Classics Club: The Return of the Native

Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native (1874)

This was one of the first nineteenth-century classics I ever encountered in school — in my high school freshman class on British lit, along with Hamlet, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (a rather odd assortment, now that I come to think of it). But my memory of it was dim — I remembered the lengthy descriptions of the heath, and the funny names like Eustacia and Diggory, but not much else. Definitely time for a reread.

As you are probably aware, Hardy is known for his plots which range from mildly pessimistic to incredibly tragic. On a scale of depressing-ness of 1 to 10, I’d give Native about a 7. Some of the main characters are still alive and functional at the end, and two of them even get to marry each other (though in a note Hardy says this was done against his will, due to circumstances of serial publication).

But none of these characters ever really change or learn anything. They’re like mechanical figures, set in motion by Hardy only to march inevitably over the edge of a precipice, while the reader watches helplessly as they do the very things they obviously shouldn’t. It’s a frustrating experience; though life is no doubt often like this, I usually look to literature to give me more hope for human agency and capacity for transformation, even if it’s only a glimpse at the end of a tragedy (as in Hamlet, for example). And yet, there’s a strange fascination in watching the story unfold, and marching with these people to their doom.

The background against which they operate — the ageless landscape of the south-western English counties to which Hardy gives the ancient name of Wessex — is in some ways more lively than they are. Barely touched by civilization, it embodies the natural cycle of birth and growth, death and rebirth that continues to bring forth life and regeneration in our decadent modern age. Old customs like autumn bonfires, a mummer’s play, and singing to a new-married couple, and less benign superstitions like the creation of a wax figure, show how human beings over the years have evolved their own responses to these cycles of nature. All of this is depicted in thoroughly observed, lovingly described detail, so that the heath becomes almost a character in itself.

The conflict in the novel arises between characters who appreciate and value this cyclical existence, and those who rebel against it and want something more: chiefly Eustacia Vye, the proud, beautiful woman who was raised in a nearby watering place and finds the heath an unutterable bore. Given the limitations of being female in her place and time, though, the only way to escape seems to be through attaching herself to a man, vivifying herself with the emotion she calls “passionate love.”

This so-called love is merely a form of self-love; any slight impulse of care or concern for the men she brings under her spell is far overpowered by her own wish to get away to a brighter, more artificial life. When she marries the “native,” a local man who has returned from the dazzling city of Paris, she completely ignores his express wish to re-integrate himself into the rhythms of the heath, and only sees him as her ticket out of there — a willful self-delusion that leads to the inevitable disaster.

It’s not amiss for one of the other characters to call Eustacia a witch, for though she doesn’t technically practice witchcraft, her self-centered use of feminine power is a form of black magic. She has not consciously given into the lust for evil power over others, however, only failed to realize that unless she herself quells her pride and reaches out beyond her narrow self, she will be imprisoned in that self forever. And so she is herself a victim of this magic, rather than truly its agent. This is aptly symbolized when the other woman maliciously creates and destroys a wax figure representing Eustacia, an act that accompanies and corresponds to her downfall. The only way out for Eustacia is not a flight to Paris, but dissolution into death, and that’s what she receives.

And so the heath rolls on its ancient way, after these puny human creatures have played out their small drama, leaving us to ponder on questions of power and love, fate and freedom. Can we truly say that we would be able to march differently, once set in motion?

Classics Club List #74

My Heritage Press edition features beautiful woodcuts by Agnes Miller Parker, some of which are shown above. For the source and more images click here.


Classics Club: Frankenstein

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)

Frankenstein is one of those stories that everyone knows, even if you haven’t read it. Except once you do read it, you realize that the version in the popular imagination has little to do with Mary Shelley’s actual creation. There, you will find no mad scientists robbing graves for body parts; no lightning striking a ruined castle to the sound of cackling laughter; no grinning henchmen or spark-emitting machines. Shelley’s vision is much subtler and more psychologically astute than that. Though there are dramatic external events, of course, what’s really interesting is what is going on inside Frankenstein and his monstrous “child,” the ways in which they mirror one another, and their tragic inability to connect.

