Tag Archives: Persephone Books

Review: The Village by Marghanita Laski

My Review:
The VillageThis novel opens in 1945 on the day in which the end of World War II has just been announced in the small village of Priory Dean.  Everyone is celebrating and dancing in the streets but Martha Trevor and Edith Wilson still show up to their post duty at the Red Cross.  During the course of their conversation we learn that they are from very different social classes; Martha is part of the upper-class gentry that live on the Hill in town and Edith is part of the working class families that live on the other end of town.  At one point Edith worked as Martha’s housekeeper before Martha’s family hit some financially hard times.

The war was able to break down these long-standing class barriers and allowed people to mingle who otherwise would not have anything to do with one another in social situations.  During the war the town holds a series of dances to which all members of the town, regardless of social status, are able to attend.  These are just the circumstance under which Edith’s son, Roy and Martha’s daughter, Margaret are able to meet.  The very last war-time dance is Margaret’s first real social outing and she feels awkward and unsure of herself until Roy asks her to dance with him.

Laski provides us with a full picture of life in a small English town in the mid-twentieth century.  In addition to the Wilson’s and the Trevor’s we also get the town spinster, Miss Porteous, a retired school mistress, and her sidekick, the town gossip, Miss Beltram.  The town physician, Dr. Gregory and the town pastor, Rev. Robinson are also important figures in this village.  Finally, the town “outsiders,” the Wetheralls, who move into the largest house in town also feature prominently in the action.  There is a complete cast of characters representing the gentry and the working class and Laski provides a list of these characters with descriptions in the index which is very helpful to remember everyone that appears in the plot.

Once the war is over, everyone goes back to their proper place in town and it is no longer acceptable for upper-class and working-class citizens to interact with one another.  Martha Trevor is particularly adamant about not mixing with anyone outside of her social class.  She is also bitter and angry that she can no longer afford hired help to run her household; she must scrub her own floors and wash her own laundry which she finds beneath her lot in life.  Martha often takes out her frustration on her oldest daughter Margaret whom she feels is not pretty or clever.  Martha fears that Margaret will never be able to attract a husband or find employment that is worthy of her high social rank in society.

The relationship that develops between Margaret and Roy is sweet and romantic.  Because they are forbidden to have anything to do with each other due to their different social classes, they meet each other in secret.  They go to the movies and dinner together and then Roy starts to show up to Margaret’s place of employment every day just so he can spend an hour with her at lunch.  The culminating romantic interlude they have during which they confess their love and become engaged involves a bike ride and a picnic in the countryside.  Roy is kind, gentle, respectable and has a great job as a printer.  He is the perfect husband but Margaret’s parents are angry when they find out because of Roy’s lower social position.

This story has elements of Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe as well as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Even though the town is scandalized by the intermarriage of this sweet couple, the outcome for Roy and Margaret is much happier than these other star crossed lovers.

This is the third Laski title that I have read from Persephone Books and my favorite of the three.  Here are the links to my other two Laski reviews:

https://thebookbindersdaughter.com/2015/09/14/review-to-bed-with-grand-music-by-marghanita-laski/

https://thebookbindersdaughter.com/2015/09/03/review-little-boy-lost-by-marghanita-laski/

Please visit Persephone’s website for more information on these titles as well as their selection of wonderful British Classics: http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/

About the Author:
M LaskiEnglish journalist, radio panelist, and novelist: she also wrote literary biography, plays, and short stories.

Lanksi was to a prominent family of Jewish intellectuals: Neville Laski was her father, Moses Gaster her grandfather, and socialist thinker Harold Laski her uncle. She was educated at Lady Barn House School and St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith. After a stint in fashion, she read English at Oxford, then married publisher John Howard, and worked in journalism. She began writing once her son and daughter were born.

A well-known critic as well as a novelist, she wrote books on Jane Austen and George Eliot. Ecstasy (1962) explored intense experiences, and Everyday Ecstasy (1974) their social effects. Her distinctive voice was often heard on the radio on The Brains Trust and The Critics; and she submitted a large number of illustrative quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary.

An avowed atheist, she was also a keen supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Her play, The Offshore Island, is about nuclear warfare.

