Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Hunt the Slipper by Violet Trefusis

published 1937






The day he had met Caroline she was wearing an old and shapeless tweed. Now he realized that the old and shapeless tweed hid a young and shapely body; in his youth she would have been considered too thin and her broad muscular shoulders unfeminine, but today there wasn’t a mannequin who would not envy her. Paris had been at her, too, her dress was a masterpiece of line. Her hair, freed from all restraints, grew back from her forehead in short stubborn curls, like the blunt little waves on old maps. She looked dangerous and vigilant, as though she were pursuing some secret plan, as though she were bent over some chained missal in forbidden archives. Then suddenly she laughed up at her partner and her laugh triumphantly routed the purpose of her face, setting it at naught, putting you and it in the wrong. One saw then that she was in love with him.



observations: In an earlier entry on Trefusis’s book Echo I mentioned Michael Holroyd’s theory that she suffers because she has no natural supporters, no-one to burnish her reputation. And if you have read a lot about her via other people, a lot of it less than complimentary, it is bracing to read her own books - because they are surprisingly good. They are seen as being of historical interest only now, though that doesn’t seem entirely fair.

This one is described as a comedy of manners, and for someone who lived a very very passionate, one might even say unrestrained, life, it is not very romantic. You can’t tell till a little way in who is to have the romance, and she moves her characters with careful restraint.

The book might be compared with those by Nancy Mitford - there is certainly a similarity with the cavalier disregard of daughters – Margaret in Hunt the Slipper, Moira in Pursuit of Love – the child isn’t even mentioned until half way through this book, it’s quite a surprise when she turns up. (Perhaps it is relevant that both Mitford and Trefusis were childless). But in fact the book reminded me more of EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books, poking gentle fun at people’s emotions: Mitford takes them more seriously.

The title comes in this really rather wonderful sentence: 
Love passed from one to the other, furtive, unseizable, like the slipper in ‘Hunt the Slipper’. 
Another clever, memorable line comes here: Caroline, the heroine, thinking about her infatuation with an earlier lover, says: 
she naturally had relapses about Melo, relapses she had taught herself to dramatize, so they hurt less. (You can wriggle out of clothes that are too big for you.) 
Two of the key settings in the book are called Random and Ambush… The critic Lorna Sage wrote about the book for a Virago edition, and says that the main character, Nigel, and his house, Ambush, seem to represent Violet herself and her home in France.

Letters are a huge issue in this book, as in much of Trefusis’s work. Partly this shouts out to the modern reader because communications have changed so much – both main characters are constantly working out how long before they can expect a reply to a letter to the loved one. When Abroad is involved this can mean ‘a week Friday.’ But -
Had she written? Would she write? Here was a letter, dared he open it?
- there are also letters torn up, letters unsent, letters that the writer knows should have been torn up. And, vitally, right at the very end, there is a letter that someone should have opened and didn’t…. It is an intriguing and memorable twist. (I first read this book some 30 years ago, and was surprised to find I had remembered the twist the wrong way round…)

Caroline wears chauffeur’s overalls at one point, and in this and other ways resembles the heroine of Rose Macaulay’s Crewe Train. Two of the characters read a book by blog favourite Norman Collins – not an author I was expecting to find in this milieu, ‘about the world and the ways of the commercial traveller’.

A character orders an Americano in a cafĂ© – but this is not a long espresso, but a Campari-based cocktail.

The picture is of the actress Anna Neagle in 1931.

When I did an earlier entry on a Violet Trefusis book, a helpful reader pointed me in the direction of this site: www.Violettrefusis.com 

8 comments:

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    1. No surprises there then.... tomorrow MIGHT be more to your taste.

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  2. Moira - I do like that description in the snippet that you shared. And it sounds as though this one is a look at the era as much as it is a focus on the plot. That whole point about letters is especially interesting to me, since as you say, we don't really communicate that way now. Certainly letters allow for a lot of plot twists.

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    1. Yes, this book really got me thinking about letters - even people (like me) who lived many years with the old slow systems can sometimes forget just how much things have changed. It's an interesting topic....

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  3. I like the sound of the comparison to the Mapp and Lucia books - OK, I am intrigued - ta!

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    1. I enjoyed it enormously, hope you will too if you try it....

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  4. Ah, I have this unread on my shelf. So far it's been an owning-is-just-the-same-as-reading category... ;-)

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    1. I'm hesitant with Sergio, above, he may well like it. But YOU should definitely give it a go, I think you'll love it.

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