Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London, TC Dugdale

It was clear that, since I was last in, the little bookshop had received a massive donation of what I call Dead Old Ladies' Books ... hurrah! my absolute favourites for browsing, loads of old green Viragos for £1 and every Georgette Heyer you can imagine. Stern warning to self: you do not have to own everything that takes your fancy. If you're not likely to read it within a month, then you don't really want it.

I came home with Together and Apart, by Margaret Kennedy - and  must have wanted it because two weeks later, I've not only finished it, but I pulled her first novel The Ladies of Lyndon (1923) from the shelf where it has been gathering dust unread for years and, hey, its moment had come and I've finished that, too. (I wasn't wild about The Ladies of the Lyndon - it was okay - so I think I've had my Margaret Kennedy moment and I'm not planning on going back for more.)

Together and Apart (1936) seemed rather more accomplished, I thought. It's about a successfully married couple who divorce for no particularly good reason. Betsy, the wife, is restless, waiting for a happiness that eludes her. (Today, she'd be reading other people's Instagram feeds and wondering why her own life doesn't shape up.) She fears that life is slipping away as she approaches 40.  Her husband Alec's mild infidelities haven't bothered her over much.

She toys with the idea of divorce, as there's a chinless aristocratic cousin in the wings who would be delighted to marry her. (God forbid that a Betsy would manage for a week without a man to pay the bills.)  But then Alec is caught trivially snogging the temp summer holiday governess - and the mothers-in-law interfere ... and everything hurtles out of control. I was reminded of Dorothy Whipple's Someone at a Distance - the weak husband who dabbles in half-hearted infidelity, then discovers there's no way back. MK is very good on the subtle damage to adolescent children.

The Ladies of Lyndon has all the same ingredients and maybe, read in quick succession, it was just too much of the same thing. Agatha is the beautiful 18-year-old bride who marries the wrong man (but acquires a beautiful house). There's another obliging cousin, who's a cherished romantic memory from the past. (All these lovelorn cousins in novels, but do they ever exist in real life?) And two more comic but dangerously meddling mothers-in-law. Nicola Beauman, in her introduction, sees Lyndon, the beautiful house, as the villain of the book ... a stranglehold of pre-war luxury and stifling trappings. I'm wondering what I'd have thought if I'd read this novel in 1923? Or even in 1981, when Nicola wrote her introduction? But after 40 years of soaring property prices ... heck, I'd put up with the limp husband and hang onto the house.

17 comments:

Toffeeapple said...

I do like your last sentence! I entirely agree with you too.

mary said...

I used to fall in love with storybook heroes, now it's the houses, Toffeeapple!

Mystica said...

Houses for me as well. I like that last sentence.
You've got some gems here. Enjoy them all.

Cosy Books said...

The Ladies of Lyndon is my next read so we'll have to compare notes once I've finished. It made me smile that you're wondering if it was too much of the same with your books back to back. I've just finished 'Bassett' by Stella Gibbons and feel like staying in that theme for awhile. Moods...and reading...you just never know.

mary said...

I think maybe I read them in the wrong order, Darlene. I know sometimes I want to gallop through everything they've ever written - and sometimes I think, 'Very nice but enough.' But I'm in the same vein because I've started re-reading Someone at a Distance. An Elizabeth Jenkins has arrived from the library but the print-size is challenging.

galant said...

Houses for me as well - loved the Town House trilogy by Norah Lofts and, of course, Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet Chronicles (and the main Cazalet residence), and of course Rebecca, and Howard's End ... I like the sound of The Ladies of Lyndon. I only got half way through Someone at a Distance - maybe worth a 2nd try.
Margaret P

galant said...

Oh, dear, I really shouldn't read book reviews ... The Ladies of Lyndon is now on its way to me ...
Margaret P

mary said...

Rebecca has to be the ultimate 'house novel' , Margaret! I can still see every room in my mind's eye. But I can't imagine abandoning Someone at a Distance, I'm enjoying it just as much second time round. (Or is it third time round?)
Hope you enjoy The Ladies - I see Darlene is reading it, too.

galant said...

I love some homes in children's books, too. I love the farms in Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm and Six Cousins Again by Enid Blyton! And in a book called Jean Becomes a Nurse, one of those 'career' novels, which has a lot of factual information (for the time, the 1950s) all wrapped up in a nice story, Jean takes a new friend, another pupil nurse, home to stay for the weekend and shows her around her parents' home and I just love the descriptions: "It was a delightful room, with French windows leading out to the garden. Something struck Hamilton [they used surnames as pupil nurses] as being different to other drawing rooms. Whatever was it? Of course! It was a black carpet made to fit the room. A *black* carpet - how queer! It was just right for this room, though. The dove-grey walls glowed softly in the sunlight, the curtains and chair coverings were in cretonne with a pink and wine flowery design. The effect of the black carpet was one of relaxation, and the room offered a feeling of friendliness in which one could indulge in cosy chats by the fireside in winter." Isn't that lovely?
Further into this short episode Jean takes Hamilton to her own bedroom: "It was a simply furnished little room. The furniture was painted white. 'Remnants of my nursery days,' said Jean, glancing affectionately about the room. Everything looked fresh and neat, and there was a delicious haunting smell of verbena in the air. Little starched white net curtains danced and billowed in the breeze."
When I read this I wanted that bedroom!
Margaret P

mary said...

Heavens, I'm sure I remember Jean Becomes a Nurse ... I used to read loads of those career books, even though I hadn't the slightest desire to be a nurse. (I'd have been a dreadful nurse!) But I don't remember the carpet ... it would have shown every crumb!
I longed for Katy's room in What Katy Did and, of course, Anne's at Green Gables.
They didn't exactly stretch girls' horizons, did they? Nurse/ballerina/air hostess ... I wanted to be an air hostess which was still glamorous in those days!

mary said...

Did you read Air Hostess Anne? That was my favourite!

Sandra Cox said...

I love that painting. I used to devour GH's novels. I haven't read one in years. I need to go back and do some rereading. Great post. Thanks.

mary said...

Me too, Sandra. I read heaps of them in my teens.

Lucille said...

When they did up Milly Molly Mandy's bedroom as a surprise, I wanted that room so badly. Also anything with a colour that was always referred to as 'flame' and usually in 'blobs' for some reason.

mary said...

Milly-Molly-Mandy's bedroom must have been the first literary room I coveted, Lucille! Do little girls still read MMM? I Ioved her and my mum had loved them when they first came out - but my nieces weren't a bit interested and now I only know little boys!

Lucille said...

I'm going to make quite sure that grand daughter reads them, having only known boys too!

mary said...

Good for you! I was crushed when my niece said MMM was 'too old-fashioned.' How can a pink-and-white striped cotton frock be old-fashioned!