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Review: William – an Englishman by Cicely Hamilton

My Review:
William EnglishmanI was not surprised to find out the author composed this novel in a tent on the front lines of World War I.  The novel is a gruesome, starkly honest portrayal of the horrors of war.  The author, however, draws the readers in at first with a light and satirical description of its gentle, naïve and optimistic main characters, William and Griselda.

When the story begins, William is twenty-six years old and still lives with his mother.  He has an extremely ordered and monotonous life working at a clerk’s office and handing over most of his weekly paycheck to his mother.  He doesn’t seem to have any genuine affection for his parent and when she suddenly dies he realizes that he never really loved her.  Her death means freedom for him; not only does he now have financial freedom since she left him a sizeable inheritance but he also has the freedom to make his own decisions about the course his life will take.

William asks some advice from one of his fellow clerks about what he should do with his time and money and it is through this interaction with Farraday that William becomes involved with political and social reform.  William leaves the tedious office where he has worked for many years and embarks on full-time career as a social activist who writes about, protests and goes to meetings about the suffragette movement, pacifism, and other socialist topics.

It is at these meetings that William meets Griselda, a feisty suffragette who shares the same ideals as William.  The tone in the book that describes these two is one of gentle parody as William and Griselda appear to fight for mostly vague causes.  They believe all government is evil and any attempt of a government to raise a military and train it is simply “playing” at warfare.  They love to go to meetings and hand out pamphlets and consider themselves strong and tough for fighting against social injustices.  They see themselves as the perfect couple and their courtship and devotion to each other is a sweet love story.

When William and Griselda take their honeymoon in the remote mountains of the Belgian Ardennes, they are uneasy with the slow-paced, quiet life of the village in which they are staying. But they settle in for a few weeks and enjoy each other’s company.  It is on the very last day of their vacation that things take a horrible and tragic turn for the worst.  They encounter a regiment of invading German soldiers who treat them brutally and inhumanely.  I have to say that the violence in this book shocked me and Hamilton does not gloss over or sugarcoat the atrocities of war.

William, the once naïve and optimistic Englishman who lived in his happy little bubble of bliss, now becomes the disillusioned and distraught victim of real warfare.  It is not a game or a joke when men are being blown apart and people’s lives are destroyed by gunfire and bombs.  I don’t want to give away the plot and the fate of William and Griselda.  But I will say that William’s story comes full circle and in the end his life becomes equally as monotonous and numb as it was when we first meet him living under the thumb of his mother.  What starts out as an amusing story about two naïve lovebirds becomes a harsh commentary on the gory realities of warfare.

I encourage anyone who enjoys World War I historical fiction to pick up this book.  Thanks to Persephone Press for reissuing another brilliant book from an important 20th century female author.

About the Author:
C HamiltonCicely Mary Hamilton (born Hammill), was an English author and co-founder of the Women Writers’ Suffrage League.

She is best remembered for her plays which often included feminist themes. Hamilton’s World War I novel “William – An Englishman” was reprinted by Persephone Books in 1999.

She was a friend of EM Delafield and was portrayed as Emma Hay in “A Provincial Lady Goes Further.”

 

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Review: Every Eye by Isobel English

I am so excited to start the new year with another Persephone title.

My Review:
Every EyeHattie is a shy and awkward girl who is unsure of herself even into young adulthood.  She was born with an eye that turns in and what she views as a gross, physical deformity harms her self esteem and her ability to connect with other people in her life.  Hattie’s father died when she was very young, so she is raised by her mother and her father’s brother, Uncle Otway and his wife Aunt Cynthia.

The narrative moves back and forth between two distinct periods of time in Hattie’s life.  When the book opens she is a thirty-five year old woman, recently married to a younger man and they are about to go on a honeymoon to Ibiza.  Hattie is acutely aware of her husband’s age and mentions it several times throughout the narrative.  Age and its effect on a relationship are a consistent theme throughout the book and something that Hattie dwells on.  As Hattie and her husband are traveling from England to the Mediterranean she reflects back on the first real relationship she had with a man named Jasper.  Hattie meets Jasper at a party when she is in her early twenties and doesn’t realize, at first, that he has romantic feelings for her.  She doesn’t think any man would want a woman with a deformed eye.

