Sunday, June 26, 2022

"Land's End?" he echoed. "It's more likely to be No Man's Land": LEILA MACKINLAY, Woman at the Wheel (1940)

"Has something more happened in the international situation?"
"Yes, Miss Lacey. There is to be an evacuation rehearsal and those teachers concerned have to report back to their schools. The announcement was made by wireless."
"What a shame! Then you won't be able to come to Land's End"—her voice broke in the wrong place.
"Land's End?" he echoed. "It's more likely to be No Man's Land."
Kit gave a sudden shiver.

Kit and Dinah are two young women enjoying summer holidays in Cornwall. Summer, 1939, that is. They're frolicking quite happily (and we're treated to some of that enjoyable frolicking against a lush Cornish backdrop), oblivious to the state of the world—Kit blithely certain that another war would be impossible. But alas, of course she is wrong, war is declared, and their entires lives change instantly. Kit, because she owns a car and can drive, goes as a chauffeuse to a cranky retired businessman (hard to see for sure how this would have been "war work", but this was early days and I suppose the logic was that she was replacing his regular man who had went off to service), and Dinah joins the Land Army. We mostly see Kit's experience, though Dinah does reappear now and again and tells of her work as well.

For the most part, Woman at the Wheel is quite a run-of-the-mill romance, albeit with an odd shape (the main romance is accomplished by about the halfway point, so the second half, though eventful in some ways, feels a bit off-balance). The romantic scenes are handled in rather mundane fashion, and the book's appeal is also lessened by the fact that Kit's happy ending is with a man who can only be described as a male chauvinist pig:

"You look much better in that than in your uniform," he observed. "Then to my mind women in uniform are a mistake."

"Don't you think it makes us more efficient?"

"Is that so essential? A girl should aim at being attractive and not try to hide whatever figure she may have in ill-fitting clothes of mannish cut. As for those caps with a bit of hair poked out of either side!"

There's more along similar lines. Then there's Kit's rather strange attitude towards a German spy, who happens to have been dating Dinah the previous year. She determines that she will play no role in having him caught, and this nearly threatens her newly-dawning romance with the male chauvinist pig. I mean, I can understand the shock of finding that a man you knew slightly and your friend had dated is actually a German spy, but I found myself siding with the chauvinist here—if he's a spy, he should be caught, sentiment aside. Feel sad about it later.


Apart from the fact that the romantic scenes are routine and the romantic leads need to have their heads knocked together, there are some extraordinary moments here. Mackinlay would presumably have been writing the novel very soon after the beginning of the war (it's dedication is "To the good companions who shared those unforgettable moments of Sept. 3rd"), with all her thoughts and feelings about it fresh in her mind, and there's a very considerable you-are-there sense in her descriptions of the girls' shocked reactions, and the encroaching reality of evacuations and blackouts. For example, their drive back to London effectively conveys how quickly things changed:

Next morning they proceeded to London almost non-stop, passing lorryload after lorryload of men and munitions. The boom of target practice went on intermittently in the distance. Aeroplanes wheeled and whirled above them, even as the seagulls had done such a short while earlier. Here and there they would come across groups of militiamen. The London they approached was changed indeed. Policemen and "specials" paced about in new blue tin hats. Sandbags were piled against buildings, the windows of which were often boarded up altogether or else covered with criss-cross strips of sticky paper. Traffic lights were reduced to a single cross of colour. People were walking and driving with gas-masks on their backs.

This wartime detail fades into the background once Kit reaches her new job, though Mackinlay is good at conveying a sense of place—when she describes the grand old house in which her employer lives, one might almost think one was reading Mabel Esther Allan—but again toward the end of the book, we get another very striking moment. Kit and Dinah are in a hotel as the former is about to be married, when the chauvinist calls from his factory and says there may be an air raid—he has had an early warning. I'll quote at some length, as it's hard to imagine this book getting reprinted and it's difficult to come by:

They moved to the window which overlooked the main thoroughfare. They were amazed at the completely ordinary aspect of everything. But then—the general public did not know as yet. If they had done so, they would not have walked so casually along the pavements. Kit noticed a woman wheeling a pram and reflected that as soon as the sirens went the mother would abandon the pram outside the nearest shelter and descend with her child to safety. Behind her strolled a young man with lips pursed to a whistle, hat stuck on the back of his head, and no gas-mask across his shoulder. At another point a woman heavily laden with shopping-bags was talking to a neighbour. At the corner was a tobacconist's shop and an elderly man emerged, waiting a moment by the beacon before attempting to cross the road.

