Wednesday, July 27, 2016

ELAINE HOWIS, Two more novels and a story collection

This post has gotten bumped and bumped again in the past couple of months, and it's really high time I put it out there if I'm ever going to. I actually read these books ages ago, but then I had publishing announcements to make and other posts to share, and I kept putting this one off. So, it's now or never!

As most of you know if you've been following this blog for a while, my reading tends to be rather random and schizophrenic. I've talked before about how long it takes me to get through all of an author's books, even if I'm a big fan. For me, it's sort of like having a lot of friends that you enjoy spending time with now and then for varying reasons. You don't, after all, just move in with one friend at a time and spend every second together until you've completely exhausted everything you could possibly say to each other!

But I don't know what has happened to me in the past year or so that I seem to be tending toward doing just that. Last year, I got obsessed with the wonderful Elizabeth Fair, who was such an exciting find since neither I nor just about anyone else had ever heard of her and she turned out to be great fun. This year, I've already been writing quite a lot about Rachel Ferguson and my obsessive pursuit of all twelve of her novels (for reasons which are now more obvious). And now, having randomly selected an Elaine Howis novel to sample a while back, I've managed, with some difficulty, to get my hands on all of her other books.

Jacket blurb from
All I Want

With limited results, I have to say, but also rather intriguing ones. She wrote only four novels and one story collection in all, and they're all relatively short, so it hasn't been nearly the epic undertaking that my Ferguson reading has been, and I do still have one, her final novel, Demand Me Nothing (1960), left to read, but here's what I've covered so far.

I can safely say that The Lily Pond remains the cream of the crop for me, but perhaps that's just because I read it first. After that, I went back to her debut, All I Want (1956), which is a bit lighter and more humorous, though still undoubtedly with darker undercurrents. It's about an egomaniacal widower who thoroughly believes in his fantasies of himself—which in fact bear little resemblance to the reality—who moves, with his sister and teenage daughter, to an English village in abidance with his fantasy of someday becoming a country gentleman:

Jonathan was determined to be liked. He was quite sure he would be. Loving the human race as a whole, he yet had little experience of it in the piece; and that little had been wasted. For Jonathan was of those who would not listen, who refused to listen, denying the still, small voice of fact and clinging to the louder and clearer one of theory; and his love of humanity had been largely fostered by the private means which had given him the power to get away from it.

Jonathan is an intriguing, exasperating, and often funny character, but in fact it's really the women around him who stand out in this novel, especially Selina, his beleaguered sister.

Selina, sorting books, continued to breathe shortly and evenly, but a little more shortly and evenly than usual. She considered herself to be a restraining influence on her brother. She never had influenced or restrained him, but the influence and restraint were there, ready to be used, to drag him down from the high places and pull him up from the low ones.

If he wanted another drink she would suggest that he had had enough, and ifhe did not want another one she would say that a good stiff peg would be the very thing for him.

There are a dozen or more standout passages about Selina that I could share, and more about the women of the village and about Emma, Jonathan's tortured, artistic daughter, whose feelings about her pedantic and harassing father are problematic to say the least:

Emma knew of the friendship, and she thought it a strange thing, a fantastic thing, that anyone should want to be with Jonathan. She herself, if she were buried under the grass on which his feet trod, would burrow deeper in the concealment and comfort of the kindly earth that asked no questions and cared not whether she knew wheat from barley.

Wow. Not just your typical teenage angst, that.

There are many such striking images and entertaining passages in All I Want, and the kinds of turns of phrase Howis would use so brilliantly in The Lily Pond are to be found here too, but it ultimately felt that Howis was attempting more here than she achieved (or than I was able to grasp, which could well be the case). For instance, there's a central image of a row of treasured poplars that dominate one edge of Jonathan's property, which come to be a source of conflict between him and the villagers, but what exactly the poplars are meant to represent or suggest rather escaped me.

And that same sense of meanings not quite fully conveyed continued through my reading of some of the stories in Dazzle the Native and of Howis's third novel, Almost an Island. There are seventeen stories in Dazzle the Native, most of them quite short and making full use of Howis's striking turns of phrase and catchy metaphors, but also, sadly, most of them strangely unsatisfying. Indeed, some are outright bewildering.

She seems to have a particular fixation on girls and women who stumble into perilous situations (or, in some cases, perhaps just imagine themselves in peril) with understatedly threatening men. There are four stories here with that theme, and a couple more that vary the theme only slightly. She also takes particular pleasure in leaving her stories' endings ambiguous. Now, generally I have a high tolerance for ambiguous endings—I can gleefully interpret endings to mean three different things, and if I can stretch it to four then I'm ecstatic—but I have to say that in all cases here I found the ambiguity merely puzzling and unsatisfying, rather than ripe for interpretation. Here, to show off my own ignorance, are my notes on one such story, "Meet Me at Five":

Young woman meeting a tardy friend at an empty boarding-house, encounters the caretaker's brother, who has (or she thinks he has) a knife. Imagines she will be murdered, but caretaker shows up, steadfastly denying that his brother has a knife and accusing her of overreacting. Then there is an earlier flashback to the woman's childhood, when her governess apparently went mad and was carried off. Thoroughly bewildering.

