Friday, January 28, 2011
The Way Things Are by E.M.Delafield
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.