Kit continued staring out, seeing a blind man tapping his stick laboriously on the kerb and a hospital nurse hurrying past him, her red cape lifting in the breeze. Two unusually smart girls in W.A.A.F.S. uniform contrived to look attractive as well as efficient as they swept along the street in an evident hurry. A grocer's boy swung his bike dexterously in and out of the heavy traffic. A couple of horse-drawn carts lumbered along with aggravating slowness, a baby car fretting and fuming behind them in an effort to overtake. The policeman on point duty held up the stream of vehicles at the crossroads, while a tri-column of soldiers in rust-coloured boiler suits and tin hats marched along with swinging arms. They caused no excitement whatsoever.

Traffic moved on again, headed by a bus. A big car flying the yellow flag of Civil Defence pulled up for a moment while a man in overcoat and trilby went in for cigarettes. Kit saw that his driver wore the green greatcoat of a member of the W.V.S. A taxi-trailer belonging to the fire brigade rounded the corner. A postman appeared from a block of offices across the way. A messenger was handing a parcel of flowers to the commissionaire at the Grand Hotel. The newsvendor outside the subway entrance was flaunting a placard, concerning the R.A.F. over Germany. A smart young woman with a Borzoi dog paused to admire a frock at Maison Latouche. Kit could imagine her considering the price. Eventually the girl moved on, a little of her self-assurance dimmed by disappointment. One of the latest police cars sped up to the lights and stopped with a jerk. The milkman returned to push the horse-drawn wagon on once more. Northeaton's A.R.P. Utility van came into sight. The workman drilling road blocks stopped to rub his back, then bent over his task again. Two or three scrubby children stared at the cinema posters. Their gaze was quickly transferred to the youth kneeling on a pile of green-sprayed sandbags and whacking them into shape as he built higher. A wizened old man appeared in the doorway of the jeweller's for a breath of air. On the steps of the hotel a cat licked daintily at its forepaw. A woman in a quaint hat joined the policeman in an island of traffic to ask the way. Life went on as if nothing were happening.

As it turns out, the early warning is a false alarm, so no sirens sound. This time. Indeed, when this book was written, the Blitz had not yet begun in earnest, so real raids were rare. But knowing what was to come, I found this description of the ordinary lives that would soon be disrupted (or ended) by real bombs surprisingly effective.

One wonders how many more such powerful moments lurk undiscovered in unremarkable novels like this one. As often as I'm disappointed by randomly sampling romantic novels from this period, it's this wondering that makes me still give it a go every now and again. Perhaps one could do a compilation of high points from otherwise forgettable wartime novels?

[As so often before, I have to give my thanks to Grant Hurlock, who kindly shared his scan of this book with me.]

Friday, June 17, 2022

The Scarlett Woman, Part 5: NOEL STREATFEILD (as SUSAN SCARLETT), Ten Way Street (1940) & Sally-Ann (1939)

"This is our new governess,'' said Meggie. " She's a nice sort of governess. She called us little horrors."
"And toads," David chimed in.
Betsy stood on one leg and held the other.
"And she said we were smug and detestable little beasts."

Wrapping up, after a slight delay, my writing about the fabulous Susan Scarlett novels by Noel Streatfeild, having now announced that we're reprinting them all come August (and having the delightful luxury of using our new covers as illustrations for this post), I have two real gems to finish up with. These are mood-brighteners for sure. To start, the fourth Scarlett, Ten Way Street (1940).

