Fidelity by Susan Glaspell (1915)

I knew little of Susan Glaspell when I put this book on my Classics Club list; just that two of her books had been republished by Persephone and that she was both a novelist and a dramatist.

That was reason enough.

The opening of this book told me that she was mistress of each art.

In Freeport, a small town in Iowa, an old man was gravely ill. He was asking for his daughter and his numbers wondered if she would dare to come home. She had left town in the wake of a terrible scandal. She hadn’t come home when her mother died, and that hardened the widely held opinion that she wasn’t the nice girl had thought she was; that she was a selfish, manipulative woman who shouldn’t be allowed in decent society. But if she was ever to come back surely this was the time.

Amy Frankin, the doctor’s wife, was a newcomer to the town and she had no idea what her new friends were talking about, or what disgraceful thing Ruth Holland had done. She would learn that Ruth had fallen in love with a married man, and that, when his health had broken down and his doctor suggest a change of climate, they had left town and set up home together in Colorado.

Ruth Holland was coming home, and she was well aware that it wouldn’t be easy.

“It was over the pain and the sweetness of life that this woman—Ruth Holland—brooded during the two days that carried her back to the home of her girlhood. She seemed to be going back over a long bridge. That part of her life had been cut away from her. With most lives the past grew into the future; it was as a growth that spread, the present but the extent of the growth at the moment. With her there had been the sharp cut; not a cut, but a tear, a tear that left bleeding ends. Back there lay the past, a separated thing. During the eleven years since her life had been torn from that past she had seen it not only as a separate thing but a thing that had no reach into the future. The very number of miles between, the fact that she made no journeys back home, contributed to that sense of the cleavage, the remoteness, the finality. Those she had left back there remained real and warm in her memory, but her part with them was a thing finished. It was as if only shoots of pain could for the minute unite them.”

She wasn’t aware – but she would learn – was that her behaviour had caused terrible problems for her family. That so many things she had said and done would be re-evaluated and misunderstood after her departure. And that friends and neighbours would still say that what she had done was beyond the pale and turn their backs on her.

Deane Franklin, the town doctor, supported her. They had been close friends and he had helped her to when she needed to keep her relationship secret, he had listened when she needed someone to talk to. Amy couldn’t understand why her husband was still drawn to another woman, why his view of what had happened was so different to her friends’ views, or why he  would make himself complicit in such a scandalous situation

“I do know a few things. I know that society cannot countenance a woman who did what that woman did. I know that if a woman is going to selfishly take her own happiness with no thought of others she must expect to find herself outside the lives of decent people. Society must protect itself against such persons as she. I know that much—fortunately.”

Susan Glaspell tells her story beautifully. The pace is stately; the perspectives shift; and she moves between a traditional third-person narrative and more modern visits to her characters’ thoughts. There was complexity, there there was detail, and yet there was always such clarity of thought and purpose.

I found it easy to be drawn into the world she created, and to believe that these people lived and breathed, that the events and incidents I read about really happened.

I could see where the suthor’s sympathies lay, but I appreciated that she had understanding and concern for all of her characters and their different views.

I loved the telling of the story, and I loved its emotional depth.

(The endpapers of the Persephone Books edition of ‘Fidelity’)

The title of this book was very well chosen. It is underpinned by the question of who or what we owe fidelity. Our spouses?  The standards of society? Our families? To the lover with whom we’ve aligned? Or our selves?

There are no easy answers, but the asking of the question allowed Susan Glaspell to make a wonderful exploration of the possibilities and the problems that it presents.

A conversation with an old school-mate – a girl who had came from a much poorer background that Ruth and her friends and had not had an easy life – gives Ruth food for thought and helps her to face the future.

“It’s what we think that counts, Ruth. It’s what we feel. It’s what we are. Oh, I’d like richer living—more beauty—more joy. Well, I haven’t those things. For various reasons, I won’t have them. That makes it the more important to have all I can take!”—it leaped out from the gentler thinking like a sent arrow. “Nobody holds my thoughts. They travel as far as they themselves have power to travel. They bring me whatever they can bring me—and I shut nothing out. I’m not afraid!”

