Friday, January 28, 2011

The Way Things Are by E.M.Delafield

Virago Reading Week has been chock full of intriguing posts, fabulous reviews and the opportunity to discover a few blogs new to me.  I really hope we can do it all again next year as it has helped me forget about the freezing temperatures and doldrums of January.

My Virago pick for this week was the fabulous The Way Things Are by E.M. Delafield.  Published in 1927, I had stunning images of the art deco movement in my head whenever descriptions of lively young ladies about London were mentioned.  But the story of Laura Temple and her husband, Alfred, could not be more paradoxical to anything shiny and stylish.

Laura passes each day much like the one before it.  Making sure the kitchen-maid and nursery-maid are performing their duties, shopping even though the family income is stretched beyond their budget and that her boys are learning all the right manners.  Her husband, Alfred, could not be more boring with his main preoccupation being the 'vegetable kingdom'.

Her two young sons, Edward and the much-adored Johnnie, ensure that Laura wears a path back and forth to the nursery with one complaint or another.  The Times is a shield used by Alfred each evening to avoid any emotional connection with his wife.  Things sound rather grim don't they.

The Temple boys take dance class with the Bakewell children, Cynthia and Theodore.  The hilariously pompous, Mrs Bakewell, makes sure her children are highlighted in all aspects and the best at every venture.  The maternal sparring over children's abilities is drawn on brilliantly by Delafield and amazingly some things never change.

The Kingsley-Browne family have the most ridiculous daughter in, Bebee (mockingly called Bay-Bay by Laura).  Marching to her own tune and breaking hearts along the way, she attaches herself to AB Onslow, who just so happens to already have a wife.  In farcical scenes they despair over ways to remove her from their home which she has firmly ensconced herself in.  I would have simply thrown her vampy red lipstick and silky gowns out the back door!

The most poignant storyline though is that Laura has fallen in love with Duke (short for Marmaduke) Ayland and he with her.  His dark eyes look at her in a way she hasn't recognized in years and she is enthralled.  Herein lies the moral struggle, does she abandon her marriage and children for the passion she has never known or continue to be a dutiful wife?  Her younger sister, Christine, has an idea that something is going on but refers to things only hypothetically and a medical student named, Losh, is somewhat helpful with discussions on sexual frustration.  Laura reminds him that she lives in the country and examining your libido just really isn't done.  And there I will leave you to wonder which path Laura chooses.

I loved this story for its perfect blend of humour, reality, conflict and compassion and highly recommend it.

Special thanks to Carolyn and Rachel for an entertaining and memorable reading challenge!  I am going to spend my spare time over the next couple of days catching up with everyone's reviews and articles.


  1. I read her Thank Heaven Fasting (which I can highly recommend)...but I own this one too, and a 'perfect blend of humour, reality, struggle and compassion' sounds perfect to me. I agree that Carolyn and Rachel did a wonderful job!

  2. Oh, I feel a desperate need to know what Laura chooses! I'll have to get my hands on a copy of this so I can find out - great review.

  3. Do you know what, Darlene, you have inspired me to give this another try. Fantastic review! When I read it a couple of years ago I was expecting something very witty a la Provincial Lady and was disappointed by its much more complex and rather sad portrayal of a woman unfulfilled within her marriage. I think if I went back to it now, having read more of Delafield's fiction, I'd appreciate it much more. What makes me sad is that I fear Laura's marriage is largely representative of her own...a woman as intelligent and witty as E M Delafield should have had a wonderful husband and I'm sad that she didn't have a partner who appreciated her.

  4. I do like the sound of this novel. Thank you for reviewing it.

  5. I love the cover and this sounds interesting, E.M. Delafield looks like a more complex author than she first appears. (I also see you're reading Elizabeth Bowen now, hooray! I'm definitely a fan of hers.)

  6. Thank you for the inspiring review. I have only read 'Provincial Lady' and enjoyed it but I need to add this to my TBR too. She sounds like such a multi-faceted and surprising author.

  7. I finished Thank Heaven Fasting last night and loved it! I'm happy I have this one on my shelf, and look forward to reading it (and finding out which path Laura chooses!). I see you're reading Elizabeth Bowen--I hope you like her--I read a few of her books years ago but not this one--looking forward to hearing about it!

  8. Another book which is new to me. I liked the only Delafield I read so this is another one for the TBR.

  9. Audrey, Thank Heaven, Fasting is definitely on my wishlist but lucky you for having The Way Things Are already on your shelf. I hope you enjoy it every bit as much as I did!

    Anbolyn, Sorry to leave you hanging there, my friend! You're in for a fun read though once you get your hands on a copy.

    bookssnob, Such a shame about Delafield's personal life but thank goodness for her writing. Do give this book another try at some point, Rachel. Just let the story unfold and I assure you it will be better second time around.

    Joan, Always a pleasure!

    Carolyn, Delafield is such a talented author. I've read three of her books now and each has been a wonderfully different experience.

    Started my Bowen last night and am thoroughly hooked!

    Rochester Reader, Do not hesitate to pick this one up at some point and do let me know how you get on with it!

    Danielle, As I was reading this one I had that same feeling of being so glad that I had bought it. And I just got going on the it so far!

    Mystica, You are going to be needing some new shelves with so many books tempting you!

  10. My copy of this (2nd hand, of course) has just arrived and I shall read it after Holtby's South Riding which I'm enjoying enormously.

  11. You have left me desperate to find out what path Laura chose. Certainly the sign of a good review :o)