Friday, 3 July 2015

The Echoing Grove by Rosamond Lehmann 2



published 1953



Echoing Grove



Out of the corner of an eye he took in her appearance, thinking she looked a bit garish: petunia pink evening frock, a colour he disliked, white fur wrap, diamond clips and earrings, make-up overdone, blue-shadowed eyelids between frowning forehead and hard anxious stare. She was beginning to plaster it on, he thought, like all the rest of them. All but one…

‘Very pretty, very nice. Not quite sure about the colour. Nice, I think, Yes. New?’ Tumbler in hand, he slightly jerked his head towards her.

This thing! Heavens no. Really Rickie, you’ve seen it half a dozen times.’

[Later, they are dancing:] She saw their reflections in the wall of mirrors at one end of the room – an ungratifying spectacle: a not-so-young woman dressed rather showily, like a rather respectable tart, her hair set unbecomingly, trying to adapt herself to the slack grasp and shuffle of a bored and exhausted-looking man.
 
 
observations: Should be read in conjunction with Tuesday’s entry on the book, which explains the plot.

Before coming home to his wife, Rickie has seen the other sister, Dinah who ‘wears her hair shoulder-length, rolled under, she wears a mackintosh and carries a shabby suitcase.’ Meanwhile, Rickie himself ‘has a virile sensuous distinction, a prosperous suit of clothes. Upper-class philanderer caught in a fatal net…’


Echoing Grove 4Lehmann doesn’t always describe the clothes, but when she does they are dead on.
Two days later he stopped his car at her door , and she emerged, pale in a lime green linen suit, and took her place beside him.
Later on the mysterious Georgie (a woman) will be wearing dark-red slacks with a striped blouse. She has one of the best lines in the book – when she first meets Rickie (he is sliding in late to a dinner party next to her) she says ‘What have you lost?’ and then ‘[You’ve] a look on your face as if you were wondering where you could possibly have left something or other.’ This makes Rickie see her as tremendously perspicacious, and it has always struck me as the most perfect chatup line.

It is a very intelligent and very romantic book. One of CiB’s favourite poems is (slightly mis-)quoted – Heart of the Heartless World. And there are a couple of lines from a William Blake poem that resonate through the pages, and are of huge importance to Dinah:
Throughout all eternity I forgive you and you forgive me.
-- there is a reference to a grove in the same poem, though not in a way that explains the title to me.

There is a film of the book, called The Heart of Me, again, for no clear reason that I can see - if you are going to change the title, why not change it to something resonant? But that is my only criticism of the film, which is completely beautiful and perfect. Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams play the sisters, with Paul Bettany as Rickie, and the whole thing is a masterpiece – though one that almost no-one has seen. Anyone in need of a great film of relationships, a period drama with wonderful 1930s clothes and settings, perfect casting and acting, should get hold of it at once.

One of the IMDB comments on the film gives this excellent summing up of Dinah’s morally ambiguous behaviour:
She is wracked with regret and despair over the consequences of her affair. But in the thick of it, she is absolutely shameless.
The writing in the book is all rather wonderful. There is a lovely description of a street in wartime London, where life goes on despite the bombing:
These children leaping with infinite tomorrows, that woman putting her baby out to sleep, that other growing flowers…
There is a discussion of another woman – a rival:
‘Steel-true wanton, I rather thought. Well-developed figure, trinkets, head scarves, cheek-bones, on the grubby side. New Statesman girl. Not nasty.’
‘She sounds appalling.’
‘N-no.’ Dinah shrugged. ‘Just not our sort.’

As if a New Statesman girl could be like that.

This book will not be to everyone’s taste, but if you think you like the sound of it at all, you should try it, and watch the film too. I am so hoping that Open Road Media succeed in getting the word out about Rosamond Lehmann, and that there might be a renewal of interest in her.

The black and white photo is from The Vintage tumblr. The green linen suit is from the NYPL.

















16 comments:

  1. I agree with you completely, Moira, on the clothes. Great descriptions and really effective at adding character depth. And it does sound like a fascinating look at relationships, to say nothing of the lifestyle of the period. It's good to hear some of these books are getting new audiences through outlets such as Open Road Media.

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    1. Yes Margot - this is the perfect book for me, but I'm sure there's something for everyone on the Open Road list - they have some great crime stories too. Such a good thing that they are becoming available again.

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    2. I added it to my to-read list. It sounds steamy, wonderful, with really good prose.

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    3. That's a great and accurate description of it - I think you'll like it if you're in the right mood for it.

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  2. Moira: And I thought lime green was a '70's concoction though I do see it about a bit this summer. I still think I have a lime green shirt tucked in a distant corner of a closet. Fortunately, I never had a lime green leisure suit. Might you also have a lime green outfit deep in a closet?

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    1. This is just between you and me, right Bill? Actually in a long-ago blogpost there was a description of a 1980s young woman:

      a pink cotton boiler-suit, many top buttons left untouched and a tight belt to cinch her figure at the waist.

      And I said: Nothing can be proved about how I know that this is not as unlikely as it sounds in a sensible, career-minded and professional person working in the media at that time.

      Let's just add that mine wasn't pink, and leave you to guess what colour it was...

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    2. My mum has an apple-green one that she has worn as a painting overall ever since I can remember. I can't quite imagine her ever wearing it as a fashion garment, but she must have bought it for some reason other than as an overall!!!

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    3. The secrets are coming out now Daniel! When I had a big birthday and party, I had a table-full of fashion items I had saved down the years, which was very popular with the guests (especially the ones the same age as me) and the green jumpsuit featured prominently.

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    4. Moira: My computer is sealed. The fashion police will never hear from me.

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    5. I knew I could trust you with my secret, Bill....

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  3. If I don't ever get to the book, maybe I will try the movie. Assuming I can find it.

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    1. If you can, do watch it Tracy - I was able to pick up a copy quite cheaply, and was so glad I had...

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  4. Blake wrote a poem called the Ecchoing Green - any help? It contains a line used by George Orwell for an essay about prep schools.

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    1. Oh right - I always thought that was a great phrase, but never knew (nor tried to find out) where it came from. Not cheerful is it? Maybe that was what Lehmann had in mind. Her thoughts seem to be a cross between that poem and one called (equally cheerily) Broken Love.

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  5. Hmm, definitely not one for me. I'm glad you enjoyed it though.

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    1. No, you're definitely let off this one, even if you didn't have an embargo.

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