Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘The 1947 Club’ Category

mrs-tim-gets-a-jobI had planned to read Chatterton Square by E.H. Young as my second book (following Hetty Dorval) for the 1947 Club.  I’d started and was enjoying it but, knowing it had already been more than capably reviewed by Simon this week, could not fight the voice in my head that suggested ‘wouldn’t the world be better served if you reread and finally reviewed Mrs Tim Gets a Job by D.E. Stevenson?’  Yes, I concluded, yes it would.  And so, on this very wet and stormy weekend, I settled down with my old friend Hester Christie, otherwise known as Mrs Tim.

The Mrs Tim books were inspired by D.E. Stevenson’s own diaries and experiences as an army wife and are written in a light-hearted, Provincial-Lady-esque style (E.M. Delafield’s diarist predates Mrs Tim by two years).  In earlier books, we saw Hester struggle with great good humour and resilience through pre-war regimental life with two small children and then through the anxious war years.  This volume opens in February 1946.  Peace has come to England but Hester’s family is once more scattered: husband Tim is stationed in Egypt with no hope of any extended leave, sixteen-year old son Bryan is off at school, and Hester is busy deciding on a boarding school for her daughter Betty.   When a friend declares that she has found Hester a job helping to manage a small country hotel in Scotland, Hester is properly horrified.  In the depressing period just after Tim left for Egypt, she had considered the idea but never seriously.  On the other hand, a life of solitude with little to do doesn’t hold much charm either:

I am in the mood when on forgets one’s blessing and counts one’s troubles, when nothing seems good and the world seems grey and drab.  I have a son, but he has gone away.  I have a husband, but I have not seen him for months.  It may be years before I see Tim, it certainly will be years before we can settle down to a reasonably peaceful life.  What is the use of being married when you can’t be together?  It is misery, no less.  All very well for Tony to say think of the future – I do think of it most of the time, but you can’t live on hope forever.  There are times – and this is one of them – when the savour goes out of life, when you lose heart, when you feel you can’t go on, when you would give everything you possess for one glimpse of the person you love…

So off she goes, ready for a new adventure.

The small hotel is the home and business of Erica Clutterbuck, a gruff-mannered middle-aged woman entirely uncomfortable with having guests in her family home.  Hester, as she soon learns, is there primarily to save Erica the horror of having to speak with the guests.  It is a task Hester is remarkably well suited for as she is an irresistibly sympathetic figure, at times to her despair.  Everywhere she goes people end up confiding in her and/or, having been misled by her slight appearance, taking a protective interest in her.  She handles it all with humour and excessive good grace but takes no real pleasure in dealing with the guests.  She does, however, find pleasure in a new friendship with Erica.

It is a simple novel, made up of little events rather than any sort of easily resolved narrative arc.  Hester gets to know the guests at the hotel and becomes involved in their affairs but also runs into old friends of her own.  Tony Morley surprises her by showing up at the hotel, a joyful reunion after six years without seeing each other.  A dashing middle-aged bachelor, he is as much enamoured of Hester as ever and she is just as oblivious as ever, so secure in her adoration of the far-away Tim.  There is also a madcap night of breaking and entering in Edinburgh with some young friends, new and old.

But the nicest reunions are with her children.  Betty, who comes to stay during a school holiday, strikes up a friendship with Erica Clutterbuck that is at first bewildering to Hester but then less so as she realises how similar the two are.  Bryan appears only briefly, having arranged to spend most of his break with friends, but the reunion between mother and son is lovely, even though it begins with rigid formality in front of strangers:

As I lead the way upstairs we are both completely silent, perhaps because there is nothing more to say.  For my part, I am already deeply regretting that cool welcome and wishing with all my heart that I had thrown my arms around his neck and hugged him – and be damned to Erica!

It is too late now, of course.  The deed is done.

We reach the third landing, and I open the door of the little room with sloping roof, which is to be Bryan’s room, and show him in.

‘It’s rather small,’ I begin, ‘but I dare say –‘

Suddenly I am seized in a bear’s embrace and almost strangled.  The strong young arms are hard as steel.  They go round me like a vice.  ‘Darling!’ cries Bryan.  ‘Oh,what a dear wee Mummy!  I’d forgotten you were so small.’

It’s a lovely, gentle book but without the saccharine sweetness of some of D.E. Stevenson’s other novels.  Hester has more bite in her than any of Stevenson’s other heroines, perhaps because she is based on the author herself?  Regardless, I love Hester’s flashes of pique and acerbic asides.  She is a hard worker, excellent friend, and devoted wife and mother, but she is always entirely human and I love that about her.

 ‘Hester!’ exclaims Grace in horrified tones.  ‘Why didn’t you come to lunch with me?’

‘Too tired,’ I murmur.  ‘Too fed up.  Besides, bread and cheese and coffee is a perfectly good meal.’

‘It’s letting down the flag,’ says Grace reproachfully.  ‘It’s back-sliding – that’s what it is.  I wouldn’t have thought it of you, Hester.  Think of the men who change for dinner every night on desert islands!’

‘I’ve never really believed in them,’ I reply, helping myself to another wedge of cheese.  ‘And anyhow, I’ve slid.’

