Tea or Books? #24: careful or manhandle, and The Love-Child vs Lolly Willowes

Tea or Books logoI have forced two topics on Rachel – firstly, are you careful with books, or do you manhandle them? (It will all make sense in context.) And then two books that were lynch pins of my doctoral thesis – The Love-Child by Edith Olivier and Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Prepare yourself for hearing lots about my research, partly because it’s the first time since my viva that anybody has sat down and listened to me talk about it.

(Btw Great British Bake Off recap coming SOON, promise, but it takes longer than putting this episode up and I didn’t have time tonight!)

It feels like ages since we recorded, so it’s really nice to be back. We’ve missed it! Do let us know what you’d pick in each category, and any topics you’d like us to cover in future episodes. Listen above, via a podcast app, or at our iTunes page. One day we’ll have enough ratings and reviews for them to show up on the page.

Here are the books and authors we talk about in this episode…

The Victorians by A.N. Wilson
Winnie and Wolf by A.N. Wilson
Angus Wilson
Ivanhoe by Walter Scott
E.T.A. Hoffmann
Why I Read: The Series Pleasure of Reading by Wendy Lesser
The Shelf by Phyllis Rose
The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett
Henry James
Susan and Joanna by Elizabeth Cambridge
Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge
Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
Mapp and Lucia series by E.F. Benson
Mr Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
Present Laughter by Noel Coward
The Love-Child by Edith Olivier
Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Henrik Ibsen
Winifred Holtby
The Witch-Cult of Western Europe by Margaret Murray
Sarah Waters
Lady Into Fox by David Garnett
Mr Fortune’s Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner
William Maxwell
Dwarf’s Blood by Edith Olivier
The Seraphim Room by Edith Olivier
The Venetian Glass Nephew by Elinor Wylie
Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson
A Harp in Lowndes Square by Rachel Ferguson
The Haunted Woman by David Lindsay
His Monkey Wife by John Collier
To The North by Elizabeth Bowen
The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen

The Underground River – Edith Olivier

Back when I discovered Edith Olivier’s brilliant novel The Love-Child in a charity shop, I started raving about it to my friends in the dovegreybooks online book email list.  Little did I know that The Love-Child would go on to play an important role in my DPhil thesis, and that I’d present a few papers on it, but I did know that it was a really special book.  And so I very gratefully accepted the kind offer of a lady called Jane to send me a copy of The Underground River (1929) by Olivier.  That was in 2007 – and I finally got around to reading it in spring this year, while doing extra bits and pieces of research for my Olivier chapter.  And here’s a quick little post about it…

It’s a children’s book, about Tony and Dinda who escape from their terrifying great-aunt by going underground and (you guessed it) finding a river.  Many are the adventures they find there… Surprisingly large numbers of people live alongside the river, lit only by candles in the gloom – and some of them are pretty terrifying.  Along the way are men who ask young ladies to dance… who can then never leave them (Dinda manages to avoid this fate).  There are smugglers, kindly magical folk, adventure, peril… it’s the standard fare that I’ve come to expect from a childhood reared on Enid Blyton.  And some self-aware humour at times, maybe?

After a time they felt hungry, but they found it was very difficult to eat their meal in the dark.  They each had a knife and fork, but they had never guessed how hard it would be to cut slices for themselves off a sirloin of beef, with no butler to carve, no carving-knife and fork to carve with, and no light to carve by.
My favourite passage, of course, had to be the following – it’s nice to know that we twins are up there with magical creatures in terms of wonderment.

Tony and Dinda were really delighted.  They had never seen twins before, and they had always longed to know some.  In vain had they begged their mother to give them twin brothers or sisters.  She had always refused, and now here was a family entirely consisting of twins.  It seemed too amusing to be true.
There are nice illustrations by Margaret Forbes throughout, and the edition itself is rather charming – part of ‘The Enchantment Series’, whatever that was, and it is indeed enchanting.

