The Eye of Love by Margery Sharp (1957)

‘The Eye of Love’was the first of Margery Sharp’s books I read, back in the days when it was a Virago Modern Classic. The founder of the Library Thing Virago group – a lovely lady named Paola – mentioned that Margery Sharp was one of her favourite authors, I liked the sound of this book, and so I picked up a copy.

I loved it!

I loved the two sequels!

Margery Sharp became one of my favourite authors!

When a whole set of Margery Sharp’s out of print books – including this one and its  sequels – were sent back out into the world last year, by Open Road Media, I thought it might be time to revisit ‘The Eye of Love’.

It was!

I loved it all over again!

‘The Eye of Love’ is a quirky and charming fairy-tale romance like no other that I have ever read.

29372657It tells the story of a middle-aged couple: Miss Dolores Diver, a rather gawky middle-aged lady, who wears a comb in hair and shawl around her shoulders because believes she has the looks and the character of a Spanish Rose type; and Mr Harry Gibson, a rather stout gentleman who has inherited responsibility for his family business.

In the hands of some authors such characters would appear silly or foolish; but not in Margery Sharp’s hands. She writes about them with great wit, with great affection, and with understanding of their foibles and their perception of each other, looking through the eye of love.

She made me love them, and she made them utterly real.

A rather eccentrically dressed lady I see in town might be a Miss Diver; a quite unremarkable man I see dressed for business might be a Mr Gibson.

I love that!

I love that every single person I might pass in the street has their own life story to be told, and – I hope – somebody who sees them through the eye of love.

Harry & Dolores had happy years together, enjoying simple pleasures and precious hour that they spent together, but they were to be separated. Harry’s business was struggling, he had a chance to make that business – and his widowed mother’s life – secure, but that depended on his marrying the daughter of his new business partner.

He didn’t like it at all, but he knew that he had to do the right thing

The lovers are both distraught, and while Dolores struggles to manage without Harry’s financial and practical support, Harry struggles to work up any enthusiasm for the wedding and new home that his mother and his fiancée are happily planning.

What will happen?

Will true love conquer all?

cc207ceb20d74b024e2fb3160e096d40Wrapped around this romantic comedy is the beginning of the story of Martha, Miss Diver’s orphaned niece. Martha is a stolid and self-possessed little girl, a true individual who is sweetly oblivious to the cares and concerns of others and sails through life’s storms, set on the course that she knows is right for her.

Martha’s passion is art, and all she wants to do is draw the world around her. She is single-minded in her quest for the materials and the time she needs to do that, and along the way she both helps and hinders her aunt in her new role as a landlady; as well as acquiring a very interesting and very sensible patron.

Margery Sharp spins a story that is both lovely and clever in this book. Her writing has both wit and charm, and is acute without ever being unkind. I think that she understood, and that she smiled at her characters.

There are so many lovely details, and a great many moments that strike a chord.

I loved the friendship that blossomed between Harry and his future father-in law. I was entertained by the machinations of the ladies who worked in Harry’s showroom. I was concerned when Dolores’s lodger took her to be a wealthier woman that she was and began to lay plans. I had horribly mixed feeling as I saw how happy and proud Harry’s mother was during the wedding preparations. I was interested in what Martha learned as she drew the gas oven.

Those are just a few of a great many things.

Most of all,  I cared  about the plight of the star-crossed lovers.

I knew the ending I wanted –  and of course I remembered it from the first time I read the book – but I didn’t remember exactly how the story got there until it did.

That ending  – and the whole story – was so cleverly constructed and so well told.

I loved the balance of the predictable and the unpredictable.

The first time I read ‘The Eye of Love’ I saw Dolores and Harry as the stars, and it was only when I moved on the sequels that I realised how significant it was that this was the beginning of Martha’s story.

She is definitely a one-off, but she is also an archetypal Margery Sharp heroine: an honest and independent woman, following her own instincts rather that social convention, and charting her own, independent course through life.

I have to love that!

You really should meet Martha. And Harry. And Delores. And Mr Joyce ….

I’m sorry that I shall be leaving Dolores and Harry behind, but I’m looking forward to following Martha’s adventures when she goes to art school in Paris all over again.

* * * * * * *

Margery Sharp Day is less that two weeks away – the celebration of her 112th birthday party is happening on 25th January 2017.

There’s no need to RSVP – though it would be lovely to know if you might come –  all you need to do is to read a Margery Sharp book between now and then, and post about it on the day!

Just click the picture for all of the details you might want to know.

