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Contemporary Literature: The Girl Before by JP Delaney


By Hadyn Peffer

The Girl Before, similarly to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, is a psychological
thriller written by JP Delaney that comments on male’s control in a society in a number of
different ways. Set in London, a fast paced and ever-changing society, this novel is narrated in
the past from the perspective of Emma, a young women looking for something new after a
traumatic break-in to her old apartment, and the present from the perspective of Jane, a similarly
aged women who recently had a miscarriage. Both women are looking for a clean start to their
current, intolerable lives. While looking for a fresh start, they come across One Folgate Street, an
architectural masterpiece that is the spitting image of a slate white box with the exception of a
seemingly dangerous staircase and the occasional piece of furniture. This shockingly beautiful
house comes with an extensive questionnaire, an interview, and many stipulations and rules that
the hopeful tenant all must live by in order to gain access to this intriguing one-bedroom
property. One Folgate Street, Edward Monkford (the overbearing architect of the property), and
JP Delaney all point toward the dominant impression of male’s control in society and their
control over the women in their lives.

The book opens with the first question to the extensive questionnaire the possible tenants
must fill out in order to be considered for a interview to live in One Folgate Street, “I. Please
make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life,” (Delaney 3). She starts the
novel with an intimate question that sets the mood as introspective and off-putting before giving
the reader a setting. Emma gives her initial reaction to this question when looking at the
questionnaire with her boyfriend Simon:

But then I think some more, and that word essential seems to float out of the page at me.
What, really, is essential?… It occurs to me that the question has been worded this at
deliberately. If I’d been asked to make a list of what I could do without, I’d never have
managed it. But by putting the thought in my head that really none of it’s important, I
find myself wondering if I can’t just shed all my things, my stuff, like an old skin.
(Delaney 19).

Emma, who is with Simon when looking at this house, is already foreshadowing the shedding of
all of her old things, which would soon come to mean her boyfriend as well as her material
possessions. To help further understanding, the architect Edward, demands that in order to live in
One Folgate Street, the tenant may not have any of their own possessions in the visible areas; the
only place they may keep their personal effects is in cupboards that seamlessly fold into the
walls. From the initial question that is presented to Emma, Edward Monkford has already taken
control of her usual thought process and has started the transformation to the new thought
process and way of living that the house requires.

Laura Weinrib, similarly to the novel, speaks upon the domination of men over women
from the bedroom that flows into other areas of life, if not all of them. Weinrib opens her journal
with a quote from Catharine MacKinnon who was famous for her commentary on the political
and social struggle between men and women as a “manifestation of men’s sexual subordination
of women,” (Weinrib 1):

Male and female are created through the eroticization of dominance and submission. The
man/woman difference and the dominance/submission dynamic define each other… The
feminist theory of knowledge is inextricable from the feminist critique of power because
the male point of view forces itself upon the world as its way of apprehending it.
(Weinrib 1)

Edward Monkford is described as a very handsome bruiting man who, surprisingly enough,
chooses women who look extremely similarly to his deceased wife. Through the book both
women are described as dark brunette, blued-eyed, beautifully petite women, who find
themselves in relations with Edward that lead to a more than forceful sex life. This sexual
domination leads Edward to take control of the women’s lives in other ways such as showing up
for uninvited check ins and controlling every date that they go on. He initiates the relationship
with both women in the same way:

Human relationships, like human lives tend to accumulate the unnecessary… Valentine’s
cards, romantic gestures, special dates, meaningless endearments—all the boredom and
inertia of timid, conventional relationships that have run their course before they’ve even
begun. But what if we strip all that away? There’s a kind of purity to a relationship
unencumbered by convention, a sense of simplicity and freedom. I find that exhilarating
—two people coming together with no agenda other than the present. And when I want
something, I pursue it. But I want to be very clear with you what it is I’m suggesting.
(Delaney 68).

