Friday, April 29, 2022

'Unfortunately they're already here': ROSE ALLATINI (as EUNICE BUCKLEY), Family from Vienna (1941)

"I'm afraid she wasn't lucky to-night in selecting me as one of the ingredients for her mixture," Erich laughed; "but then I'm not much good at any of these functions—even the more exalted ones—held by hostesses eager to show hospitality to us unhappy refugees. Refugees," he repeated the word bitterly; "how I detest the label! I always feel like a performing seal made to do its tricks .... 'Now do tell us your experiences, dear Baron Weissbach .... Did you have to clean out latrines? Was your mother made to scrub the pavement with her sable cape?' … It seems quite an anticlimax when I have to say I didn't and she wasn't." His voice trailed off into silence.

I don't know how long I've been meaning to read Rose Allatini (most of whose novels appeared under the pseudonym Eunice Buckley, though one crucial one, Despised and Rejected [which I also still haven't read but which was reprinted by Persephone], was published under the pseudonym A. T. Fitzroy), but it's quite a long time. And my attention was particularly caught by her books about Jewish refugees from Hitler in the early years of World War II. Most of these are difficult or impossible to track down, but ILL came through with Family from Vienna, with its theme of refugee experiences that's painfully relevant again, and which I recently read in rapt fascination and enjoyment (though not without some slight qualms). 

On the one hand, it's such an utterly delightful and fascinating family story, focused on a well-to-do Jewish family, some of British nationality, others refugees from Austria following the Anschluss, forcibly reunited in London. They're a varied and vivid bunch, from loving but slightly dotty Annushka, a widow who lives in genteel but not unlimited wealth in London with her daughter Camilla (surely a stand-in for Allatini herself), having married a wealthy Spaniard; to her awful son Ernest, "a Jewish-born anti-Semite", who focuses all his attention on trying to be taken for a Gentile. There's also an easily-offended cousin, Minna (die meschuggene Minna), with whom Annushka has a jealous, competitive relationship which is a delight to read about, and Annushka's three newly-arrived, once-glamorous sisters, accustomed to Austrian high society but now determined to make the best of a flat in Bayswater. And there are some unexpected arrivals (or, in one case, a tragic failure to arrive) of other old friends and even old beaus.

It's largely played as a middlebrow social comedy, albeit with dark edges, and it's a sometimes uneasy but overall terribly entertaining and amusing tale, and its Jewish characters live and breathe very nearly as vividly and irresistibly as those in Isaac Bashevis Singer or Grace Paley. Although they're not all lovable, they are all entertaining, and one would dearly love to be an invited guest at their gatherings.

On the other hand, one hardly knows what to make of the novel in retrospect. Allatini, of course, writing around 1940 or early 1941, couldn't have known just how horrific things would become, though she certainly knew of concentration camps and that they were terrible places from which one might well not return. It's an eternal question just how much was known about the camps when, but they seem to be thought of here like Soviet gulags or prisoner of war camps, rather than as systematic tools of genocide. Regardless, the reality is that we can't really imagine how the novel would have been read on its release in 1941—history overtook it and permanently changed our ability to relate to such a tale.

For example, this post-Anschluss Jewish joke is quite funny from the point of view of how irritating one's family can be, but perhaps a little harder to giggle at in retrospect?:

"So now you are all three here," she commented wonderingly, "it seems really a marvel. . . . "

To her surprise this was greeted with a shout of laughter. "Forgive me, Nushka darling," Toni cried, "but that reminds me of such a lovely story that's going about. ... Two Jews meet on the bridge in Prague three days after the Anschluss. One says to the other: 'I say, have you still got any relatives left in Vienna?' The first answers: 'Unfortunately, no.' 'What do you mean—unfortunately?' 'Unfortunately they're already here.'

Although most of Annushka's relatives are well-to-do or at least well-connected enough to make their escape from Austria, some acknowledgement is made of those in more serious difficulty:

There was no denying that this whole refugee question demanded endless gymnastics and adjustments of one's point of view; a perpetual juggling with, and comparison of, relative values. The homeless Jewish cobbler stranded on some river bank in no-man's-land would account himself blessed if he might spend a night in these rather sordid little rooms in Bayswater; but members of the erstwhile prosperous and leisured classes, suddenly precipitated out of their habitual environment, might well feel that such rooms represented the final word in exile and social degradation.

