Sunday, 1 January 2017

Xmas and New Year: Party & Aftermath



Every year I do a series of Xmas & New Year entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. You can see some of the pictures in this entry, and find (endless!) more Xmas books via the tags at the bottom of the page.


Angel Pavement by JB Priestley

 
published 1930


 
Angel Pavement New Year
 


There was just time for another dance, and then it was twelve o’clock. Everybody was silent for a moment. At the end of that moment, they all behaved like men and women who had been reprieved in the very shadow of the gallows, which is perhaps how they saw themselves.

Never before had Miss Matfield seen such a raising and clinking of glasses, so much backslapping, handshaking, embracing and kissing. Something-insky kissed the little girl in the fur-trimmed jacket and the secretary girl from the legation, and then kissed Miss Matfield’s hand fifteen times while the girl in the fur-trimmed coat, who had suddenly burst into tears, kissed her on the cheek. Mr. Golspie shook her by the hand, then gave her a big hug. It was at this moment that the only unpleasant event of the evening occurred. Once or twice before, Miss Matfield had had to escape from a tall bleary-eyed man, one of the very few Englishmen there, who was rather drunk and had been bent on dancing with her. Now he suddenly lurched into the middle of their little group, murmuring something about a happy New Year, and tried to embrace her. Mr Golspie, however, stepped forward smartly, and with one shove of his heavy shoulder sent the man reeling back.

 
 
commentary: Another seasonal entry from this marvellous book.

When Miss Matfield gets home from the New Year party:
She was tired, rather cold, and her head ached. There floated into her mind, as if borne there by white virginal sails, the comforting thought of aspirin and her hot-water bottle.
Surely the fate of many New Year revellers, then and now.

I said before that this book was surprisingly modern – for example, there’s a young woman who is being competed for by her divorced parents - but there are also excellent details of the time:
A man who never wore a tie couldn’t possibly have a wife, unless of course he left home with a tie and then took it off.
Mr Smeath is contrasting his own family with his wife’s:
When they met, it meant business. Four of them had not spoken to one another for ten years, all because of two cottage houses in Highbury. His wife’s lot would have sold the pair and eaten and drunk away the proceeds in less than a week.
I liked this description, which immediately conjured up a picture:
she made her way to the tea room, which was not very full though it looked vaguely as if it had just been wrecked by a revolutionary mob.
And the book contains one of the great disastrous dinner parties of all time.

There are so many books this would remind you of: Dickens, and Norman Collins’ London Belongs to Me, for the picture of London. And the young woman above lives in a club for singles, just like the Girls of Slender Means, although she’s also as modern as Bridget Jones.

Picture is one of the NYPL’s huge collection of New Year cards.
















15 comments:

  1. A terrific choice for your New Year's Day post, Moira. It sometimes surprises me how very modern some of those GA novels are in some ways. Perhaps it's that they touch on universal experiences? At any rate, thanks for sharing this one, and may you have a good 2017.

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    1. Thanks Margot, and yes this is a really interesting read, for its mixture of very old ideas and very new ones!

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  2. One of my New Year's resolutions (that I intend to keep!) is to read more Priestley and Maugham. I have one of Priestley's less well known novels BENIGHTED, which he was apparently rather ashamed of. It was only his second book, and is about as far from THE GOOD COMPANIONS as can possibly be imagined. Trying to get out of a terrible storm, a group of travellers find themselves converging at house of the Femms. There's Horace Femm, who's on the run from the Police, Rebecca the religious fanatic, Sir Roderick the bedridden 102-year old head of the family, and the terrible Saul whom they have to keep locked in the attic and is only kept in check by the mute,giant, alcoholic butler Morgan. There's a pretty awful dinner party in it as well...
    It was turned into one of my favourite films THE OLD DARK HOUSE back in 1932, with Boris Karloff as Morgan and I understand that a stage version has just be performed in London. I wonder if this is the year that Priestley is going to start swimming back into the public consciousness.

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    1. Oh, The Old Dark House I do know about, without ever realizing it was Priestley. His play The Inspector Calls has been revived to extraordinary success, but there seems to be a feel that it is the modern production which has made it good, whereas it was always there in the play. I thought it might lead to a revival in interest in him, but I don't think so at all. Shame.

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    2. Oh, I never knew that either. Cool!

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    3. I know - such an interesting man, with such a lot to say.

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  3. The more I hear about this book the better it sounds. If only I did not have so many books and it was not so long.

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    1. I know the feeling well Tracy! If you find a cheap copy buy it...

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  4. I couldn't read Benighted. But I've reread Lost Empires many times. Revisiting the music hall, seen from the 60s. It has grit, grime, raunch and ingenuity (the hero works with a magic act).

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  5. ...and it even has clothes, when they climb back into them.

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    1. Oh I loved Lost Empires, such a good book. And actually I think the TV version of it was very good too, did you see that?
      BTW I think it was you who nudged me to read Angel Pavements, ages ago when we were discussing girls living in hostels - and I don't think I have given you credit! Take a bow.

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  6. Love the comment about not wearing a tie if you're not married. This was the time before it was wedding rings men took off if they wanted to pass as single...

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    1. It hadn't even occurred to me that a man might do it deliberately! The signs and signifiers of a different age are so fascinating and unguessable.

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  7. Ok, Moira, I HAVE to read this one (or rather re-read - I read it as a teenager - fourteen or so and was very moved by it - curious to know if it will still have the same effect on me).

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    1. Yes - it's long, quite a commitment, but when I finished it I just kept thinking I don't know why it's not an accepted classic of London life and of its era.

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