This is a story set in a particular time and place, the world has changed a great deal in more than a hundred years since it was written, and yet it still has the power to touch hearts and minds.

The questions it asks would need to be asked differently today, but they are as important now as they were then.

Casket of Pearls: Celebrating 20 Years of Collecting at Penlee

This was an exhibition that I really couldn’t miss: a celebration of the collection of my hometown museum to mark the twentieth anniversary of its expansion from a small collection of Newlyn School artworks into a fully fledged museum and gallery with collections of fine and decorative art, social history, photography and archaeology.

I still haven’t learned to speak the language of art – and I probably never will – but I’d love to show you some of the paintings and tell you some of my thoughts.

We saw a wonderful array of paintings from the glory days of the Newlyn school. Many of them – alomost all of them – were wonderfully familiar and it was so lovely to see them in real life.There were works by Walter Langley,  Frank Bramley, Harold Harvey, Fred Hall, Henry Scott Tuke, Stanhope Forbes …

  (Abbey Slip, 1921 by Stanhope Forbes)

This is a painting I love for its own sake and because the scene is so familiar. I have walked up and down those steps so many times, my best friend lived just a few minutes walk from the top of the steps, and the Man of the House recalled that his grandfather lived in that part of town too and his father told him that he learned to swim in that harbour basin.

Little has changed today; but the warehouses fell into decay and have been restored as office accommodation, so you’ll see parked cars in front of them today rather than upturned boats. Unless the weather is rough and waves are crashing up …

(Dinner Time by Henry Scott Tuke)

This is such a striking portrait; and it reminded me of a very recent photograph of a group of fisherman in a net loft, in a photographic book published a few years ago to raise finds for the Fisherman’s mission.

(Forty Winks by Fred Hall)

And this is the donkey from the exhibition poster. It was suggested that there might be a link with the writer Derek Tangye, and the Man of the House wondered if it might be an ancestor of the donkeys he knew when he worked out at the National Trust’s Botallack base.

The hallway was filled with photographs from a recently acquired collection. We were particularly taken with an early photograph of St Michael’s Mount Boatman. Their uniforms were remarkable, and most have been horribly cumbersome. Mount jobs were often passed down through families and the Man of the House thought he could see resemblances to one or two of the boatmen he knew as a child.

A number of the paintings on display were chosen by the gallery’s small army of volunteer stewards, and the next painting was the most popular choice.

(On Paul Hill, 1922 by Stanhope Forbes)

I have to commend their taste; and tell you that my father grew up in a house on that hill.

As we moved through the galleries we saw that the paintings were moving forward in time.

I was thrilled to see a painting by an artist who is a particular favourite ‘in real life’ for the first time.

(The Pied Piper by Elizabeth Adela Forbes)

And maybe even better, a beautiful illustrated book that she prepared for her children was on show in a cabinet. There were some lovely sketches by Norman Garstin there, as well as a cartoon by his writer son, Crosbie, showing the artist followed by his daughter Alathea – another artist – and a string of pupils.

I wish I could show you that cabinet, but I can’t.

And, before I leave Elizabeth Adela Forbes behind, I must tell you that her drypoint etchings are quite wonderful.

(Laura and Paul Jewill Hill, 1915)

I know that Harold Harvey is much loved, and a particular favourite of the Persephone Post, so I had to show off one of his paintings from this exhibition. I chose this one because I saw that it was a bequest from one of the subjects, Miss Laura Jewill Hill.

One painting that I particularly liked was a bequest from Doctor Eric Richards. I spotted more of his bequests, I have a number of books from the library book-sale that came from his collection, and I have to think that we have very similar tastes.

(Old Harbour Newlyn by Geoffrey Snyed Gardiner)

Upstairs, we saw the most contemporary works. Some were by artists still alive and working, and we spotted two artists whose paintings we own. Bob Vigg was a friend of my godmother, Michael Praed was one of my mothers teaching colleagues before he began to paint full-time, and I must confess that we liked our own paintings a little more than the works in the exhibition.

