Posts Tagged ‘1939 Novel’

Dustjacket image from 1939 first edition – not my personal copy.

The Runaway by Kathleen Norris ~ 1939. This edition: Collier, 1939. Hardcover. 344 pages.

During the Very Tumultuous Month just past, there were moments of serendipitous small thrills, such as stumbling upon a collection of six Kathleen Norris novels on a local buy-and-sell Facebook group while I was supposed to be scouting for a vehicle to replace the one I destroyed in my dramatic crash.

Well, no luck on another car so far (we’re not looking very hard, as ride-sharing with the other family vehicles is working out satisfactorily at present) but I did buy the books.

Good thing my expectations were realistic, for despite the seller’s enthusiastic “Aren’t these marvelous reads!” endorsement, I am finding that they are pretty well up to par with the author’s other utterly contrived dramatic romances I’ve read to date. Meaning, formula plot, gorgeous background setting.

These are as much “California novels” as anything John Steinbeck wrote, and I love that about them, having a family California connection and many fond childhood memories of orange groves and eucalyptus trees, trips into the Sierra foothills to marvel at the giant Sequoia trees, and then back to the suburbs, with immense rose bushes in every yard and quail scurrying down quiet streets lined with modest middleclass bungalows.

A golden place still in many ways – such an astonishingly distinct natural setting! – and to me much more “California” than the smoggy metropolis of L.A. and the artificial wonders of Hollywood and such.

So, as I said, Norris does the settings well, but her plots, not so much.

This one is fairly dire, as Norris novels go. Definitely B-list. Here’s the rundown, spoilers and all.

Bee-yoo-ti-ful young woman, only (and adopted) daughter of staunchly respectable working class parents in a small rural California community, yearns for more fulfillment than her current occupation as a kindergarten teacher provides. She falls into an engagement with a clean-living, very devoted Italian-American boy, which is viewed by all concerned as a mostly good thing, seeing that he is from a well-off family, though the fact that he is absolutely Catholic and she isn’t particularly religious-minded is rather a sticking point, especially with his Mamma.

Not to worry, Italian Mamma! Here comes an entrancingly romantic ne’er-do-well, who sweeps our heroine off her feet with his tales of derring-do and fervent protestations of love. Before she knows it, she’s off in the big city and married to her impulsive swain, who turns out to be a class-A jerk.

Abandoned and pregnant, our heroine returns home to Mom and Dad, who comfort and shelter her, and also welcome with open arms the wayward son-in-law when he shows up on the doorstep some five moths later.

Emotionally fraught interlude.

Heroine, child in arms, decides that she must leave her current embarrassing situation (spouse is gambling and carousing and borrowing money from all and sundry) so she hies herself all the way off to New York City, leaving her parents hosting her husband, which they do with astonishly good grace, because they’re Really Good People, and they don’t believe in divorce, and well, you never know, the couple might just sort things out down the road…

So. New York. Heroine finds herself living in poverty, working as a lowly saleswoman in a cheap clothing store. Wee child gets deathly ill. Crisis! Off to the charity ward he goes, but oh! what luck. The talented doctor who saves the wee lad’s life turns out to be none other than the husband of the now-deceased birth mother of our heroine – though he’s not her actual father.

He (the doctor) is a sedate widower, exceedingly wealthy, kind, noble, etcetera etcetera etcetera, and he takes our heroine and child under his wing, without revealing his true interest in her as the child of the woman he was married to and loved beyond all reasonable degree, what with her abandoning him for another man and then showing up pregnant begging for an abortion which of course he refuses being sternly moral and highly religious (those are some of the etceteras  previously mentioned) but he did his best to comfort her and gave her access to his fortune which she used to ensure that her baby would have a good adoptive home after she expired when the tiny babe (our heroine) was a mere few weeks old.

Still with me?

Okay, somewhere in here the heroine finds God, and starts to pray incessantly whenever she is faced with a fresh self-created dilemma, of which she has oodles.

