No, today’s title doesn’t suggest a foray into the world of female impersonation (for the record, Simone is my preferred equivalent) but rather the beginning of what I will whimsically call Hesperus Week!
Hesperus have been mentioned a few times on here before, but it’s worth doing again. A while ago they sent me four books, and I gobbled up Jerome K. Jerome’s The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow very speedily, loving every word. It’s taken me a while to read the other three, since I decided I’d finish them all before I wrote about them individually. Before I get onto the first of those, I’ll remind you a little bit about Hesperus Press. They specialise in reprinting the neglected works of famous authors, and also translations of modern foreign novels. It is the former in which I am especially interested, with authors including Austen, Woolf, Bronte, Alcott, Pope, Balzac, Dickens, Defoe… etc. etc.
On the train to London I read L. P. Hartley’s Simonetta Perkins. My first experience with LPH was The Go-Between, which I read last year and was a very close contender for my favourite ten books of 2007. Simonetta Perkins was also an absolute delight, told with panache and a wry wit. The novella opens with Lavinia Johnstone perusing a book in Venice, a book which makes bold statements such as “Love is the greatest of the passions; the first and the last”. She cannot agree, having turned down several suitors and felt little more than irritation towards them. It is not long, however, before the romance of Venice persuades her otherwise – but she is attracted in an inconvenient and unsuitable direction. Through this slim volume Hartley explores a hypothetical relationship of unequal power, obsession and self-exploration. Think the scenario of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the hands of an author who is Lawrence’s opposite.
What of Simonetta, you ask? Well, she takes a while to appear in her own novella, but is quite significant and intriguing when she does.
Hartley’s work is subtle, sensitive and, above all, extremely funny. We can laugh at Lavinia because she laughs at herself, and not compromise pathos. For example, Lavinia’s proper, dignified, insensitive and gently xenophobic mother warns her against letting any situation, especially of the male variety, get the upper hand of her: ‘[Lavinia] sighed, realising from past experience how improbable it was that any situation would put itself to the trouble.’
Do go and enjoy Simonetta Perkins – there is a wonderful novella waiting for you.