The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp

published 1937

One of the visitors in particular was holding her attention – a young woman so exquisitely appointed, and so consciously superior, both to her host and to the Pernollet [restaurant], that Julia had christened her the Disgusted Lady. She wore a huge white motor-coat, cut with the utmost elegance out of the coarsest linen, which – with an air of wishing to retain as many protective layers as possible between her person and her surroundings – she refused to take off. Julia was sorry for this, since she wanted to see what the Disgusted Lady wore underneath, but the gesture filled her with admiration. A string of pearls, a white buckskin sandal, were the only accessories visible…

[Probably] in the whole of France there wasn’t a hat she would be seen dead in. Julia could just picture her at the milliner’s, flinging model after model asideand sweeping disgustedly out. That such was her practice was evident from her companion’s face, which wore a permanent expression of mingled pride and apology.

observations: Should be read with earlier entry explaining the plot of the book.

The Disgusted Lady has no real role in the book, though she turns up later ‘in ice-blue slipper-satin’, dancing with and despising a professional partner. But she’s memorable and makes you smile, which is why Julia admires her. And that’s enough really. It’s also significant that her daughter Susan thinks the Disgusted Lady is dreadful.

The Nutmeg Tree is very funny, with Julia’s mother-in-law determined that Julia should open a cake-shop – she is busy writing to all her friends and finding recipes for shortbread, in a modern novel we would probably get the recipes included – and the two of them, when Susan is described as having a positively masculine mind, are ‘the kind of women pleased by such a remark.’ But they aren’t too bad: when the subject of Suffragettes comes up, the mother-in-law unexpectedly says ‘It must have been dreadful chaining oneself to the railings…. But I’m sure I could have broken a shop-window.”

Links on the blog: The book brings to mind many others (quite apart from Sharp's own Something Light, featured recently): Julia abandons her child just as Linda does in Pursuit of Love, the sideplot of the trapeze and high wire artistes is much as in Josephine Bell’s Inheritance Mystery, while Julia herself is very reminiscent of another Julia – the blog favourite from Maugham’s Theatre. Even Mauriac's Therese Desqueyroux has her similarities with her.

The picture is yet again from the Dovima is devine II Flickr stream


  1. Moira - Oh, I can pick up the wit just from the snippets you've provided. I can see that disgusted lady flinging hats aside too... Thanks as always for the fine review. And you make an interesting observation about modern novels that include recipes. I really need to do a post on that development in crime fiction actually. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Recipes in books is an interesting question Margot, and I'll look forward to reading your take on it. The first novel I remember having recipes was Nora Ephron's Heartburn in 1983, but I don't know when food-themed detective stories took off...


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