Thursday, 13 December 2012

Love at Second Sight by Ada Leverson



Whilst rooting around for a 1916 title for A Century of Books (you should have seen me, scrabbling through my books, opening covers, reading publication details, reshelving huffily) I stumbled upon Love At Second Sight by Ada Leverson.  It's the third book in The Little Ottleys, of which I have previously read the first - Love's Shadow - which was rather brilliant.  This is the only time A Century of Books has really rather compromised my reading plans - in that I skipped past the second title in the trilogy (Tenterhooks) straight to the third.  But someone had spoken on The Little Ottleys at a recent conference, and given away the plot, so it wasn't as calamitous as it could have been.

Look away if you don't want to know what happened in the first two novels... but they've (to be very brief) set up the fairly loveless marriage of Edith and Bruce; Edith falls in love with Aylmer Ross, but will not leave her husband, even when he asks for a divorce himself (having run off with another woman); he comes back to her, and everything settles down into what it had been before - which is to say, an amusing, charming, patient woman, and an exasperating man.  Bruce is best summed up by this wonderful quotation from Love's Shadow: "He often wrote letters beginning "Sir, I feel it my duty," to people on subjects that were no earthly concern of his."  As for the lovely Edith, I'll hand over to Leverson to describe her.  An author should show and not tell, as a rule, but all these qualities in Edith have been exemplified in previous books, so it is forgiveable that Leverson wants to let us know what a wonder she is, so that we can get on with the show.
She was a slim, fair, pretty woman, with more vividness and character than usually goes with her type.  Like the boy, she had long-lashed grey eyes, and blonde-cendre hair: her mouth and chin were of the Burne-Jones order, and her charm, which was great but unintentional, and generally unconscious, appealed partly to the senses and partly to the intellect.  She was essentially not one of those women who irritate all their own sex by their power (and still more by their fixed determination) to attract men; she was really and unusually indifferent to general admiration.  Still, that she was not a cold woman, not incapable of passionate feeling, was obvious to any physiognomist; the fully curved lips showed her generous and pleasure-loving temperament, while the softly glancing, intelligent, smiling eyes spoke fastidiousness and discrimination.  Her voice was low and soft, with a vibrating sound in it, and she laughed often and easily, being very ready to see and enjoy the amusing side of life.  But observation and emotion alike were instinctively veiled by a quiet, reposeful manner, so that she made herself further popular by appearing retiring.  Edith Ottley might so easily have been the centre of any group, and yet - she was not!  Women were grateful to her, and in return admitted that she was pretty, unaffected and charming.

Love At Second Sight opens with a scream.  The Ottleys' son Archie has, it seemed, used Madame Frabelle's mandolin as a cricket bat, and she is not best pleased.  And who might Madame Frabelle be, you ask?  The Ottleys want to ask much the same thing.  Their delightfully forgetful and absent-minded friend Lady Conroy introduced them (although later denied ever having heard of her, and in fact asks for an introduction herself) - and Madame Frabelle arrives for a visit.  Which has lengthened itself into many, many weeks.  She is charming, a great listener, given to understanding people - noticing their subtlest of thoughts, predicting their actions, and invariably being wrong about everything.
Indeed Edith did sincerely regard her opinion as very valuable.  She found her so invariably wrong that she was quite a useful guide. She was never quite sure of her own judgement until Madame Frabelle had contradicted it.
Madame Frabelle is determined that Edith is in love with Mr. Mitchell, another of the Ottleys acquaintances.  What neither Madame Frabelle nor Bruce notice is that Edith is in love - with Aylmer, who has returned from fighting in France with a broken leg.  Edith has to face a quandary - whether or not to leave her husband...

As I say, I haven't read Tenterhooks, where a similar story takes place, so I can only contrast this with the first book in the trilogy.  In that (again, c.f. my review here), we see a marriage which is irksome and unequal, but in a comic fashion.  All the will-they-won't-they plot concerns a multitude of other characters, none of whom have stayed in my mind, and the central Ottley marriage is stable, if awful.  Bruce's absurd lack of self-awareness is hilarious, and his terribleness as a husband is darkly humorous - in Love At Second Sight, more is at stake, and more than a punchline is likely to come out of this incompatible couple.

Which is not to say that the novel isn't funny.  It is very amusing, especially when Lady Conroy wanders onto the scene.  Ada Leverson was friends with Oscar Wilde, and his influence is apparent - if anything, rather more so than in Love's Shadow, because she turns to the epigram rather more frequently in Love At Second Sight - par example, 'she was a woman who was never surprised at anything except the obvious and the inevitable'.  Sometimes this clash of serious storyline and comic prose was a little disconcerting - I thought the balance worked better in Love's Shadow - but  this is still a wonderful little book.

Of course, what you should do is get the trilogy and read them in order!  I'll read Tenterhooks one day, and then everything will fall into place properly...