To get into this story that everybody knows (but doesn’t), you have to first wade through all the narrative layers in which Shelley has wrapped it. An explorer trying to reach the North Pole — which at the time was thought to be a sort of Earthly Paradise, warm and fertile if one could just get through the ice — writes letters to his sister, in which he describes how he has picked up a dying man, found in pursuit of a strange figure who eludes him and races off across the ice. This is Victor Frankenstein, who proceeds to explain how he created and then resolved to destroy this being (who, in another layer, also gets to tell some of his own story).

It’s a cumbersome and roundabout way of getting at a tale that could seemingly be told in a more straightforward way, but it also reflects one of the main themes: the loneliness and isolation that keep us from one another, the way we are “wrapped up” in our own ideas and ambitions. To break through this icy covering would require a leap of imagination and empathy that Frankenstein, groundbreaking scientist though he is, is tragically never able to make.

Once he has brought his creature to life (in a way that, in contrast to the dramatized versions, is left vague and unexplained), he takes one look at it and is unutterably repelled. He simply wants to ignore it, to pretend it doesn’t exist. Until he nears the end of his journey, he doesn’t speak about it, doesn’t even want to think about it. Out of sight, out of mind, he thinks — a very human, yet very ineffective response to an overwhelming situation.

He does not tell anyone what he has done, even once he becomes convinced that the creature has begun to murder his friends and relations. Isn’t this because, frozen by his own egotism, he is unable to take responsibility and own what he has done, what he is? He says he fears that people will think him mad, but he is worse than that. When the “monster” kills and destroys, he is only doing outwardly what his creator is doing inwardly. This brilliant thinker with stunted emotions is unable to live up morally to what he has achieved intellectually.

His nameless creation, meanwhile, states that he simply wants to be loved, to find connection in a world that repels him at every turn. His rage and vengefulness is a reflection of how he has been treated, an externalized representation of Frankenstein’s own inability to love and to create true, living connections. Even when Frankenstein decides to marry, it’s to an adopted sister whom he has known from childhood, who does not threaten him with unfamiliar ideas or perceptions. He speaks of her in terms of ownership, as one who belongs to him by right. To him, she is a thing, not a person, just like the being he has created and then run away from in terror.

And so, it’s inevitable that the Frankenstein-monster should destroy this marriage. No human being who has never confronted the demons within himself, who has never humbly confessed his weaknesses and woken to the independent reality of the other person, can enter into the true marriage of opposites.

In Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein dies without ever coming to this recognition, but the explorer who has embraced him as a friend — and his surrogate, the reader — may have a chance to go further. As he turns his ship back from the ice to save his crew, there is a hope that he (and we) might have learned something about relationships, about love, about realms that purely cold, heartless research will never attain — but which we must pursue in the service of a truly human future.

Classics Club list #52


New Release Review: The Essex Serpent

Sarah Perry, The Essex Serpent (2016)

Perhaps because the nineteenth century saw the rise of the novel as a literary form, giving us an unprecedented number of imagined narratives about daily life and relationships, there’s a particular fascination in trying to go “behind the curtain” of the period and discern what the Victorians did NOT say in their fiction. Due to societal expectations and conventions, there were many things they could not talk about directly (at least in English — perhaps Continental fiction was more frank). What would Victorian novelists write if this secret history could be revealed, and what would we learn about their real thoughts and feelings?

In more recent times, this question has given rise to compelling novels by the likes of John Fowles, A.S. Byatt, and Sarah Waters, among others. They try to embody aspects of the narrative voice of a bygone age, while retaining a modern sensibility that illuminates the past in a new light. A new entry in this seductive sub-genre is The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, which takes on the clash of science, faith, and superstition that erupted in the wake of Darwin’s discoveries. Symbol and focus of this cultural turmoil is the mysterious Essex Serpent, which had reputedly been sighted in a seaside town centuries ago, and now seems to be appearing again. Is it a judgment? A scientific marvel? A relic from ancient times? A supernatural warning, or wonder? Or something far more banal and ordinary, given fantastic clothing by the ever-active human imagination?