* * * * * * *


Welcome Back into the World, Margery Sharp!

There are so many books in the world, the accumulation of years and years of authors writing away, and that is lovely for devoted readers, but it can also be a little worrying. How do we know that we have found the very best books for us? How do we know that the very best book of all is a book we haven’t found yet?

I worry much less about those things since I discovered the work of a wonderful author named Margery Sharp, and that is why I am so thrilled that Open Road Media has taken the first step to introduce her to a wider audience, many of whom I know will fall in love with her, by issuing ten of her works as e-books.


(You’ll find a rather more concise version of this story on their webside, together with a wealth of interesting articles and any number of desirable books)

I was introduced to Margery Sharp’s writing, quite a few years ago now, by the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group, the loveliest group of bookish folk you could every hope to meet. Without them there wouldn’t have been a Beyond Eden Rock, and my reading wouldn’t be anything like as rich and diverse as it is now.

I loved what I read about Margery Sharp, and so I ordered the one book that Virago reissued. It won me over, and as I read more of her work she rose in my estimation and my affections until she reached the highest of heights.

That first book was ‘The Eye of Love’. It tells the story of a middle-aged couple: Miss Diver, who wears a comb in hair and shawl around her shoulders because believes she has the looks and the character of a Spanish Rose type, and Mr Gibson, a stout gentleman who has risen to senior position in retail.

In the hands of some authors such characters would appear silly or foolish; but not in Margery Sharp’s hands. She writes about them with great wit, with great affection, and with understanding of their foibles and their love. She made me love them, and she made them utterly real. A flamboyantly dressed lady I see in town might be a Miss Diver; a quite unremarkable man I see dressed for business might be a Mr Gibson. I love that!

And wrapped around their story is the beginning of the story of Martha, Miss Diver’s orphaned niece-by marriage. Martha is a stolid and self-possessed little girl, a true individual who is sweetly oblivious to the cares and concerns of others and sails through life’s storms, set on the course that she knows is right for her.

Margery Sharp spins a story that is both lovely and clever in this book. I loaned my copy to my mother because I though she would like it to, and she liked it so much that she pressed my copy on to some of her friends. I loved that she was so evangelical about books that she loved; but one of the consequences of that was that a few of my books – this one included – never came home again. But I’m re-reading it now; an e-book this time around

I mas so taken with that book that I went looking for more of Margery Sharp’s work. I found that all of her other books were out of print, and that many of them were scarce and expensive, but luckily a wise librarian had tucked many of her books away in my library’s reserve stock.

That allowed me to follow Martha through two wonderful sequels – ‘Martha in Paris’ and ‘Martha, Eric and George’. I won’t say too much about them, because I can’t without giving too much away about the early part of the trilogy, but I will say that I loved them.

Martha was honest, she was independent, she followed her instincts rather that social conventions, and she was most definitely a woman taking charge of her own destiny. How can you not cheer that?!

That was something that she had in common with many of Margery Sharp’s heroines. They’re a wonderfully diverse band of women, I’m so pleased that many of them have been sent out into the world again, and you really should meet them all.

‘The Nutmeg Tree’ introduced me to fun-loving Julia Packett, who gave up her daughter to her wealthy in-laws, but who came running when her daughter needed her. She did her level best to find happy endings for all, without ever losing sight of who she was and what she wanted in life. It was great fun, with just enough serious underpinnings to stop it becoming frivolous.

‘The Flowering Thorn’ introduced me to Lesley Frewen, a girl-about-town who – to prove a point – offered to adopt an unwanted infant , saving him from being sent to an orphanage. The story of how she changed her life and of what happened next was bright and witty, and it was thoughtful and emotional too.

‘Cluny Brown’ was another wonderful heroine. She loved life, she didn’t know quite what she wanted from it; but she was curious to explore lots of possibilities When she was sent into service at a country house, by a family who didn’t know quite what to do with her, she carried right on, and the results were marvelously entertaining.

Along the way I discovered that there were a great many people reading and loving Margery Sharp’s books. I can’t mention them all – I don’t know them all – but I must mention The Margery Sharp Blog is such a lovely, lovely celebration of all things Margery.

Margery Sharp’s writing is wonderfully readable, and is so distinctive, I’m quite sure that I could recognise her writing even if her name wasn’t on it now. She is such a good story-teller, she is always acute but almost never unkind, and everything that I have read – by her and about her – makes me think that if we had met I would have liked her enormously.