He suggests a relationship in which he gets exactly what he wants, nothing more, and when he is
bored or isn’t getting what he wants, he is free to leave because he prefaced the relationship with
this memorized monologue. We see this in many relationships in today’s society—women are
worried about being too clingy, or feel the need to act in another way in order to keep their
boyfriend or significant other around. This type of relationship, similar to the way the tenant is
expected to live in One Folgate Street, confined by rules created by Edward Monkford.
Mackinnon’s quote, when referring to the male’s point of view, is a perfect summation of the
types of relationships in this novel—Emma and Jane in their previous lives, Emma and Jane in
the house, and Emma and Jane in their relationship with Edward.

As a developed institution, the domestic household has tended to create a sense of male
dominance and the female’s subservience and dependence. In line with this overarching sense of
women’s dependence throughout the entire book, Emily Kane concurs in stating:

Economic and interpersonal dependence of women on men, and in some cases more
brutal forms of subordination, are typical components of marriage and family. Women’s
prescribed roles leave them with the burden of extensive domestic and nurturance
responsibilities as well as limited power within the family. These patterns constitute
gender inequality within the home and are reflected in the ideology legitimating a gender-
segregated labor force in which women’s earnings and opportunities are not equal to
men’s. (Kane 1).

This is seen throughout the novel but especially in One Folgate Street’s “Housekeeper.” A digital
aid that is present on every device in the house that controls the house’s lighting, heating, etc. as
well as the internet searches that the tenant may look at. This limiting search engine even
restricts the results in order to ‘protect’ the tenant from harmful, or uncomfortable, information
that Edward does not want Emma or Jane to find—mostly information on the house’s past that
includes the death of Edward’s wife and child as well as Emma herself. Due to this lack of
information, Emma and Jane must rely on male detectives and male acquaintances from Emma’s
past in order to find that information. Along with this lack of information, “Housekeeper” also
monitors which rooms are most used, the heart rate of the tenant, and even the emotional and
stress levels of the tenant. This invasive data collection gives overwhelmingly private
information to Edward and his male partner.

As the novel comes to end the reader begins to see that this overwhelming sense of male
control and domination is taken over by Jane’s strength and wit. The reader practically watches
Jane, unfortunately with the help of many male figures, unravels the truth of Emma’s and
Edwards previous wife and children’s death. Using this newly found strength given to her by this
information along with the possibility of another child on the way, Jane fights off the murderous
Simon and found the wit to play Edward in a way that he has played every other one of his
relationships for the benefit of both her and her new son, Toby. Jane concludes her story:

There’s a posset of regurgitated milk on Toby’s shoulder. Carefully I wipe it away. There.
All gone. I make my decision . I will take what I can from
Edward. And then I will let them fade into history, all the characters of this drama. Emma
Matthews and the men who loved her, who became obsessed with her. (Delaney
333-334).

Delaney concludes the story as she had begun it, with the wiping of a slate. First was Emma
committing to leaving her old skin behind and the opportunities that One Folgate Street could
bring. Finally with Jane who wipes her newly born son clean and committing to leaving the
skeletons of One Folgate Street behind to promise Toby that new skin Emma looked for.

To conclude, this being a psychological thriller, leads the reader to assume the male
dominance and control is unable to be broken and eventually leads to death and murder.
However, it turns around within the last couple pages to open up and conclude to with the idea
that female intelligence can override a male’s control. This speaks much to about how Delaney
sees our society today: still caught in the hold of female’s subservience, but now creating a new
wave of women empowerment and intellect.


Works Cited

Delaney, J. P. The Girl Before. London: Quercus, 2017. Print.
Kane, Emily W., and Laura Sanchez. “Family status and criticism of gender inequality at home
and at work.” Social Forces, vol. 72, no. 4, 1994, p. 1079+. Opposing Viewpoints in
Context. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.
Weinrib, Laura. “Protecting sex: sexual disincentives and sex-based discrimination.” Columbia
Journal of Gender and Law, vol. 12, no. 1, 2003, p. 222+. Opposing Viewpoints in
Context. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.

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