After a passionate interlude with yet another questionably motivated swain (the heroine does have a knack for attracting rotten men!) she decides that she must return to her abandoned husband – still sponging off her parents back in California, still squandering his sporadically earned cash on loose living – because she did take those marriage vows way back when, and well, I honestly have no idea at this point why this gal does any of the things she does.

There’s a reconciliation, rocky as all get out – yeah, spouse is still a jerk to her, though all the locals, including Mom and Dad, profess a fondness for him, can’t quite get my head around that but Kathleen Norris says it’s so there there we are – and some years go by.

Then who should turn up but our heroine’s doctor hero – her not-really-her-father legal father – and quelle surprise! – heroine finds she is actually in romantic love with him, which her jealous husband picks up on immediately. Drama ensues, ending with husband dead due to a noble act, and heroine now free to blushingly profess her love to the doctor, who is only in his early fifties, after all, to her twenty-something.

Yeah, I know. Strong ick factor going on here.

Why do I read this stuff? Too strangely, entrancingly bad to look away? That has to be it…

Happy April, fellow readers! It’s got to be uphill from here! ūüėČ ūüôā

(Who am I kidding? These sorts of books are grand fun! Though maybe not quite in the sense that the authors originally intended.)



Read Full Post »

Tryst by Elswyth Thane  ~ 1939. This edition: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1939. Hardcover (re-bound). 256 pages.

March is not behaving very spring-like at present – it’s a briskish minus 11 Celsius out there right now, and snow has been drifting down all night – so what better time than to read a nice, cosy, ghostly love story?

¬†It’s hard to know how to say it – but – oh, God, if I’ve earned heaven when I die, let me have England first, let me have England instead

Hilary Shenstone, British secret agent on the troubled Northwest Indian frontier, catches a fatal bullet, but before he pegs out eternally, at the end of a long, beautifully manly, and oh-so-stereotypically-English death scene, he makes the plea quoted above.

God, being sympathetic to Englishmen (as we are so often told), grants his wish, and Hilary’s shade finds itself back in England, sitting on a London embankment, watching a potential suicide being dissuaded from a plunge into the Thames by a compassionate passer-by.

Hilary, being new to the whole business of ghosting, takes some time to learn the ropes, but he quite quickly manages to relocate himself back to his beloved family home, Nun’s Farthing, which has been leased to a scholarly professor for a year, since none of the family (except Hilary, who is often called away on his hush-hush missions) particularly cares to reside there.

The professor-now-in-residence, long-widowed, is accompanied by his dithery spinster sister and his lonely, bookish, social-misfit seventeen-year-old daughter, Sabrina.

(Do you see where we’re going yet?)

Sabrina finds herself fascinated by the locked room which belongs to the absent Hilary; she goes so far as to pick the lock to gain entry, and the room becomes her almost-secret retreat. “Almost”, because tight-lipped, apparently unemotional Mrs. Pilton, the longtime housekeeper of Nun’s Farthing who stays on to oversee the renters, secretly hands over the room’s key to Sabrina, giving her the nod to go in and while away her long days curled up in the sunny window seat, reading her way through Hilary’s large collection of books.

My ex-library copy has seen some hard use. But, though stained and worn throughout, I did not notice any dog-eared pages, so the forbidding stamp which an enthusiastic long-ago librarian dabbed on chapter headings throughout has obviously had its desired effect.

Hilary (in shade form) returns; he becomes immediately infatuated with the sensitively imaginative Sabrina, while she, in her turn, finds herself unable to think of anything else but the man whom she is becoming to know through his possessions and his taste in books.

The news eventually comes that Hilary is dead. Sabrina takes it inexplicably hard; her occupation of Hilary’s old room becomes common knowledge; her appalled and worried father and aunt decide that a move might well be in order, though Sabrina begs to stay…

Stopping right there, I am.

This is a book I would have loved dearly to read as a teenager, and even at this far from teenager-ish age I found it deeply appealing.

