It's more than a little amazing to me that it's now been just under four years since the first Furrowed Middlebrow books were published by Dean Street Press in October of 2016. With the titles I am just about to announce, we'll be up to a rather staggering 63 titles in all, including some of my favorite books and authors. And of course that's all down to the support and encouragement of (to paraphrase PBS) readers like you!
It's generally my policy, therefore, not to play favorites among the books we've been fortunate enough to be able to reprint—who could choose favorites between the likes of Elizabeth Fair, D. E. Stevenson, Elizabeth Eliot, and Frances Faviell, not to mention Rachel Ferguson, Winifred Peck, or Miss Read?
That said, however, I am beyond ecstatic that in January of 2021, we'll be adding to our list two of my all-time favorite authors, and in both cases we are fortunate enough to be reprinting some of these authors' very best works. Who could they be?
Drum roll please...
That's right. In January we will be welcoming the glittering, sophisticated MARGERY SHARP and the witty, incisive STELLA GIBBONS to the Furrowed Middlebrow family. Woohoo!
And I owe a special thanks to some of you lovely readers. When I first started working with Dean Street Press, both of these amazing authors were being actively re-released, by Open Road Media and Vintage respectively, so I had assumed their work was unavailable to us and moved on to other authors. It was really those of you who suggested them in response to my "Possibly Furrowed Middlebrow" post late last year who brought them back to mind and made it dawn on me that both of those larger publishers, having released a number of the better-known titles by Sharp and Gibbons (along with some rather odd choices and omissions), had petered out and not finished the job. Still unavailable were some of the best and most sought-after works by both authors. Eureka!
So, the specifics. In January, we will be publishing (as usual in both paperback and e-book formats) six currently out-of-print titles from the early years of Margery Sharp's brilliant career.
There's her marvelous debut (reportedly written in one month while working as a typist, though that's hard to fathom from the delights of reading it), Rhododendron Pie (1930), about an eccentric family of highbrows coming to terms with their distinctly middlebrow sister. I reviewed it here and linked to a couple of other, similarly enthusiastic bloggers. As anyone who has searched for this title (probably in vain) over the past decade will know, copies of Rhododendron Pie sell for sums well into triple digits, but you won't need to mortgage your house to buy our reprint!
Then there's Sharp's rollicking second novel, Fanfare for Tin Trumpets (1932), a sparkling romantic comedy set amongst the more bohemian elements of London society. I reviewed it here.
Moving forward three years, we come to Four Gardens (1935), a somewhat less zany, more poignant tale of a woman's life from the Victorian period until the 1930s, represented symbolically by the four gardens she has occupied in that time. I have a review coming up for it (now posted here), but in the meantime you can take the word of Barb at Leaves & Pages here or Jane from Beyond Eden Rock at her earlier blog here.
Just on the cusp of World War II we come to Harlequin House (1939), another London comedy about a young woman navigating the rough seas between her stodgy military fiancé and her feckless ex-con brother. I reviewed it here and Barb at Leaves & Pages reviewed it here.
Next up, oh be still my heart, possibly my favorite Sharp of all, The Stone of Chastity (1940), a thoroughly daft village comedy about a professor testing an ancient legend about a stone crossing stone in a village stream, reputed to cause unfaithful women to slip and fall. I also have a review of this coming up (now posted here), but in the meantime, way back in 2013 I listed it here as one of 20 books that should have been in print but weren't. Happy to cross yet another title off of that list!
And last but certainly not least of the Margery Sharp novels coming soon is her really wonderful postwar tale, The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948), another of my favorites. Middle-aged widow Isabel Bracken creates discord among friends and relatives when she decides to give up most of her inheritance to an impossible woman whose one chance at romance Isabel once spoiled. I reviewed it here, and I linked to several other bloggers' reviews of it from there.
I don't honestly know if I'm more pleased that we're publishing Sharp or Stella Gibbons, who feels like such a kindred spirit for me, despite the fact that, as I've mentioned before, I find her most famous novel overrated (but so did she, so I think she would forgive me). Cold Comfort Farm I can take or leave, but the five books we're reprinting in January are all among my favorites. Vintage made some lovely choices in their selection of Gibbons novels to reprint (the wartime novels in particular), but they neglected some of Gibbons' funniest, lightest-hearted rainy day reads.
Case in point: The Swiss Summer (1951), which the Guardian compared, in its contemporary review, to The Enchanted April no less! Lucy Cottrell, happily married but worn down by the postwar challenges of food rationing and depressing world affairs, jumps at the chance to spend the summer at an acquaintance's Swiss chalet, where a heap of other guests bring romance, comedy, and poignant moments amidst lush scenery.
Three years on, we come to The Weather at Tregulla (1962) set in a small town on the Cornish coast, in which Gibbons shows astonishing versatility in inhabiting the perspective of a restless 19-year-old girl, Una Beaumont, whose fondest wish is to escape to London and "the Stage" but who finds herself instead enmeshed in an unfortunate infatuation with a successful but caddish artist. This is Here Be Dragons in a rather more light-hearted mode, and it's an armchair excursion to Cornwall to boot.
I particularly fell in love with jaded, bitter 70-something Maude Barrington, the protagonist of the second-to-last novel published in Gibbons' lifetime, The Snow-Woman (1969). Maude has been a tragic shadow of her old self ever since losing her three brothers in World War I, but as Gibbons' tale begins (with a woman she's only just met giving birth on great aunt Dorothea's sofa, no less), her quiet, lonely life is about to get livelier, and the snow in her heart may begin to melt. For my money, The Snow-Woman is one of Gibbons' most complex, poignant, and yet still very funny novels.
And finally, the last of Stella's novels published in her lifetime, The Woods in Winter (1970), is also about a woman of a certain age rediscovering the joys of life. But here, for contrast, we move from the imperious, well-to-do Maude to the curmudgeonly and rather witchy charwoman Ivy Gower, who inherits a rural cottage in Buckinghamshire and manages, despite thoroughly anti-social instincts, to have surprising effects on her neighbors. Then a 12-year-old runaway shows up on her doorstep, but that plot twist doesn't follow any of the sappy, predictable trajectories you might expect from a lesser author.
Whew! So there we are. Eleven new titles in all. What do you think?