Friday, May 24, 2019


All that glitters is not gold, indeed. Sometimes those bright shiny obscurities one finds glinting in the mud would do just as well to stay buried. (Caution: this post has a snarkiness quotient far higher than my norm!)

I see a vision of … an uninspired author: 

But why must Isabeau come sneaking into her memory, filling it with poisonous thoughts? For a moment, caught between two times, she had hated Piers, hated him as a tyrant who compelled her to do his will. How silly! She mustn't let Isabeau do things like that, mustn't get confused between her own memories and those others.

I flagged Double Entry as of possible interest a few years ago when I first added Constance Rutherford to my master list a few years ago. I was intrigued by Rutherford's apparent versatility, which included, out of a total of six novels, a historical novel set during the Hundred Years War, a mystery that received at least some acclaim, a psychological spy story, and Double Entry, about a young wife whose archaeologist husband moves them to a medieval French chateau, where she discovers she can see into the chateau's violent and turbulent past.

Intriguing premise, no? Well, indeed, but sadly, the premise was just about the only satisfying element of this novel.

Piers Mordaunt has purchased the chateau in order to research its history, along with the Abbé of St Pierre-le-Pont nearby, who is also interested in archaeology and helps Piers with his work. Veronica is Piers' young wife, who soon begins seeing visions of the chateau's glory days. She doesn't exactly travel in time, as she has no interaction with the figures of the past. Instead, she merely experiences the emotions and sensations of people from those earlier days. In the case of her chateau flashbacks, these are almost always those of the Lady Isabeau, a former occupant of the chateau with no redeeming values whatsoever apart from her looks.

As Isabeau's life seems to have consisted primarily of battles, betrayals, forced marriage, a dead child, murder, and illicit romance (none of which we learn about in sufficient depth to make it of more than passing interest), it's hardly surprising that Veronica finds her forays into the past exhausting. It was quite tiring to read about, and I confess to having skimmed some bits of it. But Piers sees her gift as a godsend, and pressures her to continue handling various historic items in order to learn more about their history, culminating in a harrowing visit to the chateau's newly-excavated dungeons. The kindly Abbé issues repeated warnings about the dangers of such dabbling, but of course the warnings aren't heeded or else there would have been no story at all.

In addition to the concern that Veronica's visions—during which she experiences the very dark emotions and motives of Isabeau—might permanently discombobulate her own mind (such as it is), there's the additional complication that her gift is double-edged. When Piers attempts to check the accuracy of her visions by giving her items from his own childhood and home life, an old pencil of his gives her an unexpected glimpse of the kind of person he is beneath the surface. A visit from his alienated sister, Marian, and her friend Mr Hemmersley (who tends to pontificate endlessly about Veronica's gift and the nature of time—I skimmed a bit of that as well), provides further revelations. In the meantime, Gustave Marchand, an English-speaking woodsman working to deforest France, has rescued her dog and become her ideal of a perfect man, which perhaps muddles some of her visions of Isabeau's love life with her own wishful thinking.

Are you getting the idea that this isn't a favorite novel?

Honestly, I did find the clairvoyance plot interesting at first, and the chateau setting is intriguing too. But Veronica's visions were pure romance novel dreck, and the present day plot isn't much more sophisticated. We learn nothing of much substance about Veronica's past or her family, nor of what has made her into such a wet dishmop of a young woman. This depthlessness and anchorlessness at least helps subtract a tiny bit from the implausibility of her losing her own identity so easily (if you don't have much identity to begin with, it's surely easier to lose track of it), but it also subtracts from the reader's ability to care much about her. And whether you can feel that the novel's ending is a happy one or not will depend on your point of view, it's certainly silly and unbelievable, and it leaves Veronica just as wet and dim-witted as ever.

Sadly then, I feel I can safely remove Rutherford's other works from my overwhelming TBR list. But if anyone comes across this or another of her books and feels differently about them, do let me know.

