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Posts Tagged ‘Storm Jameson’

For me, this is the hardest type of book to review. A fairly complex novel, light on plot that is the second in a trilogy, by an author perhaps not many people read anymore. I ask myself – who will be interested? – ha! Oh well, years ago I made a rule to review everything I read – and so here we are.

Love in Winter is the second novel in The Mirror in Darkness trilogy by Storm Jameson, rather absurdly I read the first book Company Parade seven years ago. It would be fair to say my memory of it was practically nil. Yet that didn’t really spoil my reading of this one – thankfully, I had my own old review to look back at as a slight memory refresher. This trilogy is only a part of a series of interconnected novels written over a period of about twenty years.  

Margaret Storm Jameson was born in 1891 the daughter of a sea captain and former ship builder in Whitby North Yorkshire. She was very political, involved in the suffrage movement, taking part in the women’s pilgrimage march in 1913 she was a founding member of the Peace Pledge Union, and a supporter of the Labour Party. These influences are present throughout this novel – and much of her other work I suspect.

There is a strong autobiographical element to this novel too – the relationship at the heart of this novel between Hervey Russell and Nicholas Roxby representing that of Storm Jameson and her husband Guy Chapman. Storm Jameson like her heroine Hervey Russell, also a writer, preferring to keep her own name for work.

This novel takes place six years after the end of the Great War. Yorkshire woman Hervey Russell is living in London, she is still only about thirty, though she has been married for some years and has an eight year old son. After the war, Hervey’s husband Penn Vane decided that despite being well past the usual age he would take up a place at university. Their marriage has not been a happy one, with Penn’s decision to go to Oxford leaves Hervey having to support herself and her son alone. She has already published two novels but her foray into the literary world has not been quite the success she had hoped. Working on her next novel which will be part of a trilogy, she also works for the Literary Review – run by the wife of one of her great friends. With her career proving unsatisfying and existing within an unhappy marriage Hervey is longing for a new beginning.

Hervey’s cousin Nicholas Roxby (who due to complicated family conflicts Hervey hasn’t met in years) has been terribly affected by the war. He has turned his back on the family money – separated from his wife he sees his life as being over. Meeting Hervey changes all that. Nicholas has been managing an antique shop and is about to set up his own house as a showroom for antique furniture. Theirs is meeting of minds, but it is also the start of a love story.

“‘…do you know that for a fortnight I have gone about saying to myself “Hervey”, and carrying your letters.

In silence she showed him his own five or six, worn from being rubbed together in her pocket with keys and pencils and a provident knot of string. Nicholas reddened as though he had been much younger, and said: ‘Oh my dear Hervey.’”

Hervey and Nicholas are immediately drawn to one another but their burgeoning relationship is complicated by the fact they are both married and Hervey has a child to think about. The two of them have a lot of soul searching to do, decisions about divorces will need to be made, the path before them does not run smooth.

The war still casts a long shadow, it changed so much, men and women have been changed by it – some physically many emotionally. There are several men, damaged in various ways by the war in this novel – and we meet the women who have to live with those effects.

“With despair she understood that the War had taken the fullness of his life and energy. Less than a whole man survived. She saw that women have more than one reason to fear war.”

Outside of the story of Hervey and Nicholas we have the stories of the wider society that surround them and to which they are each connected in some tenuous way. There is Thomas Harben the industrialist, Marcel Cohen a newspaper magnate, Louis Earlham, a former soldier and now Labour MP – a man who has known poverty, and whose life is still far from easy. The working class ex-soldier Frank Rigden a trade unionist and his wife, living in the new cheap housing that has sprung up to accommodate families after the war. There are others – there is a large, complex cast of characters, Jameson does give us a brilliant sense of this shifting society, those looking towards politics to change things and those trying to make money. At the centre of all these people is William Gary, another war damaged man, a man of wealth who pulls the strings of many men of business and politics.

Love in Winter was an enjoyable read, but not a quick read, a novel of some ambition it feels very much like a middle novel in a trilogy – a novel perhaps building up to something. I know the third novel None Turn Back centres around the General strike of 1926. It’s a book I have had for years, but I felt I had to read this one first, and I am glad I did.

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One of the best things about social media is how it allows us to share our enthusiasms and discover new ones.