This is a novel of many characters, switching back and forth between different points of view: a young widow with an abusive past and a yen for paleontology; her son, who baffles her with his strange rituals and emotional distance; their working-class radical nurse-companion; a twisted genius of a surgeon; his less-brilliant, but extremely kind friend; a brisk country vicar struggling to conquer superstition in his parish and unholy longings in himself; his tubercular wife, beset by visions; and many others.

The premise sounded irresistible to me, yet even though The Essex Serpent had all the ingredients for a book I ought to love, I had a hard time warming to it somehow. Perhaps this was partly because the constant switching of perspective also made it hard for me to settle into the story. Certain threads and relationships were not developed as much as I would have liked, as the zigzagging plot kept dropping one to pick up another. I remained oddly distant from the characters, and sometimes had the sensation of being told rather than shown about their characteristics; they felt intellectually constructed out of era-appropriate ingredients (paleontology, advances in medical science, religious doubt, consumption, sexual repression, etc.) rather than spontaneously living.

Unsettling is definitely what The Essex Serpent is all about, though, so perhaps this is an appropriate effect. And at the end, suddenly, the characters came together in a way that surprised me, bringing them to life more vividly. If the book had gone on from there for another hundred pages or so, I might have felt more connected to it.

I don’t know why the alchemy of this book did not quite work for me, and you may have a completely different reaction. I hope you will read it to find out for yourself, and please let me know what you thought.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins for the opportunity to review this book. For more information, visit the tour page or click on the links below.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Jamie Drew

About Sarah Perry

Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979. Her first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize. She lives in Norwich. The Essex Serpent is her American debut.

Find out more about Sarah at her website, and connect with her on Twitter.


Towers in the Mist

Elizabeth Goudge, Towers in the Mist (1937)

This book is offered in a giveaway open through April 26. Click the link to enter!

Oxford has changed much in the eighty years since Elizabeth Goudge lived there, and even more since the sixteenth century. Yet it still bears within it the weight of its long history, and it is fascinating to imagine all the people and events that have passed through its walls and buildings and churches and quadrangles. That is the task Goudge has set for herself with Towers in the Mist: to imagine a well-known place of the present as it might have been in the past. For anyone who loves the university or even just the idea of it, it’s a wonderful if somewhat unwieldy hodgepodge of a book, an imaginative journey that touches us with the author’s own affection and enthusiasm.

Her Elizabethan tale introduces us to several well-known personages of the time (such as Thomas Bodley, the Earl of Leicester, and the young Walter Raleigh and Philip Sidney), but is mainly centered around the fictional Canon Leigh of Christ Church, whose motherless brood is growing up in a time when children were expected to become adults very early. As the older children are occupied with finding their place in the world, with balancing love and duty, the younger ones experience the universal joys and sorrows of childhood that Goudge always portrays so delightfully. Around them swirls the pageantry of city and university in glorious confusion, with bursts of rowdiness as well as moments of transcendent beauty.

I found it particularly interesting to see how Goudge deals with religion here; she’s writing about a time in which doubt was nearly non-existent, almost everyone lived and breathed within the embrace of the church, and the wars between Catholics and Protestants meant that many died for their beliefs. It is extremely difficult for people of our materialistic age to imagine the mindset of such an era, and Goudge doesn’t try to enter into it very deeply. Rather, she lightly suggests that even in a time when religion ruled daily life there could be many different modes of experience and ways of encountering God. Her Elizabethans express a wide variety of approaches to faith, from simple, heartfelt devotion to worldly-wise practicality, and all seem convincingly possible.