Even the stories that aren't structured around some central malevolence often felt somehow incomplete to me, but I should hasten to say that there are some surprising high points. My favorite story here (and I am now fantasizing about the possibility of publishing a collection of excellent stories by "lost" authors, because even lesser authors are often able to muster a really excellent story or two, but alas I imagine getting the rights for a whole slew of stories is a headache I'm not quite ready to tackle yet) was "Man and Boy," in which an old gardener attends the estate sale of Miss Marsham, his former employer, who left a legacy to his wife, also a servant, but left nothing to him. He encounters (or thinks he does) the ghost of Miss Marsham, who helps to make up for her oversight. Humor turns up here quite effectively, and it's all done extremely well.

Humor also greatly strengthens "The Artist," which makes light of the artistic sensibility (perhaps some shades of the sophisticates in The Lily Pond here). Miss Patterson has always fancied herself an artist, and finally has a chance to prove it when an aunt dies and leaves her enough money for a cottage in a village called Artists' Paradise. She begins to paint and is condescended to by her fellow artists, who nevertheless take advantage of her hospitality. In the end, due to a misunderstanding, she is awarded first prize at the annual exhibition for her dreadful-sounding painting "Shrimps at Play." The description of the village and the local squire paints a vivid picture:

There were plenty of them, and all, or nearly all, brethren of the brush, for the village took itself and its name in extreme seriousness. The bearded, fringed and sandalled wore these emblems of their calling with exaggeration, and a slight anxiety lest they should be mistaken for the appendages of lesser men. They held annually an exhibition of their own works at which the squire, deceived for half a lifetime by his wife into thinking himself an admirer of the arts, awarded the title of Best Picture of the Year.

And "Poona" is also a high point, the tale of a super-efficient secretary, Miss Summers, who takes an interest in the exotic feel and décor of a house she passes on her way to work. She discovers it is inhabited by a woman, Mrs. Robinson, who has never been to India but is obsessed by all things India and pretends to have an exotic Indian life even while living in south England. The secretary seizes an opportunity to arrange for Mrs. Robinson to go to India as a companion to a friend of the secretary's aunt, and Mrs. Robinson's reaction is extreme and unexpected. The story is striking for its view of colonialism and colonial fantasies, and also features some of Howis's highly effective metaphors.

It's too bad there aren't more stories of the same quality in this collection. Some readers might be fonder of her eerie or ghostly stories than I am, but as for me, I'll stick with re-reading her lighter-hearted tales.

I was optimistic, then, when I approached her third novel, Almost an Island (1958), which promised, from its description, to be Howis at her light-hearted best. Consider the opening lines, which sound rather like the novel could be a charming update of Enchanted April:

'What a ridiculous advertisement,' Henry said. He spoke with Olympian calm, for how was he to know he would have anything to do with it?

The Daily Telegraph, folded neatly, precisely, lay before him; marmalade at one side, coffee at the other. His glance, arrested for a moment, skimmed down the personal column. But he had finished with the paper. There was a train to catch. He handed it to Julia; and immediately its folded neatness, its precision, swelled, became unmanageable. Sheets loosened, drooped, were gathered up, burst asunder, one drifting to the floor and another sprawling, caught by a mere fragment. She hit it smartly in the middle, reducing that part she had all along decided she would read to uneasy submission.

Here it was: 'Wanted for Summer Months, perhaps longer, three people to share an Enchanted House. Almost an Island.'

'Almost an Island?' repeated Henry, in the irritated voice of an accurate man confronted with a grave misstatement. 'Either it is an island or it is not an island. There can be no "almost" about it.'

Julia is a basically contented but rather stifled wife, and the decision to go to the almost-island for a three month holiday while her husband is on a business trip is a half-hearted rebellion again her husband's chilly orderliness. Julia's arrival at the Villa Rose, and her acquaintance with the main tenant, Mamie, and her other renters, also seem promising, as in these thoughts about two of the other guests:

It was not so much that unhappiness dogged Lisa, as that Lisa dogged unhappiness. Encountering the airy stuff of which husbands are not made, the bogus counts, the splendid cads, the disinherited younger sons, Lisa instantly fell in love. Misunderstandings followed. Switzerland, the Highlands, the South of France followed. Followed the Villa Rose.

Lisa was small and appealing and weak. God save me from weak women, Carl had cried. He might have added: and from designing women, and beautiful women, and foolish women—for God saved him from them all; leading him to a small hut at the bottom of the garden where he lived in peace and unhappiness.

Mamie's distinguishing feature is a tremendous narcissism, tied in with a superficial bohemianism and a constant reworking of slights and insults, real and imagined, as a result of which she frequently rearranges prized pieces of furniture and décor—especially a somewhat shopworn hammock, which is moved from one guest's balcony to another's based on who has offended her most and most recently.

In this novel, too, there's a central image that seems intended to evoke deeper meanings than it succeeds in evoking (again, at least for this reader). A goat suddenly appears on the almost-island, having apparently swum across the small lake that surrounds the house. The Italian gardener and handyman sees it as an ominous portent, Mamie prides herself on the fact that the goat won't leave her side, and its sudden disappearance causes Julia sleepless nights of worry about where it has gone. None of which seemed to add very much to the Howis's eccentric plot.

