Posts Tagged ‘Ada Leverson’

It’s the last day of the month and I won’t finish another book before midnight. It’s been a good month of reading for me, and despite not being very well, I wanted to share it with you all. February has been #ReadIndies month, hosted again by Lizzie and Karen, it’s a month that seems to perfectly suit my kind of reading, and I have really enjoyed this month’s books. #ReadIndies has become one of my favourite reading events. Honestly, where would we be without these brilliant, independent publishers?  

Unfortunately, I just won’t get around to writing about everything, hopefully I will write in more detail about a couple more of these in the coming days or weeks. One of the review copies I received is actually not out until April, so that gives me plenty of time to write a proper review of it. Three of these have been reviewed previously.  

My first read of the month was a collection of stories Other Worlds (edited 2021) by Teffi (NYRB Classics) translated from Russian by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler & others. Focussing on other worldly themes, the collection comes from across a forty-year period in Teffi’s life.  

Maud Martha (1953) by Gwendolyn Brooks (Faber) is a book I only heard about from other bloggers. The only novel by the celebrated poet and first Black author to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. Told in a series of poetic vignettes, this is the story of Maud Martha Brown who grew up on the South Side of 1940s Chicago.  

Cold Enough for Snow (2021) by Jessica Au (Fitzcarraldo Editions) a tender, delicate little novella about a mother and daughter visiting Japan together. This was my first of two visits to Japan in my February reading. The two meet in Tokyo, share meals in restaurants, walk around the city, visit galleries and talk. It’s an exploration of their pasts, memory and their understanding of each other.  

Bird of Paradise (1914) by Ada Leverson (Michael Walmer) a wonderfully bright, witty novel, that gently satirises a society in which love, and money go hand in hand.  

Appius and Virginia (1932) by Gertrude Trevelyan (Abandoned Bookshop) I was so looking forward to reading this, Gertrude Trevelyan’s first novel. I wasn’t disappointed – though it often made me sad and a little angry. It tells the story of Virginia Hutton who embarks on an experiment – to raise a new-born Orang-utan as a human child. She names him Appius and buries herself in a cottage with no servants and over the course of about a decade goes about the business of teaching Appius how to talk, read, play and daily become more and more like a real boy. There are one or two uncomfortable comparisons between Appius and people Virginia considers inferior – which for me went hand in hand with the character’s attitudes. Throughout the novel there is a conflict between nature and nurture, and what happens when Appius becomes aware of his true origins. A fascinating, thought-provoking novel, in which the reader is firmly on the side of Appius. 

Latchkey Ladies (1921) by Marjorie Grant (Handheld Press) set around the end of WW1 this is the kind of novel I love, a novel about women, living and working independently at a time when that was less usual.  

A Summer with Kim Novak (1998) by Håkan Nesser (World Editions) translated from Swedish by Saskia Vogel. Nesser is a very successful, well-known Swedish crime writer, who I hadn’t heard of. I read about this novel on another blog and wanted to read it. Although there is a crime in this novel – generally referred to by the narrator as the incident – it is in fact much more of a coming-of-age novel – and that’s what initially appealed to me most. Fourteen-year-old Erik and his friend Edmund spend the summer of 1962 by a Swedish lake, swimming, riding their bikes and daydreaming about a young schoolteacher called Ewa who looks just like Kim Novak. When Ewa’s boyfriend is found dead, Erik’s older brother is initially the prime suspect. Many years later, Erik looks back on what happened that summer. 

How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart (2023) by Florentyna Leow (Emma Press) is a collection of essays about the author’s time living in Kyoto. Florentyna takes up the offer of a house share in the hills of Kyoto. She starts a new job as a tour guide, falls in love with Kyoto, becomes a regular at a tiny, jazz bar. Meanwhile her relationship with her house mate becomes intense, and eventually begins to break down. This collection is a meditation on place, and the loss of friendship.  

In the Belly of the Queen (2023) Karosh Taha (V&Q books) translated from the German by Grashina Gabelmann. A novel about class, race and gender this novel is told in two parts. One runs from front to back – the other part (turn the book over) runs back to front – like Ali Smith’s How to be Both apparently. You can read which ever part you like first – I started with the slightly longer section first. As this novel – which I really enjoyed – isn’t out until April I will save my thoughts for nearer the time.  

Foster (2010) by Claire Keegan (Faber) another small novella which was lovely to read in one sitting. Set during a hot summer, a child is taken by her father to stay with relatives on a farm in rural Ireland. In the house of the Kinsellas the young girl finds an affection she has never known. Gradually in their care she begins to blossom. Only, there is something not talked about in this household, and summers have to end. A slight novel perhaps but one of absolute perfection.  