There are many more books than the ones I’ve mentioned. Some I don’t want to tease you with – at least not today – because they haven’t been reissued. Others I am saving because I want the joy of discovering new books to last as long as it possibly can.

I will write about those books, and continue to celebrate Margery Sharp’s legacy, because I want the ten books out in the world to be a beginning and not an ending. I know that some of the other books are just as good and I want them to be back in print too, and I want paper copies as well as e-books.

I hope that these first reissues will be successful and make that happen.

There is one more book that I must tell you about, because it’s the book that exceeded every expectation I had, the book that really touched my heart, and the book that gave me the push to campaign for Margery Sharp’s books to be brought back into print.

‘The Innocents’ tells the story of a middle-aged spinster who finds herself looking after a friend’s young child for longer that she expected when war breaks out, and the story of what happens when the mother returns and isn’t entirely happy with the way her child is being raised. The twist in the tale is that the child had what we would call ‘learning difficulties’; the lady who cared for her described her as ‘an innocent’.

I won’t write about it at length, because I wrote about it quite recently, for this year’s Margery Sharp Day.

I’ll just say that it may be Margery Sharp’s simplest and quietest book, and that it is elevated by a depth of understanding and real emotional honesty. I only wish that my mother was able to read it because she had a son – and I had a brother – who was ‘an innocent’.

I couldn’t be happier that this book – and nine others – have been sent out into the world again.

Welcome back, Margery Sharp!

Sound the Tin Trumpets! Margery Sharp Reissues are Coming!

I cant’s quite believe it, but I can see that it’s true.

Thank you Open Road Media for sending ten lovely books back out into the world.

And thank you again to all of you who came to the parties on Margery Sharp Day – this year and last year – and to all of the other readers who have celebrated her work and raised the question of why on earth such a wonderful writer wasn’t in print.

I’m quite sure that you made a difference.

I see that those books are due to appear on 12th April.

Let’s take a look at them, and, in case you’re wondering why I’m quite so excited, I’ll point you towards the thoughts of some of Margery Sharp’s legion of admirers.


Cluny Brown

An unconventional parlor maid upends the lives of an aristocratic family in New York Times–bestselling author Margery Sharp’s delightful comedy of manners set in England before the onset of World War II

Gabi , Lady Fancifull, and Mary all had words of praise for Cluny.

Something Light

In 1950s London, a career girl decides it’s high time she snared herself a husband, in Margery Sharp’s high-spirited New York Times–bestselling novel

Vicki read this book for Margery Sharp Day last year, and Cynthia read it this year

The Nutmeg Tree

Set in 1930s France, Margery Sharp’s witty, warm-hearted novel tells the story of a free-spirited mother who is reunited with her very proper daughter after sixteen years, when her daughter asks her to inspect her fiancé

Audrey, Helen , Karen and Frances were very taken with this tale.


The Eye of Love

Margery Sharp’s enchanting New York Times–bestselling novel about the profound ways that love can change our view of other people and the world around us

Simon gave us a wonderful account of this book.

Martha in Paris

A young woman sent to Paris to study painting learns lessons about life and love in Margery Sharp’s sparkling novel that features the now-grown-up artistic little girl who first appeared in The Eye of Love

I was very taken with the sequel

Martha, Eric and George

After ten years, a successful painter returns to Paris and the son she left behind on her ex-lover’s doorstep, in Margery Sharp’s sparkling novel that features the artistic heroine of ‘Martha in Paris’.

And Arpita offered her thoughts on the last of the trilogy on Margery Sharp Day this year.


The Flowering Thorn

A Jazz Age socialite impulsively adopts an orphaned boy in this humorous, heartwarming tale from New York Times–bestselling author Margery Sharp

There’s a lovely account of this book (and almost all of the others at The Margery Sharp Blog.

The Gipsy in the Parlour

In Victorian England, a glamorous, mysterious young woman overturns the lives of a traditional Devonshire farm family, in Margery Sharp’s humorous, heartwarming New York Times–bestselling novel

I was delighted that Cirtnecce found a copy of this book, and that she loved it as much as I did.

The Innocents

Margery Sharp’s most poignant novel, set during World War II and filled with her trademark wit and warmth, tells the story of the powerful bond forged between a British spinster and the unusual little girl left in her care

Barb thought the world of this book, and so did I.

Britannia Mews

Britannia Mews

With heartfelt drama, wit, and brilliant historical detail, this masterfully told family saga spans the Victorian era and World War II and features an unpredictable and passionate heroine who defies the English class system

Ali , Sarah  and Anbolyn all had words of praise for this story

* * * * * * * *

I hope that it won’t be too long until we gave paper books as well as ebooks.

