Day 1273: The 1944 Club! They Were Sisters

Cover for They Were SistersI was going to save my review of They Were Sisters for our February Literary Wives club, but I saw it was also published in 1944, so applied to the 1944 Club! So, for Literary Wives, I will just have to refer back to this review and then make my further comments about the depiction of wives in fiction.

I previously read another book published in 1944. Here is its link:

Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer

* * *

Lucy’s sisters, Vera and Charlotte, are much younger than she, so much so that she was largely responsible for raising them when their mother died. Lucy never thought she would marry, but she is, happily, to William, who is a bit eccentric. She has misgivings, though, about her sisters’ choices of husbands, especially Charlotte’s.

Vera’s husband, Brian, is solid and devoted. Lucy likes him, but Vera, who is a stunning beauty, seems to be bored with him. She has a constant entourage of male followers and loves to entertain. They have two daughters, Meriel and Sarah. Meriel is close to her father and paternal grandmother, who hates Vera and is always trying to make trouble. Sarah is closer to her mother, but she is the volatile one, who has trouble making friends.

Charlotte married Geoffrey. As a young man, he was constantly pulling pranks, and Lucy couldn’t see what Charlotte saw in him. As a husband, he is hypercritical and verbally abusive, teaching his daughters, Margaret and Judith, to disrespect their mother.

1944 club logoThe three women have been apart for years when they get together at the beginning of the book. After that visit, Vera and Lucy vow to keep in better contact with Charlotte because they are worried about her. Only Lucy pursues this, however, and through her efforts falls completely for Judith as a child. Although Charlotte avoids Lucy as she loses herself to alcoholism, Judith becomes a regular visitor to Lucy and William’s home, where she sees a more normal home life than the one she has. She also makes unlikely friends with her cousin, Sarah.

This novel is an insightful study of the bonds of sisters, despite their differences. It is a lovely book, also about how the act of caring on Lucy’s part has ramifications beyond her own sisters’ lives. Again, Whipple gets better and better. I will be sad when I will have read all of her books.

More about this book in February for Literary Wives!

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Day 1269: Greenery Street

Cover for Greenery StreetThe way I work my blog is that, as I finish a novel, I write up my notes in a book diary. Every five reviews, I pick out my next five books from those notes, and generally speaking, I run about six months behind what I have read.

Obviously, there’s room for error in this system, and I have made one with Greenery Street. I kept expecting my review to turn up, and finally, the other day, I looked the novel up on Goodreads to see when I finished reading it. More than a year ago! I looked back in my journals to see if I inadvertently skipped it, only to find that I apparently forgot to write it up. What a shame for this delightful novel!

Greenery Street is a story of ordinary life in a couple’s first home, written in 1925. It begins on a day in April when newly engaged Felicity Hamilton and Ian Foster wander into Greenery Street in search of a house and find a very small and pleasant one. Then it jumps back to cover their meeting and engagement.

The novel details the everyday life of this newly married couple. There is nothing particularly unusual about their lives (well, not for their time—not too many young wives spend their days shopping, socializing, and supervising the help anymore), but they are rendered in interesting detail and humor, small disagreements and the normal ups and downs of a new marriage. The end of the book is telegraphed from the beginning, when we’re told the house would be too small for three. However, the journey is delightful.

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Day 1267: Alas, Poor Lady

Cover for Alas, Poor LadyBest of Five!
A Footman for the Peacock was a strange little book, so I didn’t quite know what to expect from the much longer Alas, Poor Lady. It turned out to be an astonishingly feminist novel for being published in 1937.

At the beginning of the novel, Miss Scrimgeour, an elderly woman, receives the charitable gift of a two-room flat and an annuity for life. One of the women involved in the charity realizes that Miss Scrimgeour is a gentlewoman, of the same class as herself, and that she previously had no income at all. She exclaims, “How did that happen?” This novel answers that question.

