Posts Tagged ‘persephone’


When I read my first collection of short-stories by Katherine Mansfield I was sure it wouldn’t be long before I read my next. Well that was five years ago!

The Montana Stories was one of those odd gaps I had in my Persephone collection – I had meant to acquire a copy for years. I love collections of short-stories – and I have no idea why I left it so long to get and read this one – it is glorious.

The Montana Stories ticked off 2001 in my A Century of Books – which felt like a bit of a cheat, because all the stories were written in 1921 – but this collection was only put together by Persephone in 2001. In 1921, Katherine Mansfield, very ill with TB went to stay in a chalet in Montana, Switzerland for her health. This period became one of her most creative periods – and the pieces in this collection are presented chronologically – which is often such an interesting way to read a writer’s work. This collection contains short stories and unfinished fragments – and some extracts from her letters in the editorial notes at the back. The unfinished stories can be a little frustrating – though still beautiful to read. Some of these unfinished pieces end less abruptly and could be seen as having an ambiguous ending – other pieces end more suddenly. Many of the stories in this edition had been previously published in The Spectator – and illustrations that accompanied those stories are reproduced here too.

montana switz

With so many very short stories and fragments in this collection I am only to talk about three particular stories in any detail – but I really can’t stress how perfect every word of the whole collection is. What a truly gifted writer Katherine Mansfield was. Some other stories that will stay with me particularly are: Mr and Mrs Dove, Marriage á la Mode and A Cup of Tea, as well as the frustratingly unfinished A Married Man’s story.

In Bliss and other Stories (1920) – the collection opens with Prelude – a story still that is very memorable to me five years later. In that story we meet the Burnell family – perhaps that story is so memorable for me because it was my introduction to Katherine Mansfield. So, imagine my delight to find not one but two more stories in The Montana Stories featuring the Burnell family; At the Bay and The Doll’s House. One of the daughters of the Burnell family is Kezia – and I read something, somewhere online that suggests that Kezia is an autobiographical character, having little patience with conventional society rules. These two stories were perhaps not surprisingly among my favourites in the collection.

“As the morning lengthened whole parties appeared over the sand-hills and came down on the beach to bathe. It was understood that at eleven o’clock the women and children of the summer colony had the sea to themselves. First the women undressed, pulled on their bathing dresses and covered their heads in hideous caps like sponge bags; then the children were unbuttoned. The beach was strewn with little heaps of clothes and shoes; the big summer hats, with stones on them to keep them from blowing away, looked like immense shells. It was strange that even the sea seemed to sound differently when all those leaping, laughing figures ran into the waves.”
(At the Bay)


In At the Bay, Stanley Burnell, Kezia’s father goes out for an early morning swim, then returns to the house for breakfast before leaving for work. When he leaves, the women and children – left behind – breathe a sigh of relief. Aunt Beryl talks coolly to a society woman, while Kezia’s mother daydreams the day away, her latest baby at her side – leaving the majority of the household tasks to be supervised by Kezia’s grandmother. It is a beautifully atmospheric story – suffused with a feeling of long, indolent sunny days, bathing, dreaming and talking the day away, until the time comes for the men to return.

In The Doll’s House the Burnell children are given a fabulous Doll’s House that is so large it has to sit outside the house in the garden. The house opens up to reveal tiny, beautifully furnished rooms, Kezia is particularly enchanted by a lamp. The children delight in telling the other children at school all about their doll’s house, Kezia’s older sister reserves the right to do the telling first, she is, after all, the eldest. They are permitted to bring their friends home to see it – a couple at a time, glorying in the envy and delight the other children have for it. However, they are not allowed to bring the Kelveys – who no one else ever associates with the Kelvey siblings either. No one knows who their father is – and their mother is the washerwoman. It is only Kezia who is made uncomfortable by such rules and dares to go against them.

