Reading authors covered under such terms as 'Vintage' or 'Classic' has led to many musings and feverish writing downs. Sentences taken directly from the narrative and scraps of poetry; the title of a novel or an author's name, for authors too like to refer to their contemporaries or to those they're reading. Pay homage to or mock. I wonder, when they do so because it might lend itself to a character or the tone or their own pursuits of literature, if they realise the curiosity this may spark in future readers.
Herbert, who he? I said only recently mimicking that Irish comedian
and presenter Graham Norton; the answer, an Welsh-born poet, orator
and Anglican priest.
that (different novel, same author) I'd been tickled by the thought
of a Miss Entwhistle that her niece's suitor's way of courting
wouldn't be vegetarian. The inference, I supposed, that this Wemyss
had been married before and therefore wasn't new to intimacies with
women – not in the courting of, the living with or what would be
nightly revealed with the removal of clothing. In other words, he
wasn't green. How original! And witty to put it like that.
Particularly when this novel was, I believe first published in 1914.
Though, of course after the courtship and most of the wit there were
darker, pervading tones since Wemyss' first wife died, a rumoured
suicide, and it wasn't determined whether she slipped or jumped. It
never is, so throughout you're always guessing, and yet Vera (the
deceased wife) is adjunct to the central theme of husbandly control.
An ever-present spectre to upset the new Mrs Wemyss as she learns to
appease her new husband's moods.
this plot sounds familiar, then it is! but Von Arnim's Vera came
before du Maurier's Rebecca; some might say the latter is the
more-finished work, but both are, in my humble opinion, equally
sinister. Vera, however, is easily the more possessive case, and
whilst the ending is frustrating I don't see how else she could have
ended it. Readers can't always get what they want: an end to the
oppression, and neither in that situation (and at that time) could
wives easily obtain a separation, but then Lucy (niece of Miss
Entwhistle and new Mrs Wemyss) wouldn't have gone about that even if
she had wished it, unless of course she finally snapped or felt
forced like the first Mrs Wemyss to drastic measures, which is an
assumption I've made not unequivocally made in the novel.
might have happened next is left to the imagination. Does Wemyss
continue to wear Lucy down to his ideal? Does her aunt, after being
turned out of doors, cease to worry or interfere? Does Lucy begin to
rebel rather than appease? A leaden cloud hangs over this trio, for
even without the aunt there will always be three in this marriage.
Von Arnim did tyrannical husbands very well. As she did other matters
of the heart and head concerning such relations: the getting of, the
getting of and refused, the getting of and once got the subservience
to, for some would undoubtedly be required, in order to have some
sort of freedom. But she also did bold women. Women that were
outspoken and went against convention. Women that would, in all
honesty, prefer to remain husband-less or be so after the experience
of having one had been realised. Unmarried women with ideas, modest
means and scholarly passions. There are entanglements, there are
misunderstandings, there is intelligence, there is frankness, there
is bravery, there is unsentimental practicality, there is ridicule
and an irrepressible urge to take comfort and find beauty in the
Arnim novels amuse as well as teach. The world is not turned from,
but sometimes its concerns are; the eye turned instead to poets and
nature so that the world is seen anew and anything that had the
chance to cause anxiety is pushed aside. It's a god-like faith used
to soothe and extol the virtues of to anyone that will hear it. How
she talks! As well as suffers doses of cold philosophy.
what surprised me, though why should it?, is the allusion to
vegetarianism, particularly that of vegetarian economies, in her
novels. Most were unexpected and for a vegetarian of some years
standing hidden gems, much like the author herself.
Picture credit: Woman, New York City, c.1952, Dorothea Lange