Saunby is an old estate that belongs to Major Marwood. It was once a priory, and the ruins are still there. The major is a poor landlord and manager who cares only for cricket. Although he has hundreds of pounds of unpaid bills and the house is falling to bits, he spends a huge amount of money every year in hosting two weeks of cricket matches.
The major is most unhappy about how the house is being run. His sister, Victoria, who is supposed to be in charge of the house, pays attention to nothing but her art, producing one atrocious painting after another. His two daughters, Christine and Penelope, are happy in their isolation up in the nursery, making odd-looking dresses and ridiculing the neighbors. The servants do what they want. Everyone in the household is completely self-absorbed.
So, the major decides it is time he remarried, principally to get someone to take care of the house and keep expenses in check. He has his eyes upon Anthea Sumpton, a woman no longer young who he is sure will be sensible.
Unfortunately, Anthea is in love with him and doesn’t understand he is making a marriage of convenience. Soon, she will have a rude awakening.
Everyone in this novel is due for a rude awakening, however, as the focus of the novel moves to Christine and what happens when she falls in love with Nicholas Ashwell. He is one of her father’s cricket players who has been raised to be as selfish as her family is.
This novel is also somewhat an Upstairs/Downstairs novel at first, when the new maid, Bessy, falls in love with Thompson, who helps with the cricket. He returns her feelings but doesn’t reckon with the rejected Bertha.
This novel is the best kind, the type in which characters develop and you change your mind about them. Beginning in the late 1930’s, it is also winding its way slowly toward the war. I found the novel beautifully written, involving, and ultimately touching, as a dysfunctional family learns to become slightly more functional. I have enjoyed all of Whipple’s novels, but I think I liked this one best, so far.