The first book, Mrs Tim of the Regiment, was reprinted a few years ago and is still readily available but the later volumes (Mrs Tim Carries On, Mrs Tim Gets a Job, and Mrs Tim Flies Home) can be harder to find.  My inter-library loan system has proved invaluable in tracking them down for me over the years but I would dearly love to see them in print.  Perhaps Virago might show an interest one day?  Now that they are reprinting Angela Thirkell, anything seems possible.

1947club

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

hetty-dorvalMy first choice for this week’s 1947 Club was a patriotic one: Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson.  It has the honour of being the only Canadian novel so far to be reissued by Persephone books and has sat unread on my bookshelf for a shamefully long time.

The novella begins with the arrival of a beautiful and alluring young woman, Hetty Dorval, into the small town of Lytton, British Columbia, where twelve-year old Frances “Frankie” Burnaby lives on a nearby ranch with her parents.  For Frankie, Hetty is exotic – as is any new arrival in a small town – and endlessly fascinating.  When Hetty befriends her, it seems both wonderful to be acknowledged by such a person and uncomfortable, as Frankie is upset by Hetty’s request that she keep their visits a secret from everyone, including her parents, lest the locals view that as an invitation to come visit her too.  “Under a novel spell of beauty and singing and the excitement of a charm that was new”, Frankie agrees to keep the secret though, inevitably, it comes out.  And then her parents share with her the reason she cannot continue to see Hetty:

He found it difficult, I could see, to explain to me about ‘a woman of no reputation’. (‘Oh,’ I thought, sitting still and discreet like a bird that is alarmed, ‘I know, like Nella that went to stay with that rancher, and that woman with the funny hair!’ – we children just naturally heard and knew these things) and I learned that Hetty was ‘a woman of no reputation’.  Father stopped short there.  Apparently he could have said more.  In my own mind, seeing Hetty’s pure profile and her gentle smile, I said to myself that Father couldn’t have believed these things if he had seen her himself.  But a sick surprised feeling told me it might be true.

Frankie turns into quite the traveller as she ages, going first to a small boarding school in Vancouver (where her dorm room has a view across Stanley Park, which would be absolutely lovely), before crossing the Atlantic to attend school in England, followed by some time in Paris.  Across the years and the different settings, she and Hetty Dorval run into each other time and again and with each meeting – and with each learned piece of gossip helping Frankie to compose Hetty’s tawdry romantic back-story – Frankie’s view of the woman moves farther and farther away from her childhood infatuation.  By the story’s climax, when the widowed Hetty has wrapped herself around a dear friend of Frankie’s, Frankie can only see the shallow, manipulative woman who manoeuvres all situations to her advantage and cares nothing for the feelings of anyone but herself – an attitude which leads Hetty’s devoted nanny, who has cared for her and stayed with her since childhood, to a passionate and shocking outburst.

It is a very readable book, though I could do without some of the early descriptive passages about the scenery around Lytton.  Apparently, these appeal to many other readers.  Perhaps those readers have not had to wade through quite as much second-rate CanLit as we patriotically-obliged natives, where overly described scenery that adds very little to the story is de rigueur?  Regardless, it is a minor quibble.  Hetty Dorval is charmingly subtle and elegantly structured.  A very worthy first choice for the 1947 Club!

1947club

Read Full Post »

Preparing for the 1947 Club

1947clubFirst it was 1924, then 1938, and now 1947 (yes, you may point out, that’s how chronology works.  Shush, I say).  Simon and Karen are hosting another year-themed reading event; from October 10th to 16th, they are encouraging us all to read and post about books published in 1947.  And, miraculously, I am feeling vaguely prepared (this contrasts with the 1924 Club, which passed me by entirely, and the 1938 Club, for which I was only organized enough to talk about books I’d already read and then fail to finish the one book I was attempting to read – Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons.  Not recommended.).

This time, I have a plan.  I have a list.  And, to show how serious I am, I have library holds.  This is happening.

Here’s my reading short list (for now):

Chatterton Square by E.H. Young – I’ve owned this for a while now, having wanted to read it since Harriet reviewed it years ago.

The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute – any excuse for a Nevil Shute book is a good one.

Mrs. Tim Gets a Job by D.E. Stevenson – I love Mrs. Tim and read and enjoyed this a few years ago (though never got around to writing about it).  I’d love to revisit her in time for the club – let’s hope my inter-library loan comes through in time to let me do so.

Mrs. Mike by Nancy and Benedict Freedman – a childhood favourite that I’d been thinking about rereading after finishing several other books set in the West.  Providentially, it turns out to have been published in 1947.

Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson – a unread Persephone – set in my home province of British Columbia, no less! – that has been languishing on my shelf for too long.

Wanting to share reading suggestions, I looked through my old reading lists to discover I seem to have neglected 1947, with only three books from that year reviewed in my archives – and only one of them is particularly good:

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes – an exquisite post-war novel.

Private Enterprise by Angela Thirkell –  An unwieldy post-war novel that requires strong knowledge of existing Thirkell characters.  And even then it’s not brilliant (but I still enjoy it, having read it 3 times now).

Kate Hardy by D.E. Stevenson – instantly forgettable.  I literally remember nothing about this book.  But if you are fighting a very bad cold and have zero attention span, have I found a book for you!

Will you be joining the club?  Any favourite 1947 books you’d recommend?

Read Full Post »