But the rather upper class perspective of the novel, though important to acknowledge, didn't particularly detract from my enjoyment of it. Zany upper crust characters are a staple in many of my favorite novels after all. What might be more distressing for today's readers is an occasional sense of implicit apology, on the part of even the most likable characters, for the behavior of more uncouth Jewish relatives, and even for the race as a whole. An example from the wonderful Annushka:

When Annushka stopped to consider what refugee-relatives from the Continent were capable of being like, she realised how fortunate she was in the possession of these sisters who socially were so eminently presentable; spoke such fluent even if—she was constrained to admit—not always quite correct English; and above all, were titled. Which, she sagely concluded, was always a good thing for any foreigner to be in England.

This type of passage (and there are others) may have been Allatini's way of seeking compassion for the refugees that were becoming so common in England (and also poking a bit of fun at England's own elitism). And it's also true that Allatini is working to tease out all the varied attitudes, from Ernest who is utterly self-loathing in regard to his race, to Annushka who loves her family but sometimes wishes they behaved in less "foreign" ways, to a younger generation that includes both anti-Semitic Jews and young Isabel, passionately in love with a Jewish man, and Susan, who despite a Gentile upbringing finds herself irresistibly drawn toward her previously little-known, thoroughly Jewish relatives. And there's a rather hilarious scene in which various refugees attempt to correct each other's English, which reveals all sorts of things about the need to fit in and the insecurities that refugees (indeed all immigrants) must face.

It's a difficult tightrope that Allatini walks, but all things considered I think she handles it rather brilliantly. Not perfectly, but extraordinarily well, and she must have felt in some ways that writing this novel was important "war work" —surely no one reading about such a wild and wonderful family could have failed to be moved by their plight—however genteel that plight was compared to those less affluent and well-connected. 

I wasn't expecting to find a rather cheerful middlebrow family comedy lurking in a novel about Jewish refugees from Hitler, and it remains an open question how most readers today would react to it. But then Singer made comedy out of the lives of Holocaust survivors and Paley inspires giggles about the troubled lives of impoverished New Yorkers. At any rate, Family from Vienna strikes me as a delicious slice of life in a very specific time and situation, though one distinctly haunted by the events that soon followed its publication.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Starke raving mad: KATHLEEN MACKENZIE, The Starke Sisters (1963), Charlotte (1964), & Kelford Dig (1966)

At first he did not ask her to dance, but at last, in a temporary lull in her attendant males he said, blushing beetroot colour:
"I say, I'm a hopelessly bad dancer, but I suppose you wouldn't dance with me?"
"I don't dance very well myself," said Charlotte honestly. She might have added, "Except in the gavotte, the lancers, and the old-fashioned waltz", for in such dances she and her sisters had received instruction.

I came across a mention of Kathleen Mackenzie's trio of books about the Starke sisters a couple of years ago, and a review comparing some of the dialogue to Ivy Compton-Burnett forced me to buy a copy of the first book. But it will not surprise you to learn that I've only recently managed to actually read the book, and then supplement it with its two sequels. These are, purportedly, children's books, but I can't help feeling that many young readers would have been a bit bewildered by some of the humor.

The three novels focus on Charlotte Starke, who is 16 when the first novel begins, and her two younger sisters, smart, rational Selina and clumsy but cheerful Georgiana (nicknamed "Duch" after the Duchess of Devonshire, the only other Georgiana they had heard of). The three girls, orphaned at a very early age, have been raised by their great-grandparents, the imperious Lady Starke and her husband Sir Cuthbert, and Lady Starke's particular quirk is that she believes that time and culture stopped (or at least
should have stopped) prior to World War I, in her delightful Edwardian girlhood. She therefore insists upon the girls wearing clothing from that time, being smotheringly overprotected until they have been "brought out", having their dinner in the nursery each night. Naturally Lady Starke doesn't believe in modern education for girls either, so although they have had governesses here and there, they are appallingly ignorant of the world, though no less spirited and determined for that.

In all three books, the girls' adventures are really quite mundane—merely doing the sorts of things girls their age would want to do, even as simple as going to a dance or the cinema, obtaining a dress in a modern style, going to town unaccompanied by a chaperone, or getting a ride from a boy—but the joke is in their often extravagant efforts to avoid detection by their stern, joyless grandmother, or to manipulate her into allowing them what they want.