In the latter category, I love the story of how the Christ Church undergraduates appointed just one of each of their groups to listen to the Sunday sermon on which they would later be tested; the others were then free to “think great thoughts” during the hour-long discourse. Meanwhile, their teachers marveled at the burst of earnest conversation taking place later that day among the scholars (during which they filled each other in on the sermon’s contents). It’s just one example of how Goudge pokes fun at a revered institution, while fully appreciating its gifts to our culture.

Hall of Christ Church College

Nor is faith depicted as a fixed, immutable quality, but as something that can move and grow and change, depending on how each character meets and takes up the challenges of life. For example, we see young Nicolas, initially one of the most flippant and worldly of the scholars, becoming more serious and courageous under the influence of love. Meanwhile, upright Canon Leigh, when approached by Nicolas for the hand of his beloved daughter in marriage, must reconfigure his expectations and admit that the young man he would previously have dismissed as an indifferent scholar may actually perceive something in his child that he does not, and which is necessary to her happiness. Both must adjust their view of the world, must humble themselves in some ways and strengthen themselves in others, in order to move forward into the future.

Such characters and relationships are the most interesting thing to me about Goudge’s work in general; they show her willingness to embrace all kinds of human thoughts and experiences with compassion rather than with a critical, judgmental eye. This helps me in turn to look at my own life with the possibility that if there is a divine world, it may regard me in the same way, holding my foibles and errors within a greater perspective of love — and it also inspires me to try to look at other people in the same spirit. To me this is the most important function of all fiction, whether it be overtly “religious” or not.

This is not to say that Towers in the Mist might not have benefited from some judicious pruning. In her wish to create as comprehensive a view as possible, Goudge has wedged in a number of awkward side stories and historical characters, while the overall plot is rambling and often improbable, and certain “patriotic” passages are marred by an excess of sentimentality. The descriptions are elaborate, the pace leisurely, the digressions many. But for those who are willing to take a roundabout journey, there is still much pleasure to be found on the way.

Goudge herself makes no claim to have achieved historical accuracy, only to having made an attempt at reconstruction that no doubt fails in many points. Yet she does somehow manage to convey the lively, vivacious spirit of the early Elizabethan period, of a people who have endured much trouble and suffering without losing their zest for life. It makes sense that this period produced a great flowering of English poetry, examples of which are given at the beginning of each chapter. Love of learning, of words and of the Word, are in abundant evidence in Goudge’s Oxford, and in that she seems to have gotten to the heart of things.

This post was written to celebrate Elizabeth Goudge’s birthday, tomorrow, April 24. I’ll be checking in then to see who else has written posts in honor of this beloved author, and sharing them with you. Please join us!


The 1951 Club: My Cousin Rachel

Daphne Du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel (1951)

The 1951 Club is the latest in a series of events put together by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, which encourages us to read books published in a particular year. Please visit Simon’s blog for links to other 1951 books — this builds up a wonderful picture of a particular moment in time, through the combination of famous and obscure choices.

My Cousin Rachel is a masterfully ambiguous novel of psychological suspense, one that begins with the question “Was Rachel innocent or guilty?” It ends with the same question, but adds to it the question of the narrator’s own guilt and complicity in the final tragedy. Much more than a simple “who done it” in the external sense, this is a story that delves into the secrets of the human heart and that may make us think about the complex sources of our own motivations and actions.

That narrator is Philip Astley, who has been raised by his much older cousin Ambrose on their family estate in 19th century Cornwall. When the seemingly contented bachelor Ambrose ventures abroad and there marries another cousin, the half-Italian widow Rachel, Philip immediately is consumed with jealousy; later, upon receiving some cryptic notes from Ambrose, he becomes suspicious. He journeys to Florence but finds that Ambrose has suddenly died and his widow vanished.

