Posts Tagged ‘Doris Langley Moore’

December has been declared #DeanStreetDecember by Liz – a chance to read our lovely Dean Street Press books, and I think it should be an annual event. I always have plenty of DSP waiting to read – usually some in book form, with lots more on my kindle (can’t resist those deals). So, of course I had to join in, although I originally only committed to reading one, I have just finished my third. Such a lovely ten days of reading, two Furrowed Middlebrow titles and a Golden age mystery. I will do my best to review them all properly, but no promises.  

Anyway, the first title I took down off my shelf was an easy choice All Done by Kindness by Doris Langley Moore. I had already read the three other titles DSP publish by her, so I had been looking forward to this one, I wasn’t disappointed. Doris Langley Moore is an excellent writer, the plot of this one, like My Caravaggio Style (1959) showing her knowledge of the creative arts. Where My Caravaggio Style was about an audacious literary fraud, this novel is a comedy of errors centring around the authenticity of a pile of potential Old Masters. It is incredibly compelling.  

Dr George Sandilands is a kindly, family doctor, a widower with two adult daughters and two almost grown-up children still at school. When he shows particular kindness towards an elderly patient who has fallen on hard times, she insists that he allow her to gift him a lot of old paintings that have been stored in the attics of her house for many years. Unaware of the drama these paintings will unleash after the old woman’s death the good doctor accepts the trunkful of old damaged paintings.  

The doctor’s house is run, and managed very well by his eldest daughter Beatrix, who as well as being a superb housekeeper is a bossy, managing kind of person, she is immediately horrified by the pile of old paintings which she considers an eye sore and an untidy nuisance.  

“If it had not been for Mrs du Plessis, Dr Sandilands might never have discovered that, far from having sold a horse for green spectacles, he had, so to speak, exchanged a cow for a handful of coloured beans.”  

Four years after the death of the old lady who gave him the pile of paintings (now stored in his own attics) Dr Sandilands makes the acquaintance of Mrs du Plessis, a young widow who had been previously living in Rhodesia and is now the boss of Linda Sandilands – the doctor’s other adult daughter – at the library. Mrs du Plessis is an amateur art connoisseur, and amateur or not she really knows her stuff. When Mrs du Plessis is shown the old paintings, she gets herself into a fever of excitement, undertaking a lot of detailed research and finally developing a theory about what the works really are, which if correct would take the art world by storm. Mrs du Plessis is totally convinced, and her enthusiasm eventually ignites a little flame of excitement in the doctor and his family.  

A decision is made to get a foremost expert to authenticate the works, should he agree with Mrs du Plessis then any remaining doubt will be put to rest, and the paintings can finally be shared with the art world, sold and out of Beatrix’s hair. Sir Harry Maximer is generally considered the leading art expert in the country, a man of unblemished character. With his trusty and adoring secretary never far away, Sir Harry is himself a collector of art, and he can’t help but be quite the snob about what he likes and what he doesn’t. However, there is more to Sir Harry than meets the eye.  

“He laughed with unwonted nervousness, perceiving for the first time that his coup – so tremendous if he were to bring it off – might be classed by those who did not understand his praiseworthy motives as fraudulence on a rather considerable scale. He was not afraid; he had abounding faith in his own cleverness, but he was excited and a little overwhelmed at the daring of the steps he had already so coolly achieved, like a man who looks down from somewhere near a mountain top and wonders how he has succeeded, without losing his head, in scaling such a height.” 

The battered old pile of pictures that Dr Sandilands has in his attics will unleash all manner of nefarious plotting and machinations. Enter a sleazy London art dealer and the director of a local art museum who comes to side with Mrs du Plessis, who is not about to give up her theory without a fight, and the stage is set for a rollicking good read, that becomes increasingly hard to put down.  

Not wanting to spoil the rest of the plot for future readers I shall leave it there.  

I know that Doris Langley Moore wrote a couple of other novels so far not reissued by Dean Street Press, so of course I am hoping that at some point they will.  

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My third read by Doris Langley Moore; My Caravaggio Style was also my first proper read for #readindies – during what has become a shockingly poor reading month. Well more of that in my round up post in a few days. A thoroughly entertaining final novel from Doris Langley Moore – who even makes a brief appearance herself in this story in which she uses her lifelong obsession with Lord Byron in imagining a major literary hoax. Dean Street Press publish four novels by Doris Langley Moore – I have the fourth on my tbr already.