I’ve read quite a few of Olivier’s novels (as always, you can see them all by selecting her from the author drop-down menu in the left-hand column) and none have lived up to the wonder of The Love-Child, but that is hardly surprising.  Whilst Googling The Underground River, though, I stumbled across someone else who has read her obscure books – Scott, of The Furrowed Middlebrow (that link will take you to all his Edith Olivier posts).  There is a coda to this gift-giving; I spotted that The Underground River was one of the few Olivier books Scott hadn’t managed to get hold of, so thought I’d ‘pay it forward’ (if you will) – and now this little book is on its way across the Atlantic…

The Love-Child by Edith Olivier

I have blogged before about The Love-Child, one of my favourite books and in my ongoing list of 50 You Must Read, but I’ve never been very happy with my post on it.   Nor do I think the following wholly encapsulates how wonderful the novel is by any means, but… I thought it worth sharing.  I wrote it for Hesperus Press’s Uncover A Classic competition – but, sadly for me, a different book was chosen.  More on that soon, but I decided not to put my ‘500 word introduction’ to waste – and so, just in case you’ve yet to read this beautiful novel, here is the piece I wrote for the Hesperus competition…

photo source

Edith Olivier’s The Love Child (1927) was her first novel, and easily her best.  Although rediscovered as a ‘modern classic’ in 1981, it has not been reprinted since – perhaps because it resist categorisation – yet it deserves a far wider, rapturous audience.

The Love Child tells the story of Agatha Bodenham, a middle-aged childless spinster mourning the death of her mother as the novel opens.  She fondly recalls her childhood imaginary friend, Clarissa, and even copes with her loneliness by talking to Clarissa again.  This attachment grows until one afternoon, to Agatha’s surprise, Clarissa herself appears in the garden: ‘She was smaller even than Agatha had imagined her, and she looked young for her age, which must have been ten or eleven.  […] Physically, she looked shadowy and pathetic, but a spirit peeped out of her eyes, with something of roguishness, perhaps, but yet it was unmistakably there.’

Initially Clarissa is visible only to Agatha, but gradually others can see her also – and Agatha copes with both the joy of new-found companionship, and the embarrassment of explaining the sudden appearance of a child.  Eventually she decides she must pretend that Clarissa is her own daughter; her love child.  ‘She had saved her.  But at what a cost!  Her position, her name, her character – she had given them all, but Clarissa was hers’.

Olivier constructs a mother/daughter relationship which is more poignant, and more vulnerable than most.  Clarissa may disappear as suddenly as she appeared – especially when, as the years progress, a local man named David begins to fall in love with her.  Agatha’s possessiveness and uncertainty are drawn beautifully, demonstrating the pain suffered by one unused to love when her creation may be taken from her.  She is not cast as a villain, but simply a lonely woman battling for the solution to that loneliness.  Olivier herself had neither husband nor children when, in her fifties, she was inspired to start writing novels.  According to her autobiography, the idea for The Love Child came to her suddenly in the middle of the night, and was written ‘during those feverish wakeful hours when the body is weary but the mind seems let loose to work abnormally quickly.’  The novel certainly reads with the enchanting spontaneity this writing process suggests and, although often addressing sad topics, is far from a melancholy book.  This is primarily due to Clarissa herself.  She is a captivating character – naïve, almost elfin, yet fascinated by science and delighted by motorcars – she animates not only Agatha’s monotonous life, but enlivens the whole novel.

In a short book, which could easily be read in two or three hours, Olivier encompasses moving and involving themes in a warm, lively manner; it seems absurd that this beautiful novel should ever have fallen out of print.  A new generation of readers deserve to discover The Love Child.

Country Moods and Tenses – Edith Olivier

It’s no secret that I love Edith Olivier’s The Love Child (by the by, any of you who are enjoying Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, I definitely recommend The Love Child as a companion read).  I keep reading more books by Olivier, and being disappointed that they’re not as good… Well, this blog post mentioned Country Moods and Tenses (1941) as their favourite of her works, and it sounded like it might be useful for my thesis, so I got a copy online and read it speedily.  And I paid a teeny bit more to get this unusual and beautiful cover, created by Olivier’s friend Rex Whistler.

Sorry the photo is a bit dark, but you get the impression.

Well, long story short, it won’t replace The Love Child in my affections – but it’s still rather a lovely book to have on the shelf, and is quintessentially Olivier.  The more I read by her, especially her non-fiction, the more I realise that she sees herself primarily as a countrywoman, and as a Wiltshire-woman.  She was mayor, after all.