Schoolgirls grow up (but not in this novel): 
JOAN COGGIN, And Why Not Knowing (1929)

Dustjacket images courtesy of F.G.

'I am sorry—it's frightfully rude, I know, but you were looking so intense and then the ink pouring all over you! There is some on your face, too.'

Penelope gurgled, 'Just as I was meditating.'

'What were you meditating about?'

'I don't know. I was just sitting biting my pen and meditating; I felt that that was what an author would do.'

On the bright side, And Why Not Knowing is not as bad as Double Entry. It's considerably better written and it has some amusing high points. And if you've ever wondered what a girls' school story would be like if it followed its perky gung-ho protagonists into their adult romantic lives, this could be just the book for you. Though the risk is that it might also be the book that efficiently and permanently removes your yearning for such a story.

I first wrote about Joan Coggin back in 2014 after reading the first of her mystery novels, Who Killed the Curate? (1944), featuring the loopy Lady Lupin as detective. That book was zany, frivolous, entertaining fun. Fifteen years earlier, in 1929, Coggin published her first book, and her only non-mystery novel for adults (she later published three more mysteries and six girls' school stories under the pseudonym Joanna Lloyd).

And Why Not Knowing (the title, poetic language for "and not knowing why," comes from the Rubaiyat—see here, Stanza XXIX, for the full quote) follows the early adult years of three young women—Penelope Talbot, Ann Graham, and Nora Conway—who are just finishing school as the novel opens. The three are intricately interrelated and it took some considerable time for me to sort it all out: It seems that Penelope's mother married young to a man who already had two grown children, Dick and Jean. Ann and her brother John are Jean's children, which makes them half-somethings to Penelope but no blood relation. Nora is an orphaned niece of Mrs Trevellion's, and Penelope's mother's second marriage was to Mr Trevellion, who already had a 10-year-old son Donald. John and Donald also appear now and again for some perky dialogue, as well as other young men.

Among those young men is Giles Roscoe, who marries the pretty Nora despite having more rapport with Penelope, who has always secretly loved him, thus tidily setting up the melodrama portion of the novel. As time passes, Nora—who is utterly self-absorbed but whom everyone in the book inexplicably adores and defends—becomes more unstable and reckless. She abandons Giles, who seeks comfort in Penelope, thus arousing her emotions and hopes, only to have Nora return and stake her claim again. Etc. Etc. The plotlines around Nora (appropriately nicknamed "Princess") are simply asinine, and by the end of the novel the three initially-likeable main characters had irrevocably become for me, in shorthand, the Bitch, the Doormat, and the Enabler, and I wouldn't have got my clothes wet rescuing any of them from a flood.


The last portion of the novel is weakened by some trite and shallow spiritualizing, which is only topped off by a delightful passage in which Penelope describes how absolutely repulsed she is by Jews. Always lovely to see in the protagonist of a novel, especially one so clearly autobiographical!

It's hard to see what exactly the target audience for this novel was. Actual schoolgirls might have enjoyed the lighter, sillier passages, but the gushy romance would likely have irritated them. But more mature young women would surely have been either annoyed by the frivolous tone, if they were sophisticated, or, if they were the stereotypical Boots Library patronizing shopgirls looking for a romantic melodrama, they would have found the intellectual banter an irritating disruption to the gushiness. Either way, I'd like to think they would have found the main characters difficult to like.

In sum, if you'd like to read about schoolgirls growing up, you might be better off sticking with the books in which Dorita Fairlie Bruce married off her former schoolgirl heroines, or perhaps sit back and relax with The Chalet School Reunion. Otherwise, you may find yourself feeling you've wasted your time, "and why not knowing."

Friday, May 17, 2019

A mystery wrapped in an enigma: "JANE BOYD", Murder in the King's Road (1953)

Yes, I know I'm misquoting Churchill, but the misquote fits the present book quite nicely.