Tryst is not particularly well-written, for there are all sorts of gaps in logic and the whole ghost thing is uneven at best. The author is most inconsistent in what her creation is able to do: he can’t be seen (except by dogs, who fearfully growl at him, and cats, who twine about his unseen ankles in feline ecstasy), his writing (as a ghost) can’t be read, he needs to wait for some doors to be opened yet he can pass through walls at will, move items about, and he leaves physical signs of his presence all over the place – a squashed cushion here, a rumpled bedcover there. At one point he even takes a bath!

But I loved it. It’s somehow deeply appealing, despite its inconsistencies, and I happily entered into the tale, squashing my cynical thoughts firmly underfoot.

Marketed (apparently?) to the adult audience of its time, it’s more of what one would consider a teen girls’ novel today. Fine literature Tryst isn’t, but it’s an engagingly effortless read, which is now going onto the guaranteed re-reads section of the keeper shelf, alongside its sisters-in-theme The Sherwood Ring and The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

A full extra point awarded for the Kipling references, in particular the connections to Kim, and to Puck of Pook’s Hill, two books which I hold in the very highest personal regard.

My rating: 9.5/10



Read Full Post »

These three books were not as diverting as I’d wished them to be.

Perhaps in another mood at another time I would give them¬†better reviews – and I do intend to give Priestley’s Adam in Moonshine a second trial at some point – but¬†today¬†I’m calling them as I see them.

It won’t be a brutal massacre, I hasten to say, as all three had various degrees of enjoyability, but neither do I plan to hide my disappointment in their failings to entirely amuse.

As always, one person’s opinion – please don’t take it to heart if you love these novels, and do try to convince me otherwise if you think I’ve missed the point. One of my favourite things is when someone says, “Hey, wait a minute…” and eloquently defends something I’ve scorned, inspiring a second look¬†from a new perspective.

Here we go.

adam in moonshine j b priestleyAdam in Moonshine by J.B. Priestley ~ 1927. This edition: Heinemann, 1931. Hardcover. 293 pages.

My rating: 6/10

That “6” is a very generous rating, given mostly because of¬†Adam in Moonshine’s¬†“first novel” status by a writer I mostly admire, and the more than decent quality of the writing.

The plot, on the other hand, might be described as virtually non-existent. Interesting reading for a Priestley collector, but if the author was someone unknown to me I’m thinking this one would be in the box by the door, waiting to be passed along.

Of course, because it is a Priestley, and because I went to the trouble to seek out and order it from England, and because it is an interesting read in view of the author’s later works, I will keep¬†Adam in Moonshine¬†and, yes, eventually re-read it. But I will not recommend it to the rest of you for amusement purposes, because it is ultimately not even as solid as fluff. Like the referenced moonshine, its genuine but slight pleasures are purely transient.

Handsome young bachelor Adam Stewart, setting off on a country holiday, is in a mopish state. He should be thrilled at the thought of rambling over the dew-fresh North Country moors, hobnobbing with the birds and the bees and the little wild flowers, but he can’t seem to wind himself up to the appropriate mood. And when his railway compartment companion turns out to be a sternly bombastic, pessimistic cleric, the holiday¬†atmosphere deteriorates even further.

But wait – what’s this?! Here comes a third man, flustered and rushing and escorted by a bevvy of lovely young ladies¬† – well, only three when Adam takes a closer look, but the effect is that of a bevvy – and as the train pulls out to the fervent goodbyes of the girls on the platform, Adam has perked up considerably, because it turns out that there is a rendezvous planned between the mystery man (father of one of the young lovelies) and the girls at the very village which Adam is himself heading for.

The sudden and disastrous opening of an attaché case filled with false beards catapults the action surreally forward, and before he knows it Adam is deeply embroiled in a ridiculous scenario having something to do with a conspiracy to bring back the Stuart line of royalty to the throne of England.

A case of mistaken identity – “Stewart” being assumed to be “Stuart” – takes our Adam into the heart of the not-very-clever plot, and leads to his infatuated and ultimately unfulfilling dalliances with all three of the lovely maidens.