“The hook at the side was stuck fast. Pat prised it open with his penknife, and the whole house swung back, and – there you were gasping at one and the same moment into the drawing-room and dining-room, the kitchen and two bedrooms. That is the way for a house to open! Why don’t all houses open like that? How much more exciting than peering through the slit of a door into a mean little hall with a hat stand and two umbrellas! That is – isn’t it? – what you long to know about a house when you put your hand on the knocker.”
(The Doll’s House)

Another of Katherine Mansfield’s most well-known stories in this collection, is The Garden Party – and this too is utterly masterful. The Sheridan family are preparing for their garden party. Daughter Laura has been put in charge of ensuring the marquee is put in the correct place, while her sister Jose tests the piano. Their mother has ordered masses of lilies and the girls are enchanted by the flowers. As the preparations near completion, the family learn that a working-class neighbour has been killed in an accident, leaving behind a wife and children. Laura thinks the party should be called off out of respect but neither her mother or sister agree. Later she is asked to take a basket of left-overs to the family. The Sheridan sisters also appear briefly in the story Her First Ball.

Persephone short story collections are always a hit with me – I’ve yet to read one that isn’t fabulous. This collection reminds me that I haven’t read nearly enough Katherine Mansfield – and I do have another collection waiting on my kindle.

katherine mansfield

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midsummernight workshouse

I have become an admirer of Diana Athill through reading four of her books of memoir – and I have a couple more tbr. She is a wonderful teller of tales, her memoirs written with great warmth and honesty. Midsummer Night in the Workhouse was my first experience of Athill’s fiction.

These twelve stories first appeared in the late 1950s or early 1960s, ten of them published with four others under the title An Unavoidable Delay in 1962. This lovely Persephone collection was published in 2011 – with Athill able to write her own preface – she is one of only a few living authors to be published by Persephone. The endpapers taken from a fabric purchased by Diana Athill for her flat in the 1970s.

In this collection Athill writes about young women experiencing the world of love and sex for the first time. Smart, sexy, knowing stories, touched with gentle humour and some well-developed characterisation.

A young girl is enraptured by her first kiss at a dance, with an unexciting young man in The Real Thing which opens the collection. The girl is touchingly young, finds so many situations to be ‘utterly withering’ and unkindly calls her companion Thomas ‘Toofat’ in her head – his last name is Toogood. He is at least old enough to drive a car. In No Laughing Matter another young girl – a university student – who is absolutely smitten with her boyfriend Stephen – has to decide whether it is time to take their relationship to the next level.

“For twelve weeks these anxieties had buzzed like mosquitoes, teasing at the decision, giving her the circles under her eyes and spoiling her appetite. The more formidable they became, the more certain she was that she would do it in spite of them. The decision was harder than she had expected, involved more than the general principle of the thing which, though frightening, was simple. She was suffering for it, and the more she suffered the greater became her exaltation.”
(No Laughing Matter)

Most of these quiet stories are set in England, and the point of view is mainly, though not exclusively that of women. Two stories take place abroad, one in Italy and one in Greece. Although the themes of many of these stories are very similar – they each standalone perfectly – characters are clearly distinct from one another.

midsummernight2Adultery rears its head in a couple of stories – in the first of them, we meet one woman living in boredom with her husband. Her memory, keeping alive, her brief fling with a slight social acquaintance. In, For Rain It Hath a Friendly Sound Kate Beeston is floored by a casual phone call from her former lover she watches her husband in the garden – and recalls the week she spent with David Field when her husband was away. This was one of my favourite stories, for me it had the feel of the kind of story Elizabeth Taylor could have written.

“The name had stabbed her – ‘It’s David Field here’ – so that Kate had reached for something to lean on, but then an odd contentment had come down on her and it had been an effort to understand what he was saying. She had wanted only to listen to the sound of his voice.”
( For Rain It Hath a Friendly Sound)

In the title story, a writer tries desperately to find her writing mojo – at a writing retreat. There are a host of quirky characters installed – including a practised seducer – who all delight in poking fun at the house rules, and the odd little messages pinned up on the communal notice board.