It begins in 1870, when Grace Scrimgeour is born into a wealthy family. She is the youngest of six sisters, born almost a generation behind her last sister, but she is not the youngest child. Two years later, the Scrimgeour’s only son is born.

All the girls are raised to become wives and mothers. At least the oldest girls are sent away to school, but after Charlie is born, Grace’s upbringing is neglected and she is left to be educated by a governess who is not very competent.

The two girls marry, but it becomes clear that Mary and Queenie will not. Mary attempts to be useful by offering to teach Grace and Charlie, but her attempts to find herself an occupation are rebuffed by her parents.

As biddable, affectionate Grace nears her debut, Captain Scrimgeour spends more and more of his money on Charlie, selling out of stable financial funds to do so. Grace’s unmarried sisters become a problem once she is “out,” because most hostesses don’t want to entertain six Scrimgeours, so they leave Grace off their invitation lists. Her parents are now too elderly to see she has proper opportunities to meet someone, and neither of her married sisters take her in hand.

The novel follows the downward trend of the family’s finances, especially after Mrs. Scrimgeour is left in charge, herself having never received any instruction about finances. Clearly, tough times are ahead for the three unmarried sisters.

This novel shows painfully the origins of the destitute lady spinster—how everything in her upbringing works against her ability to support herself. Painfully ironic for the reader, who can see where things are trending, is a scene in which the newly widowed Mrs. Scrimgeour, blithely pledging £500 for a bed in the hospital for children, money she cannot afford, ignores a plea to help indigent gentlewomen, thinking the women are shiftless.

This novel is touching and eye-opening. The two most sympathetic characters are Grace, even more so her valiant sister Mary. But there is also a delightful family Grace goes to work for later.

Although I found this novel sad, it was enthralling and affecting. I highly recommend it. Another great novel from Persephone Press.

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Day 1263: The Provincial Lady in London

Cover for The Provincial Lady in LondonFans of E. M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady should also enjoy The Provincial Lady in London, which is humorous in the same vein. The narrator, having made a surprising amount of money with her first novel, decides to buy a flat in London and to write there, free from the interruptions of daily life.

If only. Instead, we meet an entirely new set of characters. Emma is always dragging the narrator off to literary events and forcing her to speak on little or no notice. Pamela Pringle, who the narrator knows from a girl, has since had at least three husbands and uses the narrator as an alibi to her current husband while she is out with her boyfriends.

At home, Vicky has decided she wants to go to school and dispense with the services of Mademoiselle, which results in some painful scenes, almost as bad as those with the succession of cooks. For times when the children are home from school, they hire a tutor, whom the narrator refers to as Casabianca. I had to look that up to get it.

The narrator and her taciturn husband, Robert, navigate family vacations in France, dismal parties, church fêtes, casinoes, and unbalanced checkbooks while the narrator makes just as much fun of herself as anyone else. Amusing stuff!

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Day 1258: Classics Club Spin #18! The Heir of Redclyffe

Frontispiece for The Heir of RedclyffeIt’s a quirk of mine that, while I research the books for my Classics Club list, when I finally get to them, I don’t remind myself what they are about before reading them. So, when I got The Heir of Redclyffe in the Classics Club spin, I vaguely guessed from the title that it might be a gothic thriller. Boy, was I wrong.

In fact, in tone and attention to right behavior and emphasis on everyday family life, the novel reminds me more of works by Jane Austen than anything else I’ve read, although it lacks the Austen humor and sense of the absurd. In addition, it perhaps doesn’t translate as well to modern times because of its sense of piety.

The Heir of Redclyffe is the story of two cousins, the branches of whose families have long held a feud. Guy Morville is the heir, at the beginning of the novel a 17-year-old who comes under the guardianship of Mr. Edmonstone. Guy is a stranger to the Edmonstone family when he comes to stay. He has been strictly brought up out of his grandfather’s fear of his family’s violent tendencies. The Edmonstones find him charismatic and full of the joy of life but quick to temper, always attempting to control his darker impulses.