And I hope that we’ll see more of Margery Sharp’s books being revived. There’s ‘Fanfare for Tin Trumpets’, ‘Lise Lillywhite’, ‘The Stone of Chastity’, and many others, including, of course, the oh so elusive ‘Rhododendron Pie’.

This isn’t the end – but it is a wonderful beginning!

A Thank you Letter after Margery Sharp Day

Dod Procter Tulips on the dressing tableI want to say thank you to everyone who played a part in this celebration of the lovely legacy of books that Margery Sharp left to the world.

Thank you to everyone who found a book to read, and everyone who spread them the world.

I found some Cornish spring flowers for you all.

I hope that one day soon there will be reissues so that all of us can read much more of Margery Sharp’s wonderful work.

We covered a wonderful range of titles between us.

The Nutmeg Tree (1937)

Audrey said:

I think Margery Sharp has such a gift for drawing characters, and this is what draws me in.  Julia is an aging girl-about-town who wants to pretend to be a lady for her daughter’s sake. When she meets the unsuitable young man, she’s dismayed to discover that he’s all too much like her, and not a good match for her lovely but priggish daughter. Julia’s antics are delightful, but she’s also wonderfully true to herself.

Helen said:

I wasn’t sure at first whether Julia would be a character I was going to like, but I did warm to her very quickly and enjoyed reading about her exploits as she stumbled from one disaster to another. She has such a mixture of qualities, some good and some bad: she can be irresponsible and often acts without thinking, but she’s also warm, friendly and fun-loving.

Karen said:

I have to say that my first experience of reading Margery Sharp was a wonderful one. Her prose is lovely, easy to read and thoroughly engaging, and her characters such fun! I laughed out loud in several places and followed the various scrapes into which Julia got herself with glee. However, I said above that the book was ostensibly light-hearted and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Frances said:

The most appealing aspect of this novel is that Julia is a keen observer of human nature, aware of the trappings of classism and constantly revising her role (and that of others as well) as need or desire dictates. A reader is left to admire her generous nature, her humor. And laugh out loud at the gentle satirical hand of Sharp as she examines the role of women in between world wars in Britain.

Cluny Brown (1944)

Anbolyn said

Like Britannia Mews, Cluny Brown is a dream. I loved all of the characters so much that I didn’t want to leave them. Sharp creates real and delightful worlds with a slightly fairy tale quality that completely envelop the reader – I was enchanted.

Lady Fancifull said:

Margery Sharp assembles a cast of strong and quirky characters, all of whom might seem to be examples of ‘types’ …. but Sharp renders them all much more interesting, much more contradictory, and, all of them, much more likeable. Her pen is sharp, but it is also fizzy, joyous, expansive. There is no spitefulness, no meanness of spirit in her writing.

Mary said:

What a wonderful book!
For the past few days I’ve been in the world of Cluny Brown.
Cluny, who’s real name is Clover goes into service in a house in Devon.
A far cry from London where she has been brought up by her Uncle.
I was soon engrossed in the story and wanted to know what was going to happen to Cluny.

Britannia Mews (1946)

Ali said:

This book kept me company during a very busy week – when I had rather less time for reading than usual. It was a fabulous companion; this is such a compelling novel, endlessly readable – I looked forward every day to getting back to these characters even if it was just for a short time.

Arpita said:

It is an astonishing novel on many levels and depicts a slice of English history that is multifaceted and rich in detail. I’ve enjoyed reading a Margery Sharp novel that is a little different from the other books I have read, but quite, quite lovely!

The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948)

Liz said:

An absolutely charming novel – Sharp falls firmly into the mid-century middlebrow nexus, sitting comfortably with your Dorothy Whipple, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym or Mary Hocking. Sharp (ha) and observant about families, education (or the lack of it), class and ageing, she’s maybe a little warmer than Taylor and Pym, although just as incisive and with similar flamboyant, flawed and hilarious characters.

The Gipsy in the Parlour (1953)

Lory Said:

The title, cover, and Victorian setting of this one intrigued me, and I was not disappointed. It was another humorous, breezy read that yet had a serious side in its closely observed characters and emotional insight.

Cirtnecce said:

Sharp, funny, witty and heartwarming… cheer the Sylvester women on, from the beginning till the end and you close the book with warm, fuzzy feeling of goodwill all around!”