So, that was February, I don’t have any concrete plans for March – but I do hope to join in with Read Ireland month. I might read a William Trevor collection of stories and I have a couple of books I had meant to read this month that I ran out of time for. I have started reading The Fawn (1959) by Magda Szabo translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix – only fifty pages or so into it, but it seems promising so far. 

I would love to know what your highlights of February were – and what if any your plans are for March.  

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With thanks to the publisher Michael Walmer for the review copy. 

Ada Leverson was a writer best known for her parodies and sketches of the 1890s and her six novels published toward the beginning of the twentieth century. She is well known for having been a friend of Oscar Wilde. I have previously read her 1911 novel The Limit and the Virago omnibus The Little Ottleys, which is comprised of the three novels Love’s Shadow, Tenterhooks and Love at Second Sight. So, I was delighted to be offered this new edition of Bird of Paradise – a novel very much in a similar vein as The Little Ottleys novels, yet for me even more of a page turner. It is a wonderfully bright, witty novel, that gently satirises a society in which love, and money go hand in hand.  

In this novel we meet two married couples, Bertha and Percy Kellynch and Nigel and Mary Hillier. Ten years earlier, at the beginning of the century, Bertha and Nigel had been inseparable. The eighteen-year-old Bertha had been heartbroken when Nigel realising that Bertha wasn’t possessed of the fortune he required, threw his lot in with heiress Mary instead and married her.  

“Nigel, who had been in a frightful hole when he met the heiress, of course made a point of discovering, as soon as all grinding money troubles had been removed and agonising debts paid, that no material things were capable of making him happy. The gratification to his vanity of his big country house, and charming house in London and so forth amused him for a very short time. He became, horribly bored, and when Bertha married Percy Kellynch, felt pained and particularly surprised and disappointed in her.” 

A decade on Nigel has had time to regret his choice, coming into money himself soon after his marriage, he feels he should never have thrown over the great society beauty – for his marriage hasn’t been a happy one. Despite being blessed with two children, Nigel remains horribly jealous of the man Bertha married soon after his own marriage. However, it is Mary’s jealousy that is blighting their marriage, her bitter jealousy toward Bertha, her insecurity and tendency to cling to Nigel is driving him mad.  

Bertha is known as having been blessed by great beauty, goodness and kindness, and although she hasn’t been blessed with children, she is blissfully happy with her husband Percy. She no longer thinks of Nigel as she did when she was eighteen, and in fact, being aware of his frailties and penchant for wanting what he can’t have, has no regrets whatsoever. Several years after their respective marriages, the two have again become occasional friends, existing within the same social set. For a while at least Nigel had been content to merely see Bertha occasionally in the guise of a friend. However, as time has gone on that has become less satisfying, and Nigel is now tormented by the return of his old feelings for Bertha.  

Meanwhile Bertha has set herself the task of helping her friend Madeline Irwin in her own pursuit of love and marriage. Madeline has become smitten by Rupert Denison, a popular young man, with the habit of patronisingly ‘educating’ young woman in a slightly school masterish manner – Madeline doesn’t care and declares to Bertha that he is to her as Percy is to Bertha. With another young woman having been seen in the company of Rupert, Madeline is desperate to secure her man. Bertha enlists the help of her old friend Nigel – little realising perhaps how easily these things could be misconstrued.  

“With the casual indiscretion of the selfish man, Nigel, of course, told his wife at length early in the honeymoon, all about his romance with Bertha. This Mary had never forgiven. Curiously, she minded more this old innocent affair of ten years ago, which he had broken off for her, than any of his flirtations since.” 

With Mary becoming ever more suspicious, things get very serious, as the poor, miserable woman goes to rather desperate lengths to separate Nigel from Bertha. Mary doesn’t really know Bertha and has built her up in her head as a terrible flirt, a woman who is bound to be after her husband. Mary is portrayed as a desperately unhappy woman, she realises Nigel married her for her money, and now spends most of her day, sitting looking out of the window, watching intently for his return. She takes little interest in her children, investing all her energies in the worship of her husband. With things so suffocating at home, it is little wonder that Bertha has once again become Nigel’s ideal. Nigel’s infatuation, and Mary’s jealousy can only lead to trouble for everyone. The reader can’t help but feel sorry for Mary in her terrible misery.   

There are some very enjoyable peripheral characters including Bertha’s mother-in-law – Lady Kellynch and young brother-in-law, Clifford, who eighteen years younger than Percy, is a twelve-year-old schoolboy, who clearly gets up to all sorts but is the apple of his mother’s weary eye. Clifford has lately become very enamoured by the mother of his school friend and induces his mother to invite her to tea. When Mrs Pickering arrives, it becomes clear that she is a former actress who famously married after meeting her husband when she was playing Prince Charming in Blackpool, to the collectively raised eyebrows of society.  