The novel is narrated by bookseller and author Quentin Williams, who as the novel opens has just received the not too princely sum of just over four pounds in royalties from his two already published biographies. He is in the bookshop where he works, feeling very fed up and underappreciated when an American manuscript dealer comes into the shop. Quentin can’t quite help himself from trying to impress the American. Further irritated by the man’s name – Earl Darrow, Quentin begins to drop some not so very veiled hints that he has possibly unearthed a copy of Lord Byron’s memoirs – those famously burned by his friends after Byron’s death. The hook is baited – and all Quentin has to do, he thinks, is reel him in – only that won’t be at all easy.  

He must buy himself some time – several months at least. So Quentin comes up with some fairly elaborate tales – one of which involves the said manuscript being hidden in his great aunt’s cluttered house in Wales. Unfortunately, due to work commitments he won’t be paying his annual visit to Wales for several months.

Darrow seems convinced, and very much interested – and Quentin promises to contact him, once he has been able to verify his own suspicions about the manuscript. Darrow will soon be back in the US – and so now Quentin has given himself about four months to produce a manuscript that will fool all the Byron experts.  

““My finest, ferocious Caravaggio style”—that was his own phrase for his later manner; and that was the style I was aiming at, an interplay of light and shadow that would rivet the attention and, ultimately, draw the eye to darkness.”

Driving his decision to commit this audacious fraud is the knowledge that he already knows a huge amount about Byron, Quentin has been obsessed with him for years. Planning a new biography, hoping to cast the poet in a better light than he often has been, Quentin has already amassed a huge amount of material.

Naturally he will also need to keep his project a secret from anyone else – and this includes his beautiful fiancé Jocasta – a model who he is desperate to marry, when funds allow. Quentin lodges in Jocasta’s old room in her grandparents’ house, while Jocasta lives in London with fellow models – but while he is working on the manuscript he will have much less time to spend with her. Very aware of how beautiful his fiancé is, Quentin is so insecure as to be nervous of her running around socially without him. So, Quentin comes up with a little bit of easy Byron research for her to do for him, it’s not work he actually needs doing, but Jocasta won’t know that, and she will feel happy to be involved and will keep her busy when not working. Meanwhile he buries himself away having told everyone he is working on a novel that will hopefully sell much better than his biographies, and allow he and Jocasta to finally get married.

Quentin gets down to work, he has bought a couple of old notebooks that date to the right period – and decides to write in pencil. For Quentin is not trying to reproduce Byron’s writing, but to produce what will be taken for a copy, hurriedly written out by one of the people Byron is known to have trusted to read the memoirs. It’s the style and the contents that Quentin must struggle with – which Byron will emerge from these memoirs? – and will it be enough to fool the scholars, doubters and experts who will gather to inspect them? He does feel moments of doubt himself, moments of guilt about what he is about to do – but plows on regardless.

There are a couple of things that Quentin hadn’t bargained on, however. The first is just how enamoured with Byron Jocasta becomes, starting out happily helping her beloved – she is soon thoroughly obsessed with all things Byron, and reads everything she can get her hands on. Jocasta is soon on her way to being something of an expert herself – she may not be an academic but she is very smart – and almost certainly far too good for Quentin. Jocasta’s interest is such, that Quentin even starts to feel jealous – of a man who has been dead for over a 130 years (at that time) – and his jealousy starts to affect the way he presents Byron in the manuscript he is working on.

Secondly when he finally makes the trip to Wales to unearth the hidden manuscript – that he is of course carrying with him – he finds his aunt’s house has undergone a huge decluttering. With his aunt’s odd friends and her tetchy housekeeper also getting in the way, Quentin really has his work cut out for him.

“The scheme which had brought me to Wales absolutely hinged on the fact that I would find there a fairly large house filled to overflowing with the minor family possessions of three generations and left in the keeping of a decidedly careless housewife who never bothered about them. I’d relied upon being able to persuade her, forgetful and indifferent as she was, that a manuscript book she’d never seen before must have been lying amongst the lumber for years unnoticed. But if there had been this idiotic clean sweep, my task might not be easy or indeed possible.”

Finally all that is left to do is to make the announcement of his amazing discovery, and sell it to Darrow, the American manuscript dealer who so raised his hackles so many months before. Will he pull it off?

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My recent purchase of five Dean Street Press books included two by Doris Langley Moore. Having so enjoyed Not at Home, I had known it would not be long before I read another of her novels. A Game of Snakes and Ladders is a little different to Not at Home less domestic though fully immersive. In this novel Doris Langley Moore gives us another heroine who (like Elinor MacFarren in Not at Home) the reader roots for from the start.