Beverley Shaw, raised in an orphanage and trained to be a governess, gets her long-awaited first job working for Margot Cardew, a brilliant stage actress (and a gloriously narcissistic diva to boot, a vibe we were channeling when selecting our cover image), whose three precocious children are accustomed to being used primarily as their mother's props—photo shoots demonstrating what a lovely mother she is, charity performances showing off their adorableness, and the like. Though initially frustrated that her first job is with such pampered brats, rather than the needier children she has imagined caring for, Beverley soon realizes that Meggie, David, and Betsy are genuinely in need of her care too.

Original cover of Ten Way Street, courtesy of my Fairy Godmother

Fortunately, Beverley has advice from her friend Sarah, also a governess to an impoverished vicar's children while their mother recovers from a long illness. And she certainly needs advice to navigate between Margot's kind but exhausted secretary Winkle, her sleazy French maid Marcelle, and the handsome Peter Crewdson, whom Margot loves but who is soon taking an interest in "Joan of Arc", the spirited young governess he first meets giving the children a piece of her mind (see above).

You won't get any prizes for guessing how it all turns out, but the ride is everything, and there are some wonderful moments along the way. Beverley is likely to earn considerable points from readers for her spirited defense of the work she does when Peter appears to disrespect it:

He chuckled.

"Poor Joan of Arc. It's a hard life."

She looked up at him, flushing.

"I'm just as keen on bringing up children as you are on your biochemistry. You know all about the chemicals that make an animal. I've studied the slugs and snails and puppy dogs' tails, and the sugar and spice that make a child. It's my job and I'm going to do it well. So don't laugh at me."

You go girl! And when Beverley accompanies the children to one of their mother's performances, her first visit to a proper theatre, Streatfeild gets a chance to share her knowledge of show biz and her vivid sense of the magic it creates:

Thrilled as anybody must be who is unused to a theatre, she watched the wings fly up into the roof and the cottage front disappear and the whole stage hung in purple curtains. She watched rostrums built up and covered in purple cloth and a flight of steps put in place. Meanwhile all the actors who were to appear were streaming on to the stage.

It's really perfectly lovely and entertaining. I gulped it down. 

In fact, I loved
Ten Way Street almost as much as I loved my next Scarlett, 1939's Sally-Ann, the second of the books to appear (in book form, at least, though it had been serialized a little earlier).

The Marchioness’s face changed. “Well, that would be a way out of the difficulty.” She turned to Ann. “What is your name, dear?”


“Would you mind being Sally for this one afternoon? The real Sally’s surname is Groot but you needn’t use that. Everyone will think you are Sally. They’ll probably call you Sally for they’ve all heard you were coming over for the wedding. You needn’t actually tell a lie about it. But just accept the name.”

Ann looked round the faces. Manners, Dennis, Mona, the Marchioness. They all eyed her expectantly.

“Very well, my lady.”

Charming young Ann Lane once aspired to become an analytical chemist, but when her father's business went bust and her brother Bunny developed a weak heart (heart and eye problems are an epidemic in Streatfeild's neck of the woods), she had to train to be a cosmetician. She was fortunate to find good employment at the Maison Pertinax, an elegant London hair and beauty salon originally founded by Thomas Pert (possibly killed off in the post-World War I years by the shock of women bobbing their hair). 

Ann is good at her job, and well-liked by her colleagues, who include Connie and Iris, two young women who are, as they say, no better than they ought to be, and who take full advantage of their assets to acquire more assets, but who become surprising allies for Ann despite bemoaning her naïveté; June, who fears herself a surplus woman while limiting herself to bread and butter to reduce her weight (for pete's sake, June, put down those carbs!), and the salon's manageress/receptionist, the rancid Lila Grey, known to staff as Nosey P.