The jokes are also, sometimes hilariously (if perhaps implausibly), in the girls' complete ignorance of how normal children behave in the real world, so that when Caroline exasperatedly promises to kill Lady Starke if not given permission to go on a London excursion, Georgiana can quite calmly begin weighing the pros and cons of committing the murder (she ultimately decides it wouldn't pay off). It's in these exchanges that one can see the Ivy Compton-Burnett comparison, and if it's not the first comparison that would have leapt to my mind, let's say it's not out of the question that Mackenzie would have read ICB and identified with her themes.

In the second book, the girls manage to see their first movie, a Western, aided by Lady Starke's elderly maid who sometimes takes pity on them, and their reactions are displeasing to the other filmgoers:

"I can't think why they always gallop off in one direction, pull up and then tear off in another," she said. "That's what must tire those horses, because they make them gallop much further than they need. It looks as if they didn't know where they were going, but as they live there you'd think they must."

"I think she's loopy," exclaimed Georgiana. "There are all those trees and rocks she could ride through, and there she is dashing about in the open, and stopping every few minutes. I wish we could tell her to get on with it. She'll be caught for a cert. There she is stopping again. Go on, you idiot."

"If I couldn't shoot better than that," said Georgiana disgustedly and flatly, "I'd go and have lessons. Not that I'm not jolly glad they didn't get her, but it was piffling shooting."

And in Kelford Dig, there's an incisive discussion of small talk that, I must admit, echoes some thoughts I've had myself:

"I wonder why one always wishes people good morning and good evening," said Georgiana, as they came away. "It's rather stupid, really. I don't wish Grandmamma a good morning at all. It would be much more sensible to say bad morning, or dull morning, when you would be quite pleased if they did have that."

"I think it would be rather a bore. You would have to stop to think every time what you did wish people. And after all, if we wished Grandmamma a bad morning and she had it, every single other person in the house would probably have a bad one too."

The three books take place over the course of a few months, and their beginnings and endings seem rather random, one merely taking up where the previous has left off, though Charlotte does have a rather marvelous climax that unites (however temporarily) the girls and their formidable grandmother against a common enemy in circumstances that force the girls to admit a grudging respect for Lady Starke's complete unflappability.

I don't think these books are any kind of lost masterpieces, and by the third book, when Mackenzie relies on a young house guest from the U.S. and some minor intrigues around an archaeological dig on the Starke property to keep things moving, the joke does start to wear rather thin. There's a bit of "neither fish nor fowl" about them too, as they are perhaps too sophisticated for young readers and too focused on mundane adventures for most adult readers. But nevertheless I found them entertaining to pick up and put down in between other books, or for bedtime reading, and there are some very amusing bits here and there. I would recommend picking up any of the books if you happen across them, though not necessarily an all-out pursuit of them (galloping from bookstore to bookstore and tiring your horses, I mean).

But I'll leave you with Selina's reactions to Coral, their sophisticated, boy-crazy American visitor, and her concerns with popularity, which might almost be out of my own mouth:

"Everyone wants to be dated up as much as they can be, of course."

"Do they? Why?"

"Oh, don't be crazy. It shows you're a success. That you're popular, of course."

"Well, we never have been popular—except perhaps Charlotte a bit—so we don't know how nice it would be. But if it meant going out with people you don't like much I should have thought it would be better not to be."

"Do you mean you would rather be treated as a grand visitor even if it did mean being bored to death?" asked Selina. "If you do it is you that must be mad, I think. I don't mind what people think of me so long as I can go on doing the things I want to do."

Amen, Selena.

One might also think she was talking about Twitter… :-)

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

SURPRISE!! (maybe?): Twelve more Furrowed Middlebrow titles from Dean Street Press, coming August 2022

A couple of weeks ago, when I absolutely played it cool and made the very restrained, understated announcement that we'd be releasing (no big deal) a previously unpublished, long-thought-lost novel from ELIZABETH FAIR in our summer batch (see here if you missed my laid-back reveal or want to relive its mellow subtleties), I mentioned that although it was taking a bit longer than usual to finalize our other summer titles, that additional announcement would be coming soon.

Well, "soon" has arrived.

And I'm certain that the announcement of these 12 new additions to our list will come as an enormous surprise to you all. It's not like I've mentioned them here and on Twitter a million times lately or anything.

Ready? Brace yourself.

