This delightful novel, which was originally published in 1936, marked Orange’s debut. Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press reprinted this book last year, and it represents a real find, giving a fascinating picture of the lives of four young women in the interwar period. They are subject to crisis and challenges which test their commitment to their life choices, and there is an underlying theme of the reality of the limitations placed on women. Funny, spirited and very much of its time, this is a novel which gives an insight into the lives of ambitious women who are discovering what the world really offers.
Jane and Florence are modern young women who share a flat in London, living independent lives and working in offices. They are Oxford graduates, but in some ways have not seen the benefits of their extended education, which is especially true of Florence as she struggles with secretarial work. Their flat is not glamorous, their lifestyle stretches their money, and for Florence life is lonely. Jane has the attentive Henry in tow, but really cares little for a romance that began in idyllic Oxford years. They are nevertheless a model of modern living for Leslie, whose comfortable life with her loving mother in the countryside seems to be stifling her artistic talents. She is determined to be independent and live in the capital like a modern young woman, hoping to imitate her friends. She invites her friends to meet her mother, hoping that their different lifestyle will influence her chances of independence. Sylvia is the fourth young woman, in love with the idea of love, with the attentive Claud with whom she enjoys a relaxed relationship. She has a loving family, who continue to put up with her despite her often expressed new views. Her younger sister Henrietta has a secret which threatens everything. The humour in this book comes mainly from the dialogue between Sylvia and Claud, and the family’s reactions to challenges. Florence writes her novel, Jane continues to be Jane and the other young women discover what they really want from life. One of the funniest scenes is when Sylvia’s father has decided to be generous, and we hear a running commentary of his pride, yet Sylvia opts to be contrary.
I enjoyed this book greatly as it explores so much about young women’s actual lives in this interwar time. This is a far more down to earth account which is not Mitford like; there is no melodrama but the realities of older adults trying to do their best for their children sometimes despite what they first desire. The parents are politely bewildered by their offspring’s priorities, and try to understand, while there are equally baffled men trying to work out the New Women. There is an almost farce like quality as several characters rush about the countryside, and there is a lightness of tone which Orange maintains throughout this novel. In some ways a book which tries to achieve much in terms of examining people’s true motives, the humour of realistic dialogue always comes through. I recommend this very human book, for its amusing qualities and reality revealed, and am happy that it now much more easily available.
A few minutes on this book blog will show you that I really enjoy books written in the mid twentieth century by British Women. That explains my love of Persephone Books, and I hope to review their brand new (reprints) very soon. If I cannot find contemporary books, I enjoy books set in the same period but written far more recently! Who am I kidding, I just like books really…Son is worried that I may barricade myself in with books…