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cof

Recently I read and reviewed Chatterton Square by E H Young – and judging from some of the comments I got on that post, it seems she isn’t an author who is very well known these days. So, allow me to introduce you to Edith Hilda Young.

I often marvel at the unexpectedness of the lives which lie behind the politely composed, conventional black and white photographs of the writers I love to read. I think Emily Hilda was a little unconventional, she was it appears careful not to flaunt her unconventional lifestyle, and having worked as both a stable groom and a munitions worker, I imagine a woman who never shied away from hard work either.

old bristol

Emily Hilda Young was born in Northumberland in 1880, but upon her marriage in the early 1900s she moved to the Clifton area of Bristol. This was a very fashionable area – it is still an area dominated by rows of gracious residences often with white or cream facades, I am reminded Bristol is a city I have never visited.

E H YoungAlthough Emily was to leave the Clifton area after her husband’s death – to live in a ménage a trois with her lover and his wife in London – it was Clifton that she recreated in almost all her books. Thinly disguised as Upper Radstowe – she used the provincial world of Clifton as her canvases which are generally small – exploring themes of marriage and women’s place in society. Her heroines are often outspoken, unconventional, raising the collective eyebrows of the conventional, pompous members of their community. Church plays a part in many of her stories too – with several vicars among her characters.

E H Young wrote eleven novels for adults and two for children, and during her lifetime she was very successful. It is sad that her novels are read so much less now, surely her wonderful books are ripe for re-issuing? I have read seven out of those eleven adult novels, I have an eighth waiting tbr. The first three novels that E H Young published are much harder to come by, although I think I have a kindle copy of Moor Fires (1916) her third novel, which I have heard is not as strong as her later work. Still, I suspect any E H Young novel is worth reading, I have hugely enjoyed all those I have encountered so far – and would love to see more people reading her books, which are quite widely available second hand from all the usual places online – and are worth looking out for in second hand bookshops.

Here are a list of her adult books, with some brief details about the books (barring the first three which I don’t know anything about)– I would love to see some of you reading her soon.

A Corn of Wheat (1910) and Yonder (1912) I haven’t any information about either of these.

Moor Fires (1916 – another early novel I have no information about but I am keeping an eye out for a  hardcopy – though I have a kindle copy.

A Bridge Dividing (1922) (republished as The Misses Mallett) my VMC edition has the later title – The narrative of the enormously charming novel, concerns aging spinster sisters Caroline and Sophia, and their younger half sister Rose, and their niece, the young Henrietta. Henrietta comes to live with the sisters upon the death of her mother, and is immediately drawn into their beautiful genteel world.

William (1925) William of the title is William Nesbitt, an ageing successful business man, happily married to Kate for many years, they have five grown up children. Mable married to John, Walter married to Violet, Dora married to Herbert, Lydia living in London and married to Oliver, while Janet the youngest remains unmarried and living at home. Kate Nesbitt has her own idea of how her children should live their lives, how they should behave toward their husbands and children; they often unsettle and worry her. William however is a remarkable father, he tries hard to understand his children, but more than that he seems to properly understand that they need to make their own way in the world. That all he can do is support them.

The Vicar’s Daughter (1927) – I sadly don’t own a copy of this, I think I read Liz’s copy – so it is another one I need to look out for. The story of Maurice Roper, who having been care taking his cousin’s parish awaits his return, and that of Margaret, the woman he once loved and his cousin married.

Miss Mole (1930) I think this was my first E H Young, again I borrowed my copy from Liz, but have since replaced it with a pretty hardback. It’s a book I really want to re-read, although there are other novels I have to read for the first time. Miss Hannah Mole is a forty-year-old spinster who earns her living as a companion/housekeeper. She is unconventional; outspoken, a bit of a fibber. When Miss Mole becomes housekeeper to a widowed minister and has an impact upon everyone she meets.

Jenny Wren (1932) tells the story of two sisters, concentrating on the younger sister. Jenny and her older sister Dahlia Rendall have recently moved from their old home at the white farm, in the countryside to a house in Upper Radstowe. Here their mother has installed the first of her lodgers, young Mr Cummings, who knows about antique furniture and has ambitions for a shop of his own. Jenny and Dahlia are socially superior to their mother, taking after their gentleman father who had previously protected them from their mother’s common ways and the gossip surrounding some supposed affair years earlier. Now Jenny and Dahlia feel the sharp glances of their neighbours who see the still beautiful Louisa as not respectable and assume her daughters are no better. Dahlia’s story is told in a later novel.