He gets his share of wandering about the moors in all sorts of weathers, and emerges back into the sunlight of his everyday life blinking and bemused. Was it all a dream…?

If so, a jolly solid one, at 292 pages.

kitty foyle christopher morley 001Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley ~ 1939. This edition: Grosset & Dunlap, circa 1940, with movie tie-in dust jacket featuring Ginger Rogers. Hardcover. 340 pages.

My rating: 7/10

I enjoyed this one rather uneasily, as Morley’s man-writing-as-a-woman wasn’t entirely convincing, and our heroine’s stream-of-consciousness narration¬†often felt forced.

Chock-full of casual racism towards pretty well everyone of every colour and race, but, to be fair, never in a mean-spirited way.

In our present time,¬†“Kitty’s”¬†casual commentary would be read as utterly¬†politically incorrect – a heads-up for those hyper-sensitive to these nuances – but if taken with a dash of “era-acceptable” tolerance, rather an interesting take on how a character of the time might¬†conceivably think.

The October 1939 Kirkus review had this to say:

Surprise! Surprise! This proves how facile Chris Morley can be, for this is a far cry from everything he has done, whether whimsy, humor or intellectualized satire… This is primarily the story of a shanty Irish girl, how she was born, bred, and put through the mill, done in stream-of-consciousness tough-baby style… But it’s right good reading. Kitty is a high spirited, strong, and very straight young woman. Her early childhood in Philadelphia, daughter of a crude but lovable cricket coach, is nicely done, giving quite a feel of the city, its lethargy, immutable traditions, etc. At sixteen she meets Wyn, a sweet weakling from a blueblood family, whom she is to love for all time. She lives with him, becomes pregnant, but does away with the child because she is unwilling to tie Wyn to her, knowing that he cannot buck his family if he marries her, and knowing that she will be dishonest with herself if she broadens her a’s for him. Career girl on the side, she works later in New York for a cosmetics outfit, and at the close thinks of marriage to a man she does not love for companionship and stability. There’s some telling background detail on Philadelphia, points east and west, there’s some ingenious writing on the stunt side, but all in all it’s semi-light fiction…

There you pretty well have it.

I confess I was a bit taken aback by the frankness of much of Kitty’s narration – she discusses the most sensitive topics with slangy candour – the physical relationship between her parents, her father’s prostate disorder, the realities of living with chamber pots and a “backhouse” for toilet purposes, her own adolescent physical development, including the onset of her first menstrual period while travelling alone on a train, the sometimes very active sex life of the single “white collar” working girl, an unplanned pregnancy and her subsequent abortion of the baby…all in all, rather strong stuff for a popular mainstream novel. No real surprise that it was soon labelled as “filthy” by various church groups once its bestseller hype brought it to their attention.

Mixed with this hyper-realism is a strand of fairy tale fantasy, for Kitty is portrayed as being something of a perfect person Рsmart, funny, beautiful, and very lucky in her casual acquaintances, and always, despite her frequent hard knocks, falling jam side up.

Sure, she voluntarily gives up her One True Love, the aristocratic Wynnewood Strafford VI, because she is so darned sterling-natured as to want to spare him the disgrace of having a not-quite-top-drawer wife, but it’s not the hardship it might be (aside from the “he and she will secretly pine forever” bit, and that abortion) because going her own way seems to be Kitty’s reward to herself, and fate¬†proves consistently¬†ready to cushion her every fall.

Kitty Foyle was made into a very successful 1940 movie, starring Ginger Rogers in her first “serious” movie role. “Very successful” should be repeated, as¬†her portrayal of Kitty Foyle¬†won Miss Rogers the 1941 Oscar for Best Actress, which would perhaps make this novel one¬†for the vintage movie buff to investigate.

Chock full of period colour, and fast-moving enough to keep one entertained, so I will say “check it out” to those so inclined, but to be completely blunt this is a very minor sort of novel – Kirkus’s “semi-light” says it well. Solid melodrama, in case that hasn’t quite come across.