This is a joyfully, entertaining novel, and I just flew through it, while not wanting it to end too soon.  

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In a continuing bid to find comforting, diverting reads I happened across The Little Ottleys. It is a trilogy of three novels originally published between 1908 and 1916, Liz who also has a copy, and who provided me with this copy at Christmas decided she would read a long with me. I had already read the first book Love’s Shadow a couple of years ago and having refreshed my memory by reading my review, flicking through the book and re-reading the final chapter I decided to simply go straight on to book two Tenterhooks. In that earlier first novel we were introduced to Bruce and Edith Ottley a young married couple and their young son who live in a very small flat (I suspect not really all that small) in Knightsbridge. They are part of the modern London society of the Edwardian age and in that first novel we follow the fortunes of Edith, Bruce and several of their circle. Several wonderful characters in book one like Cecil and Hyacinth don’t reappear in books two and three, which disappointed me initially, but nevertheless all three books are full of warmth and wit and sharp society observations.

As the second novel Tenterhooks opens a few years have passed and baby Archie has been joined by a little sister – accidentally named Aspasia and nicknamed Dilly by her brother. Archie is now about seven and Dilly four. Bruce, who we learned in book one is a terrible hypochondriac and very irritating generally, is not much improved, and Edith is very long suffering. She isn’t really in love with her husband, though she accepts he needs her, and she does her best. Archie to my mind shows rather too many of his father’s traits to be as adorable as I think we meant to find him, though in him Ada Leverson has written a marvellously precocious child.

Bruce is very concerned with becoming part of the fantastic social circle that surround the Mitchells, an older couple who live in a rather enviable house. Bruce works with Mr Mitchell but to be invited to dine is something else and Bruce is very excited when he is issued with a verbal invitation, anxious that everything go perfectly.

“On Sunday evening Bruce’s high spirits seemed to flag; he had one of his sudden reactions. He looked at everything on its dark side. ‘What on earth’s that thing in your hair, Edith?’

‘It’s a bandeau.’

‘I don’t like it. Your hair looks very nice without it. What on earth did you get it for?’

‘For about six-and-eleven, I think.’

‘Don’t be trivial, Edith. We shall be late. Ah! It really does seem rather a pity, the very first time one dines with people like the Mitchells.’

‘We sha’n’t be late, Bruce. It’s eight o’clock, and eight o’clock I suppose means—well, eight. Sure you’ve got the number right?’

‘Really. Edith!… My memory is unerring, dear. I never make a mistake. Haven’t you ever noticed it?’”

Naturally, Bruce has made a mistake, and drags poor Edith out to the wrong address on the wrong evening. Happily, the mistake is rectified, and the following week the Ottleys find themselves enjoying an evening with the Mitchells. Here they meet Mr Aylmer Ross, a widower who has one son, and with whom Edith almost immediately locks eyes. Aylmer becomes a friend to both Ottleys, but particularly to Edith. The two find themselves perfectly suited to the other – and struggle to control their feelings. Aylmer wants Edith to leave her husband for him, but Edith is very conscious of her duty to Bruce and the children, and despite being given very great cause by Bruce on more than one occasion sticks resolutely to her marriage. Bruce makes a total idiot of himself with more than one woman, and the reader begins to think Edith might do better to cut loose.

Three more years have passed as Love at Second Sight begins. Archie is now away at school. Edith and Bruce have settled back into an easy seeming existence where neither of them refers to Bruce’s stupidity of the previous novel. Neither of the Ottleys have seen Aylmer Ross for three years, he left London for reasons we know all too well, but of which Bruce is clueless. Staying with the Ottleys is Madame Frabelle, a widow who they were introduced to by the eternally forgetful Lady Cannon (Leverson makes Lady Cannon’s forgetfulness and confusion funny, yet I think there must be something sad and serious about it in reality). Madame Frabelle is a little older than the Ottleys being around fifty – but she has made a great friend of both Edith and Bruce. She is quite a character, insisting that she has a great understanding of everyone and manages to talk a lot of great nonsense and get away with it.

“And this was one of the curious characteristics of Madame Frabelle. Nobody made so many gaffes, yet no-one got out of them so well. To use the lawyer’s phrase, she used so many words that she managed to engulf her own and her interlocutor’s ideas.”

She is particularly sympathetic to Bruce, claiming to understand his particular needs, Bruce rather loves the way she looks after him.

The First World War has begun by now (this final novel published 1916) and Edith receives word that Aylmer Ross had volunteered to go to the front despite being well beyond the age required to do so – and having been injured is on his way back to London to complete his recovery. Edith is naturally drawn back to him, visiting him, sometimes by herself and sometimes in the company of one of the children or Madame Frabelle.

