Category Archives: Romance

***** The Village by Marghanita Laski

The Village by Marghanita Laski is a special read.  She is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

Wendy Trevor and Edith Wilson on duty at the Red Cross post as usual, it is the very last day of World War II.  They are sharing intimacies of their life’s that they would never dreamed of sharing together before the war.  As Wendy Trevor lives at the top of the hill and is considered middle class and Edith Wilson lives at the bottom of the hill and is considered working class.

“There’s a lot of us will miss it, ”  Edith said  “We’re all of us felt at times, you know, how nice it was, like you and me being able to be together and friendly, just as if we were the same sort, if you know what I mean.”

They talk about their families, Wendy has two children Sheila and Margaret, Edith has three children, Edie, Maureen and Roy.  They confide that they both lost a child in death, Wendy when her and the Major farmed for a while in Kenya and lost a little boy and Edith confides that she had a little girl who died.  They have become very close.

The Trevor’s returned from Kenya before they lost all their money and bought an old house with a small holding chicken farm, their income is about six pounds per week.  Edith confides that when her Roy comes back from the war he will pick up his old job as a printer, his apprenticeship having been finished and he will make ten pounds per week.  Edith used to be Wendy’s day lady, cleaning and cooking for her, but since they had to use all her income on the private schooling of their girls, there is just no money for a daily.  The Major is a disaster at business, being born in the era when landed gentry did not have to work and their private incomes where never going to end, but of course all this changed.

“Then they parted, Mrs Trevor going up the road to Wood View on Priory Hill where the gentry lived and Mrs Wilson going downhill on the other side, down Station Road among the working class.”

Wendy dispares of her eldest daughter.

“She looked at Margaret … her soft brown hair caught back with a slide from her sweet but oh, so uninteresting face. … thoughts of contrast between the life she had once known and the one she was living now.”

If her sister had lived and not died in the car accident, it might have been different as she had married money, her girls now had no hope of coming out in London and being presented at the Court Debutante Ball.

Gerald Wendy’s husband and ex-Major says to Daisy a neighbour and friend.

“You look as enchanting as ever,”  said Gerald, falling happily into the roll of gallant young officer with an eye for the ladies.”

There is to be a village dance to celebrate the end of the war all will be there.  Margaret does not want to go she thinks.

“There was something wrong with herself, that made Roger Gregory, the only young man of her own sort in the village, dance with her only as a duty and escape as quickly as he could.”

She returns to help in the kitchens and comes out, standing along the side of the Village Hall, a young man comes over and asks her to dance, she remembers him, from her child hood days as being Ron Wilson, who she used to play with, while his mother Edith was working at their house.

“Somebody nearly bumped into them, but he tightened his grip on her waist and drew her deftly away from the impending collision.  she looked up at him and thought, in a confused kind of way, that he looked as if he’d always be able to manage things, grinning away with that cheerful confident way he had, as if he was still someone people could be all right in trusting.”

Ron and Margaret win the Spot Dance and now all eyes are on them.

“Good-bye Roy.” … “That young man’s getting a bit too big for his boots.  A pity, because his mother’s such a decent woman.”

“What can Margaret be trained for?”

She is not at all academic like her younger sister and certainly will not win a scholarship which is so badly needed in the Trevor family as there is no money for further education without it.

“Margaret saw herself being married.”

Margaret ends up with a mind boring job at the Hospital which their friend the Doctor suggested.

“… the only thing they’ve got to hang on to is that they belong to the so called upper class, and even that doesn’t cut the ice it used to any more.”

One day Margaret makes arrangements to meet her old school friend Jill Morton at the pictures, but she doesn’t turn up and there is Roy Wilson waiting for someone who also does not turn up, they decide to make the most of being there and see the film together, with a bite to eat afterwards, thus begins their budding romance.

“I’d like to very much,”  she said, Roy’s whole face wrinkled with sudden pleasure.”

Margaret’s mum Wendy becomes quite ill from nervous exhaustion and Margaret stays at home to look after her.  She does not mind because unlike her mum she very much enjoys looking after the house and cooking. Mrs Wilson comes up to offer her services and it is agreed that she will do the laundry while Mrs Trevor is ill.

“Maureen … nudged Margaret in the ribs and said “The trouble with you, Miss Margaret, is that you’ve got no sense of class.”

