The Rose Garden Husband

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‘Well, she had everything that she had wished for on that wet February day in the library. Money, leisure to be pretty, a husband whom she “didn’t have to associate with much,” rest, if she ever gave herself leave to take it, and the rose garden. She had her wishes, as uncannily fulfilled as if she had been ordering her fate from a department store, and had money to pay for it.’

That may sound like an odd recipe for happiness, but, for me, The Rose Garden Husband was a particularly good choice of novel to read on a fine day in this first of June, with my roses blooming abundantly in the garden.

The novel of choice having been written in 1915, it also had fair chance of being endowed with a fairytale happy ending. And that also sounded very nice.

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Margaret Widdemer

The book was a recent gift to me from a sweet friend who knows I like ‘old books and obscure authors’. And indeed, this writer is new to me, but I was delighted to see some lovely reviews of her work online.

Margaret Widdemer was prolific in output. Her writing career spanned from 1915 to 1968 (or so), and during this period she produced a whopping forty novels, plus many other works such as poetry (winning an early Pulitzer Prize), children’s stories, and essays. The Rose Garden Husband, published in 1915, was her first novel, and it continues to be a fan favorite.

Just say ‘Victorian era romance’, and it might bring to mind selfless heroines who go into declines, a room stuffed with horsehair sofas and stiff conversation, and, oh yes, maudlin sentiment. Widdemer’s novel brings some fresh air to this genre, and while the ending is predictable and a bit neatly packaged, it still delivers on charm and surprisingly humorous narrative. The heroine is every bit as selfless and full of New England backbone as we might have foreseen, but she is also energetic, witty, and comes with a few surprises.

‘I’d marry anything that would give me a rose garden!’

I liked this character a great deal, particularly when I read her list of things she wanted. I took a picture of the page (my copy is a 1915 reprint) because I was charmed by the neat little notes a former reader had written in to accompany the list. Likely the same former reader who had written her name ‘Harriet Rose’ in the flyleaf. Obviously, a desire for jewelry, poetry, and a plethora of shoes will charm ladies of any generation.

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Phyllis’ wish for ‘Ever so many Maxfield Parrish pictures full of Prussian blue skies’, and ‘A room big enough to put all father’s books up’ resonated with me.

Phyllis Harrington gets all this and more, though in the beginning she had only wished for a rose garden with a gentleman husband she wouldn’t have to ‘have any association with’.

She laughs at herself for this wish, however, and pulls herself together from her reverie. (Phyllis does not go into declines but she does go into reveries now and again.)

This sweet story is all about wish fulfillment, but there is an amusing curiosity not lost on the modern reader. Volumes of feminist erudition have been written on the plight of a young woman’s prospects in the fiction of Jane Austen and others of her era and beyond. To marry was a career move, and often the only way to advance in one’s life.

“Marriage is indeed a maneuvering business.” ― Jane Austen

Margaret Widdemer puts it baldly in this story, and in more modern terms—Marriage is a job opportunity.

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In the narrative, Phyllis has resigned herself to becoming a careworn spinster. Although she loves her career as a librarian, she has no time for social outings or opportunities to meet men. She also sees no way out of her constrained circumstances in life.

“I’m just a battered bisque doll!” she repeated to herself, bitterly.

(This struck me as a bit odd, to tell the truth, as Phyllis, though tired much of the time in the beginning, is described as very pretty with masses of honey blonde hair…more of ‘a pretty bisque figurine’ than a ‘battered bisque doll’, the author wants us to know… surely someone would have noticed her getting on or off the trolley on her way to and from work? Men are so resourceful that way… I would think potential suitors would have been lining up at the library feigning an interest in Modern Literature.)

A visit from a lawyer friend, Mr. De Guenther, sets the stage for a surprising offer for Phyllis.

“I have—we have—a little matter of business to discuss with you tomorrow night, my dear; an offer, I may say, of a different line of work…” [Mr. De Guenther hems and haws around the matter for a bit more, finally concluding, inconclusively: ]“Because the line of work which I wish, or rather my wife wishes, to lay before you is—is a very different line of work!”