Alas, all the authors listed on the back
cover of Almost an Island are men, but
some of them do sound intriguing

If only the author had allowed herself to use her considerable skills at humor a bit more frequently and toned down the attempts to be literary and profound, I have a feeling I would be enthusiastically raving about her work right now. As it is, her wonderful sense of humor crops up only infrequently, and too much angst and psychologizing overwhelms the novel. To leave it on a high note, however, here's one more lovely example of Howis at her best, from a dramatic scene near the end of the novel in which some of the characters have lost their treasured, measured cool:

They had been reared in the code of the understatement, the playing down of emotion, and Mamie's rebuke at their agitation wounded their pride as much as if they had been caught screaming in a lifeboat or trampling children in the panic of escape. Worse, there was a vulgarity in it, and they set themselves to calmness and a bland ignoring of what they knew to be there.

I may yet get around to reading Howis's fourth and final novel, Demand Me Nothing (1960), but I have to admit it's not at the very top of my list. Alas, not every author I run across can be a giddy discovery, but this is one time when I wish an author were more readily available in order to be able to see what other readers—possibly more in tune with what Howis was trying to do than I apparently am—would make of her. If anyone has read anything of hers, or does in the future, do let me know what you think!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

FRANCES FAVIELL, A House on the Rhine (1956), Thalia (1957), and The Fledgeling (1958)

[A preliminary plea: In the unlikely event that any of you happen to have a copy of The Fledgeling, discussed below, and your copy has an intact dustjacket, we would be delighted to have a scan of the front cover. We were hoping to incorporate Faviell's original artwork for each book into our Furrowed Middlebrow covers, and will be able to do so with A House on the Rhine and Thalia (as well as the two memoirs), but copies of The Fledgeling are just too scarce and we've had no luck. If you are able to provide a scan, please email me and earn our undying gratitude!]

My favorite of Faviell's original cover art

I announced not long ago that the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint (under the benevolent auspices of Dean Street Press) will be reprinting, this October, all five books by the inexplicably neglected Frances Faviell. As most of you know from my previous ravings, this includes her brilliant Blitz memoir, A Chelsea Concerto (1959), another fascinating memoir, The Dancing Bear (1954), about Berlin just after World War II, and three novels, A House on the Rhine (1956), Thalia (1957), and The Fledgeling (1958). I've certainly written plenty here about Concerto, but I've never got round to discussing her other books. Dancing Bear deserves a post to itself, so for now I'll just mention the three novels.

When I first picked up a Faviell novel, having read only the two memoirs, I was ambivalent. I knew the author's tremendous powers of observation and ability to capture the irresistible details of situations both dramatic and mundane—from her dog's Hitler-mocking tricks to diving into the ruins of a bombed house—but I wasn't sure what to expect from her as a novelist. In the end, however, although I won't say that any of her fiction matches what she accomplished with Concerto (which was, admittedly, her final book before her tragic early death from cancer, so we can only regretfully wonder what further heights she might have scaled in her work had she survived), these same strengths come through in her novels as well.

I should note right from the beginning that, like Concerto and parts of Dancing Bear, Faviell's novels are a bit darker and grittier than most of the books we'll be doing in the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint. She doesn't shy away from the violent or the unsavory, something that is particularly clear from her first novel.

Set several years after the events described in The Dancing Bear, and this time in a town outside of Cologne rather than in Berlin itself, A House on the Rhine (1956) tells the harrowing tale of one large, troubled family nearly a decade after the war's end. Rebuilding is proceeding at a frantic pace, factory work is plentiful and well-paid, and the dark days of near-starvation have ended. But Joseph, who spent most of the war as an Allied prisoner in France, and his enormous brood—his wife having received a medal under the Nazis for having more than 10 children (!!)—are facing new problems.

The family—large and rowdy and sordid—are largely held in contempt by their provincial neighbors, and are known as "the bunker family" because, unable to find housing after their home (along with much of the rest of Cologne) was destroyed, they spent more than four years living in an air raid shelter under Cologne Cathedral. (One of the tidbits stemming no doubt from Faviell's own time in Germany is that bomb shelters were kept open for years after the end of the war, due to the enormous numbers of residents left homeless by bombs. Not a piece of knowledge you'd necessarily come across elsewhere.)

Another original Faviell artwork

As the story begins, Moe, Joseph's wife, an affectionate but slovenly and violent-tempered woman, has been having an affair with their much younger lodger, Rudi; 17-year-old Katie has a 2-year-old son as a result of a fling with a Belgian and is cynical beyond her years; Hank, the oldest son, is a sociopath who endangers several of his siblings by his involvement with a ruthless youth gang; young Carola is recovering from polio in a nearby hospital and may never walk again; and Anna, the oldest daughter, who had a fling of her own and an illegitimate child who died, is now playing it safe with a stodgy older man. And this leaves out the twins, Hans and Heinz, sensitive, intelligent Robert, and younger brothers Karl and Franz Joseph! And it's not to mention Krista, an orphan with no memories of her past, discovered unconscious and badly burned, adopted by the family, and particularly adored by Joseph (possibly not only in a paternal way), who is in love with an American soldier.