One story told from a male point of view is An Afternoon Off. Tweedy middle-aged Roger Paul, who works for a publisher has rarely had a day off, never taken his full holiday entitlement. One afternoon he decides to not go back to the office – he doesn’t phone them to explain either. He goes to the cinema and has tea with a young woman who he tries not to notice is a bit common and tells him about her boyfriend. He finds it is all a little bit disappointing.

In the final story Buried – a middle aged woman finds herself skulking through the farmyard of her brother’s neighbour. It is a couple of years since Mrs Klein last visited her Colonel brother. Their peculiar adventure gives her chance to recall their childhood, how her elder brother had been everything to her before he went away to school – and gradually life disrupted that early closeness. In this way, she comes to a new understanding of her brother, realising how he became the man he is.

Midsummer Night in the Workhouse is another excellent short story collection from Persephone books. Diana Athill a writer I continue to read with great relish.


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I hadn’t planned to read a Persephone book last weekend but when I heard the Jessie at Dwell in Possibility was hosting a Persephone readathon, I changed my plans slightly. I always love an excuse to pull one of my unread Persephones from the shelf, The Journey Home and other stories was a Christmas gift from Liz, and proved to be yet another superb story collection published by Persephone -I always know I am going to love a Persephone story collection. This new collection of stories has been put together by Persephone – the stories dating from the 20s and 30s featuring stories from the collections originally published during Malachi Whitaker’s lifetime.

I first came across the writer Malachi Whitaker in the Persephone book of short stories – a truly brilliant anthology of stories from a variety of writers. That, however was the extent of my knowledge – I had to turn to the usual places to try and find out more. Well the Persephone website has far more information on Malachi Whitaker (born Marjorie Taylor) than Wikipedia. She published four volumes of short stories and an autobiography during her lifetime but seems to have stopped writing sometime in the 1930s. Born in Bradford in 1895 she spent time working in her father’s bookbinding works, moved around Yorkshire with her husband and adopted two children.

This collection brings together twenty of her short stories, many of which are very short, so the volume itself is only about two hundred and thirty pages – and that includes the afterword. The writing however is quite superb, Whitaker crafts her stories with precision, not a word is wasted, yet the stories are fully satisfying. I got the impression of a down to earth, no-nonsense Yorkshire woman who understood perfectly the communities among whom she lived. Her canvas is the ordinary, the domestic, but she perfectly captures the ordinary – making them appear less than ordinary – even the absurd in a way that not every writer manages. Here we have a boy starting work with his father, a couple getting drunk for the first time, honeymooners, children left to their own devices, young women ‘in trouble’.

Some of the stories are sad, a little dark, many are memorable. The collection opens with The Journey Home, this short, title story is quite a little shocker, about which I really feel I can’t say anything.

“The girl in the corner seat noticed the rabbit without a white bob to its tail, because she had never seen a rabbit without that mark before. She had seized on the rabbit, or anything else that offered itself outside the window, to avoid looking at the face of the woman opposite, a face so ravaged by one passion or another that it was almost obscene.”
(The Journey Home)

In the story Brother W, Whitaker tells the story of two brothers, one of the brothers has recently died. The surviving brother William, remembers, with some regret, the brother to whom he hadn’t spoken for twenty years. The brothers had continued to share the same bed as they had as children, it never occurring to either of them to move into the spare room. Now, William pays a visit to the stone mason to arrange for a headstone for his brother.

A man who has made his money in business in the south of England, returns to Bradford in September, the time of the annual fair (the tide) in The Smoke of the Tide. Albert Shepherd loves the beauty he sees in the industrial north of his birth, which is so disparaged by his London wife. He revels in the sights, sounds and smells of his youth and the memories flood back.