Philip Morville, Guy’s cousin from the other side of the feud, is long a friend of the Edmonstone family. He is a captain in the army, and the young Edmonstones have been used to think of him as a pattern of well-bred, right behavior. Charlie Edmonstone, an invalid, thinks him patronizing and sententious, and Amabel, who is shy, is a little afraid of him, but Laura, the oldest daughter, thinks he can do no wrong, and her parents rely on his advice.

Unfortunately, Philip takes a dislike to Guy that he does not recognize himself. Instead, he thinks he is concerned for Guy’s welfare when he interferes in Guy’s life and misconstrues his actions. Although Guy forms an excellent relationship with the Edmonstones, Philip creates serious trouble for him by almost willfully assuming the worst about him.

The latter part of this novel is  full of sentimentality and pathos similar to Dickens at his “worst,” but the characters seem believable and interesting, and we care what happens to them. Perhaps modern readers won’t find the quiet and delicate but determined Amy to be the most interesting heroine, but in contemporary times she was considered a pattern of womanhood, as Guy was the epitome of the Romantic hero.

I was interested to read that in her time, Charlotte M. Yonge’s books were as popular as Dickens’s and she wrote to the service of the Oxford Movement, yet these days we don’t know her name. Like many other women writers, she was probably pushed aside by editors and academics as not as worthy to be remembered as her male counterparts.

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Day 1253: Because of the Lockwoods

Best of Five!
I just have to say, Dorothy Whipple keeps getting better and better. I am so thankful to Persephone Press for reprinting her books and am sorry that I only see a few more in their catalog.

Because of the Lockwoods is about the complex relationships between two families, the Hunters and the Lockwoods. The families used to be neighbors and social equals, but Mr. Hunter died unexpectedly, leaving the Hunters in financial straits. When the novel opens, Mrs. Lockwood is preparing to patronize the Hunters by inviting them on New Year’s Eve to witness a production by her girls that she would not inflict on more important people and to dine on leftover treats from Christmas Day.

The youngest Hunter, Thea, has grown to hate the Lockwoods for the way they treat her mother—Mrs. Lockwood patronizing her and Mr. Lockwood being irritable when Mrs. Hunter turns to him for advice. The Lockwood twins are bullies who continually ridicule Thea. What the Hunters don’t know, though, is that Mr. Lockwood cheated Mrs. Hunter just days into her widowhood.

The Lockwoods are not without their good qualities, just as Thea is not without bad ones, and it is this nuanced approach that makes the novel interesting. Mr. Lockwood adores his family, and Mrs. Lockwood is one of the few old friends who continues to visit Mrs. Hunter after the family’s move to a less salubrious neighborhood. Thea, on the other hand, is difficult, stubborn, and unforgiving. While despising the Lockwoods’ middle class values, she has adopted some of them herself, and is at first snobbish when she meets a new neighbor, Oliver Reade.

This novel is a long one, but it swept me up. I watched Thea suffer one humiliation after another at the hands of the Lockwood family and was interested to see how she handles her opportunity for comeuppance.

One feature of Whipple’s novels is how readable they are. Once you start reading, you don’t want to stop.

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Day 1241: Calamity in Kent

Cover for Calamity in KentReporter Jimmy London is on vacation in the seaside town of Broadgate recovering from an illness when he meets a man behaving oddly. This man is the operator of the Broadgate Lift, a cliff railway. He has discovered a body in the locked lift.

Jimmy is happy to be on the spot of a scoop, so he investigates while he sends the operator to the police. He is delighted to find that his old friend, Inspector Shelley of Scotland Yard, will be on the case. Shelley offers to exchange information with him if he will help investigate.

A classic locked door novel with a twist, the book was heavy going for me, for some reason. I think it was because if anyone made a point or explained anything, Rowland found a way, usually through Jimmy’s questions, to repeat it, as if he assumed his readers are dolts. As with many older mysteries, there’s not much characterization. So, a meh for this mystery.

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