Country Moods and Tenses is subtitled a ‘Non-Grammarian’s Chapbook’, and in it Olivier outlines village life in five grammatical tenses/moods: Infinitive, Imperative, Indicative, Subjunctive and Conditional.  The associations between these and the chapters is somewhat fanciful (Indicative for travelling; Conditional for the changes of modern life; Subjunctive for human relationships, etc.) but it’s as good a method as any for discussing the countryside in a period where traditions and village-individuality was already fast disappearing.  There’s plenty of country folklore, which Olivier swears by:

Birds and animals have many habits which indicate the coming weather to a wise watcher.  If the partridges are still flying in coveys on February 1st, it foretells a late spring; if they pair as early as the last week of January, the season will be an early one.  Pheasants crow in the night to warn of the approach of bad weather, but lately they have decided that German bombs are as bad as tornadoes.  They are extremely sensitive to the sound of a coming raid, and can hear, or feel, the fall of a high-explosive bomb quite twenty miles away.  Then at once they lift up their voices in shrill chorus.
But it is not just the flora and fauna in which Olivier is interested.  She turns her attention to the human inhabitants of Wiltshire, including many photographs.  Those of scenery are a little underwhelming (being in black and white, they offer rather less than modern day equivalents) but the many and various photographers (including Cecil Beaton) have captured some astonishingly natural shots of labourers and villagers.  These were the most interesting to me.  Indeed, through Olivier’s country moods, it was human behaviour which most appealed to me. Those of us who are familiar with E.M. Delafield’s Provincial Lady will identify with this excerpt – which, by the by, is one of the elements of Olivier’s countryside which certainly hasn’t changed:

In spite of the country genius for making festivals out of buying and selling, nothing can prevent a Sale of Work from being a terribly dreary affair; yet every village must have at least one every summer.  For weeks beforehand the whole parish is busy with preparations.  A garden is lent; the morning arrives; the stalls are prettily arranged; and then, a few hours before the time fixed for the opening ceremony, the goods have to be hurriedly scrambled into the schoolroom to escape a deluge of rain.  Everyone agrees to make the best of it.  A leading lady of the neighbourhood declares the sale open.  The clergyman makes a tactful speech.  The members of the audience look feverishly round.  There is nothing at all to buy, and nobody to buy it.
One of my problems with Olivier’s writing elsewhere is that her writing is rarely witty – all a little too earnest. So I was grateful to find the above section, with its Delafieldian tones.  Although Country Moods and Tenses does lean towards the solemn for the most-part, these little flavours of humour help elevate the book.  And Olivier finds humour in her observations about the countryside she so dearly loves, in both present and past.

In the Middle Ages, the traveller in Europe (or even in England if he went beyond his own county) had to be an adventurous fellow indeed.  Morrison, who published one of the earliest road-books, tells his readers that they should certainly make their wills before leaving home; and one of his first bits of practical advice is an instruction on the different technique of duelling in each European country.  He tells the traveller that he will meet with more thieves in England than anywhere else; but he adds this encouraging postscript: “Having taken purses by the Highway, they seldom or never kill those they rob.  All private men pursue them from village to village with hue and cry.”
It is the future which Olivier cannot observe with laughter, from her 1941 vantage.  She worries about universal education meaning that village children no longer learn a trade, or follow in their parents’ farming footsteps; she is concerned about the buildings which are insensitive to their surroundings; she fears that village will become homogeneous, losing their customs and heritage.  Who’s to say that she was wrong?

But this certainly isn’t an exercise in hand-wringing.  Olivier writes joyfully about the countryside, even while documenting its changes.  Who knows quite what her purpose was in writing Country Moods and Tenses?  Surely she couldn’t have hoped to stall the changes.  Perhaps she just wanted a simple set of recollections.  It would be impossible to encompass all of 1940s village life in one book, but Olivier does capture at least her enthusiasm.  I’ll finish with one sentence, entirely honest, which demonstrates Olivier’s ethos – as well as the shifting sands she was up against:

And no one with a first-hand knowledge of the two could possibly prefer a screen decked with film-stars to a sty full of little pigs.

Night Thoughts of a Country Landlady by Edith Olivier

Those of you who eagerly await my ‘hilarious’ pun-nomenal post titles may have noted that, of late, I’ve gone for simple titles when doing book reviews.  This is partly so I can tell what I was reviewing when I look at archives, and partly to make the search engine work better… but I do miss trying to think of laboured ways to pun, of an evening.

Which isn’t really relevant to anything at all, only I felt I could have had a field day with Edith Olivier’s Night Thoughts of a Country Landlady (1940).  Nothing springs to mind right now, of course… (Landlady Olivier… no. Holding The Thoughts… no.  Night to See You, To See You… Night!  Ok, stop Simon.)  Shall we get on with the show?