On the day we first meet Ann, her superior falls ill with influenza on the day of a high society wedding at a castle near Lewes, and Ann must step in. And on a day when she's wearing her frumpiest clothes, no less! Fortunately, Lady Mona is not at all a Bridezilla and takes to Ann right away (after a temple massage that puts her into a blissful half hour nap, who could blame her?!). But then disaster strikes, in the form of a sudden "violent sickness" visited upon one of Mona's bridesmaids, a boozy girl from South Africa. Mona's Cousin Dennis (clearly flamboyantly gay, but apparently no less liked or appreciated for his abilities—points to Streatfeild there) is frantic that his elaborate plans for the wedding procession will be utterly ruined … if a replacement can't be found who can wear boozy Sally's dress.

Ann, of course, just happens to be the right size, and makes a hit at the wedding, with the result that Mona insists she shall come to the reception as well, in an elegant blue evening gown and an ermine fur (well, if she insists!). There, Ann makes a considerable impression on the best man, Sir Timothy Munster, and an equal, if rather more hostile, impression on the glamorous Cora Bolt, who grew up with Sir Timothy and has always taken for granted that he will marry her one day.

Oh what a tangled web we weave! And what fun we have along the way. This is as light and airy as a novel can come, and yet, as I've said ad nauseum about these Susan Scarlett novels, its characters are so plausible and likable (or loathable), that it couldn't matter less that it's a paint-by-numbers plot. Ann is a spirited, charming heroine, Sir Timothy witty and noble, and Lady Mona simply too good to be true. And surely I won't be the only reader who feels affection for the tarty Connie and Iris:

“That’s the trouble of being a nice girl. You get funny ideas. Marriage!”

“What is it?” said Iris. “Never heard of it.”

“It’s what girls like us come to when the bloom’s off.”

There's even a bit of late 1930s celebrity spotting when Sir Timothy takes Ann out on the town. We get singer Marie Tempest for starters, plus "This is a very literary and theatrical place. In the corner there is Dodie Smith. By the door is John Gielgud. And that’s Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale.” I loved the mention of Dodie Smith, at a time when she would have been known only as a playwright (her first novel appeared in 1949)—and there's a bit of an in-joke since John Gielgud and Marie Tempest were actually the stars of Smith's 1938 stage hit, Dear Octopus. Matthews and Hale, meanwhile, I had to look up—actors both, who presumably had bigger names in 1939 than they do now…

It's been such fun reading and writing about these novels that I wish Streatfeild had eschewed her "literary fiction" altogether and written about 40 more of these. (Word to the wise: do what you're good at, which in Streatfeild's case was clearly children's fiction and romance.) I realize these five posts have only covered ten of the twelve novels. Summer Pudding, as I think I mentioned before, I reviewed here way back in the dark ages. And Love in a Mist, the last of the Scarletts, from 1951, was actually the first one I read on this binge, late last year, before it had even occurred to me that we might reprint them, and I neglected to make good notes on it. Rest assured, however, that it's plot involving a spoiled child, a mother who has read too much child psychology, and a film company in search of a new child star, is (though perhaps slightly more melodramatic) just as deliciously readable as the others, with a memorably squabbling family elegantly brought to heel by a wise matriarch and the knowledge of the film industry, which Streatfeild had acquired from earlier book research, fully on display. Lights, camera, action indeed!

Now, all there is to do is wait till August when they're all available again at last.

Friday, June 10, 2022

"As a femme fatale she was a disappointment": JOYCE DENNYS, And Then There Was One (1983)

In retirement Uncle John went on a cruise round the world, met a lady on board ship and fell in love with her. His wife wouldn't divorce him so they lived in sin. Fortunately, by this time Big Granny and Grandfather were dead, but family eyebrows were raised. Mudzin, who disapproved violently of any sort of unofficial liaison, was a bit nonplussed, but her loved brother could do no wrong and the Lady Friend was accepted. As a femme fatale she was a disappointment, being well-born and cultured and wearing Heath hats and tweeds. They settled down in a nice house at Ashtead, delighted to be excluded from society, and spent their time gardening.