There was a great deal of wonderful work in this gallery, and it was here that I saw how certain artists had influenced others.

I was very taken with a painting by John Miller, quite unlike his more famous works. I wish I could show you but it doesn’t seem to be in the museum’s database yet. It was another bequest from Dr Richards …

I loved this view of my hometown.

(Penzance Panorama by Ken Symons)

I have always loved Jack Pender’s work.

(Untitled (Boats at Mousehole by Jack Pender)

And this lovely sunset, over the lighthouse that inspired the young Virginia Woolf, seems to be the right place for me to stop.

 (Godrevy Lighthouse, Carbis Bay by Hector Arthur Mace)

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A Casket of Pearls runs until 3rd June 2017.

Do visit if you have the chance. There is so much wonderful work, and art is so much lovelier, so much more alive, face to face than it can ever be in a book or on a computer screen.

Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey (2017)

Eighteen year old Chloe Emery was unhappy.

She had been to stay with her father, but his new wife and her two sons had made her so uncomfortable that she couldn’t stay, and so she was making her way home to her mother. Rain was pouring down and so she couldn’t turn down the offer of a lift from her neighbour, Oliver Norris, even though he made her rather uncomfortable too.

It was clear that something terrible was going to happen.

When Chloe stepped through her front door she began to realise that that something had happened while she was away. Her mother wasn’t there, the mess was appalling and the smell was dreadful. When Oliver Norris reappeared – because Chloe had left her bag on the back seat of his car – he realised straight way that the mess was blood.

Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent are sent to the scene. She is newly promoted to DS, she is eager to prove herself in the her new role, and she is equally determined that Derwent is going to stop treating her as a junior. That doesn’t quite happen, but it is clear their wonderfully combative relationship is underpinned by mutual respect.

Though there is no body they are at the beginning of a murder enquiry. Chloe’s mother, Kate Emery, is nowhere to be found, all of her belongings are still at home, and the physical evidence is compelling.

Chloe was staying with the Norris family, they were protective of her and she was unwilling to say very much at all. That might be quite natural, but it might be that the Norris family had something to hide, it might be that Chloe was withholding facts that could help to reveal what had happened to her mother.

The police were left to wonder is Chloe was a slow-witted as they had been told. Because if she was her obvious physical attractions might make her very vulnerable. Because if she was her close friendship with Bethany Norris, who was very bright and a few years younger than her, was very hard to understand.

But at least Chloe was safe …

Understanding the kind of woman Kate Emery was might help the police to discover what had become of her, but hard facts were hard to come by and they heard a great many conflicting opinions.

The picture that emerged was of a complex character who might have been beginning to run out of options …

The story was set up so cleverly, it was full of drama and incident, and the plotting and the pacing were immaculate.

It rings true. The details are right, the characters  are utterly believable,and the twists, when they come, are in no way contrived. They flow naturally out of that story. And whenever I thought I had things figured out something else came to light to make me think again. It really is very well judged.

I’ve grown to like Maeve Kerrigan over the course of seven books in this series now. She is good at her job, she works well with her colleagues, but she is still a little inclined to rush in without thinking things through. Her role as a mentor to a new graduate recruit was an interesting element of this book, and I’m still enjoying the development of her working relationship with Josh Derwent.

The story is a little too dramatic to be true, but I can quite believe that Maeve is in London at work.

I’m just a little sorry that her own story hasn’t moved forward, and that I’ll have to wait for the next book in the hope that it will.

That’s my only small disappointment with this book.

A couple of books ago I wrote:

“Oh Jane! I just want you to get everything right, because when you do you could have an outstanding piece of crime fiction on your hands, you really could.”

This time she did and she does!

Foxes Unearthed: A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain by Lucy Jones

This book spun into my consciousness towards the end of last year, when I was captivated by an extract in one of those lovely anthologies from the Wildlife Trust.

