ursula echoed, staring at Sylvie in the mirror. What did that mean, that she was flawed? Or broken?

“One’s maidenhood,” Sylvie said. “Deflowering,” she added impatiently when she saw Ursula’s blank expression. “For someone who is far from innocent you seem remarkably naive.”

Related Characters: Ursula Todd (speaker), Sylvie Todd (speaker), Hugh Todd, Derek Oliphant, Howie
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

She no longer recognized herself, she thought. She had taken the wrong path, opened the wrong door, and was unable to find her way back.

Related Characters: Ursula Todd, Sylvie Todd, Derek Oliphant, Howie
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:
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Life After Life PDF

Sylvie Todd Character Timeline in Life After Life

The timeline below shows where the character Sylvie Todd appears in Life After Life. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Snow (I), 11 February 1910
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Sylvie, Ursula’s mother, moans that Dr. Fellowes should have been with her for the birth. Bridget,... (full context)
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Bridget informs Sylvie that the baby is blue, strangled by her own umbilical cord. Sylvie asks what they... (full context)
Snow (II), 11 February 1910
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Dr. Fellowes orders Bridget to fetch hot water and towels before handing Ursula over to Sylvie. He tells Sylvie that it was lucky he arrived just in time, as he was... (full context)
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon
...He had called for Mrs. Haddock, the midwife, but she got stuck in the snow. Sylvie invites Dr. Fellowes to stay the night, somewhat reluctantly. He delivered all three of her... (full context)
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Bridget, only fourteen, swaddles Ursula. Sylvie thinks about her own life at fourteen, ten years prior. She had been in love... (full context)
Four Seasons Fill the Measure of the Year, 11 February 1910
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon
Sylvie wakes and Mrs. Glover brings her a breakfast tray with a single, half-frozen snowdrop. Sylvie... (full context)
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Mrs. Glover tells Sylvie that Dr. Fellowes had been called to another emergency early that morning—a farmer trampled by... (full context)
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...the family learned that he was a gambler who had unpaid debts all over town. Sylvie and Lottie sank into poverty and depression. Sylvie’s home and horse had to be sold,... (full context)
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Lottie had died the next year and Hugh and Sylvie married on her eighteenth birthday. They honeymooned in France before settling in “semirural bliss” near... (full context)
Family and Love Theme Icon
Back in Sylvie’s bedroom, Sylvie invites five-year-old Maurice and three-year-old Pamela in to meet their new sister. Maurice... (full context)
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
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Later, Bridget brings in a cup of tea and says that God wanted Ursula back. Sylvie comments that they “have been tested […] and found not wanting.” “This time,” Bridget responds. (full context)
Four Seasons Fill the Measure of the Year, May 1910
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Hugh brings a telegram into the nursery when Sylvie is feeding Ursula a few months later, announcing that Izzie has had her baby. Hugh... (full context)
Four Seasons Fill the Measure of the Year, June 1914
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Ursula turns four without further mishap, much to Sylvie’s relief. In June, Sylvie and the four children (they have a new addition named Teddy)... (full context)
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One day at the beach, the children return from fishing while Sylvie and Bridget lay on the beach, reading. Maurice comes sprinting back and throws himself down... (full context)
Snow (III), 11 February 1910
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Bridget takes away Sylvie’s breakfast tray, but Sylvie asks her to leave the snowdrop. Sylvie cradles Ursula, thinking what... (full context)
War (I), June 1914
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Mr. Winton carries a sopping wet Pamela and Ursula back up the beach, explaining to Sylvie that they went  out a bit too far. Sylvie offers to treat Mr. Winton to... (full context)
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Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
When Sylvie and the children return from their holiday, Hugh asks if they are glad to be... (full context)
War (I), July 1914
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Sylvie watches Maurice erect a makeshift tennis net, which seems to involve him whacking everything in... (full context)
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Friends of Sylvie’s from school named Margaret and Lily arrive and the three women go out into the... (full context)
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...Ursula is, saying that children are quite droll. Margaret and Lily don’t have children, and Sylvie doesn’t know how to explain the magnitude of motherhood to them. When they try to... (full context)
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Hugh returns from work and rescues Sylvie from the conversation, offering the women some gin slings. They chat as the children take... (full context)