The Eye of Love (1957)

Simon said:

The most ordinary events are lent a spin of dry humour, but, vitally, Sharp remains intensely affectionate about her characters – and so does the reader. That is the keynote of the novel, that has various twists and turns and interlacing events: Dolores and Mr Gibson may appear ridiculous to many, but Sharp ably makes it so that the reader, like the characters, sees them instead through the eye of love.

Something Light (1960)

Cynthia said:

Exactly as the title describes. Something light and delightful.

Martha, Eric and George (1963)

Arpita said:

‘Martha, Eric and George’ is the third book in the Martha trilogy written by Margery Sharp. If ‘The Eye of Love’ was a lively entree into this delightful trilogy, ‘Martha in Paris’ was a deliciously light and entertaining prelude to the substantial finale of the drama- ‘Martha, Eric and George’, surrounding the central character of Martha.

The Sun is Scorpio (1965)

Lisa said:

I found Cathy a very interesting and sympathetic character. In some ways, she reminded me of Cluny Brown. Both are the proverbial square pegs, full of life and energy, refusing to conform and constantly seeking their own way. But Cathy has a purpose in life, a mission, which Cluny lacks.

In Pious Memory (1967)

Kirsty said:

Interesting – and often amusing – little details have been placed by Sharp at intervals.  Arthur Prelude’s obituary in The Times, for instance, ‘measured five and a half inches’, the sole vegetarian fare served at the wake is muesli, and Lydia, the youngest Prelude daughter, is described as looking young enough to be able to slide down the banisters.

The Innocents (1972)

I said:

Margery Sharp was such a perceptive writer; she understood all of her characters so well, and she knew that there were no heroes and no villains, just fallible human beings, some wiser than others. Even though I knew this story it held me, it had my heart rising and falling, from the first page to the last.

And Leaves & Pages recalled reading this book, saying:

Happy 111th Birthday, Margery Sharp! May the re-publishers please get going on bringing you back into print. Someone? Persephone? Grey Ladies? Virago? The early works are quite simply stellar, though I admit there are some minor bobbles later on.

I think that’s everyone, but if it isn’t let me know and I’ll put things right.

I’m looking forward to seeing who reads what next.

I hope that we might do this all again next year.

And that before then we might throw a few more bookish birthday parties ….


A Book for Margery Sharp Day: The Innocents (1972)

I have loved many of Margery Sharp’s books for many different reasons and, though I could argue with myself for a long time over the question, I think that if I had to pick just one favourite, one book to take with me to a desert island, it would be ‘The Innocents’.

I read it twice and each time I didn’t write about it, because I wasn’t sure that I could find the words to do it justice. And now I’ve read it for a third time, and I know that I must start to write, because this book is so special and I have to share it with others.

It’s a later work, it’s a quieter and simpler work than many of her others, and it speaks so profoundly.

the-innocents-margery-sharp-001The story is told by a middle-aged – almost elderly spinster living in a quiet country village. She had lived there all her life, first as the only child of the vicarage, and then as a lady of independent means. She was content with her life and with her position in village society; not at the forefront but always with a role to play.

Margery Sharp drew her character so well, and all of the characters who had parts to play in the story she has to tell. She had the ability to draw a real, living, breathing person with just a few lines, and in this case an account of a particular village fete. I can’t explain them nearly so well and so I shan’t even try. You need to read this book, and somebody needs to reissue it, please.

What she didn’t do was tell me her narrator’s name, and so I must continue to refer to her as ‘she’.

She recalled a visit from friends in the summer of 1939. A younger friend, who had been the belle of the village, had a whirlwind romance with an older Scottish businessman and they had settled in the USA. They had come home for business reasons, with their infant daughter in tow, and they had plans to tour continental Europe before they travelled back across the Atlantic. They realised that it had been a mistake to bring a young child without her nanny, and they wondered if could leave her, safe in the care of their older friend, while they holidayed.

She was pleased to say yes, she was quite taken with the child, and arrangements were quickly put into place.

She had already recognised what the parents had left unsaid: the child – Antoinette – Toni – had learning difficulties, or, in her own preferred terminology, she was ‘an innocent.’

This was when the story really struck a chord with me; because I had a brother who was ‘an innocent’. And that is why it means a great deal for me to say that everything rang true, that it was emotionally honest without ever being sentimental, and that ….

It made me think of many of the lovely people I met who were involved in my brother’s care, and it made me think of my mother and wish that I had discovered that book when my mother would have still been able to read it.

Now, back to the story.