There is some kind of odd publishing history for this novel, first published in 1938 as They Knew her When – it was revised and published under this title in 1955. The opening sentence immediately showing one revision.

“During the First World War, as during the Second, all the lighter kinds of theatrical business flourished.”

In a note from the author to the publisher re-printed in the front of this edition, Doris Langley Moore explains how she came to write this novel – or at least what inspired her to create her heroine. She wanted a heroine that would go through a multitude of trials before emerging victorious at the end – like in the novels of Fanny Burney.

“Fanny Burney would not approve of some of my chapters, but it was my affection for the novels of her school, in which the heroine goes through all kinds of distresses but emerges in a sweeping triumph at the end that made me long to try my hand at the same theme – treating it, however, in our down-to-earth twentieth-century way.”

After the end of World War One two young women, Lucy a vicar’s daughter sensible and unflappable, and Daisy, pretty, ambitious, and highly self-interested are performing with a theatre company in Egypt. Lucy is about twenty seven, Daisy a couple of years younger, and the two had been thrown together by their touring company while in Australia, a fairly superficial friendship had developed. In 1919 Lucy is still nursing a heartbreak, she had been very much in love with Henry, the younger son of a titled English family – who she argued with and separated from during the war. When the show in Cairo comes to an end Daisy decides to stay in Egypt, Lucy meanwhile is keen to return to England. Of course, things don’t quite work out for Lucy in the way she expects – and the novel follows her over the course of almost twenty years through a variety of trials and tribulations.

Daisy has caught the eye of a wealthy businessman, who has some involvement with the theatre. When Lucy falls seriously ill Daisy has her moved to an expensive nursing home, and upon her recovery Lucy finds herself in serious debt to her friend’s lover. Daisy – who doesn’t really want to lose Lucy’s company, further promises that Lucy will remain in Egypt until the debt is repaid. Moving back and forth between Cairo and Alexandria Lucy is forced to find work that will pay her enough to live on, repay her debt and eventually fund her passage home to England. Lucy feels trapped by her position and with her illness having taken a toll on her looks and her singing voice she is obliged to take a job as a kind of dogsbody assistant to a theatre manager – all arranged by Daisy’s lover Mr Mosenthal. Lucy is determined to save what she can of her meagre earnings and get back to England, from where she will continue to pay off her debt to Mr Mosenthal – who is really not as bothered about the debt as poor Lucy imagines.

“Daisy was one of those plastic and adaptable persons who are able to produce whatever sentiments expedience may demand of them. She had the happy faculty, of adjusting herself, without either effort or knowledge on her own part, to people, circumstances, and surroundings. She held, upon almost every topic, exactly such opinions as it seemed advantageous to hold, and if the paradox is tolerable, being quite without intellectual honesty, she honestly believed in those opinions.”

Daisy is a very selfish young woman, totally incapable of recognising her own selfishness, she manages to delude herself about her own motives. She enjoys having Lucy at her beck and call – when it suits her, but she is far too invested in her relationship with Mr Mosenthal to really think too much about Lucy. As her relationship develops and looks to becoming more permanent, Lucy is really only needed to help fill Daisy’s quiet afternoons in the comfortable flat she shares with Mr Mosenthal.

Lucy is living in one room of a rooming house – waging a continuous battle with the threat of cockroaches, making what little economies she can in her living costs. She’s made no friends at work – as everyone is suspicious of her involvement with Mr Mosenthal – wondering if she is reporting back to the big boss. However, Lucy does befriend a young girl living in her boarding house, Constance and her father live on the floor above Lucy, and despite Constance being only about seventeen, the two become good friends – until a dreadful argument severs their friendship. Lucy has not lost sight of her main objective, to secure passage back to England – but she hasn’t reckoned on so many things going wrong. The reader watches in dismay as poor Lucy lurches from one crisis to another – each of them making it harder and harder for her to get home to England. As time goes on, and the fares start to rise – Lucy becomes resigned to staying in Egypt. Daisy – the cause of all Lucy’s initial troubles becomes an ever more distant figure in Lucy’s life – as she attains married respectability.  

The reader has some realistic hopes of things working out well for Lucy – it is that kind of novel – and we sense this right from the start. Her stay in Egypt is long – very long, and we wonder what will take her home? – who might help her?  and what will lie in wait for her after such a long absence?

A thoroughly enjoyable read, with a wonderfully satisfying ending, I am so looking forward to my next read by Doris Langley Moore – hooray for Dean Street press bringing her books back to us.

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With thanks to the publisher for the ebook.