It's a dramatic—and sometimes traumatic—story, but one that vividly portrays the love and conflict of a large family bearing its scars from years of war and deprivation. And Joseph's difficulties in coping with the changing political climate and the reality that his teenage children can earn more in the factories than he does, and his attempts to hold his family together against impossible odds, are powerful and heartbreaking.

Also heartbreaking, but on a completely different level, is Faviell's second novel, Thalia (1957), my personal favorite of the three. It’s the story of Rachel, an 18-year-old art student at the Slade who, following a serious illness, is advised to spend a year in a warm climate. Her plans to spend the time with her aunt, who is traveling in Egypt, falls through as the result of Rachel's failure to feel regret for an overly realistic portrait she has painted of the local vicar:

And then I began telling him about the disastrous portrait of our vicar, the Reverend Cookson-Cander. I told him how I hadn't wanted to do it but that my aunt had insisted—of how I disliked the pompous little man—and of how the painting in spite of my efforts grew with each sitting more and more like a disagreeable egg. I could still feel the smart of the furious criticism which had been hurled at me by the admiring ladies of the 'Friends of the Past' circle who had commissioned the portrait from me.

Instead of Egypt, then, she agrees to go to a British community in Brittany as companion to Cynthia, a delicate, temperamental women whose husband is in India (and who seems to be having an affair with a former colleague of said husband), and her two children, troubled 15-year-old Thalia and spoiled young Claude. Thalia, painfully self-conscious and insecure and always having to play second fiddle to her brother, quickly becomes devoted to Rachel. But Rachel's romance with the son of a well-to-do Breton family puts a strain on their relationship and arouses Thalia's tormented jealousy.

Though it's the awkward, emotional Thalia who lends the novel its title, it's really Rachel on whom the novel centers, poignantly telling the tale of her sad first love, her dawning awareness of the vagaries and dishonesties of social life, and the final tragedy she is powerless to prevent.

Faviell's particular strength in Thalia is her characterization. Although not many of the characters are particularly likeable, they are all completely palpable, as if they're standing right next to us. And although Faviell's work is darker, grittier, and a bit more explicit than Mabel Esther Allan's tales of young girls just on the edge of womanhood (my personal favorite being The Return to the West, a Greyladies original from a few years ago), her particular strength, like Allan's, is portraying that volatile, uncertain time and the joy and pain that accompanies first love.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that the novel, published in 1957, is set in the mid-1930s. Other readers may not be so oblivious, but it wasn't until a reference to Edward and Mrs Simpson that I finally put two and two together. Near the end of the novel, Rachel reads a news story about "the forthcoming Coronation, with photographs of the little princesses."

My favorite part of the novel (without giving anything vital away) is an excursion Rachel has in Paris among the cafés and artist's studios of Montparnasse. Faviell is excellent at evoking the feel of Paris, and I couldn't help but wonder how much of Rachel's experiences might have been based on Faviell's own. We know that she too studied at the Slade and spent time in France, so the possibilities are intriguing. One rather wishes Faviell had kept a Pepys-ian diary of her experiences.

The conflict between the idealistic Rachel and the cynical older people she encounters in Brittany perhaps led Faviell thematically into her third and final novel, The Fledgeling (1958), which is very much concerned with generational conflict and changing concepts of duty in the social ferment of the late 1950s. As the story begins, Neil Collins is going AWOL from his National Service for the third time. The first two times were because his naturally mild-mannered personality couldn't cope with the roughness and violence of military life, but this escape is largely at the instigation of a bullying colleague who wants his assistance to escape as well.

The only image I have of Faviell's artwork
for The Fledgeling; you can see why we
would need a better image in order to use
it for our cover!

Neil makes his way to London, to the small apartment building where his dying grandmother and his twin sister Nonie live. The atmosphere of the tiny apartment is powerfully conveyed—claustrophobic and hushed, because the nosy/helpful neighbors can hear everything that goes on, and because there is no privacy from the outside world as the window faces onto the street and passersby shout hellos or peer through at Mrs. Collins in her bed. And although Neil's escape forms the surface plot of the novel, it is really the compelling character of his grandmother—raised in children's homes following the abandonment of her parents, widowed, on a pension and public assistance, and at the mercy of social workers who visit regularly—who really dominates. She leads a bleak life, but her spirit nevertheless comes through.

Gruelling as it is, I found Faviell's description of Mrs. Collins's battle with the unnamed disease that's killing her particularly amazing:

In the dreary room in which she was now virtually a prisoner because of her illness, the days ran into night and one sleep into another without any noticeable frontiers. The last time he had come home she had not been confined almost continuously to bed; in between the bouts of pain she had been up and sometimes even out for half an hour. Now like the nights and days, the good bouts ran into the bad ones, and in between the pain there were only the dull bearable intervals when the Monster slept—and she gathered her forces together for the next bout. Before these forces could be fully mustered, the Monster, as she had come to think of the pain which gripped her in his crab-like vice, was upon her again. The very nature of the disease which was killing her made it seem a live evil, a veritable creature there to prey and feast upon her as a vulture will follow the last lagging steps of a wounded man, knowing that soon the final meal will be his.