The Different Line of Work, as Phyllis comes to realize, is a proposition of marriage from a future-mother-in-law, who is dying. The marriage, as old Mrs. Harrington hopes, will secure the compassionate care of her invalid son after she is gone. Phyllis may have only five or so years of ‘work’, supervising Allan Harrington’s care; then, it being likely he will die by that time, Phyllis will inherit the plump retirement of his entire fortune.

From rags to riches, from spinster to bride. From tweeds to satin, from sturdy librarian’s brogues to satin slippers. A career move, indeed.

Phyllis—a practical girl who is organized and makes lists—has few reservations. Likely she will need to interact with him very little, he has a fleet of servants and caregivers; her only responsibility is to see that they all do their job. Her career as the serious Miss Braithwaite, “Assistant for the Children’s Department, Greenway Branch, City Public Library“, with a background as manager of the Circulation and Cataloguing Departments, has equipped her admirably for this job.

She accepts.

‘It feels partly like going into a nunnery and partly like going into a fairy story,’ she said to herself.’

IMG_1951And what of Allan Harrington, the invalid with a death wish who is about to become the hero of the story?

The ‘scientific’ explanation of his condition, as expressed in 1915, was this:

“You see, it was found that the shock to the nerves, acting on an already over-keyed mind and body, together with some spinal blow concerning which the doctors are still in doubt, had affected Allan’s powers of locomotion.”

Ah, we get it. His paralysis isn’t an inability to walk. He just has no incentive. He wants to die. But Allan is about to meet his new incentive, and find his ‘powers of locomotion’ are capable of being revived.

Phyllis first meets Allan in his darkened sickroom. Her impression is:

‘A Crusader on a tomb. Yes, he looked like that. In the room’s half-dusk the pallor of his still….face and his long, clear-cut hands was nearly the same as the whiteness of the couch draperies. His hair, yellow-brown and waving, flung back from his forehead like a crest, and his dark brows and lashes made the only note of darkness about him.’

In spite of his obvious invalidism and tremulous voice, Phyllis finds him quite beautiful as a man.

‘Somehow she could not think of Allan Harrington’s dying. He was too beautiful to be dead, where nobody could see him any more….He must have been delightful,” she thought, “when he was alive!”

You might guess what is about to happen. We know it as soon as she sees him, and the next scene has her out shopping with Mrs. De Guenther buying:

‘… a heavenly white crepe thing with rosy ribbons and filmy shadow-laces—the negligee of one’s dreams.’

Oh, yes. Phyllis has plans. Plans that involve ‘a heavenly white crepe thing’. Her dream of a rose garden is about to come true, but that dream of ‘a husband whom she “didn’t have to associate with much”—? Dashed forever.

Oh yes, good things happen in this story. Good things delightfully told.


Additional notes:

Many of Margaret Widdemer’s books are available as ebooks, or can be read online. Other than that, I don’t know if she is actually ‘in print’, except perhaps print on demand copies.

I enjoyed Jane’s review of this book; as usual she describes the story in thoughtful detail, and I love her comment: ‘If you’d like to be captivated, if you have an uncynical heart that needs lifting…this is the book for you.’

I can only add to that it is nice to read a book that highlights unselfishness and kindness in people.

A nice article here, that gives us more insight into the character of Widdemer via her poetry–Read more about Margaret Widdemer as a poet here (Widdemer was one of the first to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry before it was known as the Pulitzer Prize)

For a possible likeness of the ‘Crusader on a tomb’ here is a fascinating account of one–and this particular knight ended up in New York at the Met Cloisters, oddly enough…but I’m thinking that Margaret actually saw this knight (a year before she published this book in 1915) and was taken by his quiet strength in death’s repose, for the website of the Cloisters gives us this tidbit on the history of the collection:

‘Much of the sculpture at The Met Cloisters was acquired by George Grey Barnard (1863–1938), a prominent American sculptor, and an avid collector and dealer of medieval art. Barnard opened his original Cloisters on Fort Washington Avenue to the public in 1914.’