First of all, it is indeed a mystery novel, as you might reasonably guess from its title and its rather garish cover. I happened to stumble across it when I was idly browsing the catalogue of the Boston Athenaeum, no less, and I added Boyd to my database as an author to research. Since I am actually engaged at present in some research with a view to finally posting a new update to my British Women Writers list, it wasn't long before I looked into her a bit more. I found nothing except the fact that the name was a pseudonym.

Which leads to the enigma surrounding the mystery. When I forwarded my list of new authors to the great and powerful John Herrington, whose research skills extend far beyond my own and who is so often a life saver in these situations, he discovered that the book's publisher had apparently said that "Jane Boyd" was a pseudonym concealing "the identity of a crime writer of distinction".

Now, I was not born yesterday, so I realize that publisher lingo might be a bit more hyperbolic than reality would reflect. It should go without saying that I, when wearing my publisher cap, have never engaged in such hyperbole (!!), but some less scrupulous publishers might, so "distinction" could be a relative term here. Even allowing for that, however, I was intrigued enough to want to sample the prose, and an enthusiastic short review I came across sealed the deal. An Abe Books order followed, and—the book arriving in a record-breaking two days from placing of the order (from Texas to California, no less)—I took it as a sign from the literary universe and immediately dived in, bypassing numerous other books awaiting my attention.

It turned out to be a good solid little mystery—not an all time favorite, but quite enjoyable. It opens with Miss Arbutus, the ubiquitous middle-aged spinster, walking her dog, Caramel, early one summer morning, and noticing, as she window shops at a familiar antique shop, a body sprawled on a sofa inside. The body turns out to be that of bestselling novelist Vernon Bran, and the mystery somehow involves a batch of old furniture which the antique shop's owner has just acquired from an estate sale. The suspects include Paul Dedham, said shop owner, who purports never to have seen the victim before, Julie Bran, wife of the victim and a well-known actress herself, who is none too broken up over his death, Mr Blaggart, Bran's publisher, who has been eagerly awaiting a long-promised manuscript from Bran, and Miss Arbutus's godson Michael, who would seem to have no connection to Bran but who is strikingly fixated on the crime. Plus there's Michael's fiancée Claire, Claire's new housekeeper Arlene, and a few others, who behave more or less oddly about it all.

It's an effectively disparate and seemingly unconnected group of characters, whose gradually-revealed interconnections and motivations are satisfyingly intricate (but not impenetrable, so I'm pretty sure it's not a lost Gladys Mitchell!). The "who" of the whodunnit was a bit disappointing for me, but on the other hand I certainly didn't anticipate this person's guilt, and the various plot twists and revelations had me reading quite compulsively.

The writing is solid and enjoyable, but certainly not lavishly literary or sophisticated, so it's not a lost Sayers or Tey, and it lacks the brilliant, focused simplicity of a Christie, the slightly noir edge of an Allingham, and the perkiness of a Heyer. (And although Miss Arbutus has some very clear ideas about proper masculine behavior, she's not nearly homophobic enough to have been created by Christianna Brand!)

There are certainly some standout moments here and there. For example, I loved the passage in which Miss Arbutus is just realizing that what she's looking at is a corpse instead of a window display:

Vaguely at the back of her mind the figure reminded her of something, not of a particular person but of some occasion when she had seen figures which looked similar in their stiff abandon. Then it came back to her; of course, it had been during the raids, once she had come upon a house which had just been bombed, the inhabitants had been killed and were lying about in the rising smoke and dust, they had looked just like stuffed dolls, just like this man.

And there's a touch of humor in her subsequent anxiety about dealing with the police:

Miss Arbutus, for the second time, repeated the story of her morning walk and of her sinister discovery. By now it sounded improbable, even to her. If they asked her maid if she were in the habit of parading the streets at five-thirty a.m. because she couldn't sleep and Mary said, 'Yes, Madam often does that,' it would sound strange. If she replied, 'Madam has never done such a thing before,' it would seem stranger still.