‘We stared at each other, the fox and I, for a charged moment. Her eyes were a pale bronze and seemed bright and aware. She turned away and trotted down the street towards my house. She wasn’t in a rush at all. We walked for a while, her in front, me a few paces behind. In those seconds I got the sense that we were one and the same, mammals, predators, denizens of the earth …’

I wanted to learn more, and I have learned so much from this book.

It’s wonderfully readable, it holds a wealth of fascinating detail, and it is underpinned by the authors obvious love of her subject. She is fair though, giving time to all interested parties, all sides of the debate; and acknowledging that some of those who hate foxes have good reason and that some of those who love them may not be entirely clear-sighted.

She writes of riding out with huntsmen, and then seeks out evidence to evaluate their assertion that their sport is ‘actually the most humane form of pest control and a more natural way for the fox to die than poisoning or shooting.’ And she remembers her grandfather who rode with his local hunt, leading her to an understanding of why fox-hunting was loved by so many, why it thrived for so many years.

Then she writes of an outing with hunt saboteurs. She examines the strength of their convictions, the lengths they will go to, their treatment by huntsmen and by the authorities, and the foundations of their beliefs.

Each account is vividly drawn. There is remarkable drama, and extraordinary and ordinary characters are given room to share their opinions and their experiences.

Other chapters consider the fox in the country and in the town.

In the country there were farmers with many different attitudes. Some hated foxes and regarded them as vermin who would take anything; but others had experiences that suggested that wasn’t their case and that it was possible to live side by side with foxes.

I loved this statement:

“Chickens aren’t native to this country. We domesticated one of the most dopey animals that just sits there and lays eggs with no protection. So when a wild animal comes in it’s the same as saying ‘don’t eat a doughnut’ that is sat in front of us.”

In the town I was interested by a pest controller who loved nature but believed that there was a need to manage numbers; and I could sympathise by those who had suffered damage, intrusion or injury, though I didn’t always agree with their interpretation of what had happened.

(The fox debate in the city is very much like the seagull debate down here on the coast.)

Lucy Jones sets out the arguments, the evidence, and so many different facts and stories about foxes wonderfully well throughout.

There are foxes in literature, there are foxes embedded in language, there are foxes in folklore; and though I really loved that what I loved most of all was coming away with a much better understanding of the fox as a living creature.

There are so many wonderful stories and details that I really can’t pull out just a few to share.

I will simply say that this quote expresses my feelings perfectly:

“The fox’s perceived villainy has much to do with our attitude to the earth and the way we treat it. The fox is a problem only in so far as it affects our own interests – and that problem is often exaggerated to suit other agendas. Intentions of spite and malevolence have been projected onto the fox for many years when, in fact, it is simply a wild animal, acting according to its nature.”

And that I love foxes but I understand why other don’t; and I am so pleased that I read this thought-provoking and entertaining survey of our relationship with them.

Another Spin with the Classics Club

Just as I found a little time for the online bookish world, my trusty, long-serving, hard-working modem gave up the ghost and died, and so I have only my work breaks today and tomorrow and that isn’t nearly as time as I’d like.

I do hope my new modem arrives on schedule …

Fortunately I had enough time to spot a new Classics Club spin, and it wasn’t too difficult to pull together a list, because I only have twenty-something books left  ….

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… and now here is that list.

  1. The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox (1752)
  2. Emmeline by Charlotte Turner Smith (1788)
  3. A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbold (1791)
  4. The Collegians by Gerald Griffin (1829)
  5. Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau (1838)
  6. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842)
  7. Vilette by Charlotte Bronte (1953)
  8. Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov (1859)
  9. Hester by Margaret Oliphant (1873)
  10. A Struggle for Fame by Charlotte Riddell (1883)
  11. La Regenta by Leopoldo Atlas (1886)
  12. The Beth Book by Sarah Grand (1897)
  13. Eline Vere by Louis Couperus (1889)
  14. The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf (1915)
  15. Kristin Lavransdattir by Sigrid Undset (1922)
  16. Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann (1927)
  17. Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson (1937)
  18. The World is Not Enough by Zoe Oldenbourg (1946)
  19. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay (1950)
  20. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Tayor (1951)

The numbers I’d most like to come up are 7, 10, 14 and 20.

