In August, Dean Street Press will bring out another batch of Furrowed Middlebrow titles, books written by women and published around the middle of the last century. The new selection is: E.H. Young's Miss Mole, A House in the Country by Ruth Adam, Much Dithering by Dorothy Lambert, Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith, and two by Celia Buckmaster: Village Story and Family Ties. The only one of these I’d read before is Miss Mole, which I have in an old Virago edition. The one I most wanted to read, because I already liked the author, was luckily the other book I was sent: A House in the Country by Ruth Adam.
I love books about housekeeping, especially when the story is about turning a wreck into a home. Ruth Adam begins this book, published in 1957, by saying that it is both a true story and a cautionary tale and warns the reader against ever falling in love with a house. During the Second World War a group of friends, sometimes described as ‘BBC types’, share a house in London. As they weary of overcrowding, noise and the lack of decent food, they fantasise about living in a lovely old house in the country. When the war is over, they find that by pooling their resources, they can just about afford to rent such a house and find their dream in Kent. Oh, be careful what you wish for. At first it all seems too good to be true: a manor house with acres of garden, any amount of space and Howard, the factotum who has kept the house and garden from ruin and knows how everything works (or doesn’t). The author, writing in the first person, finds herself regarded locally as the lady of the manor and expected to behave accordingly.
At first all is well. The garden blossoms and provides food for the house, rooms are cleared for use, everyone gets on, people are found to help out. Gradually, reality creeps in. Someone decides to leave, making a hole in the finances. The water supply runs dry and they find that half the village is using their water. The author/Adam is exhausted trying to keep such a monstrous house clean. Only when they’re on the verge of bankruptcy do they give in, realising that this is a house ‘made to be served’ and that they don’t have enough servers. It’s not at all a depressing book because it’s full of the joys of the countryside, happy children and various interesting characters who come and go. I enjoyed it but it’s not as good as Miss Mole.