Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Madame Solario by Gladys Huntington - Persephone Books

Hi Dear Folk,

I've just finished reading Madame Solario, just republished by Persephone Books.   As I read it from the original American edition where the author does not give her name. First published August 1956 The Viking Press, Inc.

The book is written in three parts and I keep wanting to re-title it and call it Madame Solange, not sure why.  The first and third part from the view of Bernard Middleton a young English man and the second part from the point of view of Madame Solario's brother, Eugene Harden.  So our view of Natalia or Nelly as her brother calls her is filtered through the happenings and viewpoint of men, and because of this we are no closer at the end of the book than the beginning of knowing what Madame Solario actually thinks.

Part One

The year and setting is 1906 a fashionable hotel Cadenabbia on Lake Como, one can only envision this time period, the year my grandmother was born.  The grand hotel which has guests from all over for the season, both Europe and the States.  Women are elegant in tight waisted, busted gowns with swishing trains, brimmed hats and flowing chiffon veils and long gloves.

She wore a large white hat - what was called a "restaurant hat" - with a transparent brim and a huge pink rose in front, and the same kind of rose was fastened to the belt of her white lace dress.

Part One is very light and almost vaporous, Madame Solario, seems almost vapid, glides along in her fair beauty, things happen around her, but she seems to have no substance, with an entourage of admirers from the young Mr. Middleton to the Russian Count Kovanski.  Who is she where is she from?  Does it really matter? She is so beautiful and puts them in a state of euphoria. It's here I almost gave the book up, where was it leading?  The only clue you have is some overheard gossip about her family.  Here the stage is set.

Stillness was usual with her.  One had no clue to what she was thinking.

Young Mr. Bernard Middleton becomes quite close to Madame Solario.

"Don't go away without letting me know."
"I can promise you that!"
"And let me know also if there is anything disagreeable,"  she murmured, so vaguely that her words were like the ghosts of words.

He walked on air.

Part Two

In part two her brother Eugene Harden most unexpectedly turns up.

"Ah, the same address as Madame's," said the clerk, betraying a little surprise as he took back the book.

Though without a foreign accent.  Harden didn't seem quite like an Englishman. He was not, according to Colonel Ross's conceptions, either the right kind or the wrong kind of Englishman.  Not quite English, yet too English to be foreign - one couldn't tell, in short, where he belonged.

Brother and sister at dinner.

The obvious affinity that was there seemed to enhance the total effect;  because of it they were even more striking together than either would have been alone.   And the over-deliberate motions without practical result, the graceful attitudes and the soundless conversation, could have suggested a shadow-play, some highly polished form of evocative illusion.

Harden on fortune and future. Right from the beginning you know that her brother is the serpent in paradise. But then what does that reflect on her?

"Your chances," said Harden, speaking faster.  "And you may do much more brilliantly yet.  It wasn't very brilliant the first time.  Even with the walking reminder at your side you can do better!"  ..."I mean to share your future, as well as your fortune now."

In Nelly's, for that is what Eugene called her, bedroom at night, making plans for her future which is his future, and these plans are always changing.  He plans she listens, and just listens, and listens.  Hardly a reply given.

"Are we really here - up here - suspended in this lighted cage, just you and I?"

"... I was like Peter Schlemihl, the man without a shadow. ..."

History repeats itself, we see the same in society today.

"Those people" - and he made a movement of the head to the left, towards Cadenabbia - "they have the superiority of owing their good fortune to something they themselves had nothing to do with.  And that is the superiority I envy!  To be born with a sort of super-self, for that's what rank is, a super-self that planes over frontiers - to be born thinking one has the right to look down - Hasn't that got more charm than anything one can do for one's self?"

But as though the word had just come to his ear - "Grandmother!  Grandmother and Gossefors!  Why couldn't we have stayed there?  If only we had!  If we had, I wouldn't be talking as I do now.  We were looked up to there.  Grandmother was born Baroness Stjerneld.  We were the manor family.  - But doom might have come upon that too."

Count Kovanski.

Everyone is there but the Centaur - the Russian.  Nelly, you must tell me about him, for he loves you to madness!"

How close are brother and sister?

"... Nelly.  You can't look at me with the eyes of other people."  He turned to look into her eyes.  She let him do it.  "I am with myself when I am with you."

The first to see them was the American Wilbur, and they were so much the fashion that he was delighted to connect himself with them by hailing their appearance.
"Here are the Gemini!"

Eugene says, this paragraph very succinctly sums up their relationship.

"I plan nothing without thinking of you.  And wouldn't this suit you better?  I marry, you marry, and we are respectable instead of notorious!  Isn't there really more to be gained by being respectable?  You will say, Why decide everything now?  but I can see it didn't bring me luck in the past to drop what I had in hand because I thought that if one had one chance one was sure to have another.  I won't do it again.  If we marry we will be kept apart as we wouldn't be in my other plan, but - Who knows?  Anyhow , nothing with us will last for very long;  I feel it. ..."

Eugene and Nelly speaking about Count Kovanski.

"I told you before that you must marry.  And you have made it your fate to marry him.  You did that when you took him as a lover."

Part Three

Nelly, Madame Solario, tries to make a break from her brother by appealing to young Mr. Bernard  Middleton to accompany her by train to a Hotel in Florence to catch up with some old acquaintances an elderly gentlemen, Mr. Chase and a relative of his, Miss Armstrong.  Unfortunately they have already left.  After this things move very quickly to the conclusion.

"Yes,"  said Bernard after a moment.
"Is it a necessity?  Are you a relation?"
"But you have relations?"  The doctor, having impatiently looked him up and down, was now observing him, taking him in.  "You have a family somewhere?"
"Yes,"  said Bernard after another and longer pause.
The doctor seemed to come to a decision, and he first manifested his decision by putting his case under his arm and pulling on his gloves.  They were grey cotton gloves, and Bernard gazed at them as if fascinated.

"I don't know what your studies have been, but you may know that geologists speak of faults when they mean weaknesses in the crust of the earth that cause earthquakes and subsidence."  Having pulled on his gloves, he was energetically buttoning them.  "And I will tell you something out of my own experience.  There are people like 'faults,' who are a weakness in the fabric of society;  there is disturbance and disaster wherever they are."

He gave Bernard a fierce look beneath his bristling eyebrows.  "Young man, go away from here!  Get onto solid ground as soon as you can!"

This book is written in such a subtle way, that some sentences you have to read two or three times and ask yourself 'did or do I understand that?'

An interesting read.  Not quite my style.  But I can see that released as it was in the fifties with an anonymous author, and lots of talk as to whether this was autobiographical, led to quite a stir.


1 comment:

  1. Interesting but I don't think I have the patience to read this!


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