There are many other characters in The Village that enforce the class differences of the time.  It is a truly delightful read and catches that era so well.

I rate this a ***** Five Star on my Persephone 100 rating.

Christy

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High Wages. by Dorothy Whipple




I got this book from the library, it came all the way from the Oswego Lake Library, doesn’t that conjure up some rather picturesque images in your mind.


Actually one year when Rob was about eight we took a trip up to Canada, past the One Thousand Island in the St. Lawrence River.  We camped at a State Park campground on this Lake Oswego, in New York State.  It was a very nice campground, with some sites right on a sandy beach by the lake.  Quite sort after I’m sure.


High Wages set before and after the WWI  Is about a young girl Jane who works in a haberdashery, that’s where people would come and buy all the things they would need and then send to the dress maker to have a costume made up.  It gives a full picture into the life of a shop girl in Lancashire then, living on the premises and being over frugally kept by the shop owner.


This was the time when ready made dresses and clothes were just becoming available.  Jane sees that this will catch on and dressmakers will be a thing of the past.  A kindly benefactress lends her the money to set up a shop of her own.


There are two love interests.  The ever faithful Wilfred and Noel, good looking and from the upper class. 


Of course the class system of that era was very strong and it comes out in all it’s vagaries in this book.


I did enjoy this book, it gives you a wonderful insight into a shop girls life then, moves along at a good pace and has a satisfactory ending.


Of course you could probably tell by the grey cover and inside frontispiece that this is a Persephone Book.  I always love their face cover designs which they choose from the era of the book.


There is a forward by Jane Brockett.


Christy

Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome is an American Classic and required reading at High School, at least in this area.  It’s also been made into a film several times.  So I think probably everyone knows the ending of the story.  I do think it is one of Edith Wharton’s better books.  She began this short novel while in Paris as an exercise in French, around 1911.  It is based on her long residence in the Berkshires, during which time she had come to know well the aspect dialect and mental and moral attitude of the hill people.

Wharton’s novels and novellas that  I have read so far have had an outside narrator to run the thread of the story and Ethan Frome is no different.  As the other books I reviewed, Madame de Treymes. New Year’s Day and one I will review False Dawn are all set in High Society, Ethan Frome is set in poor rural farming New England.

“That’s my place”, said Frome, with a sideway jerk of his lame elbow; and in the distress and oppression of the scene I did not know what to answer…

“The house was bigger in my father’s time;  I had to take down the ‘L’ a while back,”

I saw then that the unusually forlorn and stunted look of the house was partly due to the loss of what is known in New England as the “L”;  that long deep-roofed adjunct usually built at right angles to the main house, and connecting it, by way of storerooms and tool-house, with the wood-shed and cowbarn.  Whether because of its symbolic sense, the image it presents of a life linked with the soil, and enclosing in itself the chief sources of warmth and nourishment, or whether merely because of the consolatory thought that it enables the dwellers in that harsh climate to get to their morning’s work without facing the weather, it is certain that the “L” rather than the house itself seems to be the centre, the actual hearth-stone of the New England farm…

I like the above passage because the house seems to represent their life, the core has been torn away from it.

In happier times when Ethan’s father was alive he went to engineering college, but after his father died he had to come home to run the farm.  His mother fell into a long illness and a distant cousin Zeena came to nurse his mother through her illness.  It was said that if his mother had not died in winter, he may never of married Zeena but he did.  She was about seven years older than him, and not long after getting married she herself sunk into a long time illness. Zeena either needs to be nursing, or be nursed.  Early on they had wanted to sell the farm and move to town, for Ethan to pick up on his studies, but they could not sell the farm.

Zeena had always been what Starkfield called “sickly,”..

So indeed it was an isolated stark life at Starkfield Farm. You feel the hardness of life. The fact that they are trapped, both Zeena  because a woman has to be married to have protection and basically just a place to live and Ethan who cannot sell the farm and resume his studies.

Zeena decides that she needs help and invites her cousin Mattie Silver to come and live with them.  Her parents have died and she has run out of visiting all the family.  It seems a good arrangement for both.  Mattie has not been brought up to cook and clean and these come hard to her, plus the fact that she did not arrive in the best of health.  But in the country she begins to bloom.

Zeena has taken note of  Mattie and Ethan’s growing closeness and makes remarks that one day Mattie will leave and marry, as Denis Eady has taken an interest in Mattie.