The numbers I’m a little anxious about are 2, 12 and 18.

But there isn’t a book on my list I don’t want to read – it’s just that I want to read some of one day, rather than right now.

Though maybe I just need the right push …

 

Daffodils: A Seasonal Collection

My heart is a garden tired with autumn,
Heaped with bending asters and dahlias heavy and dark,
In the hazy sunshine, the garden remembers April,
The drench of rains and a snow-drop quick and clear as a spark;
Daffodils blowing in the cold wind of morning,
And golden tulips, goblets holding the rain—
The garden will be hushed with snow, forgotten soon, forgotten—
After the stillness, will spring come again?

‘The Garden’ by Sarah Teasdale

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Daffodil Dish by Della Robbia Pottery

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“I went outside mournful, and I hit pure air. The air was full of birdsong. I went outside expecting rain but it was sunny, it was so suddenly, so openly sunny, with so sharp a spring light coming off the river, that I went down the side of the riverbank and sat in among the daffodils.

From ‘Girl Meets Boy’ by Ali Smith

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‘Daffodils in the Inglenook’ by Stephen Darbishire

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She did not look at the daffodils.
They didn’t mean anything.
She looked at the daffodils.
She said, ‘Thank you for the daffodils

Hilda Doolittle

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

“I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway.”

Dorothy Wordsworth

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Undyed linen embroidered with silver and gilt-silver yarns and spangles in daffodil scroll pattern, trimmed with metallic lace. Reconstructed with non-matching linen ground.

Possibly worn by Grizell Wodehouse (d. 1635), the wife of Sir Philip Wodehouse. According to family legend, the jacket belonged to Queen Elizabeth and was given as a gift when she visited the Kimberly estate in 1578 for the knighting of Roger Wodehouse.

From The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

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‘Daffodil Hound’ by Rich Skipworth

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“I want to steal something.

In the hall the night-light’s on, the long space glows gently pink; I walk, one foot set carefully down, then the other, without creaking, along the runner, as if on a forest floor, sneaking, my heart quick, through the night house. I am out of place. This is entirely illegal.

Down past the fish-eye on the hall wall, 1 can see my white shape, of tented body, hair down my back like a mane, my eyes gleaming. I like this. I am doing something, on my own. The active, is it a tense?

Tensed. What I would like to steal is a knife, from the kitchen, but I’m not ready for that.
I reach the sitting room, door’s ajar, slip in, leave the door a little open. A squeak of wood, but who’s near enough to hear? I stand in the room, letting the pupils of my eyes dilute, like a cat’s or owl’s.

Old perfume, cloth dust fill my nostrils. There’s a slight mist of light, coming through the cracks around the closed drapes, from the searchlight outside, where two men doubtless patrol, I’ve seen them, from above, from behind my curtains, dark shapes, cut-outs.
Now I can see outlines, gleams: from the mirror, the bases of the lumps, the vases, the sofa looming like a cloud at dusk.

What should I take? Something that will not be missed. In the wood at midnight, a magic flower. A withered daffodil, not one from the dried arrangement. The daffodils will soon be thrown out, they’re beginning to smell. Along with Serena’s stale fumes, the stench of her knitting.

I grope, find an end table, feel. There’s a clink, I must have knocked something. I find the daffodils, crisp at the edges where they’ve dried, limp towards the stems, use my fingers to pinch. I will press this, somewhere. Under the mattress. Leave it there, for the next woman, the one who comes after me, to find.”

From ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood

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Daffodil Cake by  Juliet Stalwood Cakes and Biscuits

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Thou yellow trumpeter of laggard Spring!
Thou herald of rich Summer’s myriad flowers!
The climbing sun with new recovered powers
Does warm thee into being, through the ring
Of rich, brown earth he woos thee, makes thee fling
Thy green shoots up, inheriting the dowers
Of bending sky and sudden, sweeping showers,
Till ripe and blossoming thou art a thing
To make all nature glad, thou art so gay;
To fill the lonely with a joy untold;
Nodding at every gust of wind to-day,
To-morrow jewelled with raindrops. Always bold
To stand erect, full in the dazzling play
Of April’s sun, for thou hast caught his gold.

