Thursday, May 30, 2019

Classics Spin #20: The Misses Mallet by E. H. Young

I love participating in the Classics Club Spins -- it's always fun to have someone else pick a book for you. I really want to read everything on my Classics Club list (and on all the TBR shelves, really!) and the periodic Spin challenges usually behoove me to read something that's been languishing on the shelves. I've had really good luck with all my Spin picks and I'm nearly always glad I read them.

This Spin pick was no different -- The Misses Mallett (originally published as The Bridge Dividing), published in 1922. I'd read Young's award-winning novel Miss Mole last year, so I was happy to finally tackle The Misses Mallett. Like Miss Mole, the novel is largely set in Radstowe (a fictionalized version of Bristol), probably around the Edwardian era.

In the first section of the book, the Misses Mallett are three sisters living in Nelson Lodge: Caroline, Sophie, and their much younger half-sister Rose. Caroline and Sophie are probably in their forties when the book starts -- they're more than twenty years older than Rose, the child of their father's second marriage. When her mother died in childbirth, Caroline and Sophie cared for Rose as though she were their own child. The Misses Mallett are from an old family and are financially independent. Neither had any desire to marry, though they spend a lot of time reminiscing about their old beaus and romantic conquests. Caroline, the dominant older sister, seems quite proud to have been a bit of a flirt in her day, and Sophie, who is shyer and dreamier, secretly pines for a long-lost lover her sister never knew about.

Rose is in her early twenties, and Caroline and Sophie think she is fit for a king. However, they really expect her to marry a local landowner, Francis Sales, who's known Rose since they were children. Rose seems indifferent to Francis, who goes off in a huff to Canada and shocks everyone when he returns with a bride, Christabel, and there's a big plot twist.

E. H. Young, 1932. From the National Portrait Gallery, UK

Later, the fourth Miss Mallett arrives: Henrietta, their niece, whom they have never met. Her father Reginald (the younger brother of the oldest Miss Malletts) is a bit of a ne'er-do-well and was disinherited by his father, though he shows up periodically looking for money. Eventually his only child is orphaned and has grown up in straightened circumstances, but her aunts welcome her with open arms.

Henrietta was her father's daughter, willful and lovable, but she was also the daughter of that mother who had been good and loving. Henrietta had her father's passion for excitement, but being a woman, she had the greater need of being loved. 

Eventually, there is a love triangle which becomes a love quadrangle, and then (I suppose) a quintangle. (Is that even a real word? Or would it be a pentangle?) Nevertheless, it all becomes very muddled, and there is another family involved, and more plot twists. The ending was a little predictable, but satisfying, though I wouldn't have minded if it had gone a different way. I really enjoyed this novel -- the female characters were all very distinctive and well-drawn, though Francis Sales was a bit flat. And the writing was excellent, with lovely descriptions. A great Spin pick!

E. H. Young was a very popular writer in the first half of the century, and published eleven novels and two children's books before her death in 1949. I'm pretty sure all of her novels are out of print, though several were reprinted by Virago Modern Classics and most of them are easily available as reasonably priced used paperbacks. I still have three more of her novels on the TBR shelves, all VMC editions: Jenny Wren; William; and Chatterton Square, which I've been wanting to read ever since Simon and Rachel discussed it on Episode 40 of Tea or Books?, my favorite bookish podcast.

Bloggers, did you participate in the Classics Club Spin? How did you like your pick? And should I just poll my readers to choose my next book?


  1. I love the sound of this one! I'll have to add it to my classics list. :)

  2. I've had a couple of Young's novels on my shelf for some time now (this one and William) but somehow never got around to them, despite glowing reviews. Misses Mallett sounds great -- maybe I'll finally get going on it!

  3. I must add this to my classics list, thanks!

  4. I've never heard of Young, and this book sounds delightful! I'm always happy to come across lesser-known writers, especially women and POC. I'll be adding her to my list!

  5. I loved your post, especially since Young is one of my favorite authors. If you are not familiar with the companion book to Jenny Wren, let me recommend it: The Curate's Wife. (The two books are about 2 sisters.) This one is one of my 20 favorite books I've ever read (and I'm 69). I'm so glad you highlighted this writer.

  6. I love Young but was a bit disappointed in this one, so I'm glad you had a better experience with it!


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