|Nice cover on this Virago Modern Classic edition. It reminds me of a vintage travel poster.|
Pomfret Towers is #6 in the series and was published in 1938. The story begins with an invitation to a weekend house party. (I kept imagining it set in pre-war Highclere Castle AKA Downton Abbey, which I just visited in the UK; I'll post about it soon). The elderly Lord Pomfret is having a group for the weekend and is looking for some young people, so he invites Guy and Alice Barton, the young adult children of one of his tenants. Mr. Barton is a successful architect and his wife is a successful writer of historical novels. Guy works for his father and Alice, shy and delicate, is terrified of the idea of spending a weekend with a lot of smart and fashionable people. She warily accepts after Lord Pomfret tells her to bring along her friends Roddy and Sally Wicklow. Rowdy works for Lord Pomfret's agent, and Sally is a quintessential country girl who loves dogs and horses and is quite jolly.
The house party gets under way and Alice is taken under the wing of the beautiful Phoebe Rivers, a sort of cousin to Lord Pomfret, who is visiting with her brother Julian, a rather spoiled artist-type, and their overbearing mother, Hermione, another novelist. Mrs. Rivers' primary purpose in the visit is to get Phoebe paired off with Lord Pomfret's heir apparent, Giles Foster. The house also party includes Mr. Johns, one of the partners of Mrs. Rivers' publishing firm, who is not convinced that the income from her books is worth the trouble of putting up with her.
Most of the story is taken up with the possible pairings-off between the various young people and the chagrin of Mrs. Rivers when these silly youths don't follow her wishes. There are also some very funny bits about writers and publishers. Our omniscient narrator gives us some of Mr. Johns' more amusing thoughts, as well as Lady Pomfret's steadfast secretary Miss Merriman, in whom the unbearable Mrs. Rivers has met her match.
. . . [Mrs. Rivers] was forced to fall back on the interesting subject of herself and tell Miss Merriman how many signed photographs she gave away last year. If Miss Merriman had had real tact she would have asked whether Mrs. Rivers could possibly spare her one, but she merely remarked that she must get one of Mrs. Rivers' books from the library as soon as she had time to do some reading, and that Lady Pomfret had had Mrs. Rivers' last book on the [waiting] list ever since it came out but hadn't got it yet. Whether Miss Merriman knew how annoying this was to Mrs. Rivers, who have liked the libraries to buy enough copies for all the subscribers, we are not in a position to say. (p. 129)
I really enjoyed this book -- it was light and funny, if a bit predictable. It was pretty easy to guess who was going to end up with whom, though there were some amusing minor plot twists. Also, in previous Thirkell books there have been occasional racist remarks which made me uncomfortable (though I do realize anti-Semitism was pretty common among the middle and upper classes during that period); this book, thankfully, didn't have any that I remember.
And now for some alternate book covers!
This cover is from the 1980s. Is that supposed to be Deborah Kerr? Whoever she is, she looks far too old and glamorous unless she's supposed to be Mrs. Rivers. And what is that bizarre cord wrapped around her shoulder and bosom? is she being lassoed by the guy hiding in the bushes? It's all very strange.
I suppose this one is better, it's the Moyer-Bell edition from 2007. Their covers are generally good (though I have found some egregious typographical errors in the text). I don't know enough about fashion history to know if this dress is period-appropriate. I don't have this edition so I don't know the source of the cover image.
The original cover. I do love how it explains Thirkell is the "author of 'August Folly' and other delightful novels.' Even her own publisher thinks her books are delightful, so it must be true!
Anyway, of the five Thirkell novels I've read so far, this was definitely my favorite and I'm very much looking forward to the next 24 (!) books in the series. I already own about a dozen in Moyer-Bell editions that I picked up at Half-Price Books back in Texas, though there are a few volumes in the series which are difficult to find and can be pricey.
After considering, I have decided to count this as my Classic by a Woman Author -- Thirkell wrote this book eighty years ago and it's still in print, so I'm calling that a classic. That makes ten books read for the Back to the Classics challenge, only two left to go!