Crusader

 

Crossriggs

‘Her thoughts were very far away, for she had the happy power of forgetting the outer world altogether when she read anything that interested her.’ —Crossriggs, 1908


A good novelist knows how to begin an absorbing chain of events, and signal to the reader, in effect ‘settle in, I’m going to tell you a story‘. In a Victorian era novel, a beloved formula might commence with a sleepy village. The villagers and their dwellings are sketched out–they are ‘much of a piece’, as they say–but you just know the wonderful fodder for a good narrative is beginning to build.

Next might be mentioned—a brief mention, lest the reader make too much of it—the sad affair of a good-for-nothing relation who is connected to the Big House; a relation who has had the sensibleness to take himself off to parts unknown before the story begins where he can then die offstage without troubling the reader. The good news is, he leaves behind a handsome young heir, who then moves back to the sleepy village and intrigues everyone with his slightly foreign manners. And then… well, let the authors tell us:

‘Then and there happenings began.’

Crossriggs, written in 1908, is a novel I knew I would enjoy after reading just the opening lines. A story doesn’t have to be great literature for us to get lost in it, or care about the characters and what happens to them.

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I like to break up my reading periods with a walk outdoors, if weather permits. In the fresh outdoor air the scenes and conversations continue to play in my mind, though with a feeling of being slightly offstage. My walk the other day (and accompaniment to this book) took me along mossy, overgrown paths and the recent scars of a fierce windstorm that toppled quite a few beloved old trees around town. It was a storm that—for our typically mild Pacific NW weather—seemed very ill-suited to an April day.

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Freshly fallen tree, giving me a chance for close-ups of lichen and blooms

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But for all that, it did make the rugged Scottish landscape of Crossriggs seem not too far from my own, and I came home to become easily immersed in the world cleverly crafted by the Findlater sisters. (Thanks to the excellent reviews of a few book bloggers, previously Liz and Ali, and most recently, Jane, I was moved to finally get down to reading a book I’ve had in my library and on my TBR pile for quite some time.)

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If you’re in the mood for a good period piece, with well-drawn characters, and one that is not too mawkish, sentimental or wordy (like some Victorian literature can be) you should give this one a try.

The Findlater sisters had a vigorous intellect, a lively curiosity, and a shrewd sense of humor. They also had an aunt who, as a biography informs us, was ‘well remembered in Edinburgh society as “a fascinating creature who sang Gaelic songs and wrote verses.”

The aunt sounds delightful. I would be curious to know if her presence made its way into any of the Findlater characters.

For the story of Crossriggs, this sisterly writing duo pairs two fictional sisters, Alex and Mary. The two sisters are of very different dispositions, which provides some interest (with the winning gold star of personality going to Alex, of course, because it is mainly her story), and they live with an eccentric, kindly old father. He provides some entertainment, being a Victorian age vegan, a pacifist with dreams of living off the land, and never far from his well-thumbed copy of the Iliad. Homer, while glorifying war and bloody deeds of valor, made it all so poetic.

‘Old Hopeful was reading aloud to them all. The arrival of a family of five was nothing to him , and an hour or two had sufficed to restore him to his full flow of benevolent optimism.

“Delighted to see you, Robert!” he exclaimed. “We were just having an hour of Homer before the boys went to bed. Tales of windy Troy! Brave days—brave days! These youngsters are to be envied, hearing them for the first time.”

The Hope household is poor, but they are genteel. The fires, in this cottage, die out early on frigid evenings for want of fuel, but a candle stays lit while tired eyes and restless minds read eagerly into the wee hours.

I became utterly immersed in my visit to the village of Crossriggs, and enjoyed being transported back in time; even as the porridge was inevitably scorched, the pudding became watery, the long evening walks across the green became bitter cold, the candles sputtered out, and Old Hopeful fell asleep once again with his worn copy of Homer.

The Findlaters had an eye for detail, and of course, a woman’s knack for conveying the homely bits of information that make a story come to life.

How well I remember it all!” they wrote… and, with that, introduce us to the main characters and tone of the village that was Crossriggs.

We meet the crusty Admiral Cassilis, his handsome nephew Van, and an unusual creature of animal vitality named Dolly Orranmore who wears the wrong shade of green but still manages to look fiercely attractive while she strides about with a whip and a pack of dogs. We also meet the inscrutable Robert Maitland, and Maitland’s aunt, the venerable Miss Elizabeth Verity Maitland with her ramrod back. It is she of whom the authors wrote nostalgically…’we shall never look upon her like again.