Toni was blessed with a guardian who took such good care of her. She borrowed a basket of tabby kittens in case a distraction was needed when the parents left; it wasn’t, but Toni loved them anyway. She borrowed a cot from the WI and she took great care to understand what made her charge happy. What she loved was to spend her days wandering in the garden, to come into the house to eat when she was hungry, and to sleep securely in her cot at night. And so that was what happened.

A lovely understanding grew between the two. Toni had only a small number of words, and she used them to express herself rather than applying their conventional meaning; but of course true understanding doesn’t need words.

This arrangement lasted for much longer than had been originally planned. Because Britain declared war on Germany before that holiday was over, and an anxious employer arranged flights back to the USA, post haste. There was no time to collect Toni, and so she stayed just where she was until the war was over.

Her guardian learned, as more arrangements were put in place, that Toni’s father understood her condition and its implications,  that he was anxious to do whatever was best for her; and that her mother did not, that she thought that counselling and speech therapy would transform Toni into the model daughter to follow her into society.

Toni’s father died just before the end of the war, and her mother arrived to take her home. She didn’t understand her child; she could not – or maybe would not – Margery Sharp is far to clever a writer to let me decide which, but she made me care so much.

The way that the story played out then was heart-rending. The guardian persuaded the mother to stay a while, to help the child’s transition; she wished to do more but she knew she could not; The child was unhappy, she tried to cling to the secure world she knew and loved, but it was clear that at some level she knew that she could; and the mother’s presence, living in a world where she no longer really belonged, sent ripples through the village community.

The conclusion is dramatic, and it could be interpreted in more than one way. I can’t quite decide; but I can tell you that thinking about it brings a lump to my throat.

Margery Sharp was such a perceptive writer; she understood all of her characters so well, and she knew that there were no heroes and no villains, just fallible human beings, some wiser than others.

Even though I knew this story it held me, it had my heart rising and falling, from the first page to the last.

I can’t do it justice, but I can say that it really is a gem.

* * * * * * *

MargeryNow, please do tell me if you’ve read a book for Margery Sharp Day. I’ll post a round up once the day is done.

And please don’t worry if you haven’t – Margery Sharp posts are welcome on any day of the year!

Margery Sharp Day is a Week and a Day Away ….

It’s happening on 25th January – her 111th birthday – and the plan is for as many people as possible to read one of Margery’s books and post about it on her birthday.

You don’t have to have a blog, you can post on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Librarything, Youtube – wherever you like!

I’d just ask that you tell me about it, so that I can share your post and include you in the round-up that will follow a day or two after the event.

All of the details – a badge, a bibliography, and links to some lovely reviews from last year’s party – are here.

I know I’ve said all of this before but I just had to say it again. Because I’d hate anyone to miss it. And, most of all, because I am thrilled that so many people have gone to so much trouble to find an out of print Margery Sharp novel to read.

There’s been some reading already.

Mary has read ‘Cluny Brown’, and she said:

“What a wonderful book!
For the past few days I’ve been in the world of Cluny Brown.
Cluny, who’s real name is Clover goes into service in a house in Devon.
A far cry from London where she has been brought up by her Uncle.
I was soon engrossed in the story and wanted to know what was going to happen to Cluny.”

Cirtnecce has read ‘The Gipsy in the Parlour’, and she said:

“Sharp, funny, witty and heartwarming… cheer the Sylester women on, from the beginning till the end and you close the book with warm, fuzzy feeling of goodwill all around!”

And I think I can see a new post at The Margery Sharp Blog.

I’m still not sure what I’m going to read for the day, but I think it will be one of these three:

The Stone of Chastity

The Nymph and the Nobleman

The Sun in Scorpio

Or it might be time to read ‘The Innocents’ again, because I still haven’t written about it.

Or I’m tempted to revisit ‘The Eye of Love’, the book that introduced me to Margery Sharp,

It’s time to make a decision.

I think I know.

But I’m not going to say, because I just might change my mind.

I do have just one more thing to say now though – Margery Sharp Day is just a week and a day away!

Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp (1944)

I have been utterly charmed by Cluny Brown.

She’s a girl who never does anything that’s exactly wrong; but she’s also a girl who never really does anything that is usual or expected.

She simply followed her heart; oblivious to the strictures that hold most people back.

One day she took herself out to tea at the Ritz; another day she stayed in bed, eating oranges, because she read in a magazine that it would give her vitality.

To many Cluny was a breath of fresh air; but to her Uncle Arn she was a worry. He was a plumber, he had brought up the orphaned Cluny and he was a very conventional man. He worried that his niece didn’t know her place.