But the greatest strength of the novel are Boyd's two detectives, Inspector Pobham and Detective Richards, an intriguing twist on the traditional Holmes and Watson:

Richards' chief, Geoffrey Pobham, was an improbable person to find in the precincts of Scotland Yard. Those who knew him felt that an Oxford college would have provided a more suitable background to his jovial, cynical wit and his academic qualifications. Richards had been appalled when he first met him. He had felt that such an apparent lack of zeal and such a sympathy with the criminal classes could only provide a demoralising element in the Force, but by now he had learned better. To Pobham, on the other hand, Richards with his sense of duty, lack of humour and strict sense of justice was a constant delight. When he had taken up his work at Scotland Yard he had been rather disappointed to find that his colleagues were far from the stereotyped detectives of fiction, in Richards alone he seemed to see the model of an inspector. Pobham always claimed that it was purely on these grounds that he had chosen Richards as his assistant, but whether this were true or not he had by now developed an irritable paternal affection for him.

It's really rather a shame that this was the only appearance of Pobham and Richards—had Boyd written 20 or 30 books about them, they might now form the basis of a highly entertaining television series.

At any rate, it's entirely appropriate that the novel's plot revolves around questions about whether the murdered Bran really wrote the novels he published, since the book's own author is also shrouded in mystery.

I was convinced, in my naïve way, that my handy database of authors would provide a handful of tantalizing possibilities for the true identity of Jane Boyd. Assuming that to have been called a "crime writer of distinction" by even the most unscrupulous publisher, she (I do think it's a woman, though of course we don't know for sure) must have published at least a few novels before 1953, I sorted the approximately 45,000 titles in my database by year of publication, and then browsed all of 1950-1952 for authors of multiple mysteries who were active in those years.

The result, as I should probably have predicted, was a bit more than a handful. Apart from the big names mentioned above, who were surely unlikely as possibilities anyway (under the assumption that a pseudonymous publication by any well-documented and closely-researched author—with savvy heirs interested in maintaining a steady income—could not have remained hidden for so long), I came up with no fewer than 30 possibilities. Ahem. Some are more likely than others, and many are authors I haven't read, so I can't judge just how unlikely those are, but the ones I have read I couldn't quite eliminate from contention (Josephine Bell? hmmmm). Here, for your consideration, is what I came up with (most of these are on my Mystery List, if you want to see what I know about them):

Marjorie Alan
Margaret Archer
Pamela Barrington
Josephine Bell
Margot Bennett
Emery Bonnett (pseudonym of Felicity Winifred Carter and husband)
Caryl Brahms (known for humorous mysteries, so probably not a match)
Pamela Branch (ditto)
Zenith Jones Brown (American, but she had written many British mysteries as David Frome)
Joanna Cannan
Joan Cockin
Alexandra Dick
Doris Disney
Mary Durham
Margaret Erskine
Katharine Farrer
Elizabeth Ferrars
Joan Fleming
Kathleen Freeman (better known as Mary Fitt)
Mary Violet Heberden
Anne Hocking
Ianthe Jerrold
Lucy Beatrice Malleson (better known as Anthony Gilbert)
Jean Marsh
Edith Pargeter (had already written mysteries as John Redfern and Jolyon Carr, though she hadn't yet created her most famous incarnation, Ellis Peters—this would have been her only feminine pseudonym, but who knows?)
Sheila Pim (Boyd isn't funny enough to have been Pim)
Mona Radford (better known as M. A. Radford)
Shelley Smith (more a thriller writer than a whodunnit author?)
Nancy Spain (known for wordplay and camp, so probably not a match)
Patricia Wentworth

What do you think? Any "Eureka!" moments? Alas, not for me, though I will say that there were moments as I was reading when I thought the prose seemed familiar somehow. Probably just my imagination? Or not?