‘It was a sight to see her walk down the street of Crossriggs, with head erect, her unflinching green eye looking here and there, observant of the life around. The village trembled before her…’

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The quaint village of Crossriggs might take a page from an Austen novel or even bring in a whiff from the Cranford tea tables. Although there are far too many men in Crossriggs to be Gaskell’s Cranford, Alexandra Hope would have fit in very well with a female dominated society. She runs their small, impoverished household with efficiency and spirit, has high ideals, a restless intellect, and never lacks for opinion. She can be ruthlessly critical of people she doesn’t like, but generous to those she does. I can’t say I always liked Alex; her criticisms of other people were often harsh and repetitive, her high-mindedness could be a bit much at times, but she also came crashing down into periods of self-doubt and outright depression. In short, she is painted in real life tones, and just like any of us, she had her strengths and weaknesses. Alex surprised me—she was a refreshingly honest character for this era of novel.

There is a love interest throughout the book, with more than one face. The truth from her own heart Alex can barely think of, and there is no internal dialogue on that subject until later in the book.  The reader is not fooled, but is never quite sure how things are going to work out. (Those clever authors had me jumping through a couple of hoops, bless their hearts…)

The dusk was falling, and the air was very still…. How many times, Alex thought, she had walked down that avenue in all weathers! She knew it now under every possible aspect, from the frosts of winter to the green delight of spring and the sleepy warmth of summer—here she was round again to another winter! How quickly the last year had gone; would every year of life glide past at this astonishing pace now! She remembered when the years were long, when a child’s joy in April was un-shadowed by the thought that spring would be over in a few weeks, when a childs’s wonder at winter was untouched by any hope of spring…. ‘Perhaps the child’s is the true way of living—it makes a sort of eternity while it lasts.’

Through it all, the disappointments, the grieving, and the small triumphs, Alex kept a firm hand on her integrity, and an immovable stance on her high moral ground.

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‘O cold north wind from the sea, did you ever then blow through the tree-tops without the twang of a musical note in your sound…Was the winter sunshine not suffused with some magic even on the fallow fields, or when it fell across the broad, irregular street? Did ot the first snowdrops that struggled up to the light from under that iron sod sigh out indescribable promise in their faint suggestive breath? Even the enveloping veils of mist, the grey distance, the low hills that stood beyond the village seemed a fitting background for the lively scene of human life that was enacted there.’

As a side note, I noticed with interest the dedication of the book to Kate Douglas Wiggin and her sister, Nora Archibald Smith.

Kate Douglas Wiggin,  is the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. If you were born anytime between 1910 and oh, say… the 1960’s… and you were named Rebecca, you might remember this book with impatience, or perhaps affection. Either way, I have no doubt this book was often invoked in your life and conversations. All of my growing up years I could never be introduced to an older person without ‘Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’ coming immediately into the dialogue, along with a cheeky, albeit kindly, smile. (I have since forgiven, and even own a copy plus the sequel now.)

Sisters who write...

I would like to read more Findlater stories, in due time. What I am particularly interested in are the collaboration stories they did with Kate Douglas Wiggin and Allan McAulay (aka Charlotte Stewart). The Affair At the Inn, one of these, is available as a free e-book. Apparently each author would take turns writing a chapter and advancing the story line. Sounds like a fun exercise–perhaps not good for the novel as an art form, but as a time capsule of the past? Intriguing.

 


Notes: Crossriggs was reprinted by Virago in paperback; I believe all the rest of the Findlater output is out of print, but that is changing as of this year. The copyright protection on Jane’s works (not Mary’s) is ending this year. So any works written solely by Jane Findlater are now in the public domain. The exciting news is that the National Library of Scotland will be making digitalized versions available online. Read here for more.