And oh, yes, this is the same Christopher Morley who wrote Parnassus on Wheels, The Haunted Bookshop, and the¬†very weird¬†(as in featuring anthropomorphic dogs)¬†Where the Blue Begins, among dozens of other novels. Kitty Foyle is nothing like any of these; you have to give¬†Morley credit for not getting stuck in any sort of a “formula” groove!

Of these three novels, Kitty Foyle is the only one I would recommend as worth going to some effort to experience, but mind the caveats and please don’t expect a masterpiece of any sort, though the writing is much more than competent.

aiding and abetting muriel sparkAiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark ~ 2000. This edition: Viking, 2000. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-670-89428-1. 182 pages.

My rating: 4.75/10

Hmmm. An odd little novel, even taking into consideration the quirkiness of this particular writer.

I occasionally felt the “chuck it across the room” urge, in particular during the cannibal scene near the end (yes, you read that correctly), but I soldiered on and made it to the end with an unwilling smile on my face. Dame Muriel pulled it off yet again, to my reluctant admiration – I finished it despite myself.

So – does everyone remember Lord Lucan? If not, go take a quick gander here.

For summation of the plot of Aiding and Abetting, I am going to fall back on yet another Kirkus review (they are so nicely succinct, when done well) this one from November of 2000.

With her usual and famous narrative economies‚ÄĒthough without the deeper energies she‚Äôs created in other of her books‚ÄĒDame Muriel weaves her own fabric out of the real-life bits and threads left by the vile Lord Lucan.

On November 7th, 1974, the seventh Earl of Lucan mistakenly bludgeoned to death his children‚Äôs nanny instead of his divorced wife‚ÄĒwhom he managed only to wound badly in spite of his feeling that ‚Äúdestiny‚ÄĚ called for her death (he was angry, it seems, that she‚Äôd been given child-custody). And then? After wreaking his cruel havoc, the shallow Lucan quickly disappeared, wanted for murder and attempted murder but aided by influential friends in escape and hiding. Twenty-five years later, as the present novel opens, there appears in the office of a Paris psychoanalyst a patient claiming to be Lucan‚ÄĒfollowed by another claiming the same. Which, if either, is the real Lucan? And what does he, or they, want? Money, not surprisingly, which he/they hope to gain by blackmailing the shrink, she being one Hildegard Wolf, herself still wanted for an earlier and successful life of criminal fraud under a previous name‚ÄĒa vulnerability that makes her, think the Lucans, unlikely to turn them in. But of course it‚Äôs got to be cleared up as to which Lucan is Lucan‚ÄĒas, meanwhile, other complications ensue, such as Hildegard Wolf‚Äôs quick disappearance into hiding in deepest London; the pursuit of the real Lucan by a pair newly in love but connected from far back indeed with Lucan and the horrible murder; and the skilled and timely maneuverings of Pierre, Hildegard‚Äôs lover back in Paris, which will result in‚ÄĒwell, in the Waughesque end of the story.

Quick, incisive, often entertaining, sometimes mysterious, at a moment or two compelling, but overall and generally, slight…

I nod in agreement with the summation of the last line, except for the incisive bit.

I thought¬†the tale¬†much too repetitive, in fact, and not so much incisive as lazy. Corners were indeed cut, regarding character and plot development, but a certain cluster of sanguinary details was endlessly repeated, and in my opinion needlessly so, for I felt that they weakened the impact, though I suspect the author felt they might have some sort of talismanic effect. (“Blood, blood, blood…”)

The final fate of one of the Lucans is bizarre even for a typically morbid Spark d√©nouement, and do I detect a certain racist element (the “primitive” Africans) which is out of place even in a purely satirical¬†end-of-the-20th-Century tale?

Rated rather generously at¬†very close to a “5”¬†because of who the author is, for I have enjoyed many of her other novels in varying degrees, though¬†usually with¬†some reservations.