Well, you can test your own abilities below, as I'll post a two-page sample from very early in the novel (so as not to spoil anything). If anyone has a revelation and cries out, "That could only be Mary Violet Heberden!", do let me know…

Friday, May 10, 2019

A chorus of women: JEAN ROSS, Women in Exile (1942)

Dustjacket scans courtesy of F.G.
(my fairy godmother)

"You must remember that in this war it is not only those who are doing the spectacular and dangerous work, those in uniforms of one sort or another who are alone in helping the war effort, but also what I like to call the great forgotten army of women in exile, women like yourself, my dear, who for one reason or another are banished from their homes, their husbands, the work and the friends they love, sometimes their children, and who find themselves in a strange place among strangers. Theirs is the hardest lot of any to bear, for they have not even the reward of feeling that they are contributing to their country's effort, they are idle and lonely and desperately unhappy, quite a number of them, in all circumstances of life."

It's the Reverend Mother at the hospital where Kathy Murdoch is learning nursing who thus passionately sums up the theme of this wartime novel by Jean Ross, an author I'd not read before who published just under two dozen novels from the 1930s to 1960s.

Women in Exile is certainly an odd novel, and to some extent it's a frustrating one. Ross excels at women’s voices, and loves providing her women characters with entirely believable, entertaining monologues, something she does with an array of varied women. There's Kathy and her mother, the widowed Mair, who with the rest of their family are bombed out of their home and seek shelter in a rather humdrum English village. They stay at a house belonging to Jack and Nell Heron, with the Herons' housekeeper Mrs Liddard, who resents the interlopers. Then Mrs Firth arrives from heavily-bombed West Ham with her two children. And what would an English village novel be without a vicar's wife, and the gossipy but kind-hearted Mrs Marchant fulfills her role admirably.

Lovely that Graham
Greene provided his
praise, but too bad
they misspelled
his name. Oops!

Most of these women are given effective speeches at one time or another, and these are usually compelling to read. Mrs Firth's aggressively demanding attitude toward Mrs Liddard when she first arrives at the house, for example, is prickly enough, but also rather poignant when one realizes what she must have gone through to reach this point:

"I am sure that there should be no difficulty in our working well together," [Mrs Liddard] said finally in the tone of one who reproves the upper housemaid for having ideas above her station." As for a gas ring and a cupboard, I don't know I'm sure, I shall have to ask Mrs. Murdoch.''

"Well, if you're nervous of speaking to 'er, I will. You see, I've been through all this before. They all say the sime at first: oh, it'll be all right, you kin 'ave the stove w'en I ain't using it, we'll find a time. But it ain't all right. Nor ain't it if they does yer cooking for yer. Always complaining the kiddies et too much, and that they stole!"

"I'm sure that—"

"Believe me, you don't know. You've never 'ad evacuees before. You'd be the same as the rest of them in a week. It ain't much to ask, but I got to 'ave it, and otherwise I take 'em back to be bombed and you 'ave it on your conscience. Believe me. You're safe 'ere. You donnow wot a blitz is. I do. But I'd rather 'ave a blitz, I'd rather live dahn the shelter than go through wot I 'ave in the country. It's only for me 'ubby's sake I come 'ere nah, and cos ahr 'ome's gone. Nothing but a bleeding shell."

Unfortunately, though, these powerful moments with their insights into women's wartime lives are strung together with a melodramatic and sometimes downright silly plot, which includes ghosts and second sight in a way presumably meant to comfort those of Ross’s readers who had lost loved ones in the war. Mair, it emerges, is a "medium" who occasionally sees apparitions or visions of the future. She's determined to prevent Kathy from disgracing herself with the married Jack, with whom she has had an immediate (and implausible) "love at first sight" scenario. There's also plenty of the expected melodrama between Kathy, Jack, and Jack's wife Nell, and late in the novel one of Mair's apparitions will play an important role in the illicit romance.

Such a lot of bright moments, but rather like a string of lovely pearls threaded onto a string too weak for their weight. It's a shame, but I can still share a couple of other rather wonderful high points.