Philip is determined to seek revenge upon Rachel, but before he can do so, she arrives in Cornwall and turns out to be nothing like the demon of his imaginings. In fact, he is soon completely entranced by her himself. As he descends further into passion, Rachel becomes even more of an enigma. What are her true intentions and feelings? Who is she?

Rachel may indeed be a manipulative and greedy woman; but what the first-person narration masks, and the reader slowly comes to realize, is that Philip may be more than a match for her. Having grown up without a mother, and even without a nurse — Ambrose sent the last one packing when Philip was three years old — and apparently never having recognized sexual love or desire, he has remained stunted in his own emotional life. (As a sign of this, he is incredibly callous and insensitive toward the neighbor girl who obviously is in love with him.) When Rachel bursts upon Philip with all her feminine wiles he is utterly unable to cope with them in a mature way, and the worst kind of unrecognized feminine qualities rise up within him: jealousy, possessiveness, pettiness, impulsiveness, and finally violence.

The result is to shatter them both, and leave Rachel a question forever, an image seen through Philip’s fractured mind. Who is the villain of this piece? Perhaps both, or neither. The Gothic shadows are never dispelled.

Back to the Classics Challenge: A Gothic or horror classic
Classics Club List
The 1951 Club


Three from Furrowed Middlebrow

E. Nesbit, The Lark (1922)
Elizabeth Fair, A Winter Away (1957)
Ursula Orange, Tom Tiddler’s Ground (1941)

As I’ve mentioned before, Furrowed Middlebrow Books represents what must surely be every blogger’s dream: a publishing imprint devoted to bringing back one reader’s list of forgotten favorites (mainly mid-century British fiction by women in this case).  The second set of FM books is being released this month, and I was pleased to have a chance to preview the first three titles.

I was most excited to read The Lark, the final novel by one of my favorite authors, E. Nesbit, who wrote many different kinds of books but is most famous for her magical stories for children. Though ostensibly The Lark is a realistic story for adults, the introduction by Charlotte Moore describes it aptly as “a novel for grown-up children” and identifies many of the elements it has in common with Nesbit’s children’s books. This is not to say that it is childish or unworthy of an adult audience, but its ebullient and playful spirit recalls the best of what childhood has to offer: the energy, the sense of possibility, the feeling that something magic might just happen at any moment.

“I thought we weren’t going to talk?” Lucilla put in.
“No more we are. I’ll shut up like a knife in a minute. I want to say one thing, though.”
“So do I,” said Lucilla. “I want to say I think it’s a beastly shame.”
“No, no!” said Jane eagerly. “Don’t start your thinking with that, or you’ll never get anywhere. It isn’t a shame and it isn’t beastly. I’ll tell you what it is, Lucy. And that’s where we must start our thinking from. Everything that’s happening to us—yes, everything—is to be regarded as a lark. See? This is my last word. This. Is. Going. To. Be. A. Lark.”

There’s the plot in a nutshell: something beastly happens to cousins Lucilla and Jane just as they’re emerging from school — their guardian absconds with all their funds and leaves them with only a house to live in and no income — but while Lucilla takes the more conventional view of the situation, Jane decides that they are going to wrestle it to the ground and actually enjoy it. This might not work in the real world, but in Nesbit-land coincidences and happenstance abound, helping the two along with some entertaining bumbles along the way. There’s a wonderful old house (based on Nesbit’s own), a handsome prince (well, almost), a kindly curmudgeon, several burglars and burglaries, dressing up, magical ceremonies, gardens full of flowers, and lines of dialogue that only the hardest of hearts could resist.

It’s not perfect, and the ending in particular felt rushed and perfunctory, but in general the reading left me with a smile on my face and a lighter heart than I began with. I was reminded a good deal of some of Elizabeth von Arnim’s books — the cheerful ones, like Christopher and Columbus and Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight. Along with those The Lark belongs on my shelf of Books to Brighten a Sad and Dull Day, Without Much Regard for Plausibility But With a Good Deal of Courage and Charm. I hope you’ll put it on yours as well.