28 comments:

  1. I bought a copy of this a couple of months ago - we finally have a local bookstore with Viragos on the shelves! But I haven't read it yet, so I'm saving the rest of your post for later.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, yes, I do that - I look forward to your thoughts later!

      Delete
  2. I had been planning to read all three books for my Century since I have the Virago omnibus (it was one of the books I picked up on our day together in London) but I got distracted by other titles so it didn't happen. Maybe for A Century of Books in 2014?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha! Yes, it is a very useful trilogy - very fun, short books, and takes off three tricky years.

      Delete
  3. Another lovely coincidence - I'm halfway through Love's Shadow right now & loving it (and have sternly told myself to forget what you just said of the plot - I never look away, lol); I'll be searching out the other Ottley books asap.

    Also trying to get my brain organized enough to write a cohesive review of Diana Tutton's Guard Your Daughters, passed along to me by Claire after I mused in print on how curious I was about it due to the conflicting reviews (& yours was front & centre, Simon) I'd been reading. Splitting centre may be the best way to describe my opinion at present.

    Hapy Christmas - a bit early, I know, but if you're heading home it will be appropriate!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, that is a nice coincidence! It's such a fun series.
      I look forward to your review of GYD - sorry that you don't share my rabid enthusiasm, but glad that you're not the opposite!

      Delete
    2. I now see that I don't have to look forward to it any more!

      Delete
  4. As a musician and music scholar, I absolutely cringe whenever instruments are treated poorly in literature or film. Someone even breathes wrong on a piano, and I start twitching, never mind destroying one! Mythbusters has wrecked a lot of instruments over the years, and I always watch in a horrified sort of fascination. Is this scene of the mandolin actually present in the text? If so, it might be worth my picking up this novel for that alone.

    The instrument aside, thanks for posting this review of these several Viragos! I'll keep an eye out for them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The scene is not included, Samantha - how funny, I thought you were going to say that if it were, you wouldn't be able to read on - instead, you want to read it!

      Delete
  5. Great - another addition to my Everest-high mountain of books to be read. Happy Christmas to you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heehee! Definitely worth adding to the mountain, Margaret :)

      Delete
  6. Happily they're all free as Kindle books too. I've read the first, but now feel must keep going. They do sound like they'd make a wonderful tv series!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, are they? No excuse, then, Donna!
      Wouldn't a TV series be fun? I'll have fun deciding my cast... thoughts?

      Delete
    2. Was thinking about Downton Abbey's Edith playing this Edith - I think the actress is super. Madame Frabelle would be a fabulous gift for the right actress as well. No ideas for Bruce though.

      Delete
  7. My friend Mary just read this trilogy for our reading group on the theme of 'marriage', and she highly recommended them too. She even compared them to Elizabeth von Arnim, which is my world is very high praise indeed!Perhaps a little bit Vera?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great idea for the theme! I haven't read Vera, but I understood it to be rather tragic? This never really gets tragic.

      Delete
    2. Yes, Vera is tragic, so perhaps a little off the mark. Still, I look forward to reading the trilogy.

      Delete
  8. So happy to learn there's more in the Love's Shadow line - didn't realise it was part of a trilogy. Excellent news!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Always the best news, isn't it! I was so pleased when I first found out.

      Delete
  9. I've ordered "Love's Shadow" yesterday and will look for the rest of the trilogy as it looks really interesting. Have a safe journey home, Simon

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oh my...just added to the already very long TBR list. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Have any of your readers in the US found a reliable source for old Virago Modern Classics? The used copies currently available on Amazon and BN.com are either in poor condition and/or expensive. I know the Kindle versions are free, but I always prefer hard copies. Just trying to keep my book budget under control...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is AwesomeBooks in the US? I've heard good things about them. Also Better World Books, but they often are ex-library and quite damaged, but it depends what level of toleration for that you have!

      Delete
  12. I really enjoyed Love's Shadow, and wish Bloomsbury had expanded those forgotten classics - they could have published all three, with lovely covers and those fabulous nameplates at the front. But they didn't, so I have had to rely on Project Gutenberg and my Kindle, upon which Tenterhooks and Love at Second Sight will be read in the correct order!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Christine, thank you soooo much for reminding me about Project Gutenberg. About 3-4 years ago I've learnt about it from my English tutor and, back then, I used it few times. Unfortunately I forgot all about it, I even forgot its name. It’s not the same as reading a book but it would be useful to use it every now and then.

      Delete
    2. Oh yes, it was a shame that not many of those lovely (if cheap paper) Bloomsbury editions were made. Well done on reading them in the right order, like a sensible person!

      Delete

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment - my favourite part of blogging is reading your comments!

Annoyingly, Blogger often messes up with comments... try refreshing, or commenting Anonymously (add your name in, though!) or using Firefox/Chrome instead of Internet Explorer. (Ctrl+c your comment first!)

Failing everything, email me: simondavidthomas[at]yahoo.co.uk - or just email me anyway :)

Thanks!