A child is left alone by her mother in The Lonely One. A cold winter’s day, and her Auntie Annie is supposed to be coming over within an hour of the mother’s departure – but never arrives – presumably forgetting. The girl finds the hours hanging heavy on her – with little to fill her time, she is made more aware of the time and the silence as she eats her soup alone and pretends to make the beds. Later, she walks to a nearby farm to collect the milk. She spots a woman walking in the street and imagines briefly that it is her auntie come at last.

“But nobody came. The woman must have been a stranger, or somebody from the next village. As soon as she realised that nothing fresh was to happen, that the woman had passed, the child sat down in front of the fire and cried a little, pouting her lips and narrowing her eyes, but very few tears came. Her mother was far away and her auntie had forgotten her. Forgotten her! Yes, that was better. One real tear fell down her left cheek, and another stood in the corner of her right eye.”
(The Lonely One)

Two young brothers enjoy, perhaps one last really happy day in For a small moment. Their mother who has been sick so long – has died, but the boys have not been told. Having spent the last week with an aunt, they have been invited to the house of a family friend Mrs Taybrow. Mrs Taybrow leaves the boys with her young daughter; Miriam and her cousin Louise while she goes out to what we – but not any of the children know – is their mother’s funeral. The boys have a wonderful day, picking gooseberries, playing hide and seek and making toffee, creating quite a mess in the process – for which, oddly they are not reprimanded later. At the end of the day they are delivered home, where the boys can’t wait to tell their mother about all they have done.

There are obviously too many stories in this collection to write about individually – but the whole collection paints a picture of a time and place, resurrecting the people who lived there in the way only a woman who lived among them can.

malachi whitaker

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A Persephone readathon


With several posts popping up over the last forty-eight hours about this – I am sure everyone knows about this by now – but Jessie who blogs at Dwell in Possibility is having a Persephone readathon. Between the 1st and 11th those of us who love Persephone have the chance to brighten up our social media with photos of our Persephone books, talk about all things Persephone and of course indulge ourselves in a bit of Persephone reading. happytree

I only found out about this readathon two days ago – so I wasn’t sure I could join in, but I really wanted to. So, I have re-thought my reading schedule (which is always fairly elastic anyway) and decided to try and squeeze one – perhaps even two Persephone volumes into the next ten days. I’m not sure if any reviews will get written in time for the end of the readathon though – that might be tight, as I still have two of January’s books to review.

mdeI’m finishing a novel in translation today – as well as meeting my mother for lunch and going to the cinema – but sometime today I aim to get properly stuck into The Journey Home and other Stories by Malachi Whitaker; Persephone book number 124 – which I got for Christmas from Liz, I read the first two very short stories the night before last. This collection was first published by Persephone in 2017 though the stories themselves date from mainly the 1930s – which is very much my reading comfort zone. I have five others Persephone titles tbr – and now 97 titles altogether.

I have a couple of links to old posts for those of you who might have missed them.

Last January I wrote a post called Perfect Persephones – it was my top ten Persephone titles – as they were then. Already I feel if I were to edit it, I might have to change it to include Earth and High Heaven – one of my best books of 2017.

In 2015 I wrote about the children in Persephone books in a post called The Lost Children of Persephone.

All my Persephone reviews are tagged Persephone – so if you’re looking for recommendations – click away ;)I like to encourage others in the Persephone habit.


Everyone discovers Persephone at different times, I first heard about Persephone books from Liz, that was at least twelve years ago. I have visited the shop a few times, it is always an exciting trip, and of course the train journey back always includes an extra bag. The shop is so beautiful, even the outside is wonderfully photogenic.

So I am looking forward to seeing lots of Persephone love around in the next week or so, reviews and pretty pictures.


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The first of three books from the end of 2017 I still have to review – please bear with me while I catch up with myself.