It’s no secret that I love Olivier’s novel The Love-Child.  I’m currently writing a chapter of my thesis which centres around it, and it’s probably in my top ten favourite books.  So far my other encounters with Olivier have been somewhat less impressive (unless you count the genuine excitement of reading her actual diary, in Wiltshire Record Office) but I am abundantly hopeful – and thus, when I saw Night Thoughts of a Country Landlady in Taunton, I grabbed it.  (And, y’know, paid for it and everything.)

Being specific, this book is (purportedly) ‘presented by’ Edith Olivier.  It takes the form of edited diaries from the pen of Miss Emma Nightingale.  Olivier’s preface indicates that she compiled Miss Nightingale’s war diaries, deposited with her the night before Miss N died: ‘All the sentences I have printed here are hers, though I have rearranged them in order to bring them into chapters.’  Now, Jane, in her lovely review, took Olivier at her word.  I’m more cynical.  I’m pretty sure she’s lying.  Remember when Margaret Forster wrote Diary of an Ordinary Woman and there was a small kerfuffle because it turned out the ‘ordinary woman’ was entirely made up?  Well, I expect Olivier’s kerfuffle was even smaller, but… it does seem as though Miss Nightingale is a creature of Olivier’s imagination.  There’s her name, for starters (‘night thoughts’ of Miss Nightingale? A little coincidental.)  Also the fact that the book doesn’t even slightly resemble a diary – for instance, she often writes looking back over several years, retrospectively.  And finally, the style is very much Olivier’s own.  It often reads exactly like her own autobiography, Without Knowing Mr. Walkley, which I have yet to review here.

None of which, naturally, prevents it being a very enjoyable book.  It’s quite an odd, roundabout concept – but whether or not Miss Nightingale ever existed, the wartime thoughts are interesting, engaging reading for any of us interested in the home front of the war years.  Which is quite a lot of us, no?

The plot (as it were) of the book is quite unextraordinary.  Ordinary, if you will.  Essentially it narrates the experience of a fairly old woman, living in a small village during wartime, and offering up her home to lodgers.  These range from military men to a famous actress – each of which Miss Nightingale welcomes happily, and observes shrewdly.  For the most part, I enjoyed and respected the calm, kind manner in which Miss Nightingale coped with the uncertainties and upheavals of conflict.
I have found that the happiest way to carry on in the war is, not to worry about any immediate effect of what we are actually doing, but to do it as well as we can, and then to look away and watch nature all around, slowly reaching her effortless and sure fruition.  That is the complete change of air and scene which we so often think we must have.  There is no repose like the realisation that one’s little daily drudgery is already part of something beyond itself.I am endlessly interested in home-front perspectives on war, but what I really love is the good old British if-you-can’t-laugh-what-can-you-do attitude to anything and everything.  One need look no further than E.M. Delafield’s The Provincial Lady in Wartime to realise that the most unsettling of circumstances can be dealt with humorously – and that was what I found most lacking in The Night Thoughts of a Country Landlady.  It’s very rarely funny.  It isn’t unduly earnest, but does lapse into the prosaic on occasion.  Some situations had inherent humour, and those came across well, but I felt Olivier/Nightingale could have made this a more engaging narrative if she had allowed herself to be a bit wittier.  The humour, when it comes, is subtle…
One complication was that a party of mothers and “expectant mothers”, whose children were sent here, had been themselves evacuated to another place beginning with the same letter.  The authorities had imagined that this alphabetical proximity naturally carried with it a geographical one, but unfortunately this was not the case, and the other village was about twelve miles off.  For some days this caused a ferment.  First of all, one of the mothers (who further happened to be “expectant”) having been located in this remote spot, arrived at our school screaming for her children who had been sent here.  She and her two children made a terrific scene, yelling and shrieking in the school yard, while I tried to explain that as the two places were in different rural districts the exchange must be arranged by the two councils.  I promised that this would be done as soon as possible.  No good.  The yells grew louder.  The Chief Billeting Officer, being a stickler for law-abiding, refused to let me take the matter into my own hands.  I therefore conveyed the party to his office, where I pointed out to him that, unless we made an exception in this case, the “expectant mother” would soon be “expectant” no longer, and that the alteration in her status might take place in his very office.  This changed his opinion, and he delightedly consented to our sending the whole family, as quickly as possible, at least twelve miles away.(Incidentally, for two rather different angles on WW2 evacuees, see Evelyn Waugh’s spiky, rather cruel novel Put Out More Flags or Terence Frisby’s touching memoir Kisses on a Postcard.)