As an example of her end-of-career work (Aiding and Abetting was her second to last published novel) it is¬†acceptably diverting, but it’s not one of her best by a far cry. More of a novella than a novel, and not particularly well-developed or well-edited. In fact, for such a generally crisp writer, this one is sloppy. Firmly on Muriel Spark’s B-list, in my opinion.

What one is left with most memorably is the thought of all that sticky, sticky blood…


Read Full Post »

Scan0001Harlequin House by Margery Sharp ~ 1939. This edition: Little, Brown & Co., 1939. Hardcover. 311 pages.

My rating: 8.5/10

Here, as promised, is my contribution to Margery Sharp Day. Click over to Fleur in her World for a round-up posts, and loads of links to more reviews by a wide assortment of readers.

The first American edition’s front flyleaf description is fulsome – if slightly misguided –¬†in its chirpy promotion of this admittedly light novel as a uniformly cheery romp.

(Background info: The Nutmeg Tree, published in 1937, was one Margery Sharp’s most popularly successful books. The publishers were obviously hoping for another “just like it”; one suspects they were a bit bemused by Harlequin House, which is nothing at all like its immediate predecessor, and did their best to spin it to the reading public with much reference to the previous bestseller.)

The Nutmeg Tree, a novel about a slightly unmoral woman named Julia, made a quiet appearance in the summer of 1937. Before the year was out The Nutmeg Tree was cracking faces that hadn’t smiled since 1929.

Readers cried for more. Harlequin House is the answer. Harlequin House is a mischievous, prancing and romantic novel about young Lisbeth who had her own way of accomplishing her ends.

Circumstances led to Lisbeth’s living in a Bohemian apartment in London. She lived with her brother Ronny, who was nearly as delightful as she, but needed reforming. Helping Lisbeth in this mission was one Mr. Partridge, middle-aged, gentle enough, but not averse to expressing his displeasure with civilization in a number of – well, slightly illegal – ways.

Lisbeth got a job with a firm called Wanted Women, Mr. Partridge donned kilts and helped promote The Bonnie Scotland Tea Rooms, and Ronny, when pressed, drew legs and lingerie for advertisements. Then an attractive young American named Lester Hamilton entered their lives.

Readers are going to call Harlequin House as gay, as blithe, as delightful as The Nutmeg Tree.

This book was written and published just as World War II was looming, and though the tone is frothy enough Рone might even go so far as to call it somewhat hectic Рthere are enough glimpses of the darkness of the times to give one pause here, to consider the situation of those soon to be heading into the terrible days of what we now know was World War II.

But this is a happy occasion – the celebration of the 110th anniversary of Margery Sharp’s birth – and I will therefore drop the darker sub-themes of this tale to¬†look instead¬†at the wickedly humorous top story of an unlikely trio of housemates and their six months of sharing a shabby flat in a less-than-posh London neighbourhood.

Middle-aged, plump, and more than slightly common Mr Partridge is the real hero of this tale, even though his two young upper class companions, the winsomely lovely (and utterly moral)¬†Lisbeth Campion and her handsome, lapsed-from-morality younger brother Ronny (just out of jail, having served five months of a six month sentence for “unwittingly” peddling cocaine in nightclubs catering to the era’s Bright Young Things),¬†may seem¬†more immediately picturesque and worthy of our interest.

Our story opens in the seaside resort town of Dormouth Bay, with our unlikely hero, sedate¬†(at first glance) Mr.¬†Partridge strolling along enjoying the sunshine and the flowers. Here, I can’t resist. Let’s let Margery tell it her way for a page or so. Here comes Mr. Patridge, strolling along the cliff-top park path laid out by the civic bodies of Dormouth Bay for the pleasure of citizens and visitors alike.

