Red Chair Reads: One Fine Day

One Fine Day, by Mollie Panter-Downes (1946)

It is summer of 1946, and Laura and Stephen Marshall are trying to adjust to life in post-war England.  Their little village of Wealding seems the timeless, quintessential English village: the Manor House, the rectory, the High Street with the requisite independent shops, the winding country lanes, the picturesqueTudor cottages. The Marshalls — and the village — have survived the war, and now it is time to live the peace.

What is that peace?  Look closer and there are signs of upheaval everywhere: Laura’s house is falling down around her, the weeds are winning, and a sense of disquiet pervades her life.  She is prematurely grey, she stands in endless lines for her family’s rations, she sees rusting coils of barbed wire, she runs across the remaining German POW still working English farmland.  The owner of the Manor House has sold the crumbling pile for institutional use, and the future is personified by the ambitious and ethically challenged Mr. Rudge, and the good-natured by sly Mrs. Prout, a charwoman who knows her worth, who never says “madam,” and who understands her “place” is not where the “gentry” thinks it is.  So Laura continues her everyday day: she finds her wayward dog, climbs the chalk down and catches a glimpse of her future, and finally sees that her world has undergone a fundamental change that she may not have wanted, but that she can in fact embrace.

Nothing much happens in One Fine Day —  nothing, except one woman finding reasons for hope and optimism.

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Red Chair Reads: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, by Julia Strachey (1932)

Virginia Woolf apparently thought highly of this work, originally published by the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press in 1932.  Other people must also have loved it, as both Penguin Books and Persephone Books have republished it, and somebody turned it into a movie in 2012.  Anyway.  I wish I loved the book too.

On a blustery day in March, the pampered elder daughter of a wealthy family marries a dull man destined for an acceptable career somewhere in South America.  Dolly knows it is a mistake, and spends the pre-wedding hours in her room with a bottle of rum, even as her friends and family (including a young man she may or may not have loved and who may or may not still love her) gather downstairs for the celebration.

The book is sharp, funny, and short, which turned out to be a good thing.  Julia Strachey populated her work with a cast of characters one expects in certain novels set in English country houses, but the trenchant observations left no room for sympathy.  The book is unflinchingly unsentimental, but nevertheless I wished for a glimmer of likability in the main characters: just when I thought something interesting was going to happen between Mrs. Thatcham and Joseph, it didn’t.  As I said, disappointing, but ultimately a fitting end to the book.

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Let’s read something else, OK?

Red Chair Reads: The Fortnight in September

I love London (I’m with Dr. Johnson on this), and back when plane fares were a tad more affordable, I used to go once a year, usually by myself.  Six years ago, I took my family with me, and we rented a townhouse built at the end of the 17th century.  It was a great four-story house; it had saggy, creaky floors, and there was not one right angle anywhere in it.  It also had a full-size American style washer and dryer set, but that’s another story . . . .  The house was on Lamb’s Conduit Street, and was just a few buildings away from Persephone Books.  At the time, I had not heard of Persephone Books, but I was never one to pass up a bookstore — especially an interesting-looking one.

When we came home, I bought some used copies of various Persephone titles.  And I admit that three of those books are still in the TBR pile . . . .  Anyway, I finally read The Fortnight in September (1931) this past week.  Aside from being a period gem, it also has the distinction of being one of the few books published by Persephone Books that is not by a forgotten woman writer.  R. C. Sherriff (1896-1975) was an English writer who fought in World War I, and became best-known for Journey’s End, a play and book based on his experiences during the Great War.  He went Hollywood in the 1930s and wrote screenplays for movies such as The Invisible ManThat Hamilton Woman, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, but before all that he wrote The Fortnight in September.

Not much happens in the book: the lower middle-class Stevens family look forward all year to that most English of English holidays, their two weeks at the seaside.  The father has reconciled himself to the fact that he has advanced as far as he can in his small-fry firm, but perhaps it is all right after all, because he is further along than his father, and in turn, he can believe his son will go even further.  During those two weeks at Bognor Regis, other family members have their crystalline moments — the son who realizes that as unhappy as he is at work, he can be more; the daughter who has a moment of romance, and understands it for the “bit of fun” that it is; the wife who gives in to the pleasures of an hour of peace, an hour of doing nothing in a sitting room with her measured glass of port.  This is the life that the men in trenches dreamed about returning to; it is what makes the English, the everyday moments that are worth their loyalty, worth their lives.

CSA Share Week 13:  potatoes, onion, squash, green beans, Asian eggplants, Tuscan kale, purple bell pepper, strawberries, honeydew melon, eggs

Week 13 Recipes:  tomato/eggplant/squash tian; honeydew melon fruit salad; peach (fresh from Palisade, Colorado) bread pudding; sauteed Tuscan kale with white beans; warm green beans with tapenade of olives/heirloom tomato (grown by The Teenager)/grilled banana peppers (also grown by The Teenager)