“I guess you’re always late, now you shave every morning.”


That thrust had frightened him more than any vague insinuations about Denis Eady…

Ethan looks after Mattie’s interests, picking her up from the village dance.  Watching other young couples going coasting.

“There was a whole lot of them coasting before the moon set,” she said.

Zeena takes note of all this and arranges for Mattie to leave and another girl to come and nurse her, turning Mattie out on her own to fend for herself.  Ethan is stunned, angry and helpless.

Coasting is sledding.  There is a special hill with a giant elm half way down the run; which has to be navigated around, it is dangerous, but still all in the village go coasting.

Here is the stage.


It was a shy secret spot, full of the same dumb melancholy that Ethan felt in his heart.

“Matt! You be quiet!  Don’t you say it.”


“There’s never anybody been good to me but you.”


“Don’t say that either, when I can’t lift a hand!”


On the slow drive to the train stop, they decide to take a coast, the one they had promised to take but never had.

He laughed contemptuously:  “I could go down this coast with my eyes tied!”  and she laughed with him, as if she liked his audacity.  Nevertheless he sat still a moment, straining his eyes down the long hill for it was the most confusing hour of the evening, the hour when the last clearness from the upper sky is merged with the rising night in a blur that disguises landmarks and falsifies distances.

Earlier in the book you think that Ethan may just run off with Mattie, as there is mention of a man in the area who did just that.  But Ethan is a man who knows his duty.

It’s an interesting read, well written.

Christy

New Year’s Day, by Edith Wharton

After having read three of Edith Wharton’s books; I now realize she had a certain style of taking you down one path dead ending your thinking and totally re-arranging it again.  All three books which I have now read, Ethan Frome; which I still have to write up on, Madame de Treymes and now New Year’s Day, all follow this pattern.

Published in 1924 I am again reading from an original copy from the library.  As you can see from the above photographs.

It starts of with a New York family at the turn of the twentieth century gathered together in New York City for New Year’s Day.  The narrator at that time a boy of twelve.

“…the New Year’s Day ceremonial had never been taken seriously except among families of Dutch descent, and that that was why Mrs. Henry van der Luyden had clung to it…”

Across the street a fire breaks out in The Fifth Avenue Hotel, all the family rush to the window, laughing and making unpleasant remarks about the people rushing out, when they see Lizzie Hazeldean with Henry Prest.

“It was typical of my mother to be always employed in benevolent actions while she uttered uncharitable words.”

“The hotel, for all its sober state, was no longer fashionable.  No one, in my memory, had ever known any one who went there; it was frequented by “politicians” and Westerners,” two classes of citizens whom my mother’s intonation always seemed to deprive of their vote by ranking them with illiterates and criminals.”


Lizzie Hazeldean is worried that she has been seen coming out of the Hotel, she walks home to find out that her invalid husband Charles has gone out to see where the fire was.

“Mistress and maid exchanged a glance of sympathy. and Susan felt herself emboldened to suggest;  “Perhaps the outing will do him good,” with the tendency of her class to encourage favoured invalids in disobedience.”

Lizzie is distort that possibly even her husband saw her coming out of the Hotel.  She goes up to her bedroom.

“It was a rosy room, hung with one of the new English chintzes, which also covered the deep sofa, and the bed with its rose-lined pillow-covers…”

Later Charles comes home but has not changed in his manner towards her at all.  They sit and have tea together.

“She had been one of the first women in New York to have tea every afternoon at five, and to put off her walking-dress for a tea-gown.”

Charles urges her to go to a dinner that evening although he is too ill to attend.  She does and so does Henry Prest, they exchange words and part, although not until she has been snubbed by Mrs Wesson.

“It was the first time in her life that she had ever been deliberately “cut”; and the cut was a deadly injury in old New York.”

Lizzie gets home from the dinner, Charles comes into her room and they share a close intimate moment until his illness takes over and within two weeks he is dead.  After which Lizzie goes to Europe for six months to be with a newly married father.

Lizzie Hazeldean’s humble beginnings reminded me a tad of Becky Sharpe, Vanity Fair.  Lizzie’s father had been a vicar of some repute in New York City, but had fallen with some scandal and taken himself and Lizzie off to Europe, to grow up.  Here as a young woman she was befriended by a Mrs Mant, who often did good works, but didn’t know how to follow though on them.  So having brought Lizzie back into New York society she didn’t know what to do with her.  Right at the time when Lizzie sees that she has no means and no friends in comes Charles and using her beauty, perception and whit, within a week they are engaged.