I don’t read much non-fiction, I think that much is quite apparent, but Long Live Great Bardfield is the kind of non-fiction book I am most likely to read. An autobiography written in a very accessible chatty style, depicting the lives of writers (or in this case artists) living in the first half of the last century.

tG artI’ll be honest, I didn’t know the name Tirzah Garwood (though I certainly recognised her work) until Persephone books brought out this title last year. I had vaguely heard the name Eric Ravilious but couldn’t have told you anything about him, nor had I heard of the Great Bardfield artists colony. However, if you haven’t heard the name Tirzah Garwood, and you’re a Persephone fan, who has been enjoying the Persephone Quarterlies and now Biannually, you will, as I did, recognise her work. Many of the illustrations used in the Persephone magazine over several years are from the work of Tirzah Garwood. How fitting that they are now publishing her autobiography.

So, with the Christmas holidays giving me plenty of reading time – I settled in with this almost five-hundred-page autobiography and entered into the bohemian world of Tirzah Garwood and Eric Ravilious.

Born into a family of five children, Tirzah (born Eileen Lucy – Tirzah was a nickname) and her siblings were obliged to move around quite a bit with their parents. Living in Glasgow, Croydon and Eastbourne Tirzah seems to have been surrounded by a lively, loving family who supported her artistic abilities.

When she was eighteen, Tirzah went to art college in Eastbourne, where she was taught by Eric Ravilious. Over the next few years, Tirzah produced dozens of remarkable woodcuts, many of which were highly praised and displayed at the Society of wood engravers. The work she has left behind her, is I think beautiful, so intricate, yet so bold.

“I had sent some of my wood engravings to the exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers and they had been liked by the committee of which Eric was a member and The Times had given them a kind mention; this more than anything convinced my parents that they ought to let me go, though they thought my subjects hideous and the Mr Ravilious was perverting a nice girl who used to draw fairies and flowers into a stranger who rounded on them and did drawings that were only too clearly caricatures of themselves.”

All of these wood engravings were completed before she was just twenty-two years old. When she was twenty-two she married Eric Ravilious, another wood engraver, book illustrator and water colourist. Early in their marriage, the Ravilious’ went to live in Great Bardfield – a village in Essex, where a number of Ravilious’s artist friends and associates either lived or frequently visited. I really could have done with an index to help with the all the names of artists, friends and lovers. I ended up doing a lot of googling and in the beginning, struggled to remember who everyone was.

tirzahSadly, from this point Tirzah’s time was taken up with domestic matters, and although she did help Eric with some of his artistic projects (a now lost mural in a Morecombe hotel for one) Tirzah’s own art took a back seat. Being married certainly didn’t stop either Eric or Tirzah from having other love affairs, all of which seemed perfectly normal to the people around them in Great Bardfield.

In 1935 Tirzah had the first of her three children (the youngest of whom has edited this autobiography and written the preface). Those years before the Second World War, were busy for Tirzah, as she struggled with a doomed love affair with another Great Bardfield artist, and cared for her children. Despite their involvement with other people, both Eric and Tirzah were generally devoted as a couple, in their own way. It was unconventional, but it seemed to work for them. During this time Tirzah spent some time designing marbled papers which she found herself able to sell.

Eric decided to volunteer as a war artist, and so in the early years of the war was away quite a lot. Tirzah was diagnosed and operated on for breast cancer – and it was following her recovery that she began to write her autobiography in the evenings while the children were asleep. Yet, it seems that art was never far from her mind.

‘I hope, dear reader, that you may be one of my descendants, but I have only three children, my grandfather had six and as I write a German aeroplane has circled round above my head taking photographs of the damage that yesterday’s raiders have done, reminding me that there is no certainty of our survival. If you are not one of my descendants then all I ask of you is that you love the country as I do, and when you come into a room, discreetly observe its pictures and its furnishings, and sympathise with painters and craftsmen.’

Tirzah emerges as a warm, modest woman, she had a lot to deal with – especially with her health, but her writing was obviously cathartic. Her writing style is particularly engaging and provides a compelling record of an extraordinary, colourful group of artists. Long Live Great Bardfield is a fabulous autobiography, well written and hugely compelling.

tirzah garwood

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In the unlikely event that it has passed you by – Persephone Books’ latest offerings are published this month, and one of them is Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton.

