Margery Sharp, The Gipsy in the Parlour (1953)
Hooray, it’s Margery Sharp Day! This event, formerly hosted at Fleur in Her World and now at Beyond Eden Rock, introduced me to a delightful but sadly overlooked author of the mid-twentieth century. I’m glad that Jane is once more celebrating Margery Sharp’s birthday by offering this opportunity for us to read her books and share our reviews.
My library, sadly does not have ANY of Sharp’s adult books, but I was able to track down a not-too-garbled e-book of The Gipsy in the Parlour through Open Library. The title, cover, and Victorian setting of this one intrigued me, and I was not disappointed. It was another humorous, breezy read that yet had a serious side in its closely observed characters and emotional insight.
At the beginning we’re introduced to the magnificent Sylvesters, a salt-of-the-earth family of Devonshire farmers and their formidable women who are waiting for a fourth bride to be brought to their home. Also present is our unnamed narrator, a child relation who is there from the city on one of her much-cherished holidays. It’s through her perspective that we see the ensuing events, and Sharp skillfully manages to convey her naively mistaken impressions, though the more jaded eye of adulthood gradually comes to a different interpretation.
As the bride Fanny becomes the “gipsy in the parlour,” putting off her marriage to go into a dramatic decline, and the narrator becomes her “little friend” and ally, the parallel phrase of “cuckoo in the nest” comes to mind. How the parasitical Fanny is eventually dislodged makes for a slyly comical story with a host of marvelous characters. I especially adored the quietly heroic Charlotte, oldest of the Sylvester wives, but you’ll have a wonderful time with all of them.
I also loved how Sharp artfully renders the Devonshire speech patterns without resorting to impenetrable dialect transcription. If you’re doing the Reading England challenge, be sure to consider this one for Devon.
It’s a brief novel that left me certainly wanting to read more Margery Sharp. And so I’m off on the hunt again…and looking forward to seeing what other readers have found this year.