That's right. Come August, we're releasing new FM editions of
NOEL STREATFEILD's 12 delightful "romances" under the pseudonym SUSAN SCARLETT, originally published 1939-1951 and subsequently out of print for decades until the brilliant Shirley Neilson at Greyladies Books rediscovered them in the early 2010s (yet another thank you I owe to Shirley for her astonishing knowledge and prescience in unearthing treasures). As many of you have pointed out in the past couple of months when I've written about the novels' charms, even those reprints, now out of print as well, have become challenging (and costly) to track down. But in August they'll finally be available again at the click of a mouse—and (lucky you) for rather less than I had to spend to get hold of them myself!

As I mentioned in my intro to the books a few months ago, Streatfeild seems to have felt considerable embarrassment over these "romances", as opposed to her sixteen other "literary" novels for adults (currently available in e-book from Bello Books). But she certainly needn't have. In these books, she promptly mastered yet another genre, the cheerful romance, and proved herself adept and irresistibly entertaining at it. The books overflow with charm and cheer, and feature marvelous detail about everything from department store detectives and holiday camp theatricals to the film industry, a wartime munitions factory, and (of course) the ballet. All accompanied by rich supporting characters, entirely believable and amusing families, and page-turning romance. Not to mention the fashion!

You may not gasp with surprise at how these novels' plots unfold, and you won't be likely to mistake them for Dostoevsky, but I can think of no better brain candy to give you a break from the bleak world news. Which, I might add, is what led me back to them a few months ago. Although all my posting and tweeting about them the past couple of months might make it seem as though I was already premeditating reprints of these, I actually had no such idea at all initially. I needed escape, remembered how much fun I'd had with a few of these when Shirley first released them, and my motive was purely medicinal. It was only after reading several and seeing how they had managed to brighten even the darkest days, that I thought perhaps some shiny new Furrowed Middlebrow editions of them might be in order. Rupert at Dean Street Press got on the trail of the rights, and voila!

However guiltily and inadvertently, Streatfeild here raised shameless, delicious escapism to the level of an art form. And come August they'll be just what the doctor ordered for your much-needed holiday from reality.

Friday, April 8, 2022

A "fine" romance: JANE SETH-SMITH, Suite in Four Flats (1957)

But Tansy, although she had of course noticed the young man scowling on the seat and then, surprisingly, smiling into her eyes as she went by, knew that one did not look back. At least, one ought not, though she could not help wishing that some fortuitous circumstance—such as being suddenly attacked by a savage dog, for instance—could have cropped up, so that she might have been able to thank the young man for saving her.

In one comfortable London house reside three generations of the Ardant family. Middle-aged Patrick has sworn off of women since the tragic loss of his wife late in the Blitz, so his mother, Lady Ardant, manages the house and benevolently watches over its inhabitants. These include Patrick's two grown sons (whom we rarely see), two daughters, Robin and Tansy, both lovely and charming in their own ways (though Robin is distinctly a dolt when it comes to romance), Great-Uncle Arthur, ex-miltary and a bit unhinged, whose favorite hobby is accompanying his friend to communist party meetings and heckling the speakers, very often triggering brawls, and Dordie, Patrick's widowed sister, clinging to her fading looks and prone to be a bit bewildered.

The entertaining, sometimes funny plot of the novel is set in motion by Lady Ardant's decision to hire a companion. Mary Drury, a widow with limited means, is hired for the post—coincidentally at almost the very same moment that Tansy meets a charming young man in Regent's Park (in a little known garden near the Institute of Archaeology, in case that rings any bells with anyone, or if you wish to seek it out), who turns out to be Mary's son, Tim. If this perhaps strains credibility just a bit, well, we do know that London is a charmed place, right?

In parallel with the complications this meeting causes, there's the complicated relations between Charles Legge, a charming gadabout who's always falling in love, and lovely Robin, who is simultaneously being courted by a doctor at the hospital in which she works—who just happens to be an ex-schoolmate of Charles. Well, someone would inevitably have been his schoolmate! Why not Charles?

Naturally, too, Mary is a sensitive and efficient woman, perfect for advising the girls on the twists and turns of their romances, and indeed for making others think of romance too… And Charles manages to rescue Great-Uncle Arthur from a brawl, though apparently no one can rescue Dordie from her fixation on a shady Eastern European princess with whom she hopes to travel round the world.

I only came across Seth-Smith recently in researching new authors to (finally) add to my main list. I came across a short blurb about Suite in Four Flats and I was so disposed in its favor that I didn't post the (perfectly charming) cover on Twitter when I received it for fear that the handful of copies of her other three novels (the temptingly-titled Three Suitors for Cassandra, Love Thy Neighbours, and The Laird and the Loch) would sell out before I had the chance to compulsively acquire them. And I did enjoy it—a charming family situation, likable and/or absurd characters, some humorous dialogue, plausibly silly misunderstanding and complications. What's not to like? But have I leapt onto Abe Books, eyes beady and greedy, to acquire Seth-Smith's other three novels, no expense spared? 