This is the stage for the book and if I told you anymore I would give the plot away, if you could say there was a plot.  But there is a distinct twist in where this goes.

Do read it, it is a novella so will not take long to read.

Christy

Madame De Treymes, by Edith Wharton

Madame De Treymes is a novella, written by Edith Wharton  My son had to read Ethan Frome for school and having not read that, but knew it was an American classic I thought that I should.  So I went to our local library and picked up several of her other books too, including this one.

Our Library although housed in a 1960s building actually dates back to 1700s which if you live in the States will understand is old.  And therefore our library has many old copies of books which are still just sitting on the shelf to be loaned out.  The copy I picked up is dated 1907.  So must be an original copy as it was published February 1907.  With several of those colored plate pages that they used to put in novels back then.

I thought that Edith Wharton might have written this during the time that she lived in France, but that was actually later.  The book shows an understanding of American upper class thinking as opposed to French aristocratic thinking.  Although at the time that this is set before WWI obviously all ‘true’ French aristocrats had been beheaded.  So why French upper class should think themselves any better than American upper class is beyond me, because neither have a ‘pedigree’ if you were into all that.

This difference of thought process and keeping family face is the whole premise of the book.

Madame de Malrive, who used to be good old Fanny Frisbee, meets in Parisian Society on old friend from the States, Durham.  Fanny is separated from the Count because of his philandering and has one child a boy.  Really the whole story is based around the boy, although he hardly appears in the book.

“If he had been asked why, he could not have told; but the Durham of forty understood.  It was because there were, with minor modifications, many other Fanny Frisbees; whereas never before, within his ken, had there been a Fanny de Malrive.’

Madame de Treymes is Fanny’s sister-in-law.

Durham says, “If I could only be sure of seeing anything here!”

Durham would like to marry Fanny, but the obstacle is the divorce in a Catholic society where divorce is not permitted under any circumstances, and the family cannot be scandalized by this.  Also Fanny wants to take her son if she gets a divorce, here is the key part of the story.

Fanny having married into and living in France understands many of the problems in extricating herself from this family, but as is the case of foreigners living in a country not theirs to know the French thinking and laws to the ump degree is not a domain held by those not born there.

“Perhaps no Anglo-Saxon fully understands the fluency in self-revelation which centuries of the confessional have given to the Latin races, and to Durham, at any rate, Madame de Treymes’ sudden avowal gave the shock of a physical abandonment.”

Durham sets himself up as a knight in shining armor, a go between, and his contact is Madame de Treymes.

“Durham sat silent, her little gloved hand burning his coat-sleeve as if it had been a hot iron.  His brain was tingling with the shock of her confession.  She wanted money, a great deal of money:  that was clear, but it was not the point.  She was ready to sell her influence, and he fancied she could be counted on to fulfill her side of the bargain….”

I will not tell you the plot, but let me say it has more twists than a cold war spy story.

It is essentially the difference between an American principled thinking, that cannot understand an old French families code of honour.

Do find the book and read it.  It’s short but a great study into two societies before WWI.

Christy

The Valorous Years, by A. J. Cronin

This book was first published as a serial novella in 1940 in Good Housekeeping Magazine.  The chapters are short and the story moves quickly, thus you can see how it was written for the way it was published.

I just so much enjoyed reading The Valorous Years.  The main character is of course a doctor.  A young man from a poor Scottish family with a handicap of a withered arm.  There are three women is his life, the girl he went to school with Margaret, from the local squires hall. Anna an Austrian doctor and the Jean the daughter of a village doctor.

Plus you have the antagonists, the local council men who he flouts and goes on to St. Andrew’s University to win a scholarship and become a doctor; much against his mother’s wishes and estranging himself from her and leaving behind his alcoholic father.

His rival is also a doctor, son of a local wealthy builder Mr Overton, self-centered and arrogant a thorn in his side through out the story. Contrasted with this are the good friends he made in the beautiful Scottish valley which is under threat from Mr Overton, who has built a dam with an ugly aluminium plant which scars the valley.

The characters are fleshed out enough to be interesting. If you’re looking for a quick read with a heart warming ending, then this is it.

Christy