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Later that evening, Sylvie ushers her children to bed and then feeds Teddy. She thinks how she likes her... (full context)
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Later, as Sylvie and Hugh read in bed, they concur that Teddy is their best baby yet, joking... (full context)
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A few days later, Sylvie, Bridget, and the children go to watch the harvest being brought in, though Maurice had... (full context)
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As Sylvie and Bridget walk, they see a field of horses belonging to George Glover—Mrs. Glover’s son.... (full context)
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The Todd family stops to have their lunch, and Sylvie goes to find a discreet spot to feed Teddy. Just as he settles at her... (full context)
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Hugh greets Sylvie and the children when they walk home, saying they look kissed by the sun. The... (full context)
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...for a stew, which causes Pamela to scream. After Pamela is calmed down, she and Sylvie make a nest for the rabbits. Then the Todds sit on the lawn, eating raspberries... (full context)
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In bed that night, Sylvie abandons her book for “less cerebral pursuits,” but finds that as she and Hugh have... (full context)
War (I), January 1915
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Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Sylvie reads a letter from Hugh, who is now a captain in the army after leaving... (full context)
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Despite Sylvie’s objections, she had been part of the “enormous flag-waving throng” of people to see him... (full context)
War and Death Theme Icon
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...routine is affected in other ways: they no longer eat in their dining room, as Sylvie deemed it too extravagant. Pamela helped to set the table in the morning room instead,... (full context)
War and Death Theme Icon
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Bridget interrupts Sylvie’s knitting to announce that bombs have been dropped on Norfolk, before shouting to Maurice and... (full context)
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
...knitting long lengths of wool that are only useful as mats and lopsided tea cozies. Sylvie encourages her, telling her “Practice makes perfect.” (full context)
War (II), 20 January 1915
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...Henrietta, a chicken of theirs that was very old. This question disconcerts Ursula and Pamela. Sylvie warns Maurice about his manners before assuring the girls that the chicken they are eating... (full context)
Armistice (I), June 1918
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Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Three years later, it is Teddy’s fourth birthday, and Sylvie has prepared a surprise party. Bridget, Pamela, Ursula, and Teddy go to deliver jam to... (full context)
War and Death Theme Icon
...party, having forgotten all about it. The hallway is decorated with flags and bunting and Sylvie bearing a gift-wrapped present that is unmistakably a toy airplane. (full context)
Armistice (I), 11 November 1918
Family and Love Theme Icon
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The Armistice seems to make Sylvie even more despondent than the war, as she says that the peace won’t bring back... (full context)
Family and Love Theme Icon
War and Death Theme Icon
The kids return that day as Mrs. Glover, Bridget, and Sylvie are toasting the peace—though none of them are in a particularly jubilant mood. Hugh and... (full context)
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
...including an appearance of the King and all of the bells of London ringing out. Sylvie appears in the kitchen and makes cocoa for all of them, listening late into the... (full context)
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon
...sick. Ursula’s breathing is harsh and raspy, and she spits out the beef tea that Sylvie tries to feed her. Pamela stays with Ursula and reads to her. Dr. Fellowes is... (full context)
Armistice (II), 12 November 1918
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In the morning, Bridget is very sick. Sylvie goes to call Dr. Fellowes and tells Mrs. Glover to watch the children, as she... (full context)
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
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At that moment, Sylvie and Dr. Fellowes come into Bridget’s room and pull the children into the hall. She... (full context)
Snow (VI), 11 February 1910
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Sylvie lights a candle; Ursula is asleep in her cradle. Sylvie thinks to herself that childbirth... (full context)
Armistice (III), 11 November 1918
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Ursula (pretending to be Sylvie) writes a note to Bridget telling her that a gang of robbers is in the... (full context)
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The next morning, Sylvie asks Ursula about the note, but Ursula denies having written it. Sylvie tells her that... (full context)
Snow (VII), 11 February 1910
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Bridget and Mrs. Glover discuss Ursula’s birth and wonder whether Sylvie will stop at three children. After giving Dr. Fellowes breakfast, Mrs. Glover prepares Sylvie’s breakfast.... (full context)
Armistice (IV), 11 November 1918
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Sylvie greets Clarence at the back door and tells him that Bridget has had a bit... (full context)