Here is a list of their other works:

Book Titles:
1895. Sons & Sonnets – Mary Findlater
1896. The Green Graves of Balgowrie – Jane Findlater
1897. Over the Hills – Mary Findlater
1897. A Daughter of Strife -Jane Findlater
1899. Betty Musgrave – Mary Findlater
1899. Rachel – Jane Findlater
1901. A Narrow Way – Mary Findlater
1901. Tales that are Told – Mary and Jane Findlater
1902. The Story of a Mother – Jane Findlater
1903. The Rose of Joy – Mary Findlater
1904. Stones from a Glass House – Jane Findlater
1904. The Affair at the Inn – Findlater Sisters with Kate Douglas Wiggins and Allan McAulay (Charlotte Stewart) [note: available as a free e-book]
1905. All that Happened in a Week – Jane Findlater
1906. The Ladder to the Stars – Jane Findlater
1907. A Blind Bird’s Nest – Mary Findlater
1908. Crossriggs – Mary and Jane Findlater
1911. Penny Moneypenny- Mary and Jane Findlater
1911. Robinetta – Findlater Sisters with Kate Douglas Wiggins and Allan McAulay (Charlotte Stewart)
1916. Seen and Heard Before and After
1914 -Mary and Jane Findlater
1916. Content With Flies – Mary and Jane Findlater
1912. Seven Scots Stories – Jane Findlater
1914. Tents of a Night – Mary Findlater
1921. A Green Grass Widow and other Stories – Jane Findlater
1923. Beneath the Visiting Moon – Mary and Jane Findlater


 

The Wakeful Guest

When you need some light reading to escape the This and the That of Life, and you find a book that achieves the minor miracle of sucking you out of your current world and into a completely different one, that indicates to me we should value light literature more than we do.

Such was the wonky charm of discovering Ruby Ferguson’s little known book, The Wakeful Guest.image

Ferguson is best known for her series of ‘Jill’ books for young girls, but she also wrote several enjoyable novels for adults. These have been long out of print. One exception—Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary—was highly esteemed by none other than the Queen Mother, and, happily, has been reprinted by Persephone Press. You can read more about it by following the links included.

As mentioned, Ferguson’s novels are what most would call light, but a novel written by a pre-war Oxford graduate is still going to hold considerably more charm than much current fare. A gift for language and narrative, a fair sprinkling of wit and charm, dialogues spoken in crisp English; rich settings drawn from fresh experience in post-war Europe…all this sounded very appealing when I settled in for a good read the other night.

The funny thing is, this novel is rather hard to review or give a synopsis of because I think casual spoilers could ruin it.

And you might want to read it.

The time period is post World War II. Delia is a sheltered young spinster who has lived her entire life with a dominant mother and sister. There is a wealthy godmother, Ida von Mester, in Bavaria, who wants Delia to leave England, and come live with her. Delia is but one of her heiresses.

After a bit of disappointment in the initial sketching out of the main character, I sailed on in hopes that this was going to be ‘the making of Delia’ kind of tale; how she escapes from the suffocating confines of her staid mother-dominated life, finds her true self and develops a backbone somewhere in the mountains of Bavaria. In anticipation of this, I lurched rapidly through many glowing descriptions of Bavarian scenery when we first ‘decanted’ from the train and arrived on scene. (side note of no importance: I always this thought this was an Angela Thirkell-ism, to use the word ‘decanted’ when speaking of leaving a car or train, but Ruby Ferguson uses it, as well)

Ferguson is very good at capturing an atmosphere involving ensemble characters, creating humor, warmth, and color through an intermingling of personalities. (her novel Apricot Sky is a charming example of this)

We are happy for Delia—her new housemates are welcoming, and prove to be an eclectic, if unlikely, assortment of humanity gathered under one roof. All are dependents on the generous hospitality of Ida, an aging beauty who has gained her wealth by investing in a series of rich husbands who then conveniently died.

“But Delia! There are always exciting people everywhere. When you don’t think people are exciting any more you are finished. And if you don’t expect something wonderful to happen it never will.” (Ida)

Then there is Gladys, Ida’s polar opposite, in terms of flamboyance and good cheer. She ‘looks like a Pekinese’ and is Ida’s willing slave. Both are concentration camp survivors who are forever bonded together by experience. Franz is another housemate—a Jewish intellectual who is affectionately called Onkel. He also survived Auschwitz, and is a good-hearted, wise soul. His appearance is described as ‘one of those mild but noble Teutonic faces which one associates with the period of Wagner.’ Still not sure what Franz looked like.