Celia (1937) – I have waiting tbr – it is a satisfyingly fat book, which focus on the marriages of three couples.

The Curate’s Wife (1934) Sequel to Jenny Wren Tells the story of Dahlia Rendell. The Curate’s Wife of the title is Dahlia – who has just arrived back to Upper Radstowe from her honeymoon. She has married the rather serious, very conventional, curate Rev. Cecil Sproat. Dahlia is anything but conventional; beautiful, irreverent she sees Cecil’s vocation as rather old womanish – and ridiculous, seeing humour in things that leave poor Cecil a little puzzled.

Chatterton Square (1947) I read most recently, and it is almost certainly her best novel.

clifton bridge

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cof

E.H Young is a fabulous Virago author – and Chatterton Square – her final novel proved to be a fantastic pick for my third All Virago/All August read of the month. Although I have still to read a few of her novels – especially those early hard to find ones – I feel confident in saying that Chatterton Square is almost certainly her best novel. It is complex, multi-layered and fantastically readable.

The setting is Upper Radstowe – the setting of the majority of E H Young’s novels, a thinly disguised Clifton – the genteel, prosperous suburb of Bristol where she herself lived for a time. However, the canvas of this novel like many of her others is far smaller than that, almost the entire story taking place at the titular address.

We are in familiar territory with many of the themes of this novel, those of marriage, provincial life and morality. However, the novel also explores pre-war attitudes, it is the late 1930s and the prospect of another war is at the back of everyone’s mind. Naturally, the possibility of war is contemplated with some pain by those who lived through one war and still bear the scars – either physical or mental. Meanwhile the next generation, face the possibility of having the best years of their lives stolen – and well they know it.

Chatterton Square – not really a square is more of an oblong – has seen better days. Still although fashion has deserted this small corner of Upper Radstowe, these are houses with small gardens, basement kitchens and some – like the Frasers – have balconies. The Frasers occupy a corner of Chatterton square – here live – Rosamund Fraser, her childhood friend Agnes Spanner and Rosamund’s five almost adult children. Agnes, we learn lived a sad, small diminished life with her controlling parents. So, with Rosamund’s husband; Fergus, choosing to live abroad, away from his family – Rosamund took the opportunity to save her friend – bringing her in to the warm, lively family she has never had for herself.

Sitting at right angles to the Fraser household, live the Blacketts; Herbert and Bertha – and their three daughters, Flora, Rhoda and Mary. Herbert Blackett is one of the most pompous, self-obsessed, self-deluded men I have come across in fiction, I could cheerfully have throttled him. He is however, a brilliantly complex character deftly explored. It is testament to Young’s extraordinary skill, that towards the end of the novel, when the reader has spent almost 400 pages loathing him, she allows us to see him defeated, and it is a surprisingly poignant moment.

Mr Blackett is proud of his quiet little submissive wife, in his eyes she is perfectly proper, conventional and loyal. He loves to see her blush if he mentions their honeymoon in Florence almost twenty years earlier. Yet, unknown to him, Bertha loathes him, she suffers his embraces, quietly despising him. Her one consolation that he has no idea what goes on in her mind, mocking him silently keeps her sane – but the reader longs for her to tell him exactly what she thinks – as surely must at some point. There is breath-taking complexity in the characters of the Blackett household, Flora so like her father that her mother can criticise him, through her irritation with a daughter she is unable to like. Rhoda so like her mother – more and more so as the novel progresses. Her father simply cannot understand his middle daughter – and she in turn doesn’t like him at all, and doesn’t really try to hide it. There is a wonderful moment when Rhoda catches a cold, angry look on her mother’s face directed at her unseeing husband, and understands all.

“He pitied widows but he distrusted them. They knew too much. As free as unmarried women, they were fully armed; this was an unfair advantage, and when it was combined with beauty, and air of well-being, a gaiety which, in women over forty had an unsuitable hint of mischief in it, he felt that in this easy conquest over, or incapacity for grief, all manhood was insulted, while all manhood, including his own, was probably viewed by that woman as a likely prey.”

