Introduction to Sally by Elizabeth von Arnim was published in 1926, but of course von Arnim was being coy about it as it only has that
“BY THE AUTHOR OF “ELIZABETH AND HER GERMAN GARDEN” tag.
To begin with I thought this was going to be a sort of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady rewrite but it turned out to be quite different.
Mr Pinner is a shopkeeper and is married to a very pretty woman and they live in London. After ten years of marriage they still have no children which is a huge sadness to Mr Pinner in particular, that coupled with the fact that Mrs Pinner is argumentative leads him to think that given his time again he wouldn’t have married her. Eventually Mrs Pinner does get pregnant and has a little girl who turns out to be even prettier than her mother. Mr Pinner wants to call her Salvation as he feels she has saved their marriage as Mrs Pinner is now too taken up with her baby to quarrel about anything. They compromise and call her Salvatia, but of course that is shortened to Sally, much to her parents’ annoyance.
As Sally grows up she attracts too much attention from men, they come into the shop just to catch a glimpse of her, it’s good for business but Mr Pinner can’t stand all these men lusting after his daughter and they end up trying to hide her from them. When Sally is sixteen her mother dies and so Sally has to help in the shop, the business turnover doubles overnight but Mr Pinner can’t take the strain of looking after Sally on his own. The Pinners are a God fearing family and it grieves Mr Pinner that even the local doctor and vicar are lusting after his daughter. – These married gentlemen – what could it be but sin they had in their minds? They wished to sin with Sally, to sin the sin of sins, with his Sally, his spotless lamb, a child of God, an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
Mr Pinner decides to move out of London for Sally’s sake. He finds a shop in a teeny village which is owned by a man who wants to move to London and they exchange premises. The village of Woodle seems ideal to Mr Pinner, but he doesn’t realise that it is close to Cambridge and when term time begins it has students going through it. When one particular ogling student Jocelyn Luke sets eyes on Sally he’s so overcome by her beauty that he mentions to her father that he wants to marry her. Mr Pinner can hardly believe his luck and in no time he has married Sally off to him. He’s keen to pass the responsibility of looking after Sally on to a husband.
Too late Mr Luke realises that although Sally looks like a dream, she sounds absolutely dreadful. He tries to improve her speech but Sally is unable to pronounce an ‘h’. In fact she seems not to realise that there is such a letter in the alphabet and she has no interest in improving herself. Usband – as she calls Mr Luke seems always to be angry with her, except at night time when he is too busy – Oh Sally-ing! as Sally calls it.
I began by thinking that this book was just a bit too daft but in the end I really enjoyed it. It’s all a bit of a hoot as the very innocent Sally continues to wow all the males she comes into contact with, without even trying, and despite her obvious ‘common’ background.
It is of course all very wrapped up in snobbery and the differences between working class people and the various other types, up to ‘the pick of the basket’ as Sally’s parents had described the aristocracy.
There’s an article from The Independent here in which they seem to think that Elizabeth von Arnim has been unknown to readers for years, but we know differently don’t we?!
One other thing I want to mention – this book has a rubber stamp inside it saying: Josiah Parkes & Sons Ltd
The book was published in 1926 and I couldn’t help wondering what the company actually did, so I Googled them and came up with this.
They made keys and locks amongst other things and I love the old photos of the workforce and their surroundings. Real social history going back to the time when to work for a company was like being part of a big family with a library for the workers and no doubt lots of clubs for them all to socialise in. Mind you standing on those cobbles all day must have been hard on the feet!
I read this one for Reading My Own Damn Books and the Classics Club and also The Women’s Classic Literature Event.