Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton

Hi Dear Folk,

A book review of Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton.  I was wandering around Persephone Books and thought I saw her name mentioned there, but can't find it now.  In any case I ordered this book Guard Your Daughters, by Diana Tutton and it came all the way up from the University of Alabama, early edition, 1953 Chatto and Windus London.

The story is set in the early 1950s and centres around a family, the Harvey's, dad a crime writer, mum and five daughters.  Pandora the eldest who is married, Thisbe, Morgan, Cressida and Teresa.  Morgan is the narrator.

"Nice, aren't they?"  said Thisbe casually.  "Mother chose them all except Teresa, and by then she'd got tired, so Father had a go.  That's why Teresa has such a common name." 

None of the girls have had a formal education and all learn at home what appeals to them, Thisbe poetry and Morgan music, Cressida the garden and little Teresa just reading what comes her way.  They all take it in turns to cook and there is a daily who cleans.  Mother is quite often indisposed and almost always receives breakfast in bed on a tray.

Their quest is to meet people and to be more specific, young men.  This is quite hard as they virtually never go anywhere special.  All are pinning their hopes on a trip to visit Pandora who now lives in London with her husband and if only mum will let them go.

The opening chapter is of a chance meeting with a young man, Gregory, who broke down in front of their house and is just about waylaid to come in for tea.  Every body scooting about taking the drying stockings off the mantel piece and figuring out what they're actually going to eat.

An interesting reference to Nazi Germany, was Belsen taken so glibly in the early fifties?

I stopped at the gate.  "Let's go in and say Mrs. Fletcher's been arrested and carted off for interrogation."
"Oh no, Morgan.  You can't joke about that."
"Why not?"
"Because it's real.  It truly happens."
"Everyone jokes about Belsen now."

Pandora thinks that Teresa should attend school.

Then father came down suddenly to facts.  "As it happens,," he said, "I think myself that it would be an advantage to Teresa to go to school.  I've though it for a long time, and I thought it of all of you big ones too, in your time.  But I ask you Pandora, how you could possibly persist in urging such a thing when you saw how the mere suggestion was upsetting your Mother?  You know - you've known for years - what very serious consequences might come of an upset to her.  You know what Doctor Gerard has said about her."

In reference to Gregory.

"But," said Father, "his effect on our household will be far from harmless if he comes here again, staying till all hours and making you behave like a lot of giggling misses.  I will not have Mother upset by such nonsense, do you understand?  You're not to invite him again."

Morgan, after a walk with her mother thinks.

Oh, darling Mother!  If only I could have come near to her, could have understood her sorrowful isolation and relieved it with my love.

Their mother was bought up in the very house they live in by her aunt Agnes and uncle Gregory.  Her aunt has since died, but uncle Gregory still owns his wife's family house and they rent it off him.  Every so often he comes for a visit.

In reference to their mother Grace.

She had been unusually active during Uncle Gregory's visit, for he never seemed to realize that she needed special care, and I think pride kept her up and about.  But as he himself breakfasted in bed she could do so too, taking care to be down before him.

The older Miss Harvey's have been invited by Lady Malfrey to a cocktail party.

"Oh Lord, I suppose we'll have to refuse, then."  Thisbe didn't sound at all resigned, but at least she wasn't going to make trouble.  Cressida, however, still facing the wall, and presumably still crying, said again.  "It isn't fair!  Mother, you're not fair to us!" .... 

"Grace my dear, what is all the commotion about?"

..... "Oh, Gregory, don't you worry your head about it."  Mother smiled a forced smile.  "We can easily discuss it some other time."
"But that's a very fine house.  Good old family, too- he's the eighth peer, you know.  Why can't they go?"
I waited for Mother to mention Patrick, but she only said:  "I'd rather not go into my reasons now, Gregory.  Have you got everything, do you think?"
"Grace," said Uncle Gregory.  "I don't know what Agnes would say if she could see you shutting the girls up like this.  How are they ever going to find husbands for themselves?"
Mother clutched desperately at the banisters, and I went and took her other arm.  She said:  "I don't want - I'm never happy unless- oh, Gregory, it's so safe here!"

Are you beginning to catch the thread of this story, tied in with the title?

"I'm not sure.  The Wide World does seem to upset our concepts a bit when we go out into it.  Rat was probably wise when he advised Mole to let it alone and never refer to it again.  Look at Pandora!  Even she seems a bit worried about our little idiosyncrasies.  But, of course Cressida's method isn't the right one.  There's only one possible way to improve our lot."
"And that? "  I asked with misgiving.

Grace has to take the train to another town to visit the dentist.

"No, that's what she said.  Only a stopping."  Father looked at the clock.  "Eleven now, " he counted his fingers.  "She should be back in about eight hours.  You'll have a good supper ready for her, won't you?"  Thisbe nodded.  "And a hot bottle in her bed?"
"I'll do that , Father."
"Good girl, Morgan.  As a matter of fact,"  said Father restlessly, "I think I'll light her fire after tea, in case she catches the early train."

Stopping must be a tooth filling, have not heard that terminology before.

Patrick a journalist and aspiring writer a relative of the Malfrey's visits with their father the mystery writer, while mother is out.  Thoughts on guessing the murderer.  American mysteries verses British.

"You mean the names-?" said Thisbe.
"Of course I mean the names.  Mind you," said Father, "you can't do it with an American book where all the people are called Cary and Beverley and Temperance.  But in a book like this, where most people are Penelope and Jane and Tom and Charles, anyone called Norman or Sidney is bound to be suspect."

Father waited for two trains and then brought Mother back, large -eyed from fatigue and shrunken in her big fur coat.  He took her straight up to her fire-lit bedroom, and Cressida rushed to pour out the soup that was simmering in the oven. ..... Cressida laughed loudly and began to regiment everything on the dressing-table, until Mother almost shrieked at her to stop.  Then she left the room, in tears, and Mother pressed her lovely worn hands over her eyes and said:  "Oh, Tom!  Can't I have a little peace?  I am so tired!"  And Father bundled us all out of the room.

This is a warm, delightful, family story.  I will not go further and spoil the ending for you.  But if you want a quick light read set in the fifties to draw on all the nostalgia of that era then this is a great read.


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