Of course, Herbert Blackett does not approve of the Fraser household. Suspicious of Rosamund as she is without a husband, he is appalled when he discovers she is not, as he had assumed a widow, declaring that her husband must have found himself obliged to leave her. Rosamund, manages her family very differently to Mr Blackett, she doesn’t interfere in her children’s lives, they enjoy an enormous amount of freedom, but come to her often nevertheless. Late at night as the household settles down, Miss Spanner or one or other of the children visit Rosamund in her bedroom, where confidences are shared, worries discussed, minds put at rest.

The two households are brought together partly by their proximity to one another and by the friendships which begin to develop between some members of the two houses. Piers Lindsay, disfigured by his injures picked up in the First World War, is Bertha Blackett’s cousin, we sense that there were some tenderer feelings between them once – but Piers returned just too late from the war, which Herbert had not fought in. Now Piers has returned unexpectedly to the area. Herbert Blackett is deeply resentful of Piers and his war wounds he considers an easy way of eliciting sympathy. Rosamund Fraser is drawn to Piers, recognising the goodness in him, his companionship is easy and comforting. Bertha is also fond of Piers, noticing of course, his visits to her neighbour.

“She blushed to remember how once, and for a short time, she had listened for certain tones of Mr Blackett’s voice and watched for certain movements of his long hands and found delight in what was only endurable now because she had learnt to enjoy disliking it. And he did not know, he had not the slightest suspicion, that was the best of it, and suddenly, when she and Piers were sitting in the twilight as Rosamund had pictured them and while Rhoda had left them for a few minutes, Mrs Blackett laughed aloud, a rare occurrence, and it was yet another kind of laughter which Mr Blackett had never heard.”

Alongside the anxieties of a possible war – are the burgeoning friendships and romances between various characters from the two households. However, it is the depiction of the Blackett marriage that will live long in my mind, Rosamund Fraser is a fabulous character, wise, warm unconventional and loving, but for me it is Bertha Blackett (what a name!) who is the real heroine of Chatterton Square.

E H Young

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curates wife

I have enjoyed several E H Young novels, a writer who is probably read far less these days than she deserves to be. The Curate’s Wife is the sequel to her 1932 novel Jenny Wren; and is again set in the fictional Upper Radstowe – a thinly disguised Clifton, where she set several of her novels. Ridiculously it is three years since I read Jenny Wren (I was convinced in my own mind it was a little over a year – before I checked) – and so I had to look back at my own review before starting to read.

The Curate’s Wife, takes up more or less where Jenny Wren left off – only the focus shifts from the character of Jenny Rendall to her sister Dahlia. In the previous novel gently educated Jenny and her sister – the daughters of a gentleman who had married beneath him – struggled with aspects their new life in Upper Radstowe following their father’s death. Their mother – who everybody acknowledges to be their social inferior starts a boarding house – next door to a nasty, vicious old gossip, and openly conducts a relationship with a farmer. Jenny particularly feels the social difference between herself and her mother – which leads to trouble in her own romantic life.

“Cecil’s long legs and his love took him very rapidly up the street and across The Green. He had already done several errands and he was willing to do more. He liked leaving the house for the sake of coming back to it and finding Dahlia there, always busy but also always ready to stop work and talk and tell him how the house would look when she had finished with it.”

The Curate’s Wife of the title is Dahlia – who has just arrived back to Upper Radstowe from her honeymoon. She has married the rather serious, very conventional, curate Rev. Cecil Sproat. Dahlia is anything but conventional; beautiful, irreverent she sees Cecil’s vocation as rather old womanish – and ridiculous, seeing humour in things that leave poor Cecil a little puzzled. Dahlia is kind though, and well intentioned, she wants to be a good curate’s wife and assist him in his work. Dahlia is fond of Cecil – but she isn’t madly in love with him, as he is with her – for Dahlia, marriage with Cecil is safety and stability. Dahlia and Cecil have married each other without knowing one another very well – Dahlia is very young – and Cecil so very serious, the two have a lot to learn about each other from the start. Their marriage is compared and contrasted with that of Cecil’s vicar and his wife.

“She cried without tears while she undressed. She found the loneliness of trouble in marriage greater than its joy when all went well, for happiness need not be concealed. The success of marriage calls for proclamation, its failure must not be acknowledged and now she could not creep into Jenny’s bed, as she wished to do, and warm herself and find comfort in a love that needed no explanation.”