I have not. 

I certainly recommend picking up any of her books that you happen across at reasonable prices. She's a solidly "good" writer, and this is a perfectly fine, entertaining, nice novel. But as I read the final pages of this one, I had to admit it was missing that certain "je ne sais quoi"—charming, slightly rowdy local color in the case of Molly Clavering, masterful storytelling in D. E. Stevenson, intricate plotting in Doris Langley Moore, a delicious daftness in Margery Sharp, profound understanding of character in Stella Gibbons. Suite in Four Flats has much of the same framework that those authors utilized so brilliantly, but without that something extra, that flare that comes from the author's own personality and engagement with her story, it's really only all those slightly condescending adjectives that male critics used to use way too lavishly about most women writers—pleasant, nice, charming, likable, etc. 

One random detail did strike me and I have to mention it in closing. It's a description of the hospital where Robin works:

St. Ann's Hospital is, as everyone knows, right in the middle of London, with miles of corridors and swing-doors down which and through which trolleys, stretchers and wheel-chairs are forever being pushed. It has a large main hall and subsidiary halls, a flower-and-fruit stall, a bookstall and a number of balconies upon which T.B. patients lie out in their beds, inhaling the soot and dust-laden air of Central London and not always making the progress their relatives might wish .....

I've encountered tuberculosis patients in fiction ailing on Swiss balconies, swathed in blankets with a stack of good books beside them (which always sounds rather ideal to me, though I prefer not to have to have TB in order to indulge). But I somehow hadn't realized that of course patients who didn't have the resources to retreat indefinitely to the Alps would have had to make the best of a balcony in smoggy London. I mean, a balcony in London now sounds like heaven, but in the 1950s perhaps not so much?

Friday, April 1, 2022

The Scarlett Woman, Part 4: NOEL STREATFEILD (as SUSAN SCARLETT), Under the Rainbow (1942) & Peter and Paul (1940)

Saltings was enchanting. If it had not been so ungetatable it would have been crammed with tourists all the summer through. A Norman church, grey and weathered, sat in a churchyard so green by comparison with the surrounding yellow-grey of the downs that, from the crest of the hills, it looked like an emerald. … To those who saw Saltings first on a hot day in summer—when heat shimmered in the hollows—that churchyard, and those sheep, and the surrounding cottages with their flaming gardens, stood for ever as a picture of peaceful England.

Well, the world is still awful, and so my escapist reading continues. Thank heavens I rediscovered these delightful books just as the world fell into an even darker crevasse than usual. And these two Susan Scarletts make a nice pairing, both featuring vicars, though in the first the vicar is the lead and in the second he's relegated to a cameo.

In Under the Rainbow, Martin Richards, a dedicated, idealistic vicar, has found himself too physically weak for life in an impoverished London neighborhood, so (poor guy) he has been moved to the most idyllic village imaginable, with a lovely home watched over by an impossibly perfect housekeeper, 60-year-old Bertha, who has raised 10 children and wants nothing more than to work her fingers to the bone for the vicar.

Naturally, something must create complications, and here it's the sudden (remarkably unmourned) death of Martin's sister and her husband in a car crash, leaving Martin to take in their children, Polly and Andrew. Martin clearly needs someone to care for the children, and he finds our heroine, Judy (Streatfeild recycling names again, this time from Murder While You Work), who is absolutely (almost tiresomely) saintly, but who has come through her share of difficulty and is determined to make a new start, so perhaps we can forgive her.

Around the same time, Martin is saddled with his ghastly Aunt Connie, who is not only conservative and jealous and petty ("she believed, sub-consciously, that a child who is at that moment contented with something must be a child who is doing the wrong thing, and must, therefore, be promptly set to do something else"), but also nearing a form of hateful lunacy, particularly in regard to poor Judy. And if that weren't enough, Lady Blacke, the widowed squire (squiress?), who fancies herself a kindly benefactor to all (as long as she doesn't have to inconvenience herself by giving anything but money) has determined that Martin should be her next husband, so she loathes Judy as well and sets about investigating her troubled past in order to rid herself of this meddlesome saint. Some additional spice is added by the local schoolmaster, who promptly falls for Judy, and his 17-year-old sister, who alarmingly sets her sights on Martin as well (I think he really must be the Anglican version of Andrew Scott from Fleabag).