The walk along their top was bounded on one side by a row of equally white palings, on the other by a stretch of perfectly-kept lawn adorned with moon- or star-shaped flower-beds. The beds made patterns on the lawn, the flowers made patterns in the beds, geometry and horticulture clasped hands. Upon all these things the sun, as Mr. Partridge sallied forth on the second afternoon in July, shone brightly down. (It had to: Dormouth Bay boasted a higher average of sunshine than any other town on the south coast.) The sea lapped gently in a neat blue crescent. A passing schoolchild stopped to pick up a paper bag and deposit it in a box marked LITTER. Every object in sight conformed un- hesitatingly to either natural or municipal orders. Only Mr. Partridge was lawless.

His very presence on those lawns, at that hour, was a scandal. Already three infuriated subscribers had clamoured in vain at the door of his twopenny Library in Cliff Street; already two widows and a maid were facing the prospect of a lonely evening unsolaced by literature. One of them, who had just discovered the works of Miss E. M. Dell, and who had hastened back for more, rattled the knob with such violence that the BACK SHORTLY notice fell to the ground. This would have annoyed Mr. Partridge had he known, for he considered the phrase “Back shortly” to be the commercial equivalent of the social “Not at home” – something to be accepted without question, and with a good grace. In¬†this, as in so much else, he was of course wrong. It was¬†part of his lawlessness.

He did not look lawless. In height he was five foot four, in shape oval. His attire was inconspicuous Рpepper-and-salt trousers, black alpaca jacket, panama hat Рexcept about the feet. Mr. Partridge wore brown-and-white shoes, the white brilliantly pure, the brown chocolate-dark, and scarlet socks; and these added a peculiar touch of frivolity to his whole appearance. They were the single outward sign that the scenery of Dormouth Bay had for once fallen down on its job.

Mr. Partridge strolled across the grass and approached one of the star-shaped parterres. From its margin sprouted three notice boards. Two were municipal, bearing the injunctions “Please do not pick,” “Please keep off the beds”; on the third, donated by the Dormouth Bay Rose-Growers Association, it said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II, l. 43. D. B. R.-G. A.” Mr. Partridge read all three, took out his penknife, and stepped between the bushes to cut a button-hole. In the centre of the bed he paused indeed, but it was memory, not conscience, that suspended his hand upon a Scarlet Glory. He had just remembered that it was the tenth anniversary of his wife’s death. Regretfully but firmly Mr. Partridge spared the bud and selected a white Frau Karl Drushki instead…

Adorned with his stolen flower, Mr. Partridge proceeds to make acquaintance of an elderly maiden lady, an aunt by appearance and by occupation, and, shortly thereafter, of the niece of the aunt, the lovely Lisbeth Campion, who has been sent off to Dormouth Bay in charge of her aunt in order to remove her from the temptations of London whilst her newly acquired fiancé is off in the Middle East doing something militarily important.

For Lisbeth, orphaned as a small child and passed from aunt to aunt until old enough to fend for herself, has so far been able to maintain her innocence (as it were) in the wicked city through a combination of stern personal morals and just plain good luck.

Her younger brother Ronny, on the other hand, has not been so fortunate. Equally as charming and attractive as his sister, he is not nearly as self-regulating, and has fallen afoul of the law by becoming involved in a cocaine-trafficking scandal. Off to jail with Ronny, and off to the safety of Dormouth Towers Hotel with Lisbeth, where she is engaged in her continual occupation of looking placidly lovely while resisting the blandishments of a whole string of susceptible young men, who continually fall at her feet in hopeful adoration.

Lisbeth’s placidity is on the surface only, for under her smooth brow there resides a formidable brain, and within her finely molded bosom, a loyal heart. Secretly loyal to Ronny, whom she has been told by the horrified aunts to forget forever, and to her sturdy intended, whose emerald engagement ring resides in the hotel safe, and whose picture is cherished under Lisbeth’s pillow.

Through a series of convolutions of plot, Mr. Partridge, Lisbeth and the newly out-of-jail Ronnie convene one night in London, and set up house together. Ronny to recover his inner poise after the ordeal of his jail term (not all that awful, as he spent it in the infirmirary, having broken his ankle early on in his stay), and Mr. Partridge and Lisbeth united in an effort to find a useful occupation for Ronny, to get him on a (legally) independent footing before Lisbeth’s coming marriage.

