Review 1690: Tension

When Sir Julian, who is on the board of the local commercial and technical college, mentions the name of the new Lady Superintendent to his wife, she recognizes it. She believes Miss Marchrose is the young woman who jilted her cousin.

Lady Rossiter’s belief in her own kindness conceals her meddlesome and ill-natured personality even from herself. She dislikes Miss Marchrose on sight. When she sees a friendship growing between Miss Marchrose and Mark Easter, the popular Superintendent, she makes it her business to spread insinuations about Miss Marchrose’s character.

Sir Julian likes Miss Marchrose and disapproves of his wife’s interference in the running of the college. I kept waiting for him to step in and stop her.

This novel, while it sparkles with wit and contains several comic characters, is about the serious subject of the damage of loose talk and gossip. Don’t look for a silly romantic novel here. I was rapt by this novel, as I found Miss Marchrose gallant and detested Lady Rossiter’s hypocrisy and self-deception.

That being said, the novel contains some very funny characters, for example, silly Iris Easter, the author of a novel entitled Why Ben! A Story of the Sexes, and her pseudo-Scottish lover, Douglas Garrett, or Mark Easter’s horrendously behaved children, Ruthie and Ambrose, alias Peekaboo. This is another excellent book from the British Library Women Writers series.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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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 1198: Consequences

Cover of ConsequencesIf you expect E. M. Delafield’s Consequences to be like her witty Diary of a Provincial Lady, you will be surprised. Although it addresses themes that Diary touched on much more lightly, it is serious, sad, and even bitter.

Alex Clare grows up in the typical environment of a Victorian child of wealthy parents. She and her brothers and sisters are raised by Nanny and only see their parents at specific times. Alex is an aggressive child with her siblings, but her desire is to have someone care about her. Since Nanny dislikes her and Cedric and Barbara band against her, she tries to please her mother.

But a childish game causes a near tragedy. Alex’s part in it is misinterpreted, and she feels too guilty to defend herself, so her parents send her away to a convent school in Belgium.

Here, Alex begins a lifelong pattern of fastening upon someone for whom she will do anything. In school, it is Queenie, for whom she breaks rules to give treats and try to hang around her. These kinds of crushes are forbidden, and Alex is constantly in trouble for breaking rules, while Queenie blithely accepts forbidden treats and gets away with it. Alex does not learn to develop standards of behavior. She just yearns for love and understanding without having the ability to evoke it from others.

This childhood does not prepare her for young womanhood, where the only expectation is that she will marry well. She does not enjoy all the parties and events she must attend and is unable to hide her discontent.

Alex is not an attractive character. She is needy, unprincipled, and depressive. But her small transgressions are magnified by her family until she feels friendless and isolated.

Consequences is Delafield’s indictment of this kind of upbringing and the expectations for women of her class and time. It is also a character study of a woman who feels lost wherever she is. It is quite the feminist statement, published in 1919. The reviews included in the appendix of the Persephone edition show that its message was not well understood or accepted by the (presumably) male literary world of its time.

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Day 876: The Diary of a Provincial Lady

Cover for Diary of a Provincial LadyBest Book of the Week!
The Diary of a Provincial Lady was popular again quite a few years ago, but I didn’t read it then. Now that I have read it, I wish I’d read it earlier.

Considering that I have little in common with a 1930’s suburban upper-class English housewife and mother struggling with servant problems, I found this novel very funny.

The novel begins with a visit from Lady B., for whom the narrator’s husband Robert works as a land agent. Lady B. is in turn patronizing and demanding, first nearly sitting on the indoor bulbs, then questioning where the narrator got them and telling her where she should have got them, then telling her it’s too late to plant them anyway. The bulbs appear throughout the novel as a running joke. They get moved to the basement and then to the attic, are over-watered and under-watered, get stepped on by Robert when he is bringing down the suitcases, and are nibbled by mice. What they don’t do is bloom.

The house is made lively by a constant stream of visitors, including Our Vicar’s Wife, who always must be getting along but stays another hour. Another less pleasing visitor is the hearty Miss Pankerton, who barges her way into invitations and thinks nothing of bringing along an extra three people and two dogs on what was supposed to be a family picnic.

The narrator has two lively children—Robin, who makes frequent visits from prep school, and Vicky, who is at  home with a very French governess, Mademoiselle. I had to break out Google Translate for Mademoiselle, who continually manages to insult her employer and persists in being overly dramatic.

The narrator’s husband is taciturn except when complaining about expenses or the condition of the house, but he never denies her and is often kind. Many paragraphs, though, end with “Robert said nothing,” which begins to be very funny after a while. In fact, there is a lot that Robert finds nothing to say about. Meanwhile, the poor narrator is constantly scrambling for money, hocking her grandmother’s jewels and so on, to be able to keep up a decent appearance.

To some extent Delafield is depicting types but they also seem like real people, very funny real people. Delafield’s sense of humor is dry. Particularly amusing are her memos to herself and her queries. For example, after arguing with the children about washing up for tea:

(Mem: Have sometimes considered—though idly—writing letter to The Times to find out if any recorded instances exist of parents and children whose views on this subject coincide. Topic of far wider appeal than many of those so exhaustively dealt with.)

All I can say is, I can’t tell you how many times a page I chuckled, or just plain laughed out loud.

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