Over on Twitter just lately I have been very much enjoying the #NeglectedLadyNovelists tweets from writer Judith Kinghorn – and the conversations resulting from them. Now I do like a good bit of Twitter banter.

I found the World cup of #NeglectedladyNovelists particularly good fun. Several rounds and a semi-final have come and gone – with Twitter folk having to vote for who they consider the most neglected of the lady novelists in each round. Now, I have always taken my democratic responsibilities very seriously – and so I naturally thought very carefully over my choices. For women writers of a certain period – whether neglected or not – are very much my thing. It was really, really hard – and sparked a bit of debate – for instance in group 1 we had Elizabeth Taylor pitted against Anita Brookner, Jean Rhys and Rosamond Lehmann, while in group 3 the choice was between Sylvia Townsend Warner, Flora Mayor, Storm Jameson and EM Delafield, to me it seemed quite impossible to choose. In each group there were at least two writers I wanted to vote for. In all seriousness I want all these writers to enjoy a resurgence in popularity, that is why I love Persephone books and the VMC publications of the 1980 and 90s so much.

I began to wonder how people were voting – surely if we were looking for those women writers who have become truly neglected then I would have expected the likes of Flora Mayor, EH Young or May Sinclair to have made it through to the final. May Sinclair made it to the semi-finals but neither of the other two did terribly well. It’s hardly surprising that people ended up voting for writers they loved most – and I was guilty of this myself. I couldn’t help but vote for Sylvia Townsend Warner and Rosamond Lehmann as I love them so much. I do, also consider them to be rather neglected, however in truth some of their novels are still in print. Virago still publish three or four Rosamond Lehmann titles – and Selina Hastings’ biography of her is also available. VMC print on demand editions of some Sylvia Townsend Warner novels are available – as well as some NYRB editions (though why they felt it necessary to change the title of Mr Fortune’s Maggot is a mystery) – so are these writers truly neglected? Knowing all this I cast my votes – perhaps wrongly. In truth it is perhaps those writers who work is only to be found on second hand book sites, and on the shelves of (very good) second hand bookshops that are truly neglected – so in some rounds I voted with my heart and not my head. I do feel a little guilty – but at least it has got us all talking about these wonderful women writers, and that can’t be a bad thing. I didn’t vote for Elizabeth Taylor despite my great love of her writing because I can’t honestly say she is as neglected as she once was – that is definitely a good thing. How many of these writers’ works can be found in high street bookshops though is another matter – easily bought from a certain online seller perhaps – but how many times do readers get a chance to idly pick up Sylvia Townsend Warner or Rosamond Lehmann in their local branch of Waterstones I wonder?

When I start thinking about the list of #Neglectedladynovelists I would compile – it begins to get very long. Two writers I have been enjoying during this past week would definitely be on the list; Pamela Frankau and Pamela Hansford Johnson, both very good writers and excellent storytellers.

Many of the other novelists considered under that hashtag however – are exceptionally good writers, women who really did have something to say – they were not merely the tellers of good stories – although they did that too. When I consider the likes of Rebecca West, Olivia Manning, Antonia White and Winifred Holtby and others I am reminded what amazing, varied lives, they all lived. They each had so much to tell us – worlds to show us, so much to say – of course I want more people to read them.

I have wondered before how it is that some writers fall out of favour – while others endure – fashion and tastes change I suppose, and new writers come along. It is sad how many wonderful writers get forgotten during that process – when it comes to books I might sometimes be swayed by a pretty new edition, but I don’t much care about fashions. It is probably unrealistic to expect lots of these writers to be re-issued in shiny new editions – the cost for a publishing company would I suspect be prohibitive.

Still no reason why we who love these #NeglectedLadyNovelists shouldn’t continue to scour the bookshelves of second hand bookshops and celebrate our finds on our favourite social media sites. That way these wonderful voices will still be heard – at least by some of us.

Should you still want to get involved in the chat – the final of the world cup of #NeglectedLadyNovelists is at the end of the week. Make sure you are following @Judithkinghorn if you don’t want to miss it.

The original list has now been whittled down to Sylvia Townsend Warner and Jean Rhys – both truly wonderful writers – but I wonder if you can guess where my vote will be going? If neither of them take your fancy (and why wouldn’t they) who would be your choice of most NeglectedLadyNovelist?