‘To an Early Daffodil’ by Amy Lowell

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 Daffodil  (1910-12) a textile design by Franz von Zülow

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“As we all know, the only way to plant daffodils is to pile them onto a tray, and then to run out into the orchard and hurl the tray into the air, planting them exactly where they fall. There may be other, less orthodox methods; if so they should be spurned. The tray, the ecstatic gesture … that is the only sure road to success.”

 Beverley Nichols

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‘Daffodils and Violets’ by Mabel Tregaskis

* * * * * * *

“In the forest, in the forest, silence had cast a spell over all things. She plucked a great bouquet of daffodils and snowdrops, and tenderly held them to her, and tenderly kissed their fresh spring faces. She did not sing at all, but sat silent, expectant, and wondering, till her flowers faded and withered in her hands.”

Katherine Mansfield

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Danger Point – or, In The Balance – by Patricia Wentworth (1941)

I realised that it was a long, long time since I had investigated a mystery with Miss Silver. The delay was partly because I was wonderfully distracted by lots of Patricia Wentworth’s other books being sent back out into the world; but it was also because after loving books one and two I was rather disappointed in book three. I reached the point when I realised that it was time to try book four, and I am so glad that I did. It’s my favourite Miss Silver book to date.

The story begins on a train, with Miss Silver travelling back to London after a seaside holiday. An attractive young woman – clearly in a state of shock – rushes into the compartment. Miss Silver is concerned and she very tactfully begins a conversation; her companion responds, thinking that Miss Silver is rather like her old governess.

Lisle Jerningham was a wealthy young woman with a brand new husband, and she was terribly afraid that he was going to kill her. She had just overheard  a conversation that suggested that husband’s first wife died of an accident, that that money she left him had saved his family home. Now he had run out of money again, he had acquired another wife with money, and maybe she would have an accident too …

12114131When the train reached London Miss Silver pressed one of her business cards into Lisle’s hand, and said that she should call if there was ever anything at all she might do to help.

Lisle felt terribly alone. She was American and she had no family or friends of her own in England. Her money was managed by a trustee and she knew that Dale, her husband, was unhappy that he wouldn’t produce the funds that he needed to save the family home. He said that if Lisle was only a little more persuasive he would have the money and everything would be alright, but that she really didn’t understand how important it was. She didn’t understand, but she had tried for her husband’s sake.

The only person who seemed to care about her was Dale’s cousin Rafe, but Rafe was charming to everyone and so she could never be sure that he really was her fiend. She knew that Dale’s other cousin, Alicia, whose rich, titled husband died in an accident at about the same time that Dale’s first wife hated her. Dale and Alicia had been expected to marry, and she wondered if maybe they would when they had the money to secure the future of the family home that they both loved.

Lisle had already had one accident – she had nearly drowned – and she would have others.

A young woman was found head at the foot of a cliff, and a young man was charged with her murder. It seemed to be an open-and-shut case, but Lisle feared that it wasn’t.

A newspaper report about the trial caught Miss Silver’s eye, she realised that it was very close to the young woman she had met on the train, and she decided that she had to investigate. She knew the local policeman from her days as a teacher – he had been one of her pupils – and so she asked him to recommend a local boarding house, and she told him a little of what Lisle had told her.

It was lucky that she did, because Lisle really was in terrible danger.

I found a great deal to like in this book.

Lisle was more damsel in distress than heroine, but I understood the difficulty of the position she found herself in; with nobody outside the family circle to turn to, and not know who inside the family circle she might trust. I appreciated that she was young and inexperienced, that she coped with a great deal and that she found some courage when she most needed it.

I was inclined to like her, and I found it easy to understand why she thought and acted as she did.