Snow (VIII), 11 February 1910
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon
...that their younger sister’s name is “Ursula” as she gives them breakfast. Bridget asks if Sylvie liked the snowdrop flower. (full context)
Armistice (V), 11 November 1918
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Sylvie explains to Ursula what “déjà vu” means, and that it is a trick of the... (full context)
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon
Dr. Fellowes declares Bridget’s arm broken. Bridget says that someone pushed her, and Sylvie interrogates the children. Ursula says nothing when Sylvie asks if she did it. She knows... (full context)
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
...great commotion at the front door. Teddy runs to see, reporting back to Ursula that Sylvie is kissing a man, and they’re both crying. Ursula looks out and says that she... (full context)
Peace, February 1947
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Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Sylvie had committed suicide on VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), swallowing a bottle of sleeping... (full context)
War and Death Theme Icon
...postcard to Pamela and puts it on the mantlepiece next a clock that belonged to Sylvie, and Teddy’s photo and his Distinguished Flying Cross medal. Teddy and his crew sat in... (full context)
Snow (IX), 11 February 1910
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Mrs. Glover’s cat, Queenie, sneaks into Sylvie’s bedroom, attracted by a new smell. She settles into the “perfect little cat-sized bed, already... (full context)
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
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Sylvie urgently knocks on Bridget’s door, announcing that the baby is coming early. Bridget scrambles to... (full context)
Like a Fox in a Hole, September 1923
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
When Izzie had told Hugh and Sylvie of her new job, Sylvie had called her a fool and critiqued her makeup. Hugh... (full context)
Family and Love Theme Icon
...being pushed further and further away from the heart of the family—she had even heard Sylvie call her an “awkward cuckoo.” Ursula had told Dr. Kellet that she felt like the... (full context)
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
...had witnessed a peculiar scene (unseen by Izzie) while she was there). She had seen Sylvie arm in arm with an elegantly dressed man, who guided her way up the Strand. (full context)
Like a Fox in a Hole, 11 February 1926 (I)
Family and Love Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
...Dante. This is followed by a satin-and-lace bed jacket and a bottle of perfume, which Sylvie pronounces to be far too grown-up for Ursula. Hugh glares at Izzie, wondering how she... (full context)
Like a Fox in a Hole, May 1926
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
...Maurice is going to get the highest honors, even though she thinks he’s an idiot. Sylvie thinks that “academia [is] pointless for girls,” believing that a “woman’s highest calling is to... (full context)
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
...that Ursula looks like a heifer, and a realization dawns on Ursula. She hunts down Sylvie’s copy of The Teaching of Young Children and Girls as to Reproduction, but the book... (full context)
Family and Love Theme Icon
...she is thrown in jail). The next thing Ursula knows, she’s in a hospital with Sylvie watching over her. Sylvie says, “How could you?” Ursula falls asleep again, feeling the black... (full context)
Like a Fox in a Hole, August 1926 (I)
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...truth to Pamela, who is shocked that Ursula thinks what happened is her own fault. Sylvie, by contrast, blames Ursula completely for what happened. Ursula feels as though her life was... (full context)
Like a Fox in a Hole, June 1932
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...Ursula for the benefit of her family. Ursula doesn’t mind living alone, though Hugh and Sylvie would have been scandalized. (full context)
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Ursula and Derek marry in a registrar’s office, witnessed only by Hugh, Sylvie, and Derek’s mother. Pamela and Teddy are both upset not to have been invited, but... (full context)
Like a Fox in a Hole, August 1926 (II)
Family and Love Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Ursula is reading Chéri beneath the apple trees, when Sylvie happens upon her. Sylvie says she should do more with her French. Ursula says she... (full context)
A Lovely Day Tomorrow (I), 2 September 1939
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...tells her she should go to Fox Corner. Pamela says she’d rather not stay with Sylvie; instead, she has a friend from her university with a cottage in Yorkshire and can... (full context)
A Lovely Day Tomorrow (II), 2 September 1939
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
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...her figure in the dress, and thinks it unlikely that she would ever have children. Sylvie had asked her recently if she would never marry, and Ursula in turn had wondered... (full context)
A Lovely Day Tomorrow (II), April 1940
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Izzie quotes, “Courtship to marriage, as a very witty prologue to a very dull play.” Sylvie is baffled by this comment, pointing out that Izzie is married. Izzie says that for... (full context)
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Sylvie and Izzie spend the rest of the dinner irritated with each other, while Ursula and... (full context)
