My Friend Martha's Aunt by Jane Duncan

published 1962 chapter 1 set in the early 1950s

A woman stood in the doorway, tall, magnificent, resplendent in a tight gown of purple velvet, her shoulders rising from the corsage, pale and with the texture of old ivory. Her hair, fluid and smooth, like thick black oil, seemed to coat the bones of her skull and flow back to solidify in the large shining knot at the nape of her neck. Under her noble white brow, her long, slumberous eyes moved slowly and lazily as the head turned on a neck slender, pliant and boneless as a lily stem and, having given the waiter a smile that made no movement of muscle in her face but gave an impression of sunlight crossing water, she moved beside her escort down the room, in a sinuous flow like a wave passing over the surface of a river.

“Who is that?” I whispered…

observations:  And on to the next Jane Duncan book, the 6th in the series. In this particular case, the entry comes just because that is such a great description that I really wanted to find a picture to go with it: the book - in which Janet and her husband Twice are living in the West Indies, and agree to keep an eye out for a friend’s relative who is coming visiting – is scarcely worth it.

One of the many mysteries of this series (others include: who bought them?) is that many of the Friends of the title are in fact unpleasant people, much disliked by narrator/author Janet/Jane, so why did she pick Friends as her series theme? Martha’s Aunt is very much unloved, but is an excuse for Janet to go on and on and on about race relations on the island, in a manner which is fairly horrifying to modern sensibilities, and to describe the woman above, Linda Lee, and her appearance and clothes, a lot. Her husband is very taken with LL, but we can tell that Janet is not at all jealous, because she has such a strong faith in her husband.

He accuses her at one point of being sad ‘you look as though somebody had stolen your scone.’ I had only ever come across this splendid phrase once*, and had given that writer credit for inventing it, but no, it is an old Scottish saying.

* Harry Ritchie’s Almost a Grown-Up:
'Not being funny,' says Annabelle. Redundantly, because Annabelle looks like somebody has stolen her scone. Also, Annabelle, to the best of my knowledge, has never been funny in her life.
This, for comparison purposes, is a sample Duncan sentence:
I do not know how I played myself into the position of confidante to Martha’s aunt - it was one of those things that simply come to pass – for I remember that she made me feel extremely cross the first time that Sir Ian, Sandy and I went down to see her after that Sunday that we lunched at the Peak.
So another mystery is: no editor?

Links on the blog: click on Jane Duncan below to find reviews of her other Friends books. This early entry from Dorothy L Sayers explains the use of the word corsage above.

The picture is from the Dovina is devine II photostream.


  1. Moira - Well, perhaps I'll give the book a miss, but I do absolutely love that 'photo. No wonder you wanted to share it. and I do love your comments about the book. I was chuckling the whole way through; thanks for that. I like your sense of humour.

    1. Thanks Margot, and yes I was glad to find that picture.


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