It's all quite amusing, though reflecting on this book now, it seems perhaps even sillier and less plausible that many of the other Susan Scarletts. But I can honestly say that I cared not one whit when I was reading it, and because I do love an idyllic village setting, it made almost as addictive reading as, well, all the other Scarletts I've said were addictive reading.

Under the Rainbow was published in 1942, but there's nary a mention of the war, though that quote at the beginning of this post might have been meant to pack a little extra punch of meaning with its image of "peaceful England".

Next up is
Peter and Paul from 1940, also containing no glimmer of war (though there is some rather catty behavior):

It is not fun being the plain one of the family. But being the plain one of twins is a wretched position. That’s why parables about grains of mustard seed, which grew up and startled everybody by their magnificence, did Pauline good.

Petronella and Pauline Lane are 17-year-old twins, but obviously not identical ones, as "Peter" is apparently the most ravishingly beautiful young woman ever to have lived (judging from the reactions of other characters throughout), while "Paul", though appealing, is the kind of girl who gets lost in the shuffle, attention-wise. (Honestly, lucky Paul, but of course she doesn't see it that way.) Paul is also the smarter, more sensitive one, while Peter, though basically kind, is utterly self-absorbed and obsessed with Hollywood and its glamorous stars.

Their father, Mark, is the local vicar, a bit stern and traditional in his views of women ("so much of a saint that if he wasn’t a great dear he’d be a prig"), but loving and kind as well, and fortunately malleable in their mother Catherine's hands, so that she is able to arrange, against his instincts and with the help of the amusing local aristocracy in the form of Lady Bliss, for Peter and Paul to go to London to work at the dress shop run by David, the son of Lady Bliss. This so that the pair can meet eligible men, which they clearly can't in Saltings—surely even a vicar "must see as he ground his way round his parish in their deplorable old Morris, that there was not a marriageable man within miles."

David's fortune-hunting manageress Moira Renton (who also skims some of the shop's profits for herself) is anything but pleased by the arrival of the twins, though Peter, naturally seeing as how irresistible she is, becomes the muse for David's designs and slips out of Moira's control. As a friend of Moira's puts it:

“I don’t know what Moira’s game is,” she said to the table generally, “but I suspect heaven watches over anything quite as lovely and quite as stupid as that. Special guardianship, you know, like they say drunkards get.”

Paul is less lucky though. Moira lands her with the exhausting job of messenger, in an attempt to wear her out and drive her away, but Paul unexpectedly loves the job and befriends everyone on the staff. Paul also feels an immediate affinity for David, but though he is initially charmed when he meets her on her own, he is of course swept utterly off his feet by his first glimpse of Helen of Tr—er, I mean Peter. But does that way happiness lie for him? And indeed, will anyone at all find happiness if Moira has anything to do with it?

Peter and Paul is the shortest of the Susan Scarlett novels, and one of the first to be written, since though it only appeared in book form in 1940, it was apparently serialized in 1939, the same year in which Clothes-Pegs and Sally-Ann appeared. One wonders if Streatfeild was working within the confines of a word limit, as the ending, though satisfying enough, is a bit more abrupt than one would expect. But it's as light and frivolous and charming as all the other Scarletts, a worthy companion to Clothes-Pegs in its dress-shop setting, but here we get to see the shop from a different perspective, and get some entertaining glimpses of London nightlife of the time as well.

Unlike Lady Blacke in Under the Rainbow (who in any case has only married into the upper crust), Lady Bliss is the kind of aristocrat Streatfeild loved best. Her chatter while recommending a place for the girls to stay in London is a particular delight:

“And I’ve just been telling your mother I know of a perfectly charming place where you can stay, except at the week-ends, of course, when you’ll come home. I’m sure your dear father wouldn’t dream of allowing you to be away on Sundays, and quite right too. Why, I had a niece who was away every Sunday and that was why, I am sure, things turned out as they did. Sundays can be so dull, especially in the winter, and you must do something. Anyway, it was a very nice baby and they’re married now.”

I'm starting to run low on Susan Scarletts now, but I still have at least a couple left to enjoy. We all need some escape these days, and Streatfeild was a master at providing it (even if she was inexplicably reluctant in later years to admit she'd written these delightful bits of fluff).

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