There are a few difficulties that Hattie must face in her relationship with Jasper.  He is many years older than Hattie and is actually a peer and an old friend of her father’s.  He has gray hair and sagging skin but he seems to truly care for her so she decides to overlook his advancing age.  But Jasper and Hattie’s relationship also stumbles because of the interference of her Aunt Cynthia.  Whenever Hattie asks Aunt Cynthia for advise her aunt is very negative about the relationship; Cynthia seems to have some kind of insight into Jasper’s character that she will not fully share with Hattie.

Since Hattie is reminiscing about her relationship with Jasper on her honeymoon, it seems that she cannot fully enjoy herself or relax.  She is uncomfortable for most of the trip and doesn’t enjoy the time with her new husband.  Hattie’s skepticism and negativity stay with her at a time when she should be the happiest.  It is interesting that she occupies the position of much younger woman and much older woman in her relationships; neither part suits her or makes her happy.

In the end, Isobel English makes the point that it really doesn’t matter what age two people are when they fall in love.  Hattie’s husband is a calming force in her life and he doesn’t care if her eye was ever deformed or what her previous relationships were like.  If there is kindness and caring and tenderness in a relationship then age is irrelevant.

About the Author:
Isobel English, the pseudonym of June Braybrooke (1920-94), wrote little but what she published was of outstanding quality. ‘Sometimes, but not often, a novel comes along which makes the rest of what one has to review seem commonplace. Such a novel is Every Eye,’ John Betjeman said in the Daily Telegraph on its first publication.

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Review: To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski

I am so delighted that it is finally fall and the temperatures are getting cooler and the NFL season has begun here in the U.S.  I am a huge New York Giants fan and I am hoping for a stellar year.  Speaking of sports, this is another interesting Persephone title, the plot of which involves a woman using sex as a game while her husband is away at war.

My Review:
To BedI thought that the first scene in this book was quite shocking, but as it turns out the subject matter of the entire book is rather bold.  Deborah is in bed with her husband, Graham, who is about to leave for the middle east where he will be stationed during World War II.  Graham informs her that there is no way he can be expected to be faithful to her for the duration of the war.  Graham also gives Deborah permission to have a dalliance of her own since he will be away for so long.  I couldn’t decide what was more shocking: his declaration of intended unfaithfulness or his suggestion that his wife have an affair as well.

Deborah is the type of woman who needs a man to complete her identity.  When she is left alone with her three-year-old son and her housekeeper she thinks she will go crazy from the boredom and the monotony.  Deborah’s mother suggests that she get a job to help pass the time until the war is over.  Deborah eventually finds a job in London as a clerk and it is also in London that she has her first indiscretion with a man.  The first one night stand disgusts her and she runs off in shame, but she quickly changes her mind and her attitude towards having extramarital affairs.

Deborah eventually comes to the conclusion that it is acceptable to have lovers while her husband is gone so that she isn’t lonely.  The first prolonged affair that she has is with an officer named Joe who lavishes attention on Deborah and even gets along well with her son.  When Joe is sent to the frontlines Deborah takes on yet another lover.

The rest of the novel is an account of Deborah’s string of lovers.  Some of the book is very funny, especially when she finds ridiculous reasons to dump one man and move on to the next.  One of her lovers gets along very well with Deborah’s mother and Deborah is extremely irked by this.  So she casts him off and moves on to the next soldier.  Many of Deborah’s lovers provide her with lavish gifts, jewelry, expense differs and clothes.  Deborah is not a sympathetic characters since she is taking advantage of the situation of war to have a series of affairs which are all to her emotional and material benefit.

One part of the book that I found particularly sad is the fact that Deborah cannot bring herself to move back home and take care of her son.  The little boy craves his mother’s attention and the scenes in which she leaves him to go off to London with one of her many lovers is pathetic.  The boy becomes more and more attached to his nanny and we wonder whether or not his mother’s abandonment will have a lasting effect on his life.

