First of all – a cry out for Janells – you’ve won a DVD of The Pillars of the Earth, please get in touch to simondavidthomas[at]yahoo.co.uk! Now on with the show…
Quite a while ago I posted a contemporary review of E.M. Delafield’s (brilliant) The Provincial Lady Goes Further, from Time and Tide. When I did, I promised I’d post anything similar I encountered – which sadly I haven’t done for some time, but today I was reading more reviews of various books, and thought you might be interested in one of the following. Here are reviews of two Stuck-in-a-Book favourites, both on my 50 Books… list: Edith Olivier’s The Love-Child and David Garnett’s Lady Into Fox:
‘Miss Olivier, whom I take to be a new writer, has made a hopeful beginning. Indeed, on the strength of this first book, if it really is her first, a brilliant future might be predicted for her if it were not for the consideration that the thing is a tour de force, and that it has yet to be discovered what she can do when dealing with lives lived out soberly under the light of the sun and not with a world of fantasy. Here is the matter of her story. Agatha Boddington, no longer young, and subdued to the routine of a life in which nothing happens, is bereaved of her mother. Her father she lost years earlier. There seems to be an utter emptiness in the years that stretch before her, but in her solitude she begins to remember the secret imagined playmate of her now remote childhood, such a playmate as very many children have invented for themselves. Mused upon, Clarissa, that daughter of imagination, gradually, uncertainly, takes flesh. The situation, should any but Agatha see Clarissa in her intermittent bodily manifestations, would demand more explanation than Agatha can offer. In a state of extreme excitement and anxiety, Agatha goes away from her house, from her bewildered servants, to an hotel at the seaside, where she can have accommodation for her “niece” and herself without arousing curiosity.
‘There Clarissa develops, and there is a period during which Agatha and she, in their flawless intimacy, know perfect happiness. But the visit must end, and having warned her servants that she is returning with a little niece, she and the love child born of her imagination go back to the old house. But, through imagery for which Miss Olivier may conceivably have had a hint from a wonderful passage in Gérard de Nerval, the frailty of the relations between Agatha and Clarissa is now suggested. Reading out of an antiquated pseudo-scientific book, they learn how attraction holds the stars in their courses; but Clarissa now lamentably apt to have ideas independently of Agatha’s promptings, raises the question whether a star might not pass out of reach of that attraction. Clarissa, certainly, is destined to pass out of the range of Agatha’s. Becoming so human, she responds at long last to the love-making of a young neighbour, David, from whom Agatha seeks vainly to keep her. And at the moment when she begins to love a human being other than Agatha, she ceases to be, dissolves into the world of dreams out of which the yearnings of Agatha materialized her. Agatha herself subsides into a fortunate madness, in which she can play games with the invisible Clarissa.
‘Miss Olivier has imagination and the method required by her material. She is careful to provide a matter-of-fact setting, and makes intelligent use of the stolid servants, the blundering policeman, the uncomprehending neighbours. She is also able to insinuate into her fantasy a sense of the pathos of a life so starved of actualities that it must be nourished on dreams. Agatha is not, as with the average writer of fantastic tales she would have been, merely an agent for the production of Clarissa: she is human, and her exultations and sufferings matter.’
‘Every English country gentleman has, of course, pondered long and seriously what he would do if his wife turned into a fox. Few, however, have been called upon to put their conclusions into practice. To Mr. Tebrick, whose story Mr. David Garnett has told with admirable reticence, the shock came unexpectedly. “The sudden changing of Mrs. Tebrick into a vixen,” says Mrs. Garnet, “is an established fact.” He is not to be drawn aside into speculation on the possible explanations. He has a horror of second-hand or ill-supported embroideries upon the bare and certain story. What, then, are we to say about convincingness? To some narrow folk, Mr. Garnett’s story, despite its sober veracity, will seem as improbable as the elaborate inventions of Mr. Vivian; but not to those susceptible to the charms of style. From beginning to end of ‘Lady Into Fox,’ there is not one false-note. The coherence and harmony are absolute. To apply the vulgar and impertinent test of probability is unthinkable. Mrs. Tebrick was changed into a vixen: at first she preserved many of her human characteristics, desiring out of modesty to wear clothes, and continuing to play cards: but gradually the animal nature asserted itself, and poor Mr. Tebrick’s novel was ever more severely strained, but never gave way, and at the end his wife died tragically in his arms. We have Mr. Garnett’s word for it, in a prose as pure as Addison’s; and I am sorry for those who find it difficult to credit. Mr. Garnett’s woodcuts are corroborative evidence, being wholly in the spirit of the tale. The evidence is welcome, but the corroboration is unnecessary.’