callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

Reasons to be cheerful: new Furrowed Middlebrow books out today

This is part of the publicity email I received from Dean Street Press, the excellent publishers of the books.
‘Margery Sharp is probably still best known as the author of children’s classic The Rescuers, though now becoming increasingly admired for her witty, fresh and perceptive mid-century adult fiction. We are including six of her best: Rhododendron Pie, Fanfare for Tin Trumpets, Four Gardens, Harlequin House, The Stone of Chastity and The Foolish Gentlewoman.

Stella Gibbons is of course rightly legendary for her debut novel Cold Comfort Farm, but many readers of recent years have come to appreciate the riches her subsequent fiction has to offer. The novels we are publishing, mostly from the latter part of her writing career, cover an unusual stylistic range, yet all remain true to her satirical, observant eye and beautiful prose style. The five titles included are The Swiss Summer, A Pink Front Door, The Weather at Tregulla, The Snow-Woman, and The Woods in Winter.

All the novels, long out-of-print and sought after, are now published with new, attractive covers and feature brand new and insightful introductions by twentieth-century women’s historian Elizabeth Crawford. They represent a welcome addition to our ‘Furrowed Middlebrow’ range, shedding a light on the best of women’s fiction from the twentieth-century.’

I’d never read The Rescuers, let alone any of Margery Sharp’s adult books, so this was new territory for me. At first, I found Rhododendron Pie hard to get on with. The Laventie family and their equally precious friends are utterly ghastly. They don’t mix with others because nobody lives up to Mr Laventie’s exacting and ridiculous standards. Did ever a family think so much of themselves? Talk about poseurs. Daughter Ann doesn’t fit because she’s uncomfortably normal and has the bad luck to fall in love with a man who is ‘not their sort’. Crippled Mrs Laventie is a shadowy figure until the end of the book, when she breaks out into a terrific speech in which she tells the family exactly what she really thinks of them. You have to wonder how she suffers in silence for years before letting her real opinions be known. As a result of her little bombshell, Ann is able to marry and escape. It’s a pity the last line suggests all may not be happy ever after, because you want it to be.

I used to have a lovely hardback of A Pink Front Door (with a much nicer cover than the new edition) but inexplicably purged it at one time. That would have been in pre-internet days and I suppose I didn’t realise how scarce it was. The heroine is rather like Alda in The Matchmaker, a well meaning busybody. Daisy gets so involved with the problems of her friends and lame dogs that she neglects her home and husband. James adores her but would like to find her at home occasionally and in the end delivers an ultimatum. Some of the scenes are very funny. I followed this up with a re-read of Elizabeth Taylor’s The Soul of Kindness, about Flora, another woman who interferes in people’s lives with the best of intentions, but can’t see what’s under her nose. It’s more serious than Stella Gibbons’ book but, contrary to my expectation, I didn’t think it was any better.

These two titles were sent to me as e-books. I’d be very happy to read everything on this new list.
Tags: margery sharp, stella gibbons

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