Posts Tagged ‘1951 Novel’

Appointment with Venus by Jerrard Tickell ~ 1951. This edition: The Reprint Society, 1953. Hardcover. 256 pages.

This spur-of-the-moment purchase from the ever-rewarding second-hand book emporium Baker’s Books in Hope, B.C. turned out to be a little bit different from what I had anticipated on the strength of my quickie browse. From the few paragraphs I read before adding it to the book pile, I expected it to be an engagingly written “war novel”, and so it was, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the importance of the cow!

Appointment with Venus turned out to be a mixed-emotion sort of story, its farcical premise shot through with brutal realism, being set in 1940 as German troops occupy a small Channel Island.

The island in question, Armorel, is fictional, though based on the real island of Sark, where the German occupation did happen, as apparently did the removal of pedigree cattle from under German noses.

The rest of the tale is pure conjecture, presented by an inventive novelist with a strong dependence on the literary device of coincidence, and occasional lapses into bathos. Despite moments of “Really, dear writer?” it mostly worked, and I am more than willing to follow up on the other works of this Irish author, assuming from my experience here that they will be readable if not quite plausible.

Here’s the gist of this particular story.

In 1940, immediately post-Dunkirk, German troops arrive on the fictional Channel Island of Armorel, to be greeted by a delegation of island officials led by the Provost, nominal head of state of the island since the departure of its youthful hereditary leader, the Suzerain, to fight for Great Britain at the outbreak of the war.

Under orders from Germany, the occupation is to a great degree a “soft” one, the velvet glove over the iron fist of the occupiers being well padded, and life goes on for the islanders relatively normally, though an underground communication network immediately springs up to counter the German seizure of all radios and such.

Meanwhile, back in England, the occupation is greeted with quiet consternation, in particular in the offices of the Ministry of Agriculture, where it is suddenly found that a prize cow rejoicing in the name of Venus, bred to a majestically pedigreed but  ill-fated bull named Mars, is pregnant and due to give birth under the Nazi flag.

The offspring of this bovine union is anticipated to be something ultra-special in the way of British cattle breeding, and there is no way in which the combination of maternal and paternal lines can be repeated, Mars having fatally stepped on a land mine shortly after his dalliance with Venus.

What else to do than mount a clandestine rescue mission, to snatch the pregnant Venus from under the very noses of her Teutonic captors, striking a dual blow for England in mortifying the enemy and furthering the development of British super cows.

Unfortunately for this plan, the head of the German forces on Armorel was, in his past civilian life, an accomplished cattle breeder, and he has already seen and fallen in love with Venus, and has made arrangements for her immediate departure to the Fatherland, in order that her offspring be born on German soil, to the furtherance of German bovine superiority.

The clock’s a-ticking…

First edition dust jacket, Hodder and Stoughton, 1951.

A rescue mission is mounted, consisting of a fearless young English major rejoicing in the name of Valentine Morland, and the beautiful sister of the absent Suzerain of Armorel, one Nicola Falaise of the A.T.S.  There are some side players, to be sure, but we won’t go into that here, except to say that one of them is the stock winsomely clever small boy, and another a gruffly sea captainish type.

On the island resides key figure number three, Nicola’s cousin Lionel, dedicated pacifist and tormented artist, who is drawn into the plot once Valentine and Nicola land to undertake their mission of disguise and bovine abduction. (We add a love triangle to the busy plot.)

Complications and drama ensue. There is abundant farce, and, to balance this, episodes of poignancy and tragedy. Of course the Brits eventually come out ahead, though one of them undertakes the ultimate sacrifice in order for the undertaking to succeed.

This oddly enticing concoction of a tale comes very close to the ridiculous, but it is well written enough to remain engaging throughout.

My rating: 6.5/10.

Appointment with Venus caught the attention of British screenwriters immediately upon its publication, with a 1951 film version starring David Niven and Glynis Johns as Valentine and Nicola being a respectable box office success. The 1962 Danish “war comedy” film, Venus fra Vestø, was also based on Tickell’s tale. A four-part radio play version of Appointment with Venus was produced and broadcast by the BBC in 1992.

The novel seems to be the best-known of Jerrard Tickell’s books, but he also wrote several non-fiction war books, and a respectable number of light fictions, which I fully intend to dip into if and when opportunity allows. Check out this tantalizing list, full of imagination-catching titles, courtesy Wikipedia.


  • Odette: The Story of a British Agent (1949)
  • Moon Squadron (1956)
  • Ascalon: The Story of Sir Winston Churchill’s Wartime Flights from 1943 to 1945 (1964)


  • Yolan of the Plains (1928)
  • See How They Run (1936)
  • Fly Away Blackbird (1936)
  • Silk Purse (1937)
  • Jill Fell Down (1938)
  • Gentlewomen Aim to Please (1938)
  • At Dusk All Cats Are Grey (1940)
  • Soldier from the Wars Returning (1942)
  • Appointment with Venus (1951)
  • The Hand and Flower (1952)
  • Dark Adventure (1952)
  • The Dart Players (1953)
  • The Hero of Saint Roger (1954)
  • Miss May: The Story of an Englishwoman (1958)
  • Whither Do You Wander? (1959)
  • The Hunt for Richard Thorpe (1960)
  • Villa Mimosa (1960)
  • Hussar Honeymoon (1963)
  • High Water at Four (1965)

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The Loved and Envied by Enid Bagnold ~ 1951. This edition: Virago Modern Classics (Penguin), 1988. Introduction by Isabel Colgate. ISBN: 0-14-016211-9. 280 pages.

