The Dower House by Patricia Wentworth


published 1925






[excerpt from the book]



In the middle of their walk home Edward Berkeley surprised his wife by asking: “What was that thing that Amabel was wearing under her coat? A lot of women wear them now, and I suppose I ought to know what they are called.”

“It was a yellow jumper,” said Susan Berkeley. “She knitted it herself.”

“It was a very pleasing colour—rather like the old rose on the north wall, the one my mother was so fond of—I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the name.”

“It’s a Gloire de Dijon.” 




“Yes,” said Edward, “that’s it. My mother used to call them Glories. It’s a very pleasing colour. I remember, Susan, that you had a dress of that shade when we were engaged. When I was looking at Amabel this afternoon I remembered that it suited you very well. It is a colour that I am fond of. You don’t ever wear it now.”

“My dear Edward, you forget that I haven’t got Amabel’s complexion.”

“No, no, of course not,” said Edward innocently, “and you are older, some years older. Amabel is a very charming person—don’t you think so, my dear?”

“Oh, yes,” said Susan Berkeley.

“Yes, I thought a good deal about Amabel this afternoon. I felt sorry for her.” He put his hand inside his wife’s arm and patted it. “We’re so happy. It makes one sorry for all the other people.” 






comments: Another Patricia Wentworth-as-ideal-lockdown-reading after the recent The Case is Closed – this is from our great friends at Dean Street Press, and has an introduction by my friend Curtis Evans. It does not feature Miss Silver.

There are aspects that would drive you mad about this – and as usual you will see some plot turns coming a mile off (those casually dropped-in remarks about what’s in the news…) But it is great fun, and genuinely creepy at times. Brave Amabel (who reads like one of those Angela Thirkell Mary Sue characters – the much-loved widow who manages to stay happy) agrees to live in The Dower House for six months. She can have it for free if she stays that long and not a moment less. It is reported to be haunted…

The reason she needs to save the money is so that her daughter can have a holiday in Egypt. This daughter, Daphne, scarcely appears in the book, but is a hilarious monster of absolute selfishness, lack of consideration and silliness: everyone seems to think she is just a bit ditsy. (Of course in real life you would know that lovely laughing Amabel did bring her up, so must take some blame.) Her insistence that her mother must starve in order to finance the holiday is utterly bizarre, but essential to set up the plot, and off we go… Someone or some thing, real or supernatural, is set on making life uncomfortable in the house.

There is an annoying older sister, introduced with this splendidly ambiguous sentence:

She was five years older than Amabel, and looked fifteen, in spite, or perhaps because of, beautifully tinted golden hair.

[spoiler: she does not look as though she is 15 years old]

And a lot of strange people who act oddly. There is – as seems essential in any Wentworth book – a long-lost early boyfriend of Amabel’s for her to quarrel with exhilaratingly. (HE’LL soon see off Daphne’s foibles, you get the feeling: a no-nonsense stepfather). There are two characters called Julian, for no good reason, a typical Wentworth carelessness.

But then - in every book by her, there is something that catches me, beyond her clich├ęs and familiar tropes, and makes me think she was a good writer, as well as an enjoyable one. I think the passage above is beautifully-written and beautifully-expressed, and charming and moving.

Lovely whimsical Amabel gives this as her reason for disliking one of her daughter’s friends:

“Well, I expect it was her magenta lips.” 

Always good to be reminded that bright enhancements aren’t confined to our own times.


One of my all-time favourite Georgette Heyer books, The Unknown Ajax, (which inexplicably has never appeared on the blog) also features a Dower House being used for nefarious purposes, and having a reputation for being haunted, for quite similar plot reasons.

Jeanne Hebutaire in a yellow sweater is by Modigliani.
That’s a David Austin Gloire de Dijon rose in the picture.
The third picture shows ladies picking roses…

Comments

  1. I agree with you, Moira, that Wentworth is great lockdown reading. And as soon as you mentioned the long-lost boyfriend, I nodded and smiled - yep, Wentworth. The creepy haunting (or is it?) can work really well, too. Reminds me that I haven't read Wentworth just lately...

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    1. When you need a real comfort read Margot! And we're all needing a lot of that at the moment..

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  2. *Rushes to Amazon* to be told, 'You bought this item in November 2016'. Oh joy, it's waiting on the Kindle and will be my next read.

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    1. Oh I know that feeling. At least kindle tells you! The world divides into those who can absolutely understand how you could accidentally buy 2 copies of the same book, and those who are astonished by the idea...

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  3. Not one that sings out to me. Surprised? Probably not.

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    1. If I find a Patricia Wentworth with a serial killer in I will pass on the name to you, I promise. Till then...

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  4. I have an aged yellow jumper the exact shade of the one in the portrait but, sadly, I am the wrong height and shape to be a Modigliani lady!

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    1. It was a very specific look the artist had....
      I love old jumpers, very hard to part with a favourite old one. And, I was watching a youtube video of someone cooking, and I became obsessed by the jumper, very nearly that colour, really wanted to know where she got it from!

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  5. I've always loved Wentworth, but even so, can't pretend some of her books aren't awful. But as you say, there is that certain something... and yes, I constantly find myself relying on amazon to know what I've already bought. :)

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    1. I think I forgive the bad bits because at least they are short books and quite easy and quick to read. And although silly in places, this one had some energy and drive..

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  6. I still have not read one of Wentworth's books that does not feature Miss Silver. Someday I will.

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    1. Plenty to choose from, Tracy, in both categories. I do slightly prefer Miss Silver, and am spinning them out by putting in the standalones every now and again.

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  7. Please, please, please create a post about The Unknown Ajax!! Georgette Heyer has been MY lockdown reading and I just finished TUA. So many possibilities!!

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    1. Oh now I want to read it again. I love, love that book: you are right, I must do it...

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