Cecil’s vicar is Mr Doubleday – a slightly ineffectual but basically decent man – married to a managing harridan, who is immediately determined to disapprove of Dahlia. Mrs Doubleday is horrified by the idea of Dahlia’s mother, now married to her farmer and living over the bridge in the countryside setting she is more comfortable with. The Doubleday’s have been married for over thirty years; their son who they both adore having been abroad is on his way home following an attack of Malaria. Their relationship has been one of dominance and subservience, Mr Doubleday it appears has lived in thrall to his wife’s more dominating and difficult personality. The portrait of the Doubleday marriage is a sombre one, two people living together so long – yet they long ago ceased to communicate properly. Mrs Doubleday is gradually made aware of her husband as an unexpected subversive. While she jealously guarded her own relationship with their son – trying wherever possible to cut her husband out of Reginald’s life – her husband has been writing his own private letters – letters filled with humorous stories that have been a great delight to his son.

“Week by week, he had slipped a short and very dull note into the envelope addressed to Reginald, week by week, she had read and scorned it, and he had been writing long, funny letters secretly and posting them on the sly! She was ready to suspect him of almost any wickedness. Had he been writing such letters for nearly twenty years, while Reginald was at school and university? If so, the really dangerous change was in Reginal who no longer cared to spare her feelings”

Jenny meanwhile has been living with a former lodger of her mother’s and his family in the antique shop he runs. About the time that Jenny reappears in Upper Radstowe Dahlia meets and is momentarily distracted by a couple of glamourous young men. Reginald Doubleday is quick to notice Jenny, much to his mother’s horror.

The Curate’s Wife is a lovely, thoughtful portrait of marriage – showing how damaging and difficult it can be when two people marry without knowing one another well. Many of the attitudes are very old fashioned – even for the times in which the book was written. Dahlia and Jenny are very much the new generation – the Doubledays – and even Cecil seem to represent a different, earlier society. By examining the life of the vicar and his wife even Dahlia is able to see the worrying parallels with her and Cecil’s marriage.

E H Young allows her characters to each learn the lessons they perhaps need to – but the novel itself ends fairly abruptly – in a sense the reader can never be certain of the future of the curate’s wife. I actually really like such endings – but I know not everyone does.

When re-arranging some books on my tbr bookcase the other day I was delighted to come across a lovely green virago edition of E H Young’s 1937 novel Celia. I hope it doesn’t take me three years to get around to that one.

E H Young

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I only discovered E H Young for myself in 2011 – I read Miss Mole, The Misses Mallets and The Vicar’s daughter last year, and have had this novel and two other EH Young novels waiting for me on my tbr for a while. I think might well be my favourite E H Young to date. The novel is set in Radstowe, a fictional town E H Young used in her novels, and was apparently based upon Clifton in Bristol.
William of the title is William Nesbitt, an ageing successful business man, happily married to Kate for many years, they have five grown up children. Mable married to John, Walter married to Violet, Dora married to Herbert, Lydia living in London and married to Oliver, while Janet the youngest remains unmarried and living at home. Kate Nesbitt has her own idea of how her children should live their lives, how they should behave toward their husbands and children; they often unsettle and worry her. William however is a remarkable father, he tries hard to understand his children, but more than that he seems to properly understand that they need to make their own way in the world. That all he can do is support them.

It had been different when they were all young and at school. She had felt then that they were her own, but perhaps she had been mistaken, perhaps she had not known their secret selves, and she remembered, for the first time for years, how she had once found Lydia crying in the nursery and had not been able to find out what her trouble was. It seemed to her that what she had missed then might be evading her still. She had given birth to five bodies and she would always be a stranger to their souls. This was a terrible thought and it would have been more terrible still if she had known that it was William’s too.

Lydia seems to stand out from the family – she is loved by them all – although there appears to be a slightly more uneasy relationship with her sister Janet, but it is with William that she has a particularly special relationship. She calls her father “William” always with a touch of easy affectionate humour; she knows absolutely that he will not turn his back on her, no matter what she does. So it is to William that Lydia inevitably turns when she decides to leave her husband Oliver, and go off to live with another man. At this time of course this was a dreadful thing, and could ruin a woman and indeed her whole family socially. Lydia’s behaviour is treated very differently by William and his wife Kate. William is left confused and saddened by his wife’s reaction – this woman with whom he has shared his life for so long.

“He was in the presence of a stranger, someone quicker than himself in this matter, someone hard and inflexible, who surely had not borne his lovely daughter. He knew that for the moment her pain was controlled by her desire for action and her need to have the facts themselves in her grasp, but her hardness against Lydia stiffened him against herself.”

