Martin… compromised with a dark suit and a white shirt [and] arrived punctually at 9.15. It was not Lise who admitted him, it was a man-servant. Martin entered the sitting-room.
Very discreet was Lise in dusky blue muslin, full-skirted, cut a little away from her white shoulders…
[Later] During the weeks that followed, Lise Lillywhite’s life became greatly altered. Martin stood like aa spectator on the sidelines, observant, almost painfully interested, but without any active part: it was Count Stanislas Dombrowski who guided Lise’s steps on her second excursion into the wide world…. In company with the Count, Lise was permitted to go to the theatre at night.
Naturally Tante Amelie always went with them, and they went nowhere but to the opera or the ballet… they were often all four at the same performances, when Martin, wearing his office suit, came down during the interval to the staircase avove the foyer, to see Lise make her entry below….
She wore her smoky muslin, and a tippet of white fur [and] gardenias or camellias in her hair.
observations: Those of us who love Margery Sharp pass on recommendations to one another, titles we may have missed. I thought Barb at Leaves and Pages told me about this one, but maybe not. Whoever it was, thank you.
I loved this book, and I’m sure will read it again – it could go on my list of Books Like I Capture the Castle (young girls winning through) though it is not exactly one of them. We see so little of the book from Lise’s point of view – for most of the time she is a complete blank to us (she should have been played by Audrey Hepburn in a film). When she does suddenly make a stand and speak out, it is a big surprise to the reader – her moral preoccupations are odd and specific.
We see the action pretty much through the eyes of Martin above: he is Lise’s first cousin, 34 to her 17, and has fallen for her but feels he can’t do anything about it.
She is impoverished, living with relations in London after WW2 – she has something of the women I mentioned in a post on this Linda Grant book, like a Brookner woman – and the rather dashing Count, above belongs with the riffraff from Matthew Sweet’s wonderful book about the wartime West End Front. This is a romantic comedy, or comedy of manners, but must be almost unique in that virtually no reader could guess how it is going to come out. I guessed one early plot item, but beyond that I had no idea what to expect.
It paints such a marvellous picture of post-war England (rather like Barbara Pym) – the country relations trying to make the farm pay, the boys’ prep school, the ‘arty tarty’ girls in a flat having parties with sausages frying on a gasring. Once you start noticing nylons they pop up everywhere (see my Guardian piece here): they are currency in this one, smuggled and stolen.
Tante Amelie is one of Sharp’s great creations:
When Tante Amelie expected one to leave, one left; she simply ceased to continue the conversation, let her end of it fall like the end of a skipping-rope.After she has some success at a party Tante Amelie says, complacently, ‘I think some of the flappers there were a little surprised to see such attentions paid an old woman; perhaps it will teach them that lipstick is not everything.’
The Count is also excellent – you cannot take against him, even though he is shown as rather worthless. You suspect Sharp, like many of her heroines, had a hard time trying to resist the bad boys of life….
I have yet to find a Margery Sharp book that I dislike, and this one will now come high up my list of favourites. Click on the Sharp label below to see entries on The Eye of Love, The Nutmeg Tree, and Something Light.