In 2012 Simon from Stuckinabook read a little-known book called Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton and blogged very enthusiastically about it. It was of course, a wonderful review, the kind that makes almost everyone want to read the book immediately. It almost seemed as if everyone wanted a copy of the book, and many of us immediately jumped online to get a copy. All the reasonable priced copies seemed to get snapped up, and soon the prices of second hand copies appeared to have risen. I just wasn’t fast enough – and was disappointed not to get a copy. A few months later a friend of mine on Librarything offered to send me her copy – she had read it and didn’t particularly want to keep it. I finally had the book – and read it eagerly.

cofNow, a short extract from my original review from 2013, is among others in the afterword to this new Persephone edition. So exciting to have my blog name in the back of a Persephone book, and such a lovely idea to gather together a myriad of voices from both modern bloggers and contemporary reviewers.

I include some highlights from my old review below – although I certainly feel I should re-read the book now. Oh, and yes, I am keeping hold of both copies.

Guard your daughters is a novel about five sisters and an unconventional slightly dysfunctional family at a time just after the Second World War. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Certainly, there is something familiar about this novel, it feels like something one has read before or should have read before, it is nostalgic somehow and familiar, yet at the same time is something of a new discovery.

The Harvey sisters are unconventional, unschooled and oddly named they have been brought up at quite some distance from the rest of the world. Living with their famous detective writer father, and their fragile mother, they have been one another’s friends – with hardly any experience of people outside their family. Pandora the eldest has recently married and moved away to London – and this change seems to highlight for the sisters the peculiarity of their lives. Our narrator is Morgan, the nineteen-year-old middle sister, a pianist with a keen imagination. The eldest of the sisters still at home, and next in age to Pandora, is Thisbe, a beautiful and sharply tongued poet. A year younger than Morgan, is eighteen-year-old Cressida, sensible and domesticated, she seems most keenly aware of the oddities in the Harvey’s existence. The youngest sister is fifteen-year-old Teresa, romantic and dreamy she is very much the baby of the family.

Coming back to visit her family after her marriage, Pandora fears for her sisters – fears they won’t be able to marry or have lives of their own. Her removal from the family has increased her unease of the way the sisters have been brought up.

With their parents existing very much in the background, the five sisters have made their own entertainment and learnt to look after themselves and one another really very well. Their father divides his time between his writing and his wife, who he dances attendance upon constantly ensuring she is not upset. This fragile absent mother is a strange character, at first, she appears merely cosseted and spoilt, her husband and daughters adoring her without question. The sisters have been sheltered from the world to a ridiculous degree, but when two seemingly eligible young men come into the sisters’ lives; their lack of social experience becomes obvious. However, there are darker undercurrents to this unconventional household. Throughout this novel, woven into the humorous and charming story of the relationship between five sisters – there is a definite shadow. For me there was always something unexplained, remaining unspoken till the end. This element is brilliantly done, well plotted it adds something quite special to what could have been a fairly ordinary story. Yet the story is not ordinary, it’s heart-warming, funny and memorable, and the final twist utterly brilliant.

diana tuttonIn the new Persephone Biannually, we are offered a tantalising glimpse of a sequel. I almost can’t bear knowing that it existed. Written in the late 1950s Unguarded Moments was never published – set seven years after the events in Guard your Daughters. I don’t know whether the manuscript still exists, and whether future publication is even possible – but oh, I want to read that so much it hurts!

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A Lady and her Husband

A Lady and her Husband, first published in 1914 surprised me with the modern outlook of several of the female characters. I hadn’t realised it would be such a feminist novel – it was a really nice surprise, and the element which would make me recommend the novel to others.