Of course there are many twists and turns before all is sorted out, and Lisbeth’s dedication to her fianc√© is sorely tested by the entrance into her life of a friendly young American connected with the film business.

Another sample of Margery-ism, and then I will leave you with the promise that everything eventually works out to the satisfaction of (almost) all concerned.

All in all, this is one of the minor novels in the Sharp canon, but it is chock full of things such as the passage I am about to transcribe. Worth reading if one can find it, and a quick trip to ABE shows ten copies available, priced (before shipping) from¬†$5 to $60 – quite a bargain, relatively speaking, for a Margery Sharp title of this vintage. I wouldn’t start with this¬†particular book¬†if you’re brand new to this writer’s charms – go with something like The Nutmeg Tree (happily very easy to come by, with 115 copies on ABE, starting at a mere $1) which is even better than the Harlequin House flyleaf blurb makes it out to be – but for those of you who’ve already fallen for her this might be worthy of consideration.

Happy Birthday, Margery! A bouquet to your memory, in thanks for the many hours of pleasure you have given to your readers.

Here’s Mr. Partridge and Ronny, while Lisbeth is out on a job, earning the money to keep the establishment going. (Mr. Partridge contributes his share as well; Ronny is the weak link in the tripartite chain.)

¬†“(Y)ou’re a good-for-naught,” said Mr. Partridge, with conviction. “You have to be kept and cosseted and looked after as though you were a pet dog. You let your sister work for you, and never do a hand’s turn, and sit there eating corned beef like a blooming Duke. You make me tired.”

Ronny continued to munch, and to fix Mr. Partridge with his extraordinarily candid gaze. He was not abashed, but neither was he annoyed.

“It wasn’t I,” he pointed out, “who came and hooked on to Lisbeth. It was Lisbeth who came and hooked on to me.”

“I know,” admitted Mr. Partridge impatiently. “That was her foolishness. That’s what women are like. That’s why they want protecting, so to speak, from themselves. And it’s the man’s place to protect ’em. You ought never to have let her do it.”

Ronny shook his head.

“You don’t know Lisbeth. Once she got on my trail she’d have followed me to the North Pole. If I were to go out into the night this minute, she’d be after me again.”

There was so much truth in this that Mr. Partridge could not answer it. Ronny present was a nuisance; Ronny absent would be an even greater one. He was a fair problem. . .

“The fact is,” continued Ronny, as though following this thought, “I’m superfluous. I’m not one of those great hefty fellows who can mend roads, I haven’t much brain, and I’m not particularly well educated; and now I’ve got a sort of tin can tied to my tail as well. It’s no wonder I can’t get a job, with all this unemployment about. I oughtn’t to get a job. I ought to be tucked into a nice lethal chamber with an asbestos wreath.”

“Why asbestos?” asked Mr. Partridge, interested in spite of himself.

“So that it could be used again for the next candidate. The classic British mixture of sentiment with economy. I’m thinking of it, of course,” explained Ronny, pushing back his chair and giving the project his full attention, “as a Government job. A new branch of the Civil Service – Undesirable Cremations. Or – making it a private matter – I could just put my head in the gas oven and turn on the tap. But that would upset Lisbeth.”

“You’re right there,” agreed Mr. Partridge. “And I must say I shouldn’t care for it myself.”

This concession appeared to cheer Ronny up. He reached for a piece of bread-and-butter, spread an excessive quantity of jam on it, and made himself a sandwich. He had many innocent tastes. He was innocent – as Mr. Partridge dimly realized – fundamentally: as innocent as a lamb in a field, or a bird in the hedge, or a snow-drop in a wood. It was rather his misfortune than his fault that he could not live on grass or worms or dew, but needed corned beef and bread, to say nothing of overcoats and bedding …

“You ought to have been a bulb,” said Mr. Partridge, thoughtfully. “Or some kind of a vegetable.”

“A forked radish,” agreed Ronny. “But what can I do?”



Read Full Post »