She fought the pain, not as a disease, but as a personal enemy. When the worst was upon her, her limbs twisted in agony, her face contorted with anguish, she would welcome the Monster grimly. . . . 'Well, old friend, here we are again! All set for the next round ... come on ... come on! ... do your worst ... I can take it. A tough old woman—stronger than any man ... stronger than my drivelling non-stop-talking son ... or my faint-hearted grandson ... come, try me and see ... : Instead of resisting the onslaught she would welcome the struggle, taxing her powers of endurance as long as she could, knowing that when she reached the breaking point and her reserves were weakening, then, and then only would she resort to science, and so escape the final fury of the thwarted Monster in oblivion. The little tablets lay there, regularly replenished. She had only to stretch out her hand to escape the Monster's worst.

Neil's sister Nonie leads a similarly troubled life, caring for her grandmother, working at a dead-end job at a lecherous local grocer's, and in a troubled marriage. Also making appearances are Miss Rhodes—the rather too prim, well-to-do social worker, whom Mrs. Collins accuses of slumming out of curiosity (and nosiness) about other people's lives—and a cheerful little neighbor girl, Linda, who regularly comes crawling through Mrs. Collins's window to chat while waiting for her mother to return home from work.

There is an element of suspense here, as Mike, Neil's sociopathic harasser, appears on the scene and threatens the safety (at different times) of most of the characters. Some of the later scenes, and particularly Mrs. Collins's reactions to plot developments, are entertaining and compelling, but I think the novel's best strength—not surprisingly for Faviell—is its atmosphere, its attention to detail, and its characterization. There are also some interesting descriptions of bomb damage remaining more than a decade after the end of World War II, as in this passage that reminded me of Rumer Godden's An Episode of Sparrows with its children playing in the ruins:

Through the two pots of geraniums, when the light was good, Mrs. Collins could see the piece of waste ground left from the bombing in the war. Tall willow weed and grass grew in profusion amongst the fallen masonry and stones. Most of the rubble had been cleared away—but now, more than ten years after the end of the war, there were still the ruins of some houses, an archway, odd walls, and the deep foundations of what had once been a block of flats. The barbed wire erected round the site did not prevent the children from playing there. They had taken it over as a playground, finding it far more exciting than the streets in which they lived, and watching them at play there had become more than a pastime for the old woman—it had become almost an obsession.

Of course, the year after publication of The Fledgeling, Faviell would hit new heights with A Chelsea Concerto, and would then, tragically and not long after the book appeared, lose her battle with cancer. But her surprisingly dark and powerful novels certainly show us previews of what she would achieve in that book. And they make me regret all the more that Faviell didn't have time to write many, many more books.

Monday, July 18, 2016


Most of you know by now that I always like to point out famous (or infamous) connections to authors that I'm adding to my Overwhelming List. I can't honestly say that this is the most scintillating set of connections I've ever traced, but I still had fun with these. It's also way long and should have been two posts, but alas, I started it as one and then it seemed just too difficult to split into two. Woe is me!

My favorite of these connections is without a doubt MARY DEANE, who published novels and children's tales mostly in the late Victorian and Edwardian years, but her final children's story, The Invisible Chain (1920), qualifies her for my list. But it's not the quality of her work that gets her included in this post—it's the fact that she was the aunt of none other than P. G. Wodehouse. And, more even than that, it's the fact that she was reportedly the inspiration for Bertie Wooster's rather domineering Aunt Agatha. What a way to go down in literary history!

From aunts, we move to nieces. What were the chances that two of my new authors would be nieces of the same major author? Both KATE MARY BRUCE and DIANA MARR-JOHNSON were, as it turns out, née Maugham (and therefore of course cousins themselves). Bruce wrote sixteen novels, which seem for the most part to be cheerful and humorous in theme (and the obviously war-related Figures in Black-Out from 1941 is calling my name), while Marr-Johnson's six novels, spread across 40 years (she's obviously the less productive cousin!), are intriguing as well. 

A blurb for her debut Rhapsody in Gold (1935), reads: "Author's first novel and story of a woman who accepts an invitation to a party thrown by the richest man in the world to see if all the rumors about his madcap antics are true." Her third, Goodnight Pelican (1957), meanwhile, was described as the "[s]tory of a young English girl circulating in French society while supposedly pursuing an education in France." Both sound like they could be very good or very, well, not. More for the TBR list…

One of many covers and illustrations
by Grace Lodge

Two of the other new additions to my list also have very different kinds of connections to a major author. GRACE LODGE wrote several children's books of her own, but seems to be more widely known as an illustrator, including having illustrated several of Enid Blyton's books. 

Another Grace Lodge cover

Meanwhile, IDA POLLOCK, who published more than 120 MIlls & Boon romances under numerous pseudonyms over an incredible 70 year period (1935-2005!), had a more personal connection to Blyton. Pollock was famously the "other woman" in Blyton's divorce proceedings. Her daughter, Rosemary Pollock, is also a romance writer, though she started writing far too late to be included on my list.