Right at the beginning of the novel, Mair vividly recalls the bombs that have landed them in the countryside:

She remembered suddenly how at the first bang the curtains flared out into the room at right angles, and stayed there for an aeon of time while she watched them paralysed. The siren not gone nor anything, then up and trying to find one of her bedroom slippers in the dark.

All this must have passed in a flash when the second explosion was upon them and the world came to an end. If only things would stop falling and she could come to her senses; she was deafened and blinded, she was on her hands and knees, the house, that solid Victorian Kensington piece, had taken a sickening lurch forwards and then backwards as though about to perform a pas de seul, parting with all glass, plaster and movables in the process, and yet, miraculously, standing at the end of it. Two more explosions, more distant. A stick of bombs. That was it, then.

And I do love, in a rather sad way, descriptions of wartime London that allow one to situate them more or less precisely on a map. Here's a great example, describing what Kathy has seen during her visit to the beaten and bruised city:

She had spent the day in London, walking about the streets. During the previous week there had been a further bad raid, the pavements were still thick with debris, more houses were gutless and forlorn, the back streets of Mayfair and the rectangle made by Edgware Road, Marylebone Road, Oxford and Orchard Streets enclosed areas of houses shuttered and deserted. Some had notices "this desirable residence to be let at moderate rental." Nearly all windows were covered with black felting, the terraces were gap-jawed where a bomb had knocked out two or three houses and destroyed the symmetry. Down in white tiled basements open to the air, men burnt small fires of rubbish where white-capped chefs had once prepared seven-course dinners. People were still living in the smaller and meaner streets behind boarded windows. Sometimes amongst the wreckage an armchair perched on a ledge or a wardrobe hung at a dizzy angle, door aswing. London was shabby; whole districts were dead, they had shrunk as a corpse does when the life goes out of it. The main swing of the life of London went on, the people were as cheerful, but the place was emptier. The life was not the same, its quality had altered. There was no time for the non-essentials. She was glad to be out of it and away.

There's also a rather gut-wrenching description of air raid casualties, which, though it's a valuable slice of the realities of war, might be best left to your imagination—it still makes me shiver a bit.

Jean Ross followed Women in Exile with a novel called Strangers Under Our Roof, which sounds as though it could also deal with evacuees. If it is, it could also contain some fascinating insights into home front life. Even allowing for my disappointment in this book, it might be worth checking out…

And by the way, if you'd like a second opinion of Women in Exile, Reading 1900-1950 reviewed it a while back here.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The vicissitudes of postwar housekeeping: GWENLLIAN MEYRICK, The Morning-Room (1950)

I've written about Gwenllian Meyrick a couple of times before (see here), and I seem to be working my way through all six of her novels (and wishing there were more). The Morning-Room, her first novel, was the most difficult to get hold of, and ended up winging its way to me from just about the farthest possible spot within the U.S.—the public library of Bangor, Maine. But it was well worth the effort, as this tale of the postwar housing crisis is Meyrick's lightest and most entertaining tale.

It's a bit difficult to situate Meyrick among the other middlebrow authors of the period. The Morning-Room might be described as something of a cross between Dorothy Whipple's Someone at a Distance and Doris Langley Moore's Not at Home, though it is neither so emotionally complex as the former nor so humorous as the latter. The situation of boarders who turn out to be undesirable is also tied up a bit too neatly at the end (and, in the age of #MeToo, not unproblematically). But despite these weaknesses, Meyrick is so lushly domestic in her quiet little novels of nice people having mild difficulties that I, once again, couldn't put it down.

The novel opens in 1946 as 36-year-old Laura Armitage is searching for a new home for her husband Marcus, soon to be demobilized from the war, and their two children, Caroline and Jamie. It begins quite amusingly with a scene which must have echoed in houses all across the UK during these years:

"Seven bedrooms is too many," said Laura Armitage. "Haven't you got anything with four bedrooms on your books?"

Mr. Evans, the house-agent's clerk, was affronted. He looked so pained that Laura went over her words in her mind, in case she had said something indiscreet.