I loved the echoes of Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ in Lisle’s situation; and the echoes of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in Miss Silver’s relationship with ‘her’ policeman.

The details of characters, clothes and settings were so well drawn, as they always are in Patricia Wentworth’s books, making this a lovely period piece.

I continue to be impressed with Miss Silver’s knitting speed and prowess, and in this book I learned that she can crochet too!

The dialogues between Lisle and Dale as he tried to make her understand why his family home was so important, and she stood her ground because she knew there were other things that mattered more, were wonderfully well done.

The playing out of the story was so dramatic – a lovely mixture of the sensation novel and the golden age crime novel – and I was on the edge of my seat until the very end of the story.

The ending that she chose made me realise that Patricia Wentworth had understood the psychology of her subject matter perfectly.

The is definitely Miss Silver’s best case to date – though she wasn’t at the centre of the story she did have an important role to play – and it won’t be too long until I move on to the next one.

This Real Night by Rebecca West (1984)

‘This Real Night’ was to be the second volume of a trilogy that would tell the story of a century, but the trilogy was never completed. The first book, ‘The Fountain Overflows’ was published in 1956 but this book wasn’t published until 1984, a year after the author’s death and the final, incomplete book was published not long after, with notes suggesting what might have followed.

I loved ‘The Fountain Overflows’ and I was delighted to find that this book picked up the threads of that story not too much further into the future. I was pulled right back …

The Aubrey children have lost their  father, who left one day and never came back, but their world is stable, and their mother had been able to sell paintings that she knew were real but had led him to believe were copies for significant sums of money.

The musical daughters, Mary and Rose, were moving towards careers as concert pianists, have were studying in musical academies in London. They suffered some setbacks as they stepped out into the world, but there was nothing that really hindered their progress.

Though that is not to say that they were entirely confident.

“Every time we left our pianos the age gave us such assurances that there was to be a new and final establishment of pleasure upon earth. True that when we were at our pianos we knew that this was not true. There is something in the great music that we played which told us that promise will not be kept.”

They were determined to be independent, and unimpressed by the only alternative that might be open to them:

“Indeed marriage was to us a descent into a crypt where, by the tremulous light of smoking torches, there was celebrated a glorious rite of a sacrificial nature. Of course it was beautiful, we saw that. But we meant to stay in the sunlight, and we knew of no end which we could serve by offering ourselves up as a sacrifice.”

Their elder sister, Cordelia, saw the world rather differently. She had been heartbroken when she had been forced to face the fact that she lacked the emotional understanding of music needed to make it a career. She had picked it up and re-set her course in life, hoping for a secure future as the wife of a successful man, and fearing that her unconventional home and her inexplicably absent father would harm her prospects.

966a9edf9e6158a597978445851444341587343I was sorry that her sisters, her mother and her author completely failed to understand Cordelia, that they had no time or sympathy for her. She could be trying, but she really deserved better.

They had much more time for their cousin Rosamund; maybe because shared their desire for independence and was working towards a career as a nurse, and maybe because they understood that she had talents quite unlike their own. She had played chess with their father, she and her mother continued to sew to support themselves ….

The family was completed by their young brother, Richard Quinn, who seemed almost too lovely, bright and charming to be true.

The picture of family life was captivating and rich with detail. Rebecca West wrote beautifully and her writing is full of  sentences and expressions to cherish.

Familiar family friends re-appeared; the family’s social circle was small but it cut right across social classes. They often saw Mr Morpurgo,  who was both wealthy and generous, and they also regularly visited a riverside pub, where the landlord was an old family friend.

Those friendships allowed Rebecca West to say a great deal about social issues, by means of extended scenes portraying two very different visits.

This book stands alone, but you really should read ‘The Fountain Overflows’ first.

I think that  first book is stronger than this one; they are both idiosyncratic and oddly structured, but the first book was more polished, it had a stronger narrative, and I found the characters rather more engaging when they were younger. I can quite believe that Rebecca West hadn’t quite finished with her manuscript when she died.