They find their feelings for one another as strong as ever. With Bruce being ever more self-absorbed Edith can’t help but wonder about her decision of three years earlier, she has no fear of losing her children, Bruce would never be bothered with them, but what of society? How will the situation resolve itself? and will Edith find the happiness that has been sorely lacking in her life?

This really was a perfect bit of Edwardian escapism, Ada Leverson is deliciously witty and it is often hard to reconcile these novels being over a hundred years old, as they remain so very readable.

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Ada Leverson is a writer I hadn’t read before – this copy recently loaned to me by Liz has now whetted my appetite for more. Despite having read Liz’s review of it – I had somehow put Ada Leverson in completely the wrong time period. Having assumed she was writing in the 1930s and 40s I had to do a quick reassessment of the time period when I saw it was first published in 1908. The whole tone of the novel actually fits with it having been published thirty years later – a light, bright, witty comedy of manners. It is a quite delightful little read.

I was interested to discover that Ada Leverson was great friends with Oscar Wilde – who of us wouldn’t rather love to get the chance to listen in on their conversations. Perhaps Love’s Shadow offers a little glimpse into their world.

The novel concerns the loves and preoccupations of a group of young, society Londoners, with themes of unequal marriage and unrequited love.

Edith and Bruce Ottley live in what they consistently think of as a very tiny flat – my suspicion is, that Leverson’s idea of a tiny flat and mine might differ by several rooms. Anyway, the young couple are about two years into their marriage and now have a young son. Bruce is a little dull, he shuffles off to the office most days – what he actually does, we don’t know. Though we get the impression fairly quickly that whatever it is Bruce does he does fairly half-heartedly – and is often late, and finds the least excuse to not go in at all. For Bruce is a terrible hypochondriac – on the smallest of provocations he imagines himself quite close to death – and takes to his bed for days on end, while Edith is forced to wait upon him. It is not surprising that Edith is already a little bored.

“For the last few days Bruce had been greatly depressed, his temper more variable than ever, and he had managed to collect a quite extraordinary number of entirely new imaginary illnesses. He was very capricious about them and never carried one completely through, but abandoned it almost as soon as he had proved to Edith that he really had the symptoms. Until she was convinced he never gave it up; but the moment she appeared suitably anxious about one disease he adopted another.”

The main character in the novel however is Edith’s friend Hyacinth Verney, who really doesn’t understand why Edith married Bruce Ottley. Hyacinth is a beautiful heiress, an orphan with a fond guardian living nearby. Hyacinth has fallen for a young man called Cecil Reeve, desperate for him to notice her properly and take her seriously. However, Cecil has his own concerns, he has fallen in love with an older woman, a widow who flatly refuses to take his declarations seriously. As soon as soon Cecil is finally convinced that there is no changing Mrs Raymond’s mind he does a complete about turn and goes after Hyacinth.

Living with Hyacinth is Anne Yeo – her companion, and probably the most interesting character in the book. Anne deliberately makes herself appear older than she is, wishing to be seen as a suitable companion to a young heiress. She dresses unattractively and though she obviously disapproves of Cecil Reeves – is not above a little interference to secure Hyacinth’s happiness. Not everyone knows quite what to make of Anne, Lady Cannon, Hyacinth’s guardian’s wife, certainly disapproves of a young woman she doesn’t understand.

” ‘Tea? At three o’clock in the afternoon! I never heard of such a thing. You seem to have strangely Bohemian ideas in this house, Miss Yeo.’
‘Do you think tea Bohemian? Well coffee then?’”

Anne shocks everyone by disappearing for a while. Edith, meanwhile, has clearly adopted her own way of managing Bruce and his peculiar friend Mr Raggett who has taken a shine to Edith. Mrs Raymond decides to bestow her affections elsewhere – much to Cecil’s shock. Hyacinth is blissfully happy but jealously is destined to rear its ugly head.

“As Cecil came in, looking, Hyacinth thought, particularly and irritatingly handsome, she felt a fresh attack of acute jealousy. And yet, in spite of her anger, her first sensation was a sort of relenting – a wish to let him off, not to entrap him into deceiving her by pretending not to know, not to act a part, but to throw herself into his arms, violently abusing Eugenia, forgiving him, and imploring him vaguely to take her away.”

Not all is light fluffiness though, there is a definite brittleness to the ending I thought. Hinting perhaps, that nothing is ever quite as tidy as happily ever after. The novel ends a little abruptly – but with everything nicely in place for the story to continue.

Love’s Shadow is the first book in a trilogy – that was published under the title The Little Ottleys in the 1980s. Tenterhooks (1912) and Love at Second Sight (1916) are the titles I need to look out for.


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