Tuesday, 22 July 2014


How I wish I had this lovely copy with its jacket intact but mine is an old green Virago, 1p from Amazon.

And how thrilled I was to discover the original of Chatterton Square and that it looks exactly as I hoped it would. (Click on street view to see the houses.) Shabby-genteel before the war .. and I wonder what EH Young would make of today's £1million house prices.

I've been eke-ing out my EH Youngs as there will heartbreak here when I've read everything she wrote. (Here's a couple that  I read earlier.)

Chatterton Square was published in 1947 and what's fascinating about it is that it's a domestic novel set in 1938 against the background of the Munich crisis. A middle-aged generation bracketed by two wars.

On the home front, we have two families of neighbours living in the square. There's Mr Blackett who neatly wriggled out of WW1 and refuses to believe in another war. Pompous, self-centred, a domestic autocrat who micro-manages family life ... and is shocked when he discovers his wife - wait for it - buying her own newspaper.

How I hoped that his call-up papers would catch up with him this time. He's not too old.

Mrs Blackett - Bertha - is a brilliant character. On the surface the perfect submissive wife, she has been quietly loathing Mr Blackett since their disastrous honeymoon 20 years ago. She longs for a single bed.

Mr Blackett proved to be in a sentimental mood which she found much more disagreeable ... when after his usual spell of lying on his back, his beard like the ace of spades against the sheet, he turned on to his side and the gentle whistling through his nose had ceased .. How pleasant, she thought, gently moving nearer to her edge of the bed, to have a bedroom, even a bed, of one's own.

The Blacketts' neighbours are the delightful Fraser family. Rosamund Fraser appears to be a shockingly cheerful widow, with five children, until it emerges that she has been deserted by her husband and their seemingly carefree family life has been fractured by his experiences in WW1. The Frasers share their home with Rosamund's deliciously spiky spinster friend Miss Spanner whose greatest dread is that one day she'll find herself living alone.

And over all this hangs the threat of another war ... or the unbearable national shame of appeasement.

Munich is never specifically mentioned, but we experience the terrible tension of the 9pm news broadcasts through that September. (Mr Blackett, of course, won't have his complacency disturbed by having a wireless in the house.)

My only criticism of EH Young is that she can get ever so slightly repetitive, labouring her point about England's shame over too many pages. But her readers in 1947 would have remembered those weeks all too well. I'm racking my brain to think of any other novelist who has focused on 1938 rather than the outbreak of war? And I can't think why the utterly brilliant Emily Hilda Young isn't better known today.

16 comments:

kristina said...

This sounds like exactly my kind of book! And I still have Miss Mole on my reading list from your previous post...! x

mary said...

I'd start with Miss Mole, Kristina - and then you'll be hooked! I've enjoyed all of them. Her characters are wonderful. She's like Dorothy Whipple with sharper claws!

callmemadam said...

I *do* have a lovely first edition just like that one, and it's signed! (Smugchops.) I picked it up donkey's years ago at a charity stall. 50p, I'd never heard of the author and bought it for the dustwrapper. I became an instant convert to E H Young and bought the Virago Miss Mole and The Misses Mallett when they were published. Since then I've been able to pick up a few of the cheap hardback editions, but not recently. I agree with everything you say and am always recommending E H Young to people.

Tabitha said...

I finished "William" a few weeks ago. E H Young deserves to be better known here in the US. What a terrific writer she is. I liked "Miss Mole" but William stole my heart.

mary said...

What a find for 50p, Callmemadam. I was definitely an instant convert after Miss Mole - but I think any of her novels would have the same effect.

William was lovely, wasn't he, Tabitha? She isn't generally well known over here either - only among book bloggers!

Cosy Books said...

The spiky spinster Miss Spanner seals the deal for me. This sounds wonderful, Mary! And imagine...a woman buying a newspaper. Bet she's still expected to get the meat and two veg on the starched tablecloth every night...or do they have a daily?

mary said...

There's a cook, Darlene! I told you this was the perfect book for you!

Toffeeapple said...

I must get more of her books, I adored Miss Mole. thank you for the reminder Mary.

mary said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Miss Mole, Toffeeapple.

siredwardleithen said...

Chere Mlle Miniver,

It appears there is a hardback copy with the dust jacket you like on Amazon.com.uk

amicalement

E. Leithen Q.C

mary said...

Thanks for the tip, Sir Edward. I did look - but I think they're all missing the dustjacket. However, must not buy duplicate copies - shelf space getting desperate here!

siredwardleithen said...

Dear Mlle Miniver,

I have been reading your blog with great pleasure for some years but haven't previously been able to master the dialogue box to register to comment. I have been meaning to recommend Laurie Colwin's books to you -she was a cookery writer as well as a short story writer and novelist. I think you might enjoy her novels -Family Happiness is one of the best I think; also I liked the one called Another Marvellous Thing that has a wonderful opening with words to the effect: "My wife is elegant graceful and assured but the sloppiness of my mistress knows no bounds".
Of course you may already have her collected works on your shelves....their covers are more alluring than the the All England Reports, tho I think the contents of my book collection may be more sensational
E Leithen
ps my friend Sir Richard Hannay prefers Nora Ephron

mary said...

Good to meet you at last and I'm glad you've mastered the technology! Which so often defeats me, too. I've never read Laurie Colwin but I've been meaning to get hold of Family Cooking for simply ages - so thank you for the reminder.

mary said...

I think I mean Home Cooking, don't I?

GSGreatEscaper said...

Elizabeth Jane Howard started her Cazalet Saga with "The Light Years" which outlined how wonderful everything was in /37 - /38...

mary said...

It's hard to blame people for wanting to believe in 'peace in our time' - but I suppose the more politically astute knew that peace with honour was no longer possible.