A Pin to See the Peep Show by F. Tennyson Jesse

A Pin to See the Peep Show cover

A Pin to See the Peep Show by F. Tennyson Jesse was first published in 1934 and has recently been reprinted by British Library.

The book begins when Julia Almond is a 16 year old schoolgirl, she’s rather besotted by one of her female teachers. Julia lives in a bit of a fantasy world, day-dreaming a better life for herself, that’s something that we all do from time to time I’m sure. To be fair Julia’s home life is less than ideal and as she gets older things get even worse. To get away from home she accepts a proposal of marriage from an older man, a friend of her parents whose wife had fairly recently died. There’s absolutely no romance involved, but Julia craves the comfort and lovely home that Herbert can give her, but she’s shocked that “That pleasant, rather dull looking man opposite, with that slight air of foolishness that everyone has who sleeps with his mouth slightly open, was the strange man with whom she had passed that first devastating night, who had assaulted her, apparently without any thought of her own sensations.” Her body feels battered, as well as her soul.

Julia throws herself into her career,she has worked her way up from being an apprentice in a dress shop to being a buyer for them and travelling to Paris, at work she’s still known as Miss Almond, something that she’s thankful for. At home she reads romances.

Inevitably when Julia meets a young man that she fancies she falls for him hard. Leo is a very handsome merchant sailor, and is going out with Julia’s cousin, but in no time Julia and Leo are having an affair and the cousin has been dropped. For Leo the whole thing isn’t all that serious, he’s a typical sailor, but Julia starved of the romance that she craves builds it all up into more than it really is. When she writes to Leo she does so with an excess of purple passion and her imagination running in over-drive. It doesn’t end at all well!

This tale is based on a real couple and although I enjoyed it and the writing I did find the ending a bit depressing. However I’m thankful that I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this book for review by British Library.

The Love Child by Edith Olivier

The Love Child by Edith Olivier was first published in 1927 and has just been reprinted by British Library.

The tale begins with the funeral of Agatha Bodenham’s mother. Agatha is an only child, a 32 year old spinster, and she hadn’t really been particularly close to her mother. They had both been rather introverted and had led fairly solitary lives, so Agatha finds herself thinking of the imaginary friend Clarissa that she had had throughout her childhood, but a disdainful governess had caused Agatha to give up on her imaginary friend at the age of 14.

Now in her loneliness Agatha’s thoughts go back to those days when she had had the companionship of Clarissa. Agatha’s imagination runs riot as she becomes so enamoured with the thought of Clarissa and begins to play with her as she did. Others are perplexed when they see her dashing around in the garden for no apparent reason, they can’t see her playmate. Eventually Clarissa begins to appear in front of other people which is a bit awkward as Agatha has to pretend that she has adopted the little girl. The relationship that Agatha has with Clarissa works wonders for Agatha’s personality as Clarissa is popular with servants and staff wherever they go and the popularity is reflected back on Agatha, her life has expanded and been enriched – but will it last?

This is a strange story but I did enjoy it although I found it to be quite a sad read, dealing as it does with a solitary woman, one of many in those post Great War days. As ever with this British Library Women Writer’s series the story is accompanied by a short but interesting timeline of the 1920s, some information on the author and various other bits and pieces including an Afterword by Simon Thomas.

Thank you to British Library for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Sally on the Rocks by Winifred Boggs

The setting is early on in the First World War. The village of Little Crampton is home to Miss Maggie Hopkins, she’s a spinster and her hobby is digging up the dirt on anyone she comes into contact with – then broadcasting it to all and sundry. When Mrs Dalton a young widow with a daughter moves into the village she knows that she’ll have to find a husband soon as her money will run out. She sets her cap at Mr Bingley the local bank manager who is reputed to have plenty of money. Maggie Hopkins decides to have some amusement at Mrs Dalton’s expense and writes a letter to Miss Sally Lunton who has been living in Paris, but had lived in Little Crampton earlier as she was a ward of the local vicar Mr Lovelady. At the age of 31 Sally feels she’s on the shelf and will have to find a rich husband soon, so with the war advancing on Paris she decides to head for the safer location of Little Crampton, especially as Maggie Hopkins has written to tell Sally all about the wealthy bank manager who is a bachelor.

This is a great read which has plenty of humour, with the rivals for the bank manager becoming friends in their honesty that neither of them really want him as he’s a fairly unattractive and ghastly man, and is absolutely full of himself, but needs must! They’re both head and shoulders above him intellectually, but as women their life choices are narrow.

Mr Bingley had had one of those mothers who was determined to ward off any woman who might look like taking him away from her. Knowing that she couldn’t live forever and with the future in mind she wrote a huge book of advice for him. THE BOOK which Mr Bingley consults constantly has such advice as: Never marry your social superior; she will look down on you. Never marry your social inferior, you will look down on her. His mother is orchestrating his life from the grave!

Added to that is Maggie Hopkins, a sleuth who thinks nothing of writing letters to people abroad to ferret out what she sees as scandal.

First published in 1915 I was really impressed that Winifred Boggs had written about how the war could devastate a soldier’s life, even if he looked unscathed to the casual observer.