A Lovely Day Tomorrow (III), August 1926
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Sylvie comes over asks if Ursula really wants to pursue a degree Modern Languages. Ursula says... (full context)
The Land of Begin Again, August 1933
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...She wonders if fate is intervening. After the introduction, Ursula writes to Millie, Pamela, and Sylvie that she’s in love with Jürgen. (full context)
The Land of Begin Again, August 1939
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...for hours. Ursula wishes in these moments she could escape to Fox Corner. Once, when Sylvie had visited to get to know Jürgen better, Ursula had taken Sylvie to a parade,... (full context)
A Long Hard War, September 1940
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That Saturday, Ursula goes to Fox Corner and shares a nice dinner with Pamela and Sylvie. For most of the dinner, Hugh is investigating an unexploded bomb in a neighboring field.... (full context)
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Hugh returns, and he and Sylvie start to quarrel, as Sylvie asks whether Hugh still lives there because she never sees... (full context)
A Long Hard War, October 1940 (II)
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Ursula, Pamela, and Sylvie stand over the open grave, Sylvie so consumed by grief that she can hardly stand.... (full context)
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...Ursula that he looked peaceful. After the funeral, Ursula and Izzie have little conversation with Sylvie, who can’t seem to sit down. Ursula and Bridget clear out Hugh’s closet, and Ursula... (full context)
A Long Hard War, November 1943
Family and Love Theme Icon
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...her assistant promptly brings her a glass of water and a chair. Maurice says that Sylvie took the news very hard as well. She is shocked that he almost sounds “bemused... (full context)
Family and Love Theme Icon
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...kill herself, but that she can’t bring herself to leave the dog. On VE day, Sylvie takes an overdose of sleeping pills and lays down on Teddy’s childhood bed. In the... (full context)
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Maurice is livid at Sylvie’s will. Jimmy is indifferent, and Ursula is somewhat upset but is glad that Pamela is... (full context)
A Long Hard War, February 1947
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...to Pamela, thanking her for the food from Fox Corner. She sets it next to Sylvie’s clock and Teddy’s photograph. Ursula clears her plate to the sink, and the electricity goes... (full context)
A Long Hard War, June 1967
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...to fall around her, until light pierces through a curtain and she is lifted up. Sylvie says, “I shall call her Ursula.” Hugh remarks that he likes the name, and responds,... (full context)
The End of the Beginning
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...He had been pacing around the hall, waiting to be invited into the room where Sylvie was giving birth, having managed to get back to Fox Corner just before the snow... (full context)
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Sylvie wonders what to do with Izzie and her child; Hugh insists that they should keep... (full context)
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Roland is a sweet child, and it takes some time for Sylvie to realize that Roland is “not all there.” He does not progress in the same... (full context)
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...castle on the beach. Roland is sent to scour the beach for decorative pebbles, and Sylvie and Bridget are further along the beach. As Ursula builds the castles, she feels a... (full context)
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At the funeral, everyone seems to want to try to claim Roland. Sylvie and Izzie both call him “my boy,” and Hugh is also greatly affected by his... (full context)
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...innocence. Clarence then goes to London alone and dies of the flu afterward. Ursula tells Sylvie that “at least no one was pushed down the stairs,” though she has no idea... (full context)
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...Pamela’s figurine and thrown it out the window, smashing it to pieces. The next day, Sylvie had gotten a kitten for Pamela to try to appease her, but it had only... (full context)
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Sylvie takes Ursula to a psychiatrist, Dr. Kellet, on account of her constant headaches and sense... (full context)
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Dr. Kellet explains to Sylvie that the picture is a symbol representing the circularity of the universe, that time is... (full context)
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Six months later, Ursula is reading under the apple tree again—this time English poetry. Sylvie tells her she doesn’t see the point in Ursula studying English literature. Ursula tells her... (full context)
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...turns and shoots the fox. Ursula tells her mother that Maurice shot the fox, and Sylvie starts to cry. She says that she will disinherit Maurice one day. (full context)
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...train station, but really she is going to meet Benjamin Cole in secret. She knows Sylvie would not approve, as “things had started to get very ‘hot’ between them, [with] a... (full context)