Most of you know (and, presumably, love) Joyce Dennys as the author of two collections of fictionalized letters from the World War II Home Front, Henrietta's War and Henrietta Sees It Through. Although not compiled into books until 1985 and 1986 respectively, the letters—purportedly to a good friend in the military—were written and first appeared in Sketch magazine during the war years, and provide, with delightful humor and accompanied by Dennys' incomparable illustrations, an unforgettable variation on the usual WWII diaries and memoirs. An even funnier Provincial Lady in Wartime, I might say (courting controversy). Which reminds me it's high time for a re-read of both…

But two years before
Henrietta's War appeared, Dennys published And Then There Was One, a short memoir, by turns funny and poignant, of her childhood. Short indeed, weighing in at less than 100 pages, even including a fair number of photos and illustrations. It's a shame that it's not a whole lot longer, but even so it has all the charm one would expect from Dennys. 

It also sheds an interesting and sometimes sad light on the families of men who made their careers in India. In some ways Joyce was lucky, since after her harrowing birth in India, during which her mother nearly died, her mother brought Joyce and her three older siblings back to England to live, and remained with them there for several years after her husband's return abroad. In many families, of course, both parents would abscond to India leaving their offspring with relatives or friends or in boarding-school. Indeed, as Joyce describes, the family home provided shelter for many of these orphans of empire:

The house was convenient for her own children and for various nephews who were dumped at Number Five when their parents returned to India, and removed again when the precious furlough came round, only to be dumped once more for tearful farewells when it was time to go back. Not that the nephews minded, for they looked upon Number Five as their home.

Joyce Dennys as a young woman

Difficult for us to imagine today, and as time went on India also stole away Joyce's beloved brothers, which must have been difficult, however matter-of-factly she was able to reflect on it late in life:

Children are bad letter-writers, and when Guy went to India he went out of my life, and I transferred my hero-worship to Lance. Then he too disappeared to India, and though we occasionally wrote to each other, he gradually faded from my memory. These sad family amputations were accepted without comment at Number Five.

The book goes on into amusing and charmingly eccentric descriptions of Joyce's youth and schooling, her first discovery of art in drawing classes "presided over by the form mistress who knew as much about drawing as a piece of india-rubber", and the trials of her teachers, including a choice tidbit which ends with this:

At one time Miss Graham disappeared for several weeks and it was rumoured she was having a nervous breakdown. If this was true I was largely to blame, but even then I felt no remorse.

Rather poignantly, as we hear of Joyce's own discovery of art, we also gather that her mother had frustrated aspirations in art. Joyce recalls the ruthless selfishness of childhood in relation to her mother's dreams:

At one time she went to some art classes given by a Mr Vicarji. They were her only indulgence and she loved them, though Nan disapproved of her having any interests outside the house. After a time she stopped going to the classes. I don't know why but I expect it was because there wasn't enough money to pay for them. None of us enquired and nobody sympathized.

It's no comfort to know what good company Mrs. Dennys would have been in at that time—how many other women could not develop their talents and potential.

I could end up quoting the entire memoir, but it will suffice to say that it's a lovely read, and Joyce's sometimes unusual perspective on things are fascinating in relation to the culture of the time as well as to her later life and talent. It's out of print at this point, but copies are fairly readily available second-hand. Who knows, someone may also reprint it someday!

Friday, June 3, 2022

"T for tiresome, S for stupid, D for dull and B for bad-tempered": ANN STAFFORD & JANE OLIVER, Cook Wanted (1933)

SPOILER ALERT (sort of, vaguely): As many of you undoubtedly know, a wonderful book called Business as Usual by Ann Stafford and Jane Oliver has been reprinted in the past couple of years by Handheld Press (see here). It's the completely irresistible tale of Hilary Fane, who, engaged to an unbearable prig who can't marry for another year, decides to take that year to support herself in London, and finds work in a London department store. Her diplomacy and practical thinking (rather than her clerical ability, which leaves a considerable amount to be desired) catch the attention of management—rather unrealistically quickly—and she advances at breathtaking speed in her career. (One feels that if other events hadn't intervened, she would have been running the department store by the end of her second year.) Along the way, there's loads of fascinating and entertaining detail about the running of the library and book department of the store and their quirky inhabitants. Do absolutely read that book, if you haven't already, but none of this is the spoiler. The spoiler is that I put in an interlibrary loan for another Stafford & Oliver novel, Cook Wanted, apparently published the same year as Business as Usual, primarily because it was one of the only of their books that I could get hold of, and discovered only after its arrival that it is in fact a sequel, of all delightful things, to BAU. For that reason, it's impossible to write about it without taking for granted the conclusion of the earlier book—though in all fairness you'd have to be a pretty willfully obtuse reader not to see that ending coming by about a quarter of the way into the novel anyway.