As ever, there’s a lot more to this book than I’ve written about, but I’ll leave that for you to discover, if you fancy reading it.

Many thanks to British Library who sent me a copy of this book for review.

Which Way? by Theodora Benson – British Library blogtour

Which Way by Theodora Benson was first published in 1931 but it has just been reprinted by British Library in their Women Writers series. As usual they have included a short bio of the author, a timeline of the 1930s, and an afterword by Simon Thomas of Stuck in a Book fame.

This novel is described as being experimental, it could quite easily have been titled What If? because that’s what it is really. I’m sure we all look back at times in our lives saying “What if I had made a different decision? How different would things have been?” The first part of the book is about Claudia Heseltine’s childhood, she is quite a difficult little girl, naughty in a cruel way at times. Then came a rather shy, priggish religious phase but when she meets Eileen a girl a year younger than her she improves. The friendship is deemed to be suitable by both sets of parents who also become friends. When Claudia is sent to a finishing school in Paris she sends gossipy letters to Eileen, who isn’t always so quick at replying. By the time Eileen is 19 she is busy with her future, she has met Tommy and he is the one for her, despite family opposition. Tommy is much older, rich, doesn’t work and is a philanderer, and her parents had imagined that Eileen would marry a future prime minister. Eileen knows what she wants though – and gets it.

Next comes Claudia’s first decision, the same paragraph appears three times in the book, and each time she makes a different decision when the telephone rings with an invitation for the weekend, she already has two other invitations which have been sent by letter, her decisions lead to three very different futures for her, involving three different men. As happens with human beings depending on which man Claudia is with her character changes, as inevitably people are influenced by the personality of others that they are close to – or want to end up close to! Thinking about it it is probably that trait which leads to many a divorce as after marriage some people do change entirely – they don’t have to be on their best behaviour any more. It’s all a bit of a lottery!

This was an interesting read although I couldn’t get Fleur Forsyte from Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga out of my head as I felt that Claudia was a similar type.

Thank you to British Library who asked me to take part in this blogtour and sent me a copy of the book. Some of the other bloggers participating are listed on the graphic below.

B L blogtour

You can check the the British Library Shop for these books or look at #FarMoreThanFiction.

Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay

 Dangerous Ages  cover

Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay was first published in 1921 but I read a British Library Women Writers reprint. It’s quite different from the other two books I’ve read by the author – The Towers of Trebizond and The World My Wilderness. I really enjoyed this one too, but it couldn’t be called a comfort read.

The story features four generations of women within one family and it begins with Neville’s 43rd birthday. Neville is actually a woman which is slightly confusing to begin with, her son is called Kay which is of course normally a girls name – apart from in Scandinavia. Birthdays can be depressing and Neville looks back on her life. Now that her son and daughter are grown up she is regretting that she had given up her medical studies to get married. Maybe if she resumes her studies after 20 odd years she would would regain the confidence that she had had back then. Neville is worried that she’s beginning to turn into her mother (Mrs Hilary).

‘I don’t like being merely a married woman. Rodney isn’t merely a married man, after all … But anyhow, I’ll find something to amuse my old age, even if I can’t work. I’ll play patience or croquet or piano or all three, and I’ll go to theatres and picture shows and concerts and meetings in the Albert Hall. Mother doesn’t do any of those things. And she is so unhappy so often’

Mrs Hilary who is 63 years old has always been consumed with self-pity, but since her husband’s death she has got worse. Her family is well used to her self-centred moods and silliness, especially her own mother who is 83 and obviously knows her best and has put up with her for so long. She had tried to interest her daughter in parish works, art or handiworks to no avail, with the result that when her children became adults she had nothing to fall back on. She doesn’t even like her children to communicate with each other or with their grandmother without her being there. As Freud and psychology in general has become fashionable Mrs Hilary decides that she might feel better if she sees one. It’s exactly what she wants, someone who will sit and listen to all her moaning.

‘Grandmamma’ is the happiest member of the family, she has attained contentment as many do when they have reached a great age and outlived so many acquaintances. Hearing a distant Salvation Army band playing a jolly tune in the distance is enough to make her happy – just don’t think of the rather violent words that go with the tune.

But it’s Gerda who at 20 is the youngest woman in the family who is going to cause grief within the wider family as Gerda has been spoiled and it looks to me like she’s the one who will turn into a self-pitying updated version of her granny Mrs Hilary.

This makes it all sound rather grim and as I said earlier it isn’t a comfort read, there’s a lot of angst, but such is life. This book was written just after the First World War which was a time when women of all ages and classes had been ‘doing their bit’ for the war effort, whether it was knitting balaclavas or making munitions. At the end of the war when the surviving men returned, going back to the way things had been pre-war must have been a difficult transition for all concerned, historically the suicide rates for women were very high, gas ovens were such handy things and many stuck their heads in them, right up into the 1950s. Being able to work outside the home went a long way to improving their mental health and I suppose anti-depressants helped too!

Anyway, this is a really good read. My thanks to the British Library who kindly sent me a copy of this book to review. I was really pleased to see that the Afterword is by Simon of Stuck in a Book.