The Easter Party by Vita Sackville-West was first published in 1953 but for me it somehow has more of a 1930s atmosphere. My copy is a first edition but sadly doesn’t have the dust cover. The setting is a large old house called Anstey, owned by Sir Walter Mortibois who inherited Anstey and is a wealthy lawyer. He’s a very flawed human being though and when he suggested marriage to a very much younger Rose who is the local vicar’s daughter he explained to her that it would be a marriage in name only as he really only wanted someone to be a perfect hostess. He has no interest in the physical side of marriage so there would never be any children, he believes that the human race should just peter out! or words to that effect.
It doesn’t take Rose long to decide that she’ll marry him as she had always hated being poor, but she falls in love with Walter and has to endure an existence with no human contact despite the fact that she really longs for it. Walter and Rose’s relationship is contrasted with that of her sister Lucy who has married for love and although her husband is an impecunious stockbroker (is there such a thing?) they’re a very happy family. Lucy is sorry that her sister has had no children, but she has no idea that Rose is still a virgin.
I really like Vita’s writing style but the story just doesn’t hang together as the love of Walter’s life is an Alsatian dog called Svend, throughout most of the book the reader gets the impression that Svend has always been there, but towards the end of the book it transpires that he’s only three years old. I didn’t like the ending as I wanted to know what happened next, but there was no sequel.
As it happens decades ago I knew a woman who had been put in a similar position. She was a PA to a wealthy businessman, he even had his own aeroplane, however he was a homosexual at a time when it wasn’t so socially acceptable. He explained to my friend that there could be no children but she would have everything else that she wanted in life, she turned him down. I don’t blame her as what a lonely arid life it would have been for her. It took her no time to turn his offer down but I know that that sort of thing would have appealed to some women.
No Signposts in the Sea by Vita Sackville-West was first published in 1961 but my copy is a Virago Modern Classics reprint from 1985.
I really liked this one, the setting is a cruise ship which is sailing to exotic locations and Edmund Carr is a passenger on it, one of the reasons he decided to go on the cruise is that he discovered that Laura is going on it and he has secretly admired the beautiful and smart widow for years.
Edmund had never married, his life had been taken up with his career in journalism and he had ended up being an influential leader writer on a serious Fleet Street newspaper. Edmund’s doctor has recently given him bad news, he doesn’t have long to live so he gives up his job to go on the cruise and spend his last weeks with Laura who knows nothing about his illness or indeed even that he will be on the cruise.
This is a thoughtful read as Laura and Edmund’s friendship deepens and they explore each other’s views on marriage and other things and Laura realises just how different their backgrounds are (possibly this explains Edmund’s reticence where a relationship with Laura was concerned) as Laura is obviously well-heeled and Edmund grew up in poverty in a teeny wee cottage. There’s plenty of humour though in observing the other cruisers and those must have been gleaned from the author’s own cruising experiences.
There is an introduction by Victoria Glendinning.
This was Sackville-West’s last novel, written when she was dying of cancer. She had a complicated personal life but was also a very keen and knowledgeable gardener, creating the famous Sissinghurst – a place that I have yet to visit.
I read this one for The Classics Club.
When we drove up north of Aberdeen for a few nights last week we had a specific goal in sight – a bookshop in Huntly that we had been told about by a friend. To be honest I was quite disappointed when I saw the shop as it’s really small, however I managed to buy a surprising number of books.
1. Continental Crimes Edited by Martin Edwards – a compilation of short stories, another in the British Crime Classics series.
2. Man Overboard by Monica Dickens
3. An Impossible Marriage by Pamela Hansford Johnson
4. Coot Club by Arthur Ransome
5. Company Parade by Storm Jameson
6. No Signposts in the Sea by Vita Sackville-West
and three Puffin books – yes it seems that I have started a Puffin collection – sort of inadvertently.
7. The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett (A Carnegie Medal Winner)
8. The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall (A Carnegie Medal Winner)
9. A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh
Have you read any of these books?