The final straw came when, in her uncle’s absence, Cluny set out to unblock a gentleman’s sink.

The correct costume for a young lady going to fix a gentleman’s sink on a Sunday afternoon has never been authoritatively dealt with: Cluny had naturally to carry her uncle’s tool-bag, but as an offset wore her best clothes.

She did an excellent job and the customer was charmed; Cluny was delighted to be offered a cocktail, and she regretfully declined the offer of the use of the loveliest bath she had ever seen. When Uncle Arn arrived and heard Cluny’s account of what had happened, he was aghast.

He consulted Cluny’s Aunt Addie, and between them they decided that the best thing would be to find Cluny a job in service.

Nothing could be easier, in that year 1938, than for a girl to go into good service. The stately homes of England gaped for her. Cluny Brown, moreover, possessed special advantages: height, plainness (but combined with a clear skin) and a perfectly blank expression. This last attribute was not permanent, but the lady at the registry office did not know, and she saw in Cluny the very type of that prized, that fast-disappearing genus, the Tall Parlourmaid.  Addie Trumper too knew what was what; she had been in good service herself, and with footmen practically extinct felt there was no table in the land too high for Cluny to aspire to.

Cluny was dispatched to Devon to work as a maid at Friars Carmel, the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Carmel. She took her new job in her stride; she loved taking the neighbours dog – who she had met on the train down from London – out on her day off; and she was captivated when the village pharmacist took an interest in her, tried to educate her, and maybe even to court her.

$T2eC16J,!)QE9s3HEE8GBP7j)lUWTw~~60_12Adam Belinski had arrived at Friars Carmel not long before Cluny. He was a distinguished Polish intellectual, in exile after giving a contentious lecture in Bonn that offended his German hosts. Andrew, the only son of Sir Henry and Lady Carmel,  was sure that the Nazis would be trying to track him down, he wanted to do something to help, and so he offered him sanctuary.  Belinksi  was not so worried, but he was delighted to be offered a home in a quiet country house where he can work, and nurture his growing fame, without distractions.

Upstairs and downstairs at Friars Carmel were separate spheres; but in each sphere was a person who was oblivious to their position, who reached out from their sphere, and those two people met.

Cluny and Belinski met when she was in the library, looking for a certain piece of poetry.

“‘Would you write it down for me?” she asked. “I want to learn it.”

Mr. Belinski obligingly went to a table and did so. Cluny followed…to watch over his shoulder and admire again as the neat lines ran out of his pen. For the first time he had really impressed her.

“I do think you’re clever!” she said sincerely.

“I am, very clever,” replied Mr. Belinski, without looking up. “Who is Mr. Wilson?”

“He’s the chemist.”

“If he is endeavoring to form your mind with this sort of stuff, he must be a great fool.…”

But Cluny, without paying much attention, took the finished copy and folded it very carefully and put it in her apron pocket.

Meanwhile, Andrew, who fashioned himself as a cosmopolitan young man but was really rather conventional, was courting the lovely Betty Cream. She fashioned herself as a modern girl, he wasn’t at all sure that he could win her heart, but he had to try.

Belinski was charmed by Betty; and Betty was intrigued by Cluny, who she decided ‘looked like somebody.’

And so there was a lovely tangle of characters.

The principals were are beautifully drawn; the other characters were not so finely drawn, but all were drawn well enough to play their part.

That was my one disappointment; there were so many characters I would have liked to known a little better than I did.

I loved the way Margery Sharp told Cluny’s story; I loved the way she set it so well against a time of social change; and I loved her wit and intelligence as much as I ever did.

The ending was beautifully set up, and I can understand why some people didn’t like it, but I thought that it was exactly right for Cluny.

She was the wrong girl for a conventional happy ending; she was the wrong girl for an ending at all or for a fixed future.

I just wish there was a sequel, because I would love to read the next chapters of her story.

  * * * * * * *

Margery Sharp Day – her 111th birthday party is happening on 25th January 2016.

MargeryThere’s no need to RSVP – though it would be lovely to know if you might come –  all you need to do is to read a Margery Sharp book between now and then, and post about it on the day!

All of the details are here.

I know that’s not quite as easy as it sounds, because all but one of her books are out of print, but I can make it a little easier for one person, because I have a spare copy of ‘Cluny Brown’ to give away.

It’s not a new copy – this is an out of print title – but it is a hardback copy that has been much read and much loved.