The final two paragraphs of the book reflect what is deep within my own heart too, and which couldn’t be understood by people who haven’t lived in a village.  It’s made me want to write a post dedicated to villages, to see if I can offer up an alternative to Rachel’s paeans to New York and London, places (sorry!) I would loathe to live.  I might well write that soon, but for now I’ll hand over to Olivier/Miss Nightingale (the quotation at the end, by the way, is apparently from George Borrow):
That is the happiness of living in this place, and indeed in any country place in England to-day.  We are not cut off from the life-and-death struggle of our country, for has not this bee called “a war of little groups”, in which the Home Guards and the housewives take their place behind the aircraft and the tanks?  Yet we still live on in our own homes, and if other homes are like mine (s I am sure they are) it s still possible for a visitor to say, as he enters our doors, “Here, one can hardly realise the war”.  And that is perhaps the best thing we can ever give to the strangers within our gates.
So the colour of the trees still matters to us, and also to our lodgers.  It has mattered to us – spring, summer, autumn, and winter – all through the past three years; and, as for the winters, it must be admitted that the war ones have been very hard.  They really might have been planned by Hitler.  Yet, in spite of that, now they have taken their place among the visual memories of a lifetime, what rare effects of beauty some of them are found to recall!  There was that marvellous Sunday morning when the rain froze as it fell, and the trees were suddenly hung with tinkling icicles, chiming with little ghost-like echoes of the church bells which had long been silent.  There are no icicles to-night, and there are no bells; but “there’s night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon and stars, brother, all sweet things; there’s likewise the wind on the heath.  Life is very sweet, brother.”Night Thoughts of a Country Landlady is a very slim volume, under a hundred pages, and doesn’t really have the quality of Nella Last’s War or the magnitude of Vere Hodgson’s Few Eggs and No Oranges – but there is plenty of room for many voices, and this is a quieter angle, from an older perspective, and still makes for interesting reading.  Olivier still hasn’t equalled The Love Child here, but of course it is a very different kettle of fish.  For anybody interested in wartime England – I’d recommend picking this up if you stumble across it, and further recommend that you go and read Jane’s enchanting review.

Something Lovely in the Post

I’ve mentioned before that I’m part of a postal book group, which goes on for ages and then you get a notebook back full of comments about your chosen book. The last circle took about 18 months, I think, or maybe even more than that – but it has now come to an end, and The Love Child by Edith Olivier has returned with its accompanying notebook. You might know how much I love the novel (reviewed here) and I thought I’d share parts of what others had to say about it…

Never in a month of Sundays would I have selected this to read if I’d found it while browsing – it may be a Virago, but the title & the description did nothing to lure me in, nor did your “50 book” description on your blog, Simon. And yet, and yet… I am very glad you sent it along. Having set aside my prejudices I thoroughly enjoyed it – her writing moves along at a cracking pace & the deeply unsettling subject matter becomes part of the enjoyment.
— Nichola

Not only a delightful read, but a cleverly constructed one! One assumes from the title that the heroine will either be a “love child”, or will have had one, and when you read the description on the first page of Agatha Bodenham both possibilities seem impossible. Suspension of belief no.1. A few pages later, and Clarissa has been summoned. The reader sees this as totally fanciful, but suddenly can “see” Clarissa with Agatha’s eyes. Suspension of belief no.2. Clarissa is now “real” in Agatha’s eyes and therefore in ours too. […] A magical book which leaves its hooks in one.
— Curzon

Having read a chunk of Angela Carter recently including the translated Charles Perrault fairy tales I found myself approaching this in a state of mind very receptive to the fairy tale element. For me this was a grand amalgamation of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Thumabline & more, with Agatha sitting somewhere between the fairy godmother and the queen who wishes for a daughter.
— Hayley

A beautiful and delightful story. I absolutely loved it just for itself.
— Teresa

I read this in one sitting – hanging out on the balcony with my cat, the strong spring sun warming us both – ideal circumstances to indulge in a summer fantasy. The book reminded me of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – beings being summoned and disappearing, things that aren’t what they seem, the borders between the real and the imagined blurring.
— Susan

