The Great Impersonation by E Philips Oppenheim

published 1920

Dominey was admitted at once by her maid into his wife's sitting-room. Rosamund, in a charming morning robe of pale blue lined with grey fur, had just finished breakfast. She held out her hands to him with a delighted little cry of welcome. "How nice of you to come, Everard!" she exclaimed. "I was hoping I should see you for a moment before you went off."

He raised her fingers to his lips and sat down by her side. She seemed entirely delighted by his presence, and he felt instinctively that she was quite unaffected by the event of the night before. "You slept well?" he enquired.

"Perfectly," she answered…

"I have come up to remind you that we have guests here. When are you coming down to see them?"

She laughed like a child. "You say 'we' just as though you were really my husband," she declared.

"You must not tell any one else of your fancy," he warned her.

She acquiesced at once. "Oh, I quite understand," she assured him. "I shall be very, very careful…”

observations: Clothes in Books has been spotting some great medical diagnoses lately – here and here - and there’s another fine one in this book: the woman above has had some problems. Later, a doctor will say:
When she wakes up, she'll either be herself again, without a single illusion of any sort, or -…or that part of her brain will be more or less permanently affected. However, I am hoping for the best.

Excitingly enough, this is all euphemism as to whether or not she will be able to – or should - have sex again, a subject that several characters, surprisingly, discuss a lot, if obliquely. A character would have given anything “to have been spared the torture of her sweet importunities”, because, obviously, sex might send her mad again – he is told “you may find your position an exceedingly difficult one, but, difficult though it may be, there is a plain duty before you.”

This is the second entry on this very enjoyable and funny book – we mentioned a few reservations in the earlier entry: there are some very inappropriate remarks and attitudes by modern standards, but then it wasn’t written in modern times. It was set before the First World War – the plot revolves around pre-War preparations – but written after. It certainly seems to have survived much better than those by very productive contemporaries like Sapper and Edgar Wallace. It is an early spy story, and is supposed to be one of the best ones ever written…

There is a ghostly element, and some decisive action concerning a murder in the past. There is a splendid political meeting where complaints about the frivolous nature of English manhood are interrupted by the arrival of the paperboys with news of the latest Cup Ties. A picture postcard of Norwich Castle stands in for the plans of a fortress: “but keep it dark.”

The picture is a fashion illustration, and comes from Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Moira - What an interesting perspective on mental illness. On sexuality too. I think that's one of the real appeals of crime fiction from other eras, at least for me - that look we get at other was of thinking. And I'm definitely picking up the humour in the book in this post.

    1. Yes exactly - there's nothing like contemporary literature to tell you how people really felt in the past, as opposed to what we would like them to think, or we imagine their views to have been. You can't fake that...


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