Next I was pleased to sample two new-to-me authors whose works are being republished by FM. Elizabeth Fair’s A Winter Away featured another young woman making her way in the world, spending a season away from home as a secretary to “Old M.” As she becomes accustomed to her employer’s eccentricities — at first startling but then rather endearing — and grows to love his ruinous old estate as well, she gains in experience and confidence. It’s a leisurely-paced, character-rich English village novel that should be enjoyed by those who like Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels, among others.

I like this country. I’ve only lived in imitation country, till now. Green-belt country, you know, with electric trains at a convenient distance and self-conscious village inns and everyone rushing madly about saying it must be preserved. And that’s what it is—like tinned fruit compared with real fruit. — from A Winter Away

In Tom Tiddler’s Ground by Ursula Orange we have another English village comedy, this time slanted more toward melodrama. It takes place during the early days of World War II, when evacuation to the country had just begun. When two very different sets of mothers and children are billetted on heart-of-gold Constance and her no-good husband Alfred, it shakes up some old relationships and leads to new revelations. With divorce, adultery, and bigamy playing a role the plot was a bit spicy and controversial for 1945, and though not so shocking for us today is still an entertaining and page-turning read.

In short, if this genre is your cup of tea, you can spend many pleasant hours making your way through the Furrowed Middlebrow list. I hope you will sample some of their rediscovered books and authors, and find your own favorites.

A Regency puzzle: Troy Chimneys

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


Tea and Philosophy: Diary of a Provincial Lady

E. M. Delafield, Diary of a Provincial Lady (1930)

dplI’ve seen this book mentioned as a favorite by many, and lauded as a comic classic, and when a Folio Society edition came my way at a very reasonable price, I couldn’t resist. So I finally got to encounter the “provincial lady” and see what she had to say.

From the title alone, one can tell this is a very British book, with its slightly derogatory “provincial” (as opposed to fashionable London society) and the class-conscious “lady.” It’s a “diary,” though, so the lady is defining and perhaps poking fun at herself, another very British activity. In her entries, she chronicles a series of upper-middle-class concerns and woes: worrying over the best way to grow flower bulbs; brief, taxing encounters with her energetic children, who are normally taken care of by governess or boarding school; run-ins with the odiously superior Lady B.

I found these mildly amusing rather than hilarious. Many of the episodes revolve around financial troubles — pawning jewelry to pay off debts, being scared to tell the husband after buying too many clothes — which frankly annoyed me, coming from someone who thinks nothing of employing a live-in French governess, a parlourmaid, and a cook. This is not a purely British phenomenon (I had a similar response to Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House) but it did smack of a certain class and era to which I simply do not belong.

To me, the funniest and most enjoyable parts were when the Lady addressed the more philosophical and existential questions that confront her in ordinary life:

“Arrival of train, and I say good-bye to Robert, and madly enquire if he would rather I gave up going at all? He rightly ignores this altogether.

[Query: Would not extremely distressing situation arise if similar impulsive offer were one day to be accepted? This gives rise to unavoidable speculation in regard to sincerity of such offers, and here again, issue too painful to be frankly faced, and am obliged to shelve train of thought altogether.]”

Who hasn’t had a similar experience with one’s spouse or partner — without being able to put it into such perfectly absurd terms?

Delafield’s humor is often compared to that of P.G. Wodehouse, and they certainly have a sort of family resemblance, but the latter holds more appeal for me personally. The Provincial Lady is constantly reminding me of all the ways in which I am not like her, while Wodehouse somehow manages to make me forget that I’m not a rather dim young bachelor with a valet of unusual mental brilliance. He also plays with the English language in a more exuberant way, running rings around Delafield’s more restrained prose. Some find her style subtle and deceptively simple; to me, it too often induced yawns rather than amusement.

But taken on her own terms, the Provincial Lady does provide some quiet chuckles, and I’m glad to have met her at last. Have you? What did you think?

Classics Club List #50