Certainly none of the women in this post have a more prestigious literary connection than FLORENCE E. HARDY, who was the second wife of Thomas. As far as her writing, she is best known today for her 2-volume bio of her husband, which appeared in 1928 and 1930 (reprinted in one volume in 1962). But she did publish several children's titles of her own, which qualify her for listing here. Her Wikipedia page notes that she always lived in the shadow of Hardy's first wife Emma, to whom he continued to write love poetry long after he had remarried!

A second Hardy just added to my list, IZA DUFFUS HARDY, doesn't appear to be any relation to Thomas or Florence, but she was, for what it's worth, the daughter of Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy, an archivist and antiquary. The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction describes her novels as "unpretentious, well-crafted, rather predictable," which doesn't make them sound irresistible, but who knows?

I've still never got round to reading anything by Norah C. James, who was quite successful (and a bit controversial) in her day, but in this update I added BARBARA BEAUCHAMP, who, it turns out, was James's partner for many years as well as authoring seven novels of her own. She and James published a cookbook together, Greenfingers and the Gourmet (1949). A blurb for her 1947 novel Ride the Wind describes it as "[a]n intimate study of family life, told with exceptional sensitiveness and sympathy," which makes me tempted to add it to my TBR list, if I thought I could ever possibly get round to it.

Admittedly, not all of the connections I found are terribly scintillating. How much do we care, for example, that MARIE EVELYN BYNG, who published two novels in the 1910s, was the wife of the 12th Governor General of Canada (though sports fans might be interested to know that she donated the Lady Byng Trophy to the National Hockey League in 1925). And Mills & Boon fans might be interested to learn that ANN DEERING, author of about 20 romances, and SUSAN TAYLOR, who wrote ten, were sisters (both née Collier), but I'm not overly excited about it.

One of Kate Whitehead's two novels

KATE WHITEHEAD, author of two novels and several books for children about cats, was married to Selwyn Oxley, a pioneer educator of the deaf. MARY FRASER, who wrote or co-wrote at least 18 novels 1895-1915, was the wife of Hugh Fraser, a diplomat and author in his own right. 

And I already mentioned DORIS HOWE in my post on mystery authors, but her sister MURIEL HOWE was also added to my list. The two wrote several novels together under the pseudonym Newlyn Nash.

Marie Effie Bancroft

I find it a bit more interesting to learn that MARIE EFFIE BANCROFT, an actress and theatre manager who published several memoirs with her husband Squire Bancroft, as well as a single novel, was particularly applauded for playing several boys' roles on stage, and no less a figure than Charles Dickens wrote of seeing her perform. And MARY BLIGH BOND may be less interesting in herself than her father, Frederick Bligh Bond, an architect and ghost hunter, but she belongs on my list due to a single novel, Avernus (1924), described as a fantasy novel and as dealing with reincarnation. John Herrington found the additional tidbits that she was also a puppeteer and that her parents' divorce in 1899 led to a custody dispute that nearly bankrupted her father.

Speaking of fathers, SARAH CAMPION's was Cambridge historian G. G. Coulton. Campion wrote more than a dozen novels, and, amazingly enough, one of them, Mo Burdekin (1941), set in New Zealand, was reprinted as recently as the 1990s! She also published Thirty Million Gas Masks (1937), "a Near Future tale predictive of the coming catastrophe," and National Baby: The Author's Experiences of Childbirth Under the National Health Service (1950), which sounds like it could be an interesting read. She was also a political activist and the wife of Antony Alpers, who wrote a biography of Katherine Mansfield. 

And KAY SEATON, mentioned already in my mystery update post, was the daughter of thriller writer R. R. Ryan (see here for more information).

There's clearly some sort of writing gene in MARGARET JEPSON's family. She herself wrote seven novels using the pseudonym Pearl Bellairs (taken from a character in Aldous Huxley’s Chrome Yellow), but she also the daughter of author Edgar Alfred Jepson and sister of crime novelist Selwyn Jepson. But her most famous genetic connection is undoubtedly her daughter—Fay Weldon, the prolific and successful author of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, among many others.

AUDREY LUCAS also had a famous father. According to his Wikipedia page, E. V. Lucas was "an English humorist, essayist, playwright, biographer, publisher, poet, novelist, short story writer and editor." Well, he certainly couldn't have been bored! But Audrey, who published four novels in the 1930s, has another famous connection. She was perhaps an inspiration for Evelyn Waugh—you can read more here. I have to admit I had a bit of trouble following it all, but it may be of interest to Waugh fans. 

And then there's RUTHERFORD CROCKETT (real full name Ruth Mary Rutherford Crockett), who was, quite confusingly, the daughter of Scottish novelist Samuel Rutherford Crockett. The fact that her pen name echoes her father's name makes her quite a challenge to research—presumably her father was successful enough at the time that she or her publishers thought the confusion of names would benefit them. She wrote two novels—A Gay Lover (1925), a humorous romance set partly in Scotland, and its sequel, Safety Last (1926).