There is loveable Jarzy, a Polish ex-prisoner of war, ‘with an energetic nose’ whom Ida nursed back to health. There is an impossibly lovely, shallow heiress who appears to have a heart of gold—or perhaps stone?—we can’t tell until the very end; a handsome attorney named Gordon whose patently obvious romeo charm aids considerably in dashing our hopes that poor Delia is making progress in developing a backbone; and let’s not forget the overwrought Todor family in the refugee camp who zound like ziz ven they zpik.

It was all very interesting; the nights of singing, the somewhat fairytale-esque trip into Munich, the shopping trip for new dresses, glimpses of Ida’s mad, impulsive personality—all made for a nice diversion.

The late night street cafe encounters with ‘the Bohemian set’ in Munich was amusing.

‘Everybody jabbered at the tops of their voices, and Paul and Mignon kissed between sentences. At last we all got up and moved along to another pavement cafe, and lost Mignon and Paul, and collected Pepin and Harry and Leni and Yacob and George….Then an American called Burt arrived with a girl called Frieda. Frieda took an interest in me and asked me if I’d been to hear Gersib play, and I said no, we’d been to Tosca and she said “Mein Gott!” and lost interest.’

Possibly the most fascinating aspect of the book was the story of flooding the peaceful valley where Ida’s house had stood for generations. Everyone in the valley was forced to leave their ancient family homes and move up the mountain. I’m sure there must be a historical basis for this (post war watershed creation?) but I haven’t researched it. The thought of all those lovely old homes, be they mansions or cottages, being abandoned and then drowned in a watery death was strangely disturbing.

“What a weird feeling, to think this house will be at the bottom of a lake.” (Delia)

Well said, Delia. Ida chose to leave most of her valuable furniture, (some of it hand-painted with Alpine scenes) to meet the same fate. Ida—normally a kind, carelessly generous soul, would not even donate the furniture to a local refugee camp where hundreds of war-weary displaced persons sat on hard ground without a decent chair among them. She wanted the furniture to ‘die’ with the house. All so strange, but I suppose it fit the quixotic, impulsive character of Ida—generous one moment, hard and inscrutable the next. (Thank goodness she had the sense to move the piano to the new home….I might have thrown this book off the verandah if they had let the piano become entombed in a watery grave)

Jarzy has the unnerving habit of swimming down into the house after it is under the lake waters and continuing to retrieve items they left behind and wished they hadn’t.

All in all, it appeared to be a novel of strange enchantment, and I was settling in to enjoy a glass of wine, a bit of romance and Bohemian joie d’vivre, when oddly….the mood of the story changes abruptly.

I sat up and began to read more carefully. What??? Still not sure what’s going on here, but of course I keep reading. Now I can’t put it down.

Delia, while very nice in many ways, is an unlikely heroine to the very end. But perhaps she is supposed to be. Ordinary, salt of the earth Florence Nightingale sort; suddenly finds herself mixed up with someone of a sinister Lovelace magnetism? The serene Bavarian landscape, once so inviting, now becomes dark, medieval, hushed.

By this time Delia is beginning to remind me of another ingenue-super-gullible-nice girl character lost amongst people of uncertain character. I didn’t much care for Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey when I first met her, but she grew on me by the end of the book. The difference with Delia of The Wakeful Guest is she is much older than Catherine, has a gift for sarcastic rejoinders, and should have had a better grip on being able to read people. Well, perhaps that is a bit unfair….

Catherine Morland lived with gothic horrors woven from her own fertile imagination. Delia, in the fictional sense, did not need imagination as real life horrors were actually developing around her.

People she loves begin to die.

So as it turns out, this book wasn’t so much a charming coming of age story, set in a colorful Bohemian household with overtones of The Constant Nymph, but it began to develop into a possible thriller/and or murder mystery.

I say ‘possible’ because I don’t want to give away spoilers, and because, by the end of the book, we’re still not sure. Yes, ambiguity to the very end.

“Are these lovely people actually going to die??” I wondered…well, I can’t tell you any more than that. This story needs to keep its shock value.