Still, be warned! 

I went back to dinner with Aunt Bertha afterwards and asked her weakly if she didn't find voluntary work quite exhausting. She said: "Well, Hilary darling, between ourselves, I sometimes think it isn't the work so much as the Workers." And we would have champagne, she said, because it did Pick you Up. And after dinner I felt much better, but just as I was thinking blissfully of getting to bed really early she suddenly began to burrow in her bag, and sent her maid to search all her pockets and attache-cases and alternative handbags for her Diary. She was quite hysterical about it. "There are Things in it, my dear," she said dramatically. I asked: "What Things?" and she said: "All the names of the people on my committees. And I'm bad at remembering about people, so I just marked them with T for tiresome, S for stupid, D for dull and B for bad-tempered." So I said soothingly that that would be quite all right for nobody would ever guess what she meant.
"Oh, yes, they will," said poor Aunt Bertha, "I felt it would be so much more business-like if I put the code in too. Just in case ... "

Although published the same year as Business as Usual, Cook Wanted takes place several years later (the first book ends in 1932, so presumably we're at least to 1938 here if one were being boringly numerical). Hilary Fane is now Hilary Grant, and business has taken her loving husband Michael to Canada for six months, leaving her home alone with just their 5-year-old son Adam, her good friend Mary Meldon, who comes to stay during Michael's absence, her various servants (including several troublesome cooks, which provide the loose structure of the book), and of course her social activist Aunt Bertha, "addicted to committees". Also providing lively difficulties are Curtis-Fitton, Adam's hoity-toity nurse, Rutherford Worsthorne, a preeminent archaeologist met briefly in BAU and here figuring more prominently with his bull terrier, and Basil Rainford, Hilary's former fiancé, who is somewhat regretting having allowed Hilary to get away (though he's still as much of a prig as ever).

Apart from dealing with various entertainingly chaotic domestic staffing crises, Hilary in this volume gets pulled into Aunt Bertha's world—to serve as Honorary Secretary of the Federated Women Citizens, and further in when when she's drafted, despite her best efforts, to a subcommittee:

But when one of the least hard-bitten and hand-woven members told me that her sub-committee was drafting resolutions on Overtime Among Office Workers (Female) I was tempted—it's still a sore subject with me. And when she mentioned the value of my personal experience at Everyman's and wondered if I realised that under Clause CCCXVIII of the new Bill millions of typists would be working night as well as day, I took fire and followed to the slaughter. As a result I had a Sub-Committee for the Regulation of Women's Working Hours from ten till lunch-time and the Central, All Purposes, goddam-awful Committee Meeting from two o'clock till five-fifteen.

Things become more complicated when Hilary is able to snag Mary the job as editor of the organization's paper, only to find her soon after instigating a strike by the group's own typists, whom they are ironically exploiting mercilessly. Then Basil catches her at a weak moment in Michael's absence, Adam has a health scare, and she and Mary hit the rocks over Hilary's attempts to throw Mary together with Rutherford Worsthorne. Oh, and she has an unexpected encounter with another supporting cast member of BAU as well.

It's all completely irresistibly entertaining, and like
BAU it's accompanied by Ann Stafford's charming line drawings, used to illustrate her letters to Michael in Canada and to her family in Edinburgh, which are the primary content of the novel, with occasional memoranda and other insertions. If it's perhaps slightly more uneven than the first book, as most sequels are, it was still a pleasure to read, and I'm so glad my random ILL request happened across it. 

