Storm Jameson’s 1934 novel was the first novel in a projected series of five (only three were ever written) this series entitled The Mirror in Darkness is completed by the novels; Love in Winter (1935) and None Turn Back (1936).
Company Parade features a group of graduates, now each in their mid-twenties, in the aftermath of the Great War. Hervey Russell is at the centre of this group, a young Yorkshire woman she has left her young son Richard in the care of another woman and moved to London, seeking work, and in turn a better life for her son. London is another world for her, a world on which to test her ambitions and experience life.
“She was young, and each morning ran out gladly. She could not stay quietly of an evening in that dreary place, but sauntered about London, pleased with trifles. London to her was brightly-coloured web, from which now she drew the sound of violins in a café, now a voice crying Victory, now a boy and his sweetheart laughing as they passed, now furtive encounters of which her mind retained a gesture or a glance. In a time and a city of easy meetings no one spoke to her. She was always alone, all her friends dead, or in France or Mesopotamia.”
Hervey is married to Penn Vane, (she chooses to use her maiden name for work) who is still in the air-force and reluctant to leave the easy life he enjoys at his Canterbury air base. Hervey eventually meet up again with her university friends Phillip and T S who struggle to find their way again after the war, things have changed so much. T S is unhappily married to Literary Review editor and essayist Evelyn Lamb, a kind of literary socialite with a great deal of clout. Philip has been in love with Hervey for years, uselessly he knows, and yet they remain good friends. Philip was my favourite character in this novel, which does have quite a large cast of characters.
“It was not only that he had lost four years. The rude shock of the War had done invisible damage to his dear England. He was now like a man escaping from a battle who looks round him for his friends, to save what he can.”
When Hervey arrives in London in the early days of the armistice, she gets work as an advertising copy writer, meeting David Renn who it turns out was part of Philip’s company during the war until he was invalided out. Phillip wants to start a weekly paper with some money his mother has saved. Another friend of Philip’s is Frank, who with his wife, runs the Dug-Out a place open all night on a road an hour outside of London, providing bad food for travellers of all kinds including tramps and former soldiers. Behind the Dug-Out is a small caravan, where Philip lives, taking his meals at the Dug-Out. Frank’s world is threatened when he hears of a new road under construction, which will totally by-pass his road side place.
With Penn leaving it later and later to put the air force behind him, Hervey is concerned that the longer he leaves it, the harder it will be for him to find work, naturally she is proved right, only adding to her worries. Penn is a selfish, slightly bullying character, whilst in Canterbury he had taken up with a young woman named Len Hammond, and upon his eventual return to London and his wife, he continues to see her. Hervey has also written a novel, which despite it not being very good has just been published, she is now writing her second, while juggling her work, her guilt at being parted from her son, and the delicate business of pandering to her husband’s ego. Hervey takes steps to provide her husband with a job, while she works for the left wing newspaper funded by Philip’s money. Hervey has great ambition, but during this period she exists very much on the periphery of London literary society. Later Hervey does return to Yorkshire, to her son, spending time with her own mother, while Philip already over thirty returns to Oxford to get another degree, convinced that this will aid his future career, but Penn is something of a dreamer, and simply wants an easy life. So when Evelyn Lamb gives him a couple of books to review, he is soon daydreaming of becoming the foremost literary reviewer in London.
Hervey is a young woman, trying to balance family, work and ambition in the 1920’s and in that Company Parade feels very autobiographical. (Margaret) Storm Jameson was writing this book in 1934 when it was already possible to see the direction things were moving in Europe. Hervey and her friends’ view of the world is definitely affected by Jameson’s own view of the world she saw around her in 1934, however their weariness and bafflement in the new post war world is brilliantly portrayed and feels very true. This is not an easy read in many ways, there’s nothing cosy or feel good about the lives of these characters, but it is a beautifully written novel. Characters are portrayed realistically are both human and flawed, while the world around them can be a difficult and confusing one following the years they lost to the First World War.