The ending is perfectly done and heart-breaking. The passing of time has consequences, and the Great War casts a shadow.

This is a story that draws on the authors own life, without being entirely autobiographical; and it does feel authentic. That’s why I feel so attached to this family, why I can love this book for its strengths and forgive it for its weaknesses; and why I want to read the next, unfinished book to find out the future holds for the surviving members of the Aubrey family.

A Place to Stand by Ann Bridge (1953)

Mary Ann Dolling Sanders married Owen St. Clair O’Malley, a diplomat, on 25 October 1913. His career would lead to them travelling widely; and to the diplomat’s wife writing many novels – using the pen-name Ann Bridge – inspired by the places she visited and the history she witnessed.

This story is set in Budapest, in the spring of 1941.

Hope Kirkland is the daughter of an American businessman who has been based in that city ever since she was a small girl, looking after his company’s European interests. She has been sheltered and spoiled, but she is bright and curious; and I was inclined to like the girl who brought home wild flowers from the street market to sit alongside the rather more formal flowers that her mother chose.

On her way home from a trip to Belgrade, to say goodbye to her new fiancé, Sam, whose career as a reporter was taking him away from her only days after their engagement, Hope opened the box of chocolates he had given her as a parting gift. She thought it a rather thoughtless gift, particularly when she realised that all of the chocolates on the top layer were soft centres. Sam knew that she didn’t like soft centres! When she peeked at the layer below, she found no chocolates at all. She found three passports and some very precise directions as to what she should do with them.

3c9533834dc9c65593963305377444341587343Hope followed those instructions very carefully, and they led her to a family of Polish refugees. They were surprised to see her and not Sam, but they welcomed her and were very appreciative of the trouble she had taken. Hope liked them immediately, she was shocked that they has to live in such poor conditions, and she decided that she would do what she could to help them.

A friendship grew, and Hope learned a great deal from her new friends. She was particularly fond of the elderly mother of the family, and when she saw how kindly and gently her children treated her she realised that she had always taken her own parents and her very good fortune for granted.

When Germany invades Hungary Hope’s father is advised to leave the country as soon as he can. As Hope helps her mother to pack up their life she worries about what will happen to her friends. She is sure they won’t be safe, she is sure that she can do more for them, and her feelings are complicated by the fact that she has fallen in love with the son of the family.

What Hope does next is wonderfully brave and dangerous, but it could get her into terrible trouble ….

Ann Bridge’s writing is wonderfully vivid. She painted lovely pictures of Budapest before the invasion; she allowed be to be an eye- witness to that invasion as Hope rushed out to see what was happening; and she captured the turbulent events that followed wonderfully well.

I couldn’t doubt for a minute that she had been there and that she had thought a great deal about the history she lived through and the significance of the events that she had witnessed. She illuminated different attitudes to what was happening so cleverly, through conversations between the Kirklands and two friends; an American diplomat and a young Polish aristocrat.

The plot was very well constructed, every character was there for a reason, and the story held my interest from start to finish. It would have worked as well without the love story; and it might have been more interesting to see a friendship between a young woman and a young man from such different backgrounds.

Ann Bridge is sometimes accused of snobbery and I saw just a little of that her. It came mainly from characters whose backgrounds made their attitudes understandable, but I spotted one or two instances when it came from the author. I also have to say that I didn’t have to be told that Hope was pretty quite so many times.

I did like Hope. She was bright, she was capable, she was ready to do anything in her power for the people she loved, and  I was only a little disappointed when she sometimes chose to play the helpless female and have a man sort everything out. She was only nineteen years-old, and nothing in her upbringing had prepared her for much of what she would experience.

I loved many of the other characters – particularly Hope’s mother, who really came into her own when she was faced with a crisis – but I have to say that not many of them had depth. I suspect that there were a few characters who were there simply to serve the plot.

That lead me to say that this isn’t Ann Bridge’s best book; but I can also say that I’m very glad I read it.

It was a wonderfully entertaining and intriguing story; and it took me to a part of the world and a corner of history that I am pleased to know a little better now.