Viola Tree

And, finishing up with fathers, VIOLA TREE was the daughter of stage actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree, though two of her other connections are more well-known in literary circles—she's the niece of novelist Max Beerbohm, whose 1911 novel Zuleika Dobson is considered a classic, and the half-sister of film director Carol Reed, best known for the wonderful postwar noir movie The Third Man

Meanwhile, CLARE EMSLEY, who wrote more than 20 novels herself, was the daughter of crime novelist T. Arthur Plummer, but her mother, romance writer CORA LINDA (real name Coralie Marie Plummer), was also part of my most recent update. Bear Alley did an entire post about them here. And while I'm at it, I also owe Bear Alley a thanks for his post on JOAN BARRETT, already mentioned in my Mistaken Identity posts. Her husband was author Frank Barrett, and you can see the whole complex tale of their lives and name changes here.

There are three other authors with show-biz connections as well. JOY PARKER, who wrote three children's titles, was the wife of Shakespearean actor Paul Scofield, and was herself a stage actress and producer, appearing in numerous Shakespeare productions, including some directed by the likes of Peter Brook and John Gielgud. KATHLEEN CRIGHTON LION's husband was Leon Marks Lion, an early stage and film actor. I don't recognize any of his films, though my film knowledge is not as it could be, a fact of which Tom reminded me when I mentioned HOWARD MASON in my mystery updates and admitted to not knowing anything of her mother, actress Cathleen Nesbitt. Apparently, I should have remembered that she was featured prominently in My Fair Lady… Who knew? (Well, Tom, apparently.)

Fans of well-known children's author Eleanor Farjeon may be interested that her niece, ANNABEL FARJEON, also published a bit of fiction, as well as a biography of her aunt, Morning Has Broken (1986). She wrote two children's books in the 1970s, but she's included here because of her one adult novel, The Alphabet (1943), which the Spectator described as being about "the childhood and adolescence of a remarkably self-engrossed young woman." Ouch.

BARBARA LUCAS was a scholar and author of nine novels spanning 45 years. One of the only bits of information I could find about her work was a blurb for The Trembling of the Sea (1936), which sums it up as a "[n]ovel of two youths that are in love and members of the British Communist Party." 

Lucas is some relation to Alice Meynell (her daughter is described as the great-granddaughter of Meynell, so that might make Lucas her granddaughter, but not necessarily, I believe?). Said daughter, though, was author Bernardine Bishop, who, among other things, testified at the 1960 obscenity trial about D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

JOY GRIFFIN, mentioned already in my mystery posts, was likely either the daughter or sister-in-law of novelist Aceituna Griffin, and co-authored her one book, Motive for Murder (1935), with her. M. P. THOMASSET was the mother of novelist and travel writer Katharine Sim, also on my list, as well as the author of four novels—I'm most intrigued by The Fairy Spectacles (1920). And DAISY ECKERSLEY was the wife of designer and artist Tom Eckersley and the mother of three more illustrators and/or designers, Richard, Paul, and Anthony Eckersley. She published a single children's book illustrated by her husband, Cat o' Nine Lives (1946); many of the illustrations are posted here.

Fans of novelist David Garnett may already know that his first wife, RAY GARNETT, was the illustrator for his most famous novel, Lady Into Fox, but she also published one children's book of her own, A Ride on a Rocking-Horse (1917), which was lavishly praised by Saturday Review when it was reprinted in 1926. Garnett's second wife was Virginia Woolf's niece, Angelica Bell. Meanwhile, FRANCES BROWNE ARTHUR's uncle was poet Frances Browne, apparently known as "The Blind Poet of Ulster." Arthur published Scottish-themed novels and children's fiction from the late 1890s-1930s, under her own name and her pseudonym, Ray Cunningham.

And finally, DIANA PETRE turns out to have been the half-sister of novelist J. R. Ackerley, as well as the author of two novels, Portrait of Mellie (1952) and The Cruel Month (1955). She later published a biography of her mother, Muriel Perry (mistress of Ackerley's father), called The Secret Orchard of Roger Ackerley (1975), a book which has something in common with Ackerley's My Father and Myself (1968)—both about children searching for the truth about mysterious parents, and in this case the mysterious parents happen to have been in a relationship with each other. 

Also, in confirming the date of Ackerley's book just now, I learned that his book and Petre's were both the source of a 1979 TV movie called Secret Orchards, about their father's two families. I also learned, from a recent issue of Shiny New Books, that Petre's bio is one of the most recent reprints from Slightly Foxed, so she now has one book actually in print!

And that's quite enough (or considerably more) for now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

PHYLLIS PAUL, Twice Lost (1960)

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Peter Weir's 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, a sort of artsy thriller, set in 1900, with all sorts of ominous symbolism and suggestiveness, about a group of Australian schoolgirls on a school trip to Hanging Rock, a geologic formation (apparently properly called a mamelon) in Victoria. The movie divides viewers, because the disappearance of three of the girls and one mistress on (or into?) the rock, followed by the reappearance of one of the girls, traumatized and apparently unable to recall (or unwilling to reveal) anything, remains unresolved at the end of the film. The movie was based on a 1967 novel of the same name by Australian novelist Joan Lindsay, who had apparently drafted a final chapter explaining the disappearances, which was removed prior to publication. (It was finally published in 1987 as The Secret of Hanging Rock, though a synopsis on Wikipedia, which takes the story firmly into the realm of the supernatural or mythology and thus dissipates the eerie unexplainability of the rest of the story, seems less satisfying to me than no solution at all).