It you’d like it just say so in a comment. I’ll make a draw in a couple of days, so that the book can travel anywhere in the world in time to be read for the big day.

* * * * * * *

An Invitation to Margery Sharp’s Birthday Party

A little while ago, at my old home on the internet, we threw a party for Margery Sharp’s ‘110th birthday.’

Sarah said:

“The blurb on my old copy says this is ‘a rich, amusing and lovable book.’ It’s now the twenty-first century but the copywriter was absolutely correct. Hurray for Julia Packett, hurray for The Nutmeg Tree and Happy Birthday Margery Sharp.

Anbolyn read ‘Britannia Mews’ and said:

“I was constantly surprised by this novel. The characters were very unpredictable and the many unexpected turnings of the plot made this a fresh and exciting reading experience. Sharp’s writing is straight forward and fantastically descriptive and the dialogue is frank and vigorous. I always love multi-generational stories and this one is so satisfying. I turned the last page sad to leave the family behind.”

Ali Said:

“I am so glad that I chose The Foolish Gentlewoman for Margery Sharp day; I loved every bit of it. It is a novel of great insight, humour and warmth; it is a truly delightful read.”

Gabi read Cluny Brown and said:

“Exactly the right book for me to be reading right now, when I need cheering up. Wrtten in 1944, when the war had been dragging on for 5 years, it must have provided comfort, humor and solace to a war weary Britain.”

Audrey read Lise Lillywhite and said:

“Part of me wants to share lots of wonderful bits about the characters {you just have to love a book that has a telling scene involving a twinset, don’t you?}, but I’d rather hope that you have a chance to read this for yourself. “

And I could go on, but the most important thing to say that we agreed that it would be lovely to do it again.

So this is your invitation to Margery Sharp’s 111th birthday party on 25th January 2016.

There’s no need to RSVP – though it would be lovely to know if you might come –  all you need to do is to read a Margery Sharp book between now and then, and post about it on the day!

I know that her books for children are much loved , but I want to focus on her writing for grown-ups. Because I know that there are others out there who love her books, because I know there are others don’t know her and who would love her too, and because all but one of her books are out of print and need to be reissued, they really do.

(Don’t be put off by that fact; many of them are gettable, but I’ll come back to that in a while.)

I might try to explain what makes Margery so special, but I’m not going to, because there is somebody else who loves her who has done that so much better than I ever could. That’s why I’m going to direct you to The Margery Sharp Blog. It was – and is – so clearly a labour of love for its creator, who you may know through her writing blog, Genusrosa.

Of course I can’t promise that you’ll love Margery Sharp’s writing, but if you think that you might you really should try her, because those of us who love her really, really love her.

Now, to practicalities.

We have a badge:

We have a bibliography

Rhododendron Pie (1930)
Fanfare for Tin Trumpets (1932)
The Nymph and The Nobleman (1932)
The Flowering Thorn (1933)
Sophy Cassmajor (1934)
Four Gardens (1935)
The Nutmeg Tree (1937)
Harlequin House (1939)
The Stone of Chastity (1940)
The Tigress On The Hearth (1941)
Cluny Brown (1944)
Britannia Mews (1946)
The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948)
Lise Lillywhite (1951)
The Gipsy in the Parlour (1954)
The Eye of Love (1957)
Something Light (1960)
Martha in Paris (sequel to The Eye of Love) (1962)
Martha, Eric and George (sequel to Martha in Paris) (1964)
The Sun in Scorpio (19650
In Pious Memory (1967)
Rosa (1969)
The Innocents (1972)
The Lost Chapel Picnic and Other Stories (1973)
The Faithful Servants (1975)
Summer Visits (1977)

The early books were printed in small quantities, and are very nearly impossible to find, but The Nutmeg Tree became a film and then a play and from then on her books were printed in larger quantities.

‘The Eye of Love’ is in print, and I’ve picked up used copies ‘The Stone of Chastity’, ‘Cluny Brown’, ‘Britannia Mews’, ‘Lise Lillywhite’, ‘Something Light’ and ‘Four Gardens’ very cheaply, so there are books out there to be found.

It’s also worth checking your library catalogue, because I’ve found other titles in my library’s reserve stock.

Open Library has a nice selection of titles that you can borrow for a fortnight to read online or on a compatible device.

And I have a spare hardback copy of ‘Cluny Brown’ to give away sometime between now and the big.

I do hope that you will find a book and be part of Margery’s birthday party.

Do tell me, and please ask is you have any questions at all.