There is an unsettling creepiness about it – whenever the reader pauses. It strikes me that this dichotomy – the light, whimsical, airy fairy tale versus the darker creepiness reflects the state of Edith’s mind following the loss of her father and sister. Unlimited freedom after an early life that was a model of repression.
— Sherry

What an interesting book. I collect Viragos (sight unseen even), but this is one I had never come across at least on this side of the Atlantic. It’s such a whimsical story, yet sad as well. It reminded me a little of Rachel Ferguson’s The Brontes Went To Woolworths – the same rich sort of fantasy lfie, but for Agatha it went a step further. I wasn’t quite sure where the author was going with her story – I wasn’t expecting a full-fleshed young woman though she was still limited in her thoughts, actions, responses by Agatha’s mind (?) emotions (?) What was sad is the need to revert to this imaginary friend and then the obsession when others “wanted” Clarissa as well. […] It’s the sort of story where the more I think about it after-the-fact the more I appreciate it.
— Danielle

I loved re-reading this novel. I particularly like the last several pages – the interchange between David and Agatha. The cluelessness of both of them, in some ways, is monumental. They’re communicating on wildly different frequencies!
— Karen

I didn’t think I’d like it. I dislike fey, I dislike whimsy, I particularly dislike being inside the mind of crazy people, and oh yes, I loathe magical realism! But guess what – I loved the book! First of all the crystalline clarity of the wrting world win me over right there. Then, to convey such complex, psychologically sophisticated themes with such simplicity is astounding. It’s got none of them aberrations of the genres I disdained above – it’s very much an odd flower from its own particular period.
— Diana

I also dislike ‘fey’ and the cover of this edition aroused misgivings. I thought I would read the first few pages to see what lay in store… An hour or so later I had read to the end in one sitting. Like everyone else I was entranced by the quality of the writing and the psychological insight of this unusual story.
To me it recalled myths rather than fairy stories – Narcissus, Eros & Psyche, even Persephone!
— Deborah

I first read this book three years ago – also on Simon’s recommendation. I loved it both times, but I can’t really say why. ‘Magic realism’ would not usually be my ‘thing’ but this delightful and short story just hangs together so beautifully. This time I read the foreword by Hermione Lee and now can see where Edith Olivier’s ideas came from – her own life and family. She was inspired to write the book after her sister died.
— Barbara

50 Books: The Love Child by Edith Olivier

I bet you never expected to read the words ‘love child’ on Stuck-in-a-Book… well, if you’ve been paying careful attention, you’ll have seen them a couple of times already. Edith Olivier’s novel The Love Child came in at no.3 on my favourite books read last year. I’ve just realised that I’ve been referring to Olivier as Oliver for a long while, and thus may have misled people… I must go back and alter.

This novel has had mixed reception – I’ve only ‘tried it out’ on a couple of other people; one liked it and one wasn’t so sure. I know Lisa at Bluestalking would love it and am waiting for her to clear space in her schedule to read it! (That is, unless she already has, and kept quiet about not liking it…)

Agatha Bodenham, at 32, finds herself alone for the first time, after the death of her mother. She has been kept quietly at home, and has no real friends or chance of marriage. She turns her attention instead to an imaginary friend of her youth, Clarissa – who then appears, ‘gathering substance in the warmth of Agatha’s obsessive love until it seems that others too can see her’, to quote the blurb. Though a great joy to Agatha’s lonely life, as Clarissa begins to explore the more exotic features of 1920s life (tennis, dances, boys) something of a power struggle develops, and it is unclear who possesses whom…

There are similarities to one of my favourite books, Miss Hargreaves, though Baker’s novel was funnier and less affecting. The Love Child (1927) is a touching portrait with edges of surrealism and heartache. A very slim novel, it contains many intriguing ideas about love and possession and neediness – I also found the writing to flow beautifully. I’d love to discover other fables of this ilk – where Miss Hargreaves and Lady Into Fox also fit.

My Virago copy (bought on a whim for 75p in an Oxford charity shop) has an introduction by Hermione Lee which is illuminating. And, like so many other authors, Edith Olivier was related to a clergyman. Daughter, in this case. She spent nearly all her life in her native Wiltshire, except for some time at Oxford University on a scholarship – and The Love Child, where it does not wander into fantasy, appears to be influenced by autobiography.

Like all the other books so far in my 50 Books… I really recommend that you seek this novel out – it may well become a treasure you’ll remember for a while.