Lady Ruby Maclean, famed beauty, lives with her Scottish husband Gynt at his family’s French estate, the Chateau of Little Pouilly, based on the real-life Chantilly, as Lady Maclean herself is based on Bagnold’s friend, famed society beauty Lady Diana Cooper.

Though the plot of novel is purely fictional, the character portrait is widely accepted to be a true (and flattering) one, to the extent that the Virago cover illustration is a replication of a portrait of Lady Diana on her wedding day.

Not much happens, action wise, in this quietly thought-provoking book, with most of the turmoil being mental and emotional, but once we are hooked it all becomes immensely interesting. I found it to be one of those novels one spent time thinking about while one was off doing other things; the characters became real, and their fears and joys relatable.

The fears tend to predominate, at least superficially, as this is a novel very much concerned with aging and death. Lady Maclean, the “loved and envied” of the title, undeniably coming to the end of middle-age at fifty-three, muses on her status as a great beauty, and what this has meant to her in every aspect of her life so far, and how the inevitable deterioration in her physical appearance has started to affect how others now react to her in the most subtle of ways.

This is a masterfully written book, in a purely technical sense, and, once I figured out the writer’s game, I became a willing co-player. Bagnold takes us back and forth through time, revisiting certain episodes from varying characters’ points of view, bringing in minor characters for a paragraph or a page to allow another aspect of a scene to be verbalized, and weaving all of these at-first over-abundant threads together to create a cohesive picture at the end.

Though Ruby, Lady Maclean, is the key element in the vision that unfolds, Bagnold keeps a juggler’s handful worth of other stories in play as we go along.

We have Ruby’s husband Gynt, a reclusive insomniac pursuing night birds through the French woods, compulsively engaged upon writing a orthinological life-work. Their daughter Miranda, beloved of both parents, but herself deeply resentful of her glamorous mother’s life-long overshadowing. Tuxie, the slippery ne-er-do well who marries Miranda with high expectations and subsequent bitter disappointment; their removal to Jamaica and an eventual tragedy provide a touch of melodrama.

There is famous painter Cora, Ruby’s closest female friend, hideous in appearance but a genius at her art. And Cora’s ex-husband Rudi, a once-popular playwright who has written the same script a few times too many, to the brutal critics’ gleeful delight.

Rose, now-elderly life-long mistress of the Edouard, Vicomte de Bas-Pouilly, is superficially aged but retains her ardently youthful devotion to Edouard, and is in turn faithfully cherished by her aristocratic lover, to the secret fury of his jealous sister.

James, Edouard’s nephew and heir, who is infatuated with the much-older Ruby, until circumstances bring Miranda back to France. (Miranda’s transformation from dowd to siren through the wonders of a genius dressmaker is a play-within-a-play, a delicious glimpse at the clothes of the period, with yet another character added to the cast: Lew Afric, “pederast” and grand couturier.)

The Duca Alberti Marie-Innocence de Roccafergola, physically massive, emotionally sensitive. Ruby’s closest male confidante, Miranda’s beneficient godfather. His long time servant Celestine, who one day expresses a surprising desire to become a duchess by marriage. (Alberti obliges, with complicated results.)

Ruby’s aunt, Ursula, born with a hideous deformation which has taken her around the world in an effort to find a way of concealing  it. A highly successful career as a beautician to the elite women of London follows, and her adoption of her orphaned niece provides her an outlet for love frustrated since her infancy, when those who should have cherished her were instead repelled by her appearance. Ruby owes some of her beauty to Ursula’s care; the two have an intricate bond which transcends the obvious.

By the end of the novel, a number of these key characters are dead, which doesn’t prove as melancholic as it might, much to my relief as a reader. For I myself am well into  the dangerous age, the time of one’s life when one’s own mortality becomes much more than an abstract concept, as one realizes just how many funerals those only a little older – and, more poignantly, of peers – one has been attending…

Fantastic novel. I enjoyed it greatly, though I didn’t much care for it a decade or so ago when I tried it for the first time. Perhaps I was still too young?! This time round I devoured it.

My rating: 9/10. A definite keeper.

And I am going to be keeping my eyes open for Bagnold’s other novels, of which the only one I have read is 1935’s National Velvet. (That one is a decided 10/10 – and I need to say, to those who have so far scorned it, it’s not at all a children’s book, despite its perpetual marketing as such.)

Of these, A Diary Without Dates (1917), The Happy Foreigner (1920) , and The Squire (1938), all appear to by reasonably attainable. (The Squire was republished by Persephone just a few years ago, and is already on my wish list from that most estimable establishment.)

And last but not least, I’ve submitted The Loved and Envied as an entry with The 1951 Club. Another stellar year in books! Keep yours eyes open for a links roundup either here or here. Thank you, Simon and Karen, for setting this up.



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