(Incidentally, Sylvia Townsend Warner will be the Libraything Virago Group’s author of the month in December – and I am going to be re-reading Lolly Willowes as I have persuaded my very small book group to read it in December.)

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Storm Jameson’s 1934 novel was the first novel in a projected series of five (only three were ever written) this series entitled The Mirror in Darkness is completed by the novels; Love in Winter (1935) and None Turn Back (1936).

Company Parade features a group of graduates, now each in their mid-twenties, in the aftermath of the Great War. Hervey Russell is at the centre of this group, a young Yorkshire woman she has left her young son Richard in the care of another woman and moved to London, seeking work, and in turn a better life for her son. London is another world for her, a world on which to test her ambitions and experience life.

“She was young, and each morning ran out gladly. She could not stay quietly of an evening in that dreary place, but sauntered about London, pleased with trifles. London to her was brightly-coloured web, from which now she drew the sound of violins in a café, now a voice crying Victory, now a boy and his sweetheart laughing as they passed, now furtive encounters of which her mind retained a gesture or a glance. In a time and a city of easy meetings no one spoke to her. She was always alone, all her friends dead, or in France or Mesopotamia.”

Hervey is married to Penn Vane, (she chooses to use her maiden name for work) who is still in the air-force and reluctant to leave the easy life he enjoys at his Canterbury air base. Hervey eventually meet up again with her university friends Phillip and T S who struggle to find their way again after the war, things have changed so much. T S is unhappily married to Literary Review editor and essayist Evelyn Lamb, a kind of literary socialite with a great deal of clout. Philip has been in love with Hervey for years, uselessly he knows, and yet they remain good friends. Philip was my favourite character in this novel, which does have quite a large cast of characters.

“It was not only that he had lost four years. The rude shock of the War had done invisible damage to his dear England. He was now like a man escaping from a battle who looks round him for his friends, to save what he can.”

When Hervey arrives in London in the early days of the armistice, she gets work as an advertising copy writer, meeting David Renn who it turns out was part of Philip’s company during the war until he was invalided out. Phillip wants to start a weekly paper with some money his mother has saved. Another friend of Philip’s is Frank, who with his wife, runs the Dug-Out a place open all night on a road an hour outside of London, providing bad food for travellers of all kinds including tramps and former soldiers. Behind the Dug-Out is a small caravan, where Philip lives, taking his meals at the Dug-Out. Frank’s world is threatened when he hears of a new road under construction, which will totally by-pass his road side place.

With Penn leaving it later and later to put the air force behind him, Hervey is concerned that the longer he leaves it, the harder it will be for him to find work, naturally she is proved right, only adding to her worries. Penn is a selfish, slightly bullying character, whilst in Canterbury he had taken up with a young woman named Len Hammond, and upon his eventual return to London and his wife, he continues to see her. Hervey has also written a novel, which despite it not being very good has just been published, she is now writing her second, while juggling her work, her guilt at being parted from her son, and the delicate business of pandering to her husband’s ego. Hervey takes steps to provide her husband with a job, while she works for the left wing newspaper funded by Philip’s money. Hervey has great ambition, but during this period she exists very much on the periphery of London literary society. Later Hervey does return to Yorkshire, to her son, spending time with her own mother, while Philip already over thirty returns to Oxford to get another degree, convinced that this will aid his future career, but Penn is something of a dreamer, and simply wants an easy life. So when Evelyn Lamb gives him a couple of books to review, he is soon daydreaming of becoming the foremost literary reviewer in London.

Hervey is a young woman, trying to balance family, work and ambition in the 1920’s and in that Company Parade feels very autobiographical. (Margaret) Storm Jameson was writing this book in 1934 when it was already possible to see the direction things were moving in Europe. Hervey and her friends’ view of the world is definitely affected by Jameson’s own view of the world she saw around her in 1934, however their weariness and bafflement in the new post war world is brilliantly portrayed and feels very true. This is not an easy read in many ways, there’s nothing cosy or feel good about the lives of these characters, but it is a beautifully written novel. Characters are portrayed realistically are both human and flawed, while the world around them can be a difficult and confusing one following the years they lost to the First World War.

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