Second Tuesday in March now a distant memory, a quarter of the year gone already but safe in the knowledge that the next time the Endsleigh Salon gathers we have put the clocks forward, and for the next six months or so we will drive along Georgie's carriage drive in daylight taking in the fabulous views and the gardens which are always spellbinding.
So this was the evening of the 1920s reading theme and you may or may not recall that I had grandiose plans to contrast and compare Edith Wharton's Twilight Sleep with The Beautiful and the Damned by F.Scot Fitzgerald. Usual story, ambitious with the dawn, back to basics by dusk, so when it chimed 5pm on the day and I had just two and a half hours to read nigh on seven hundred pages it was clear my plans would come to nought and I would be going empty-handed.
Except we never go empty-handed so as I gazed around the shelves for inspiration it came to me in a blinding flash, Elizabeth von Arnim. More specifically I took along Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim because at this juncture I sensed vague similarities with The Lost Child / Myerson family situation. I hadn't read The Lost Child at this point, nor had I given more than a cursory glance to the mess that was simmering in the press and of course when I eventually did those similarities became differences, beyond the fact that there's no publicity like bad publicity.
Mary Annette Beauchamp aka Elizabeth von Arnim, cousin to Katherine Mansfield, who following her first marriage to Count Henning August von Arnim-Schlagenthin and subsequent widow-hood, had the dire misfortune to marry John Francis, 2nd Earl Russell.
Easier to spell but not so easy to live with.
Russell was violently, possessively and overbearingly in love with Elizabeth according to Karen Usborne's excellent biography, Elizabeth, the Author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden and the marriage ended disastrously with Elizabeth doing a runner to the U.S. to escape his clutches. Revenge perhaps often a dish best served up in fiction and many including John himself recognised just who Elizabeth had used as her model for the tyrannical husband Wemyss in Vera. Russell was incensed and you can only be thankful the man wasn't in possession of an iPhone because he was very imaginative with his harassment, having already sent Elizabeth a copy of the Bible with every reference to faithless women underlined. There was talk of litigation, publishers Macmillan rubbed their hands with glee and the book fair flew off the shelves as the whiff of scandal started to seep out in 1921.
I've sent my Virago copy off around the group (this is my first edition copy inherited from my mum who was also called Vera) for a considered opinion on my pet theory that this could have been one of the books that inspired Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, there are a few similarities so I'm looking forward to the verdict at April's meeting.
We had a full house plus a brave new soul (the test is whether a newbie returns for more) and the other 1920s books offered for discussion covered a wide and varied range and included The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, all by F.Scott Fitzgerald so I was probably wise to change my tack at the last minute. We had a fine nostalging moment when Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables took centre stage and good debates around The New House by Lettice Cooper, The Bolter by Frances Osborne, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon, Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh and a great biography of Colette by Judith Thurman. The pro-Woolf faction tried to persuade the anti-Woolf faction that Mrs Dalloway was a great book if you read it Woolfishly but I don't think we succeeded.
As you can imagine by the time we'd covered that lot and done our usual amount of tea-sipping, laughing and sidetracking there wasn't a lot of oxygen left in the room and the hotel definitely knew we were in residence. I drive the five minutes home, I know I should walk by the stars and do book-thinking but it's really very dark and look it's all the way down here and a lot more, and badgers run out on you and you tread on hedgehogs and things.
I know there is no point in going to bed for hours because I can never get my mind to shut down after an Endsleigh Salon evening's brilliant and inspiring bookish talk.
The next theme is Intrepid Travellers and I have just the very book lined up.