"Four bedrooms?" he repeated.

"Well, I thought about four," she said humbly.

"Everyone wants a house with four bedrooms, Mrs. Armitage. They usually stipulate for modern conveniences: coke boiler; immersion heater; indoor coal-shed; gas and electric points; garden (but not too large); garage. They also demand a house in not too isolated a position, otherwise the daily help will stop coming as soon as the winter starts."

"How very odd!" remarked Laura. "All that is exactly what I was going to tell you I wanted."

Mr. Evans shut his file with a bang. Most of the papers were loose, and fluttered to the floor, and had to be picked up, which was something of an anti-climax to Mr. Evans' indignant gesture. He was a Welshman with a strong sense of the dramatic.

The house in question is known as South Grove, and Mr Evans ultimately plays a fateful role in her decision to take the house after all, seven bedrooms and all. It just happens that he knows of an absolutely ideal housekeeper, Mrs Mason, who is seeking a place with room enough for her daughter Freda, soon to return from her service with the A.T.S., and the house is conveniently divided between the old servant areas (back of the house) and the old front rooms. Mrs Mason indeed seems to be too good to be true, and of course we know what that means… The original jacket blurb, happily glued inside the Bangor Library copy of the book, sums it all up as follows:

[S]lowly and imperceptibly the morning-room, where Mrs. Mason lived, came to dominate Laura's house, Laura's children and even Laura herself. Then Marcus came home to find that he had known Freda when she was in the A.T.S. And the question is: who is going to take possession of the demobbed warrior? The tension mounts as these convincingly ordinary people drift nearer and nearer to the rocks.

Laura becomes casual friends with Mr Evans, despite their contentious first meeting, and he, along with his new wife who knew the Masons from years earlier, not only plays a role in landing Laura with the Masons, but will finally help rid her of them as well. Along the way, we also meet Laura's widowed sister Helen, who has just met a promising new man, and Marcus's sister and mother.

It's all predictable enough—it doesn't hold a candle to Moore's Not at Home in terms of twists and surprises and unexpected results—but it's still thoroughly readable and enjoyable, and here, unlike in most of Meyrick's novels, there are some very funny moments indeed.

Mr Evans is a bit of a closet socialist, and when he takes Laura to meet the two elderly sisters who are the current owners of South Grove and who are ludicrously class-biased even in the midst of their current poverty, sparks nearly fly:

She lowered herself with an obvious effort into her chair. Laura felt that if she offered to help her, she would only be rebuffed. Mr. Evans, not having had an invitation to sit down, was not quite sure if he ought to do so, and remained standing, planning class extinction for the day when he got into power.

And one of my favorite passages from the entire novel is this subtly morbid description of the impractical kitchen of the new house:

The kitchen was the other side of the passage, opposite the scullery and pantry. It was a huge, depressing room with only one window, which looked on to the yard and a high, dense hedge. The cupboards and woodwork were painted chocolate-brown. There was a deep recess in one wall where the range had once stood. In the middle of this recess, like some malevolent black creature, squatted the boiler. There were hooks in the ceiling big enough to hold a rope and a man at the end of it. The top of the table which stood in the middle of the room was spotted and stained.

There are still two Meyrick novels I haven't yet written about here—The Disastrous Visit (1956), which I have now read, and Shed No Tear (1961), which is resting on my bedside table at this very moment, complete with a lovely dustjacket and an additional delightful bonus, which you'll see at some hopefully not too distant time. 

It's a bit of an odd situation for me, because Meyrick is clearly not as strong an author overall as some of my other favorites. She has a tendency (more in other novels than in The Morning-Room) to sink into melodrama, and there's little that's strikingly original or unique about her writing. And yet, somehow, she has become a favorite of mine in her own right. A big part of it must be her rather ordinary and yet totally relatable heroines—flawed but interesting, and even somewhat feminist (for their time). A strange balance, but one that works surprisingly well.

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