A House in the Country by Ruth Adam – Life in a large country house – a dream made reality in the mid twentieth century reprinted by Furrowed Middlebrow from Dean Street Press

A House in the Country by Ruth Adam

This fascinating and well written novel of life in a country house in the immediately post Second World War period is a classic story of a project begun with all good intentions and dreams, but how the struggle soon became real. Originally published in 1957, it has been reprinted in the Furrowed Middlebrow series by Dean Street Press and thus another classic has been made available. I think that it has a lot of echoes for today in that London dwellers buy a big country property with the hope of a new lifestyle. Reality intrudes but in strange ways – an unfriendly village to win over, the daily fight with plumbing, and the mysteries of a house designed for an upstairs downstairs support system.

The honest narrator along with her husband and group of friends only see the romance of living together in a thirty three room manor in Kent, the promise of self-sufficiency, the joys of bringing up children in spacious surroundings, the opportunity for weekends with friends from London marvelling at the establishment.  Then there is the cold light of reality behind this fictionalised account of the actual experiences of living in a big house with its many demands. Enlivened by the characters of bemused locals, visitors and the actual inhabitants, this lively novel brings alive post war conditions, the demands of life in a big house and all the dramas attendant of community living. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

The story begins with a joint dream by those who had fought with the cramped conditions of rooms and flats in London through a war. Those who have read “Spam Tomorrow” by Verily Anderson also reprinted by Dean Street Press will have an idea of the constant juggling for space in cramped rooms with nightly excursions to air raid shelters. The four men and two women, together with Adam’s children, discover their dream house in Kent, and hasten to set up home in the gardens and large empty rooms. Ruth is to provide the domestic oversight with the help of an elderly gardener. Howard, who has jealously guarded the house since the Colonel left and is the only one who can persuade the ancient boiler and plumbing to continue working. The group are wildly enthusiastic about their new home, even though their small amount of furniture is insufficient to fill the large rooms. They combine their efforts to create a visitor’s room for those they dream of inviting, and indeed friends and acquaintances do discover the rural idyll of life in the country. Ruth’s children learn many skills, even thought the suspicious locals are shocked that a child from the manor attends the local school. A revered magnolia tree presents a magical display, there are flowers for the house in abundance, the house delights in its many secrets, even the outbuildings are soon full of livestock. It all seems wonderful.

All too soon problems present themselves. While the other adults work in London to pay the bills, Ruth is left with the domestic drudgery of a house who is essentially an aristocratic lady with many demands. Although she seems to work continuously to keep the house functioning, a hundred plus hours a weeks are insufficient. Happily domestic help is available eventually, and Ruth has less cause to think of a scullery maid imprisoned in a damp dark kitchen constantly washing pots and pans. There are many characters locally and visiting;  a popular radio comic increases their local standing, politicians advise on the hours that staff should work, and pigs are a memorable addition to the stock of the house in many ways. All these elements make up a sometimes serious but often funny story of daily life in a remarkable house.   

This is an engaging book with so much to say about the people who come to be associated with a remarkable house, which becomes a character in its own right. There are harsh realities, but also the dream fulfilment of living for a time in a house which encapsulates so many war time ambitions for a different life. There is humour in the little touches of reality, the small daily occurrences of community, the vagaries of country life, the personalities involved. I recommend this book to anyone who has dreamt of a different life in the country, or who is fascinated by the changes from the mid forties to the mid-fifties of the twentieth century in all its colour and richness.