According to the Preface by Samantha Ellis, Amber Reeves was a brilliant young woman, the uncompromising daughter of a suffragette and Fabian society member. The inspiration for A Lady and her Husband came from a real-life project undertaken by Amber Reeves, her mother; Maud Pember Reeves and other Fabian society women, who spent four years visiting working-class families in Lambeth to find out all they could about their lives. The result of this was Maud Pember Reeves’s book Round About a Pound a week, which is also published by Persephone books, I have an old Virago edition which I have yet to read. Ellis considers this novel very much a companion piece to that other book.

The plot of this novel is fairly simple. Mary Heyham is the wife of a prosperous business man. Mary has spent her adult life so far bringing up her children, and running her home with the help of the usual servants. She has always been the conventional little wife – the soft, unquestioning mother figure her husband James so depends upon. Now her children are grown up, they don’t have the same need of her, her son Trent works alongside James in the business, Laura is recently married, and now her youngest daughter Rosemary has announced her engagement.

Rosemary is very much a forward looking young woman of keen socialist principles. She recognises that Mary needs something to do – a challenge. Rosemary can’t help rather fearing the result of marriage for herself – afraid of becoming soft and useless. So, Rosemary enlists James’ help, and they come up with a scheme for Mary to have a look at his chain of successful tearooms – enquiring into the lives of the girls who work there. James is happy for Mary to have a diversion, expecting her to find him out to be a wonderful employer. James is a brilliantly created character – one I wanted to frequently hit over the head with something heavy. His condescension is hugely irritating, pompous and complacent – he calls his wife ‘old lady’ and doesn’t ever expect her to think too hard about anything. The following quote perfectly demonstrating his patronising attitude.

“James was detached and good-humoured, perfectly ready to talk things over with her. He seemed to think that it was really very creditable that she should have stuck to the thing like this, and taken such an interest in it. One gets rather too much into the habit of assuming that women do not care about serious things. Well then, to what revolutionary courses did she – dear little person that she was – wish to commit her wretched husband and his old fashioned business?”

James and Mary love each other deeply – but they have become used to their conventional roles, and neither have ever had to face their differences. James is a different man in business than he is at home, and Mary has never really met that man before. Rosemary supplies her mother with a pile of socialist literature, and Mary engages a secretary – Miss Percival, whose own deeply held socialist and feminist beliefs are soon revealed. Mary’s education begins.

“Miss Percival shook her head. ‘I don’t know how it came,’ she said, ‘though I could find a hundred reasons – I can see a fresh reason in every man I meet! When I look at their faces in the street, in a bus, anywhere, their mean stupid faces – men who get their ideals out of the half-penny papers, men who think about money on an office stool all day, and then go home and treat some woman as an inferior -I wonder than any woman has ever loved a man.”

Mary begins to visit the tearooms in the company of Miss Percival, and her visits soon raise a number of questions. Mary discovers that the girls who work in the tearooms are expected to come from families where there is already money coming in, where they are not relying on the twelve shillings salary to live. Mary meets a young woman for who this is certainly not the case, and Mary is drawn awkwardly into the story of Florrie and her very sick mother’s life – and realises at once that the employment policy is not realistic and twelve shillings (though more than many women in service) not nearly enough. Her visits raise other questions too – why do the women not have a room in which to eat? She sees women standing in corridors hurriedly eating – no chance to sit down during their hours at work, the women whose job it is to wash up reduced to standing for hours, water slopping around their feet. Others are obliged to carry heavy trays and stand around looking bright and efficient. -1

The women work long days for little salary, and Mary starts to realise how very difficult and uncomfortable their lives are. James is not happy with the suggestions Mary makes to improve his workers’ lives – and Mary is made to feel quite unhappy about his reaction.

Mary starts to see the world very differently – she starts to ask questions – much to James’ discomfort and irritation. In starting to see the world very differently, Mary also begins to see her husband differently – it causes Mary to re-examine her life and her marriage.

A Lady and her Husband is a quite subtle examination of women’s lives at this period – before the First World War, we meet women from different sections of society, and see clearly how differently the world treats them.

Amber Reeves

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