This is a very interesting book to compare to Laski’s other World War II title, Little Boy Lost.  Both books bring up a very different side of the war that are somewhat controversial.  And children do not fair well in the lives of adults in either book.  If I found the subject matter of this book bold then I wonder what the reaction to it was in 1946 when it was originally published.

About The Author:
M LaskiEnglish journalist, radio panelist, and novelist: she also wrote literary biography, plays, and short stories.

Lanksi was to a prominent family of Jewish intellectuals: Neville Laski was her father, Moses Gaster her grandfather, and socialist thinker Harold Laski her uncle. She was educated at Lady Barn House School and St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith. After a stint in fashion, she read English at Oxford, then married publisher John Howard, and worked in journalism. She began writing once her son and daughter were born.

A well-known critic as well as a novelist, she wrote books on Jane Austen and George Eliot. Ecstasy (1962) explored intense experiences, and Everyday Ecstasy (1974) their social effects. Her distinctive voice was often heard on the radio on The Brains Trust and The Critics; and she submitted a large number of illustrative quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary.

An avowed atheist, she was also a keen supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Her play, The Offshore Island, is about nuclear warfare.

 

 

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Review: Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

My Review:
Little Boy LostIt’s about time that I reviewed another title from Persephone Books.  I haven’t found one yet that I didn’t like.  Although, I must admit, that I wasn’t sure if I would make it through this one because the beginning is so incredibly sad.

Hilary Wainwright returns to France after World War II in order to find his lost infant son.  He has only met his son once, on the day he was born, and so he has very little information to go on to track him down.  Hilary’s wife, Lisa, was living in Paris during the war and working for the resistance when the Nazis discovered her secret operations and arrested her.  Just before she is arrested, she passes off her baby to a family friend named Jean whom she hopes will be able to keep him safe.  But Jean is also arrested by the Nazis and she, too, has to relinquish the child before she is caught.  Jean’s fiancé, Pierre, is the only one who can help Hilary track down his son with the few clues that Jean left behind.

Hilary is so devastated by Lisa’s horrible and tragic death; she was the love of his life and his entire world and after the war he is not sure that he even wants to find his son.  To a lot of us this does not seem to make any sense.  Hilary’s son is a part of or an extension of his love with Lisa, but Hilary is afraid of more emotional turmoil if he fails to find his missing boy.  Hilary doesn’t want to open his heart again only to experience disappointment or hurt again.

Hilary’s search for his son leads him to an orphanage in a small town in France.  The scenes of the pathetic and abandoned children in the orphanage are heart wrenching.  When Hilary meets little Jean, the child whom they suspect is his son, Hilary is hesitant to become attached to the child for fear that he will experience another crippling emotional loss.   Hilary notices that Jean does not have any gloves and so he buys him a small pair of red gloves.  This is one of the most emotional scenes in the book because, although the gloves are too small for Jean, he insists on keeping them because he has never had such a nice gift before.

The end of the book deals with Hilary’s decision on whether or not to accept this son as his own.  For a while he even distracts himself from making a decision by entertaining a floozy he meets at his hotel.  The boy resembles Jean in a cursory way and we have to remember that there aren’t any DNA tests in the 1940’s.  Jean seems to want an obvious sign from the heavens pointing to the fact that this is his son.  It was my wish, though, that regardless of whether or not Jean was his biological son, that he would take pity on this small, abandoned boy anyway and decide it was worth opening up his heart again.

About The Author:
M LaskiEnglish journalist, radio panelist, and novelist: she also wrote literary biography, plays, and short stories.

Lanksi was to a prominent family of Jewish intellectuals: Neville Laski was her father, Moses Gaster her grandfather, and socialist thinker Harold Laski her uncle. She was educated at Lady Barn House School and St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith. After a stint in fashion, she read English at Oxford, then married publisher John Howard, and worked in journalism. She began writing once her son and daughter were born.

A well-known critic as well as a novelist, she wrote books on Jane Austen and George Eliot. Ecstasy (1962) explored intense experiences, and Everyday Ecstasy (1974) their social effects. Her distinctive voice was often heard on the radio on The Brains Trust and The Critics; and she submitted a large number of illustrative quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary.

An avowed atheist, she was also a keen supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Her play, The Offshore Island, is about nuclear warfare.

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