The most striking thing about Much Dithering was its peacefulness. The few people who saw it from charabancs on morning or evening or circular drives said: ''Isn't it peaceful?" or "Isn't it quiet?". And some said they thought it was a lovely place to be buried in, but while they were alive they preferred a place with more life, if you knew what they meant.
I can't tell you how excited I was when Grant Hurlock (whose personal library must exceed even my wildest fantasies) shared his copy of this novel with me. First, of course, because I'd placed it on my recent, now outdated Hopeless Wish List, and this was only one of several books from that list that Grant has made it possible for me to read. But also, more frivolously, because my half-joking expectation in that post that the title of the novel would turn out to be a place name instead of (or, really, in addition to) a description of the plot actually proved to be accurate!
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So here we are in the quiet, well-to-do village of Much Dithering (just down the road from the inevitable Little Dithering, which doesn't sound quite so entertaining). The main character of the novel is Jocelyn Renshawe, the young widow of the local squire, but in the opening paragraph we actually first meet her jaded mother Ermyntrude Lascelles (marvelous name!), who is always on the lookout for social and economic advantages:
Ermyntrude Lascelles, widowed for the second time, felt that Fate had treated her shabbily in removing her George just as he was about to get command of his regiment. The role of a colonel's wife would have suited her admirably, and twice it had been almost within reach and then snatched away: once in India when Dick Pallfrey had been killed on the Frontier; and then, most annoyingly, just when the regiment was going to Egypt, George Lascelles was inconsiderate enough to contract measles—measles, of all things! So like George, who made a point of contracting every possible disease and was really a very tiresome, fussy little man, only bearable because he had a little money and would one day be a colonel, being a sound if uninspired soldier, and might even have gone as far as a brigadier. But no! Being George, within sight of achieving his wife's ambition, he contracted measles, which led to pneumonia, and so Ermyntrude was a widow who lived in a private hotel in South Kensington and visited her friends with unfailing regularity.
The relationship between Jocelyn and Ermyntrude is not a close one, in part because Jocelyn was primarily raised by her aunt, Miss Palfrey, in Much Dithering, while Ermyntrude lived with her military husbands in India and Egypt. And poor Jocelyn has led a rather listless, thankless existence:
Summer fêtes in aid of the day schools or the church, village concerts, Women's Institute meetings, and the annual garden party at the Priory—such were the events of the year. No wonder that Jocelyn was a specimen of human cabbage, and fitted into her surroundings so completely that she was hardly noticeable. She was always there when wanted, and she was always taken for granted. She took herself for granted and had never thought of herself as an individual with a personality of her own to develop. Her looks were an accident—a lucky accident, for she herself was unaware of her possibilities, and merely accepted herself as God had made her, as she had been brought up to do by her old-fashioned aunt during the years she had spent in her care when her parents were abroad with the Regiment.
As the story begins, however, Jocelyn's life is about to get considerably livelier. Ermyntrude's occasional London beau, Adrian Murchison-Bellaby, moves to Much Dithering with his parents and sister, and immediately decides Jocelyn is more his cup of tea than her mother is. Meanwhile, Jocelyn's aunt and her mother-in-law, the Honourable Augusta Renshawe, have decided that she should marry Colonel Tidmarsh, an elderly retired Army man, living with whom would surely be like watching paint dry. And then Gervase Blythe, a somewhat mysterious former Army acquaintance of Colonel Tidmarsh, arrives in town and rescues Jocelyn from a rainstorm before coming under suspicion as a jewel thief.
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All of which inspires a sort of unexpected awakening in our protagonist:
Jocelyn sat up very straight with a sudden defiance. ''What do I do? I'll tell you: I exist, I moulder. I've never been allowed to be myself. I've always been guided and shielded and steam-rolled, according to the pattern designed for me by other people—all with the best intentions in the world, no doubt. I keep my house nice and I weed my garden—and oh, how I hate tulips!" she ended inconsequently.
One is safe in assuming that she is about to leave her mouldering existence and her tulips behind, but how she does so is a thoroughly enjoyable story.
I have to be honest in saying that Lambert's style of writing is a bit rough around the edges. It's a bit repetitive at times, and Lambert has an odd predilection for very long paragraphs, which slows the pace a bit. Much Dithering certainly lacks the polish of a Miss Buncle's Book or a Cheerfulness Breaks In. But Lambert does get us into the same literary neighborhood (with perhaps even a touch of Margery Sharp here and there?), and if you're like me and can never get enough of cheerful village comedies, then even this unpolished stone is a bit of a gem.