Serendipity is at work. Just as I was looking for a fillip to my reading, I stumbled across the Outmoded Authors project via Of Books and Bicycles. I recognised scarcely a name from the list, but I was interested to see John Galsworthy up there, since I’ve just finished reading volume one of The Forsyte Chronicles, The Forsyte Saga, and have been wondering how it came to be forgotten. So, I’m signing up for the challenge and eagerly planning a foray into Olivia Manning, and a return to Freya Stark. That will tie in nicely with this year’s vaguely military and Eastern theme, and I’ve been meaning to read Olivia Manning for years. Fortunately, I didn’t see the BBC series so my head won’t be full of pictures of Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson playing Guy and Harriet Pringle. I’m also returning to W Somerset Maugham and finally tackling Of Human Bondage, as well as following up on a recommendation to read the bizarrely titled The Worm Ouroboros by E W Eddison. It’s going to be a busy autumn and winter…
A couple of days ago my Amazon delivery arrived, a paltry three books it’s true, but each of them much anticipated. Seizing on the excuse not to go to the gym, I raced home to gloat over my treasures, and was soon a few pages into At Mrs Lippincote’s. I owe the Persephone Readers at LibraryThing a nod for that one, since Elizabeth Taylor’s appearance in our most popular author list alerted me to her existence, and friendly recommendations to the absolute necessity of purchase.
In this case, a wife (Julia) joins her husband (Roddy), who is stationed outside London and is a non-combatant RAF officer. They move into a house belonging to Mrs Lippincote, who has removed herself and her daughter to an hotel. The house is full of her possessions so that her letters, photographs, silverware and china insinuate her watchful presence on the interlopers.
Roddy married Julia thinking that he could help her to ‘grow up’, by which he seems to mean grow into the sort of woman who will put him at the centre of her life, preferably on a pedestal. Julia, to his mind, is a less than ideal wife for an officer, with no notion of RAF hierarchy or appropriate behaviour. Julia, despite coming from a ‘reading, drinking… weeping family’, faces life and her husband’s shortcomings with a matter-of-fact air that baffles and unsettles him. ‘He did not want to be reckoned at his own worth.’ Complicating their domestic life is Roddy’s cousin, Eleanor, who lives with them and who has been in love with Roddy since childhood. She is jealous of Julia, in awe of Roddy and unloved by both of them. Each of the three is keeping some sort of secret from the others, but there is no great explosion at the end, more an awkward untangling of words and small actions.
It was a quick read and one of my favourite types of book: the ostensibly domestic story that has far more depth than appears because of the universality of its themes. I’ll certainly be reading more of Elizabeth Taylor.