Yet despite their differing perspectives, William continues to care for his wife deeply, his is concerned when she is ill, when Kate travels to Lydia’s new home to confront her daughter, William follows, knowing she will be in distress and confusion and knowing she’ll have need of him. He is a wise and wonderful man, and is really just as interfering as Kate, but in a much gentler way, and his understanding of his children seems almost modern. Kate must come to her own acceptance of the situation, and William understands this too.
William and Kate’s youngest daughter Janet – is a more elusive character – she declares she will not marry, and yet neither William nor the reader quite believes this. William sets out to help his spikey youngest child to find her way in matters of the heart with quiet observation and just a nudge or two in the right direction.
This is such a lovely novel, it is a wonderfully realistic and sharply observed picture of family life and makes me look forward enormously to the two I have waiting for me on my overflowing tbr shelves.

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Originally published in 1922, this was later re-published by the marvelous Virago. I however – wanting badly to read it – downloaded quite cheaply to my kindle.

The narrative of the enormously charming novel, concerns aging spinster sisters Caroline and Sophia, and their younger half sister Rose, and their niece, the young Henrietta. Henrietta comes to live with the sisters upon the death of her mother, and is immediately drawn into their beautiful genteel world. This is world instantly recognisable, although it is gone forever now. It is a small world of good manners, and gentility. Caroline, often heard to say “Mallets don’t marry” – is not keen on the thought of Henrietta marrying, however Sophia is more romantic. Rose has a complex unconsummated relationship with a married man – Francis Sales – whom she has known since childhood. Beautiful, young Henrietta comes to the attention of Francis Sales, but is also admired by the wonderfully eccentric Charles Batty. These strained and flawed relationships are wonderfully explored, the characters beautifully drawn. The novel does have a lovely easy feel to it, and yet E H Young doesn’t let her readers off with a mere cosy read.

There is real drama to be mulled over, in this story of love, jealousies and missed opportunities.

E H Young

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The Reverend Maurice Roper awaits his cousins’ return to Old Framling with a mixture of desire and dread: years have passed since he saw Edward, his childhood hero, and Margaret, the woman he secretly loved, but whom Edward married. As temporary incumbent of the parish, Maurice has taken only one decisive step. Although he is reluctant to acknowledge how deeply past slights and thwarted desire still rule him, he is yet aware that his action could disrupt foreverr the household he so envies. Here with her characteristic piquancy, E.H. Young explores the pain of loving – and of being unloved – to produce an evocative account of human frailty.

This is the second E H Young novel I have read recently, and I have become quite a fan. The story of Maurice Roper, who having been caretaking his cousins parish awaits his return, and that of Margaret, the woman he once loved and his cousin married. The one decision Maurice has had to make during their absence, sets them all on a course of misunderstanding and secrecy. Poor Maurice, though a middle aged man, is very much still, the young orphaned boy who didn’t measure up to his more glamorous cousin, who was pushed into the sea and laughed at. Maurice’s desperation to be liked, and to fit in, is often heartbreaking. E H Young writes in such a way as to only half reveal to the reader what the characters themselves know. The reader if left to observe the characters as the drama unfolds slowly through such things as daily family interactions and mealtimes. This is a beautifully written, old fashioned novel, where in some ways nothing much happens, and yet at the same time it does.

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Borrowed from my friend Liz

When Miss Mole returns to Radstowe, she wins the affection of Ethel and of her nervous sister Ruth and transforms the life of the vicarage. This book won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1930.

This is quite a slow read I found, but not in a bad way, Miss Mole is the kind of novel that it is worth taking your time over. I loved the character of Hannah Mole, as she’s not wholly conventional, a wonderfully flawed character, speaks her mind – tells fibs, sometimes a little sad, sometimes cynical. However she is an indomitable woman, a romantic survivor, who easily wins the affections of Ruth and Ethel, the daughters of pompous non conformist minister Reverend Corder. We see Hannah Mole’s life and her past in a rather disjointed non-chronological way – as if Hannah is keeping her secrets to herself untill the very last. Poor Miss Mole, her best years behind her, no home of her own, an embarrassment to her cousin – she nevertheless enriches the lives of several people around her. Finally she is rewarded in a way that most readers would cheer at, in a wonderfully poignant little final scene. An author I shall want to read more of I am sure. This was a quietly emotional read, and one I think which will stay with me.

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