I loved the movie, for all of its vague suggestions and implications, its portrayals of young women (possibly) breaking free of Victorian sexual repression and of two young men who become obsessed with the disappearances, not to mention a brilliant performance by Rachel Roberts as the repressive headmistress of the school who seems to come to her own day of reckoning with the rock. (As an aside, I've only just learned that Roberts was married for a time to Rex Harrison, for those interested in movie trivia.)

This more or less irrelevant trip down my personal cinematic memory lane is just some background for saying that my recent reading of Phyllis Paul's hypnotic Twice Lost, about the disappearance of a 7-year-old girl from an English village, and its repercussions in subsequent years, brought the film back to mind. It also brought to mind Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, undoubtedly a closer literary relative (some of Paul's other works have garnered comparisons to James as well), in that the strategy of both writers is to render practically every detail of the events described uncertain.

Deborah Kerr in the best screen adaptation (in my opinion)
of The Turn of the Screw, 1961's The Innocents

James's classic tale, for anyone who hasn't read it (and by all means do, if you haven't), is about a governess with her two charges in a remote country estate, who is either battling two ghosts determined to possess or destroy the children or, perhaps, is hallucinating and endangering the children herself. It's a brilliant ghost story, but an entirely uncertain one, depending how one reads it. The reader is not only restricted, in the main narrative, to what the governess herself reports of the events in her first-person narration—which could be inaccurate if she is or was having bouts of madness—but her report is itself framed by a character, Douglas, who claims to have known the governess and to be faithfully repeating her tale. Not to mention the fact that James's novella is itself narrated in the first person by an unnamed character listening to Douglas's narration. At every layer of which lurk potential misunderstandings or concealments.

In Twice Lost, it's not untrustworthy narrators creating the uncertainty, but rather endlessly conflicting bits of evidence, lies, and fragmentary knowledge, as well as conflicting interpretations of characters' behaviors. In brief (if not simply): A 7-year-old girl—possibly mistreated and neglected, but also possibly manipulative and dishonest—disappears without a trace following a tennis party, having been escorted home by 17-year-old Christine Gray, who thereafter becomes obsessed with the disappearance and with her decision to leave the girl outside her house rather than seeing she got inside. Several other characters are also in various ways haunted and disturbed by the girl's disappearance—and even more so by her possible reappearance eleven years later. There's the girl's indifferent stepmother, who was too busy having a grand time after the tennis party to see her stepdaughter home; her possibly abusive father, one of whose valuable bibelots the girl may have stolen and then lost, making her afraid to return home; Christine's pious mother who places ominous Biblical quotations around their house; an aging bestselling author, who was negotiating to buy the large abandoned house where the girl may have met her fate (and whose current tome happens to be about the beneficial aspects of cruelty to society as a whole); the author's son, obsessed with his father's success and with driving him to write more and better; and the son's wife.

Paul twists and turns the situations and character motivations and plot developments so intricately that one always feels, from the beginning of the novel to its final page, that one is just on the verge of finding out what "really" happened, only to have the latest clues also contradicted or shown to rest on shaky foundations of doubt, of possible dishonesty, hallucination, impersonation, ego, or vengeance. By the end, I was nearly holding my breath hoping that Paul could somehow devise an ending that would simultaneously put a satisfying spin on it all (or, as James would have said, one more turn of the screw) and yet allow the whole delicate house of cards to stand. Reading the final chapter, I thought for a moment that Paul had caved to the pressure of revealing all, of making everything clear and thus scattering the carefully-balanced cards, but indeed, even what at first appears to be a definite explanation for it all is undercut and cast in doubt.

Undoubtedly, your own feelings about this novel will depend in large part on how you feel about stories that create uncertainty rather than dispelling it. If you enjoy "indeterminate" tales, though, you'll likely be stunned by Paul's tour de force performance here. Just looking back over the novel before writing this post, I came across multiple additional details that I had forgotten, which cause even more ripples of uncertainty to spread throughout the whole tale. It almost makes me, with my obsessive nature, want to create a list—or, better still, a spreadsheet—trying to document all of the details provided that contradict or render unlikely or impossible other parts of the story. But I think I will refrain…

Who would have thought that a novel in which practically nothing about the central plot is revealed with any degree of definiteness could be so satisfying? But for me this one was, and I can't wait to sample another of Paul's books. In fact, a copy of her acclaimed earlier novel A Cage for the Nightingale, reprinted a while back by Sundial Press (which seems, by the way, to be returning to life after a year or two of inactivity—their long-delayed edition of F. M. Mayor's one volume of stories, The Room Opposite, now shows a release date of July 30, so here's hoping that's true!), is already winging its way across the Atlantic to me.
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