If your idea of hell is an unwelcome house guest/tenant who upsets the rhythm of your home and spoils your most loved possessions, then this is a book that will resonate strongly. As someone who has lived alone a long time, and despite having lots of great family and friends who I love spending time with, appreciates my own company, this novel played into all my anxieties. Within a few pages I found myself shuddering at the predicament the central character of Not at Home finds herself in.

Elinor MacFarren is a middle aged single woman, and in the summer of 1945, finds herself obliged to enter into a house share with another woman. She is living in what has been the family home, where she lived once with her brothers, and where she helped to raise her nephew. Now she is alone, and money is tight. Miss MacFarren has spent her adult life writing about botany, publishing several books, and has something of a reputation in the field. She also has a wonderful collection of old botanical prints and some beautiful, antique pieces of furniture in the house of which she is very proud. Two china cats are her particular pride and joy, and their welfare the reader can’t help but fear for throughout the book. From the first page I was #teamMacFarren all the way – even though Elinor is a bit stuck in her ways (who isn’t).

Elinor has one live in servant – who may not like the idea of two people to run after in the house – so that is the first problem to be faced.

“On the step was a woman laden with flowers, a wonderfully smart woman with a white cloth coat, a yellow taffeta turban draped in the newest style, and white wedge-heeled shoes as complex as a Chinese puzzle. Her hair was pale gold and her ivory-coloured face suggested rather than achieved the most extraordinary beauty. With a smile of such radiance as lies only in the consciousness of flawless teeth, she extended from amongst the flowers a lemon-coloured suede glove.”

When Mrs Antonia Bankes comes to discuss the prospect of a house share she assures Elinor – that she is quiet – has few guests – will help with the domestic duties around the house etc. Having been recommended to Elinor through a mutual friend Mrs Bankes – whose American correspondent husband is still in Europe – seems like the perfect tenant. Elinor divides the rooms in the house between them – giving all the best rooms – as her nephew Mory declares in amazement – to Antonia. Mory works in film – and lives a pretty rackety life- especially compared to his aunt – she is frequently ready to be shocked by his exploits.

“It was not that she was ignorant of young men and their ways; she had read books, she had grown up with two brothers. But Mory sowed wild oats as systematically as if he were bedding out some useful vegetable for the kitchen garden, He seemed to invite one to approve of his crop.”

Naturally, things don’t turn out quite as poor Elinor MacFarren has expected. Antonia Bankes we quickly learn is quite able to present to the world which ever face is most advantageous to her – even when that is about as far from the truth as you can get. She is quite simply an appalling tenant. Soon the ‘shared’ spare room is constantly filled with Antonia’s friends – they troop in and out of the house at all hours of the day and night – dropping cigarette ash all over the carpets in the sitting room that has been given over to Antonia. The china cats are in daily peril, often used – to Miss MacFarren’s horror – as doorstops. The house soon starts to suffer, Antonia never lifts a finger – the servant Manders does her best – but in time she predictably leaves them to it.

Whenever Antonia breaks something or Miss McFarren has to politely remind her about something she behaves as if poor Elinor is being ever so fussy and silly – poor Elinor is constantly on edge and is unable to do a stroke of work. Antonia, Elinor realises is like a spoilt child, incapable of seeing the consequences of her actions or having any conscience at all. Some domestic pets unfortunately come in for poor treatment by Antonia Bankes too – a cageful of birds bought on a whim and later a fox terrier that she is supposed to be looking after for a friend. Animal lovers – I’m afraid the dog doesn’t last long – but is thankfully not dwelt upon or described in too upsetting a way.

Time moves on and Elinor finds herself unable to evict her nightmare tenant – the thought of living with her for a month under such conditions simply horrifies her. When Antonia’s husband Joss arrives home on leaves he loves the house, and Miss MacFarren realises he is much better than his wife, but his visits are short lived. Elinor’s adored nephew Mory introduces her to the beautiful Maxine Albert – a young actress, of whom, Miss MacFarren isn’t sure she approves at first – but the two soon become unlikely friends and co-conspirators in the fight to rid the house of Mrs Bankes. Others are brought into Miss MacFarren’s plans too – Harriet – who first introduced Mrs Bankes – has to finally admit that Antonia isn’t at all what she thought, and Dr Wilmot who Elinor always saw as a rival – soon shows himself to be a friend too. Poor Elinor is desperate to have the house back to herself.

Not at Home is the first novel by Doris Langley Moore that I have read – it won’t be last I am sure, Dean Street have re-issued a few. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel of domestic disharmony – and enjoyed absolutely loathing Antonia Bankes.

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