Unfortunately, based on a Twitter comment from Kate at Handheld when I tweeted about finding the book, it seems that they have no intention of reprinting this one. She suggested that there was a sort of deal-breaker in it. I didn't notice anything major along those lines, though there are some minor irritants, like when Hilary is seeking a school for Adam and Aunt Bertha refers to "backward cases" as being "catching". Not atypical for the time, but still grating to our ears. There might be something else that went over my head, however.

Be that as it may, there are two more amusing and/or interesting passages I'll point out. One, purely for giggles, follows a jaunt Hilary and Mary take into the country, going for a long horseback ride, only to discover after resting at lunch that they are, shall we see, a bit out of practice:

After that the weather improved and we left the pub after lunch for a Long Walk. But we found that we hadn't counted on the after-effects of our first ride for years. We were both just birpling. Like two old, old bodies. I said that I was sure it couldn't be just stiffness: it must be Rheumatic Fever. And Mary said, surely not, but that it was certainly very odd and we would look up the symptoms in Black's MEDICAL ADVISER as soon as we got back to London if rigor mortis didn't set in first.

(BTW, I am now resigned to feeling exactly this way the day after each and every workout, no matter how frequently I exercise. I remember the good old days when I was only sore when I hadn't worked out for a long time, but those days are sadly in the past. Now it's 24/7 sore.)

The other passage is a striking one from a meeting Hilary has with Lady Agnes, the elderly founder of the Federated Women Citizens:

After that Lady Agnes kept us both for dinner and talked about Hunger-Striking and insides of Prisons and point-to-points in Ireland and religious revivals in Wales and Vice-Regality in India until we felt that Commonweal House was a very small pea on a very large drum. As intended. Bless her. I asked her, as I've always wanted to ask one of the Militants, how so many really brilliant women came to do things like setting pillar-boxes on fire and chaining themselves to railings.

And Lady Agnes said: "Well, my dear, when you give men a series of reasoned logical arguments, and they pat you on the shoulder and say 'Run along, little woman; government's a man's job,' you just naturally put out your tongue at them. Besides, it's the only way of getting their attention."

It seems frankly as though we may need to start smashing windows and setting pillar-boxes alight again…

I did manage, by the way, to snag one other Ann Stafford novel via interlibrary loan, a postwar title called Near Paradise (1946), and I've apparently just inadvertently purchased two more (I was just seeing what was available—truly I was!). And I might have laid hands on the one remaining copy I found for sale of her third novel with Oliver, Cuckoo in June, which looks delectable but does not appear to continue Hilary's story. (Perhaps just as well, because at the rate Hilary was conquering realms, a couple more volumes about her would surely have led to her being Prime Minister during World War II instead of Churchill!)

But first and foremost I am also going to finally get round to reading Stafford's Silver Street (1935), which Greyladies reprinted a few years ago and which appears amazingly to still be available from them (see here). As usual, Shirley Neilson was the trailblazer who first discovered Stafford's charms, so I can only assume in advance that Silver Street is a particular treasure.

As for Oliver, I had come across a wartime novel of hers, The Hour of the Angel (1942), a few years back, read just a bit, and quietly returned it to the library. Her husband, John Llewellyn Rhys, whose name has been immortalized by the literary prize she created in his honor, had died only the year before, and the book was very much about her grief and also her interest in spiritualism, which apparently only increased in later years. Not to my own particular taste, so I think I may stick with Stafford or the two's early books together under their own names (they later wrote billions of Mills & Boon romances together under the name Joan Blair, but I'm not sure I'll need to delve too deeply into those either—okay, perhaps not billions, but quite a lot of them). But if you know of a Jane Oliver novel you really recommend (or a good Stafford, for that matter), do let me know. I'm on the prowl, as always.
NOTE: The comment function on Blogger is notoriously cranky. If you're having problems, try selecting "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" from the "Comment as" drop-down (be sure to "sign" your comment, though, so I know who dropped by). Some people also find it easier using a browser like Firefox or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

But it can still be a pain, and if you can't get any of that to work, please email me at I do want to hear from you!