Margaret Kennedy, Troy Chimneys (1952)
I’ve just finished Troy Chimneys, and already I want to read it again. This is partly to try to puzzle out the chronology, which is confused by a complicated multi-layer structure of diaries and letters bandied back and forth between various generations of different families — but it’s also because the story at the heart of this maze was worth the effort to dig through to it, a touching portrait of one man’s moral struggles.
To add a further complication, this man, Miles Lufton, born to an English clergyman’s family in 1782, thinks of himself as two men: Miles, the part of himself that would be happy to live in Wiltshire and “listen to the nightingale,” and Pronto, the social-climbing MP whose only goal in life is to enrich himself. The title refers to a house that Miles buys with Pronto’s gains with the idea that it can become a retreat for his better self, but this does not turn out as he had expected or hoped, as with so much else in his life. As he writes his memoirs he reflects on how the split in his being arose and how it may be bridged — perhaps by the evolution of a “third man,” one who can witness and transcend the limitations of both Miles and Pronto.
Miles’s life journey is framed by two love stories, one that takes place in his ignorant youth and one that arises as he approaches middle age. Here Kennedy is working with much the same material that occupied Georgette Heyer in her Regency romances, but gives it a more melancholy, reflective spin than those lighthearted concoctions do. Miles is always failing himself and others, and yet I don’t see him as a failure. His struggles resonate with our own, his quest for self-integration is both highly modern and one of the most ancient, archetypal human experiences. The ending is not a conventionally happy one, and yet it is somehow not depressing. By gaining self-knowledge, Miles has also gained a measure of freedom, and so his suffering is not felt to be in vain.
Kennedy’s evocation of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (with some Victorian interludes) is lightly and expertly done. She crafts her language carefully to locate us in the period without sounding archaic. She has no need to throw about Regency slang or refer to details of fashion or etiquette; her characters simply exist in the time that belongs to them, without undue fuss and bother. To appreciate how she does this is yet another reason for rereading.
These are just a few of the thoughts that arose as I read this complex, playful, insightful and challenging novel. I don’t want to give away too many details, because part of the fun of reading is to discover them for yourself. If you venture to do so, be sure to plough through the framing letters at the beginning, which can be rather tough going, and get into Miles’s first Journal. I hope you will be quickly drawn into his story, as I was, and not want to leave.
Back to the Classics – Romance Classic
Classics Club list #53
15 thoughts on “A Regency puzzle: Troy Chimneys”
I recently bought a Margaret Kennedy book and this was the other choice I was dithering about. I ended up going with The Feast but you make this sound so appealing I might have to buy it as well.
I just looked up The Feast and it sounds fascinating too! Margaret Kennedy is well worth looking into, whichever book you start with. Unfortunately she is not so easy to find in the bookstores I frequent, so you’re lucky if you do find some.
I’m so glad to see you enjoyed this – I read it last year and loved it, for all the same reasons you’ve mentioned here. I remember being impressed by Kennedy’s careful use of period language too. It’s definitely a book I would like to reread at some point.
It’s such a pleasure to read a good Regency novel — the language of the time was so exquisite, and many of the modern books set in that time are so sloppy. This one did it right.
This sounds good.
The structure seems interesting. Wanting to read a book again to really get it can be a little frustrating. It can also mean that there is a lot of good stuff within the story waiting to be discovered.
The fact that the book looks at a relationship that occurred when you and a relationship that occurred at an older age also sounds interesting.
I appreciated that the romance had more depth than is sometimes the case.
I’ve never heard of this one but you had me at “Regency” and “Virago Modern Classic.” I’ve read quite a few VMC and am rarely disappointed. Also, another blogger just alerted me to a documentary about Virago Modern Classics. It’s available on Youtube if you haven’t seen it:
Ooh, that looks very interesting, thanks. I also love the Virago Modern Classics line, though I’ve not read huge numbers of them.
I bought a copy of this for Margaret Kennedy Reading Week, which I see was in 2014 and I still haven’t read it yet! Oh dear. Your excellent review makes my fingers itch to pick it up.
It’s interesting what you say both about the form of the novel and its subject, the divided self, both of which do sound highly modern and yet the received view of Margaret Kennedy seems to be that she’s fairly conventional (though of course I may be wrong in that).
I had never heard of Margaret Kennedy until I came across her in the blogosphere, and don’t have many preconceived notions about her. The three novels I’ve read by her (The Constant Nymph, Lucy Carmichael, and this one) have not struck me as fitting into a particular conventional mold, although she’s not experimental in the sense of Woolf or Joyce perhaps.
It also took me a couple of years after I bought this one to actually read it…I’m so glad I finally did though.
I’m not sure this my cup of tea, but it sounds impressively well written and I enjoyed your review 🙂
I do not think it’s a book everyone would enjoy. But for those who like historically respectable Regency historical fiction, I do recommend giving it a try.
Just read this book, and enjoyed it very much. But the ending left me a little puzzled. I can’t recall who is Maria Cotman, now Mrs. Poole, resident in Jamaica. I should have kept notes on the family!
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Oh, wait…think I got it. She was present when Lufton’s mother died. He dreamed of her, and related it to Ludovic, who interpreted the dream as prophetic of Lufton’s death.
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I do not remember the details of this book, after so long. I’m glad you enjoyed it and your questions intrigue me to read it again.