%22Good-bye!

My summation? The novel is interesting, and it surprised me. The writing style, while not riveting, flows. Ruby Ferguson creates characters that are difficult to assess. Good guys or bad guys? A bit of both? Perhaps I’m as dim as Delia, but some of Ida’s compatriots kept me guessing. As with Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey, Delia, though much wiser in the end, still retained her innate goodness.

There are weak moments in the story, yes.

‘Zey brew zeir stuff somewheres. So proud zey are in zeir dirty fur coats.’ (Madame Todor)

And the conclusion is unsatisfactory. But in spite of these flaws, or perhaps because of them, once I got into it I couldn’t put the book down until I finished it.

That’s kinda fun.


image Additional Notes:

Comments from The Furrowed Middlebrow were spot on:

‘The Wakeful Guest (1962), which again is set in the immediate postwar period and can’t seem to decide whether to be a murder mystery or an odd social novel about war refugees coming into contact with superficial young girls.’

Ruby Ferguson is often confused with that other Ferguson, Rachel Ferguson—I kept doing it myself—and, truthfully, that is probably how I ended up with this book.

But I hope that more reprints of Ruby Ferguson stories will come along. I enjoyed Apricot Sky even more.

To order Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary, by Ruby Ferguson

Persephone Books has a picture of Ruby Ferguson and brief biography here:

Apricot Sky, by Ruby Ferguson; review by Captive Reader

‘A Beautiful Exactitude’–Mansfield Park

"I was quiet but I was not blind."

“I was quiet but I was not blind.”

Has it been two hundred years already?

If you are a Jane Austen fan, you know that of which I speak–the two hundred year anniversary of Austen’s novel Mansfield Park.

Mansfield Park

One can already feel the happy buzz in the blogosphere, and a breath of air gusts past as fresh as the first warm breeze of spring. There will be much delightful discussion to ensue in the coming months. On writer Sarah Emsley’s blog, I’m looking forward to ‘An Invitation to Mansfield Park’. She will host a series of guest bloggers who will look at various aspects of the novel. As well, Jane Austen in Vermont will be posting regular insights on the book through the year.

“My idea of good company…is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.'” Anne Elliott

Perhaps none of Jane Austen’s works has engendered such strong feeling, pro or con, than Mansfield Park. For many readers, it lacks the sparkle and wit of Austen’s other works such as Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Many academics insist it is the author’s most perfectly realized, most exquisitely crafted work. As quoted in my title, literary critic Frank Swinnerton once described it as ‘a perfect galaxy of portraits, rendered with beautiful exactitude.‘ Others feel conflicted by the ending, and wish the fascinating brother/sister Crawford duo had not been vilified. As well, it has been noted, in Jane Austen’s own words quoted above, spoken through her character Anne Elliott in Persuasion, that her definition of ‘good company‘ might better describe the Crawfords than Fanny Price.

I feel a bit of all of the above. What intrigues me most at present, though, is the writer’s own voice and inner conflicts that is pervasive throughout. Perhaps, now that I have read the book again as an older woman, these are things I was more sensitive to.

Mansfield Park, in my opinion, is the best candidate for a sequel! There are so many lovely loose ends lying around at the close of the story. Perhaps Jane Austen had more than trees in mind when she wrote, through Fanny’s thoughts:

‘Her eye fell everywhere on lawns and plantations of the freshest green; and the trees, though not fully clothed, were in that delightful state when farther beauty is known to be at hand, and when, while much is actually given to the sight, more yet remains for the imagination.…’

Jane Austen’s description of the happy installation of Susan Price at Mansfield Park, makes one think that perhaps, as the ‘fearless’ and quicker minded younger sister of Fanny, she had the makings for heroine material:

‘[Susan’s] more fearless disposition and happier nerves made everything easy to her there. With quickness in understanding the tempers of those she had to deal with, and no natural timidity to restrain any consequent wishes, she was soon welcome and useful to all; and after Fanny’s removal succeeded so naturally to her influence over the hourly comfort of her aunt, as gradually to become, perhaps, the most beloved of the two.’

So off we go…are you ready to re-visit Mansfield Park?