Archive for the ‘Panter-Downes, Mollie’ Category

My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes ~ 1931. This edition: The British Library, 2020. Preface by Alison Bailey. Afterword by Simon Thomas. Softcover. 214 pages.

I sometimes wonder, looking back at everything with the experience that four years ought to have brought, whether I would make up my mind quite so precipitously to marry Simon Quinn if I met him for the first time today. There are moods in which I tell myself: ‘Not a hope! Freedom and work are the only important things. My God haven’t four years taught you anything at all, you little fool?’ But at the back of my head I know quite clearly that if it happened all over again I should marry Simon just the same.

In 1926, Nevis Falconer and Simon Quinn married in haste, physical passion overwhelming rational thinking, and now, four years later, their marriage hasn’t ever really evolved beyond the bedroom.

Nevis is a writer, and her second novel has fallen rather flat, a setback after her successful and widely lauded first book, published when she was just leaving her teens. Simon doesn’t much care about Nevis’ angsty struggles to get on with her vocation; he’s a sturdily unapologetic non-intellectual, openly bored by his wife’s literary crowd and dismissive of her emotional swings.

For Simon has his own worries. Second son of an upper middle class family, his preferred pastimes of riding, climbing, shooting, fishing are relegated to rare country weekends and occasional holidays, as the post-Great War slump has forced a great number of young men such as Simon into uncongenial city jobs.

The year after we married he had left the Stock Exchange and gone into the advertising side of a firm that made cigarettes, and seemed to hold out chances of better money. All our friends were in jobs like that – some rather worse. Hugh Ellerby, who had been at Eton with Simon, was traveller for a firm that made electric “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” signs. One of my cousins was trying to get a job as a sort of glorified bellhop at the Savoy. He could speak three languages perfectly and had great charm of manner. . .

Nevis and Simon argue dramatically and constantly, but despite the tumultuous nature of their relationship, there is a deeply genuine love between them, and in the intervals between flashing and sometimes violent quarrels they reach out to each other for comfort and respite from a world that isn’t terribly kind.

Nevis finds herself under increasing pressure from Simon’s family to relegate her writing  to hobby status and to get on with starting a family, something which both Nevis and Simon are not at all keen to do, knowing that their delicately balanced situation will likely not stand up to parenthood. Things are all right as they are, they agree. Not perfect, but all right.

And then Nevis gets an unexpected visit from a partner in her American publisher’s firm. Marcus Chard thinks Nevis has it in her to power through her disappointment regarding her unsatisfactory second novel. She’s been spinning her wheels, bogged down in the minutiae of domestic cares, never getting the uninterrupted writing time she needs to really get on with things, making excuses, letting herself get distracted. Marcus cheerfully bullies her into really getting down to writing that third novel; his visits stimulate and inspire Nevis and help her squash down her abundant self doubts.

They soon become friends, enjoying each other’s company as intellectual equals, while Simon looks on with a cocked eyebrow, appearing relieved that Nevis has found an outlet for her compelling need to talk literature and art and to have her writing viewed as a worthwhile and life-filling venture.

But then, things stray into the danger zone. . .

Beautifully written, and a gripping depiction of London-between-the-wars, the flourishing literary scene of the time, and an increasingly sensitive and passionate portrayal of a loving but frequently incompatible marriage, the people within that marriage, and the way in which things might come apart.

One of the British Library Women Writers series:

(A) curated collection of novels by female authors who enjoyed broad, popular appeal in their day. In a century during which the role of women in society changed radically, their fictional heroines highlight women’s experience of life inside and outside the home through the decades in these ricj, insightful and evocative stories.

Very fast read, almost a novel-without-a-plot, dripping with intellectual snobbery – an aspect addressed by Simon Thomas in the afterword – and I liked it. My rating: 9/10





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