Saturday, July 15, 2017

Rise Of A Star by Edith Ayrton-Zangwill

Hi Dear Folk,

I have not written a book review for such a long while, mostly time is against me,  I've read some good books and would have loved to have shared my thoughts.

Edith Ayrton-Zangwill, here is a good bio of her life.  Married to Israel Zangwill  She was a member of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage and later joined the more militant group Women Social and Political Union.  Edith was very influenced by the women in her life, her mother and her step mother, leading women in their field of work and views on society, working for the vote for women.

In Rise Of A Star, the characters are Francis West, her stage name nee Lennox, an actress who has after twenty years on the boards of acting, traveling the circuits, is just about to make it to bigger venues.  Her daughter Imogen, who Mrs. Lennox has spent every penny on sending her to the best schools out East, John Vandeleur a multi millionaire copper baron, Hobson her manager, Joan North nee Joan Vandeleur, daughter and rising star in the field of acting. Adam Fletcher a playwright and socialist union leader.

Francis West has just reached the plato of minor stardom in her part as an old Irish woman, when Mr. Vandeleur begs an audience of her, she has no idea what this is about, but has heard of him.  John Vandeleur in this forties is smitten with eighteen year old Imogen, who is very lovely.  The one obstacle as Mr. Vandeleur sees it is Frances West actress, because everyone knows how he views the theatre life.

"Really Mrs. Lennox, I cannot understand you."  Mr. Vandeleur made a great effort to control himself. "Surely your work cannot be so attractive," he suggested; "traveling around the country in cheap, little Vaudeville companies, dressed up as a vulgar, old Irish woman!"

For the love of her dear daughter Imogen, Mrs. Lennox gives up the theatre, Imogen marries Mr. Vandeleur and Francis is ensconced in a nice apartment in NYC not far from their palatial residence on 5th Avenue.

In this little arrangement of marriage and domesticity, nobody turns out to be happy.  The main cause of this is Imogen, Imogen is totally selfish and almost incapable of loving anyone except for herself.  She very much likes her position and along comes a baby, named Joan.

Joan has a series of nannies but does not thrive as a baby in fact there is fear of death.  She has all that money can buy but no affection, Mrs. Lennox her grandma is in dispare and appeals to John to let her look after the baby for a while, he despairingly lets her do so.  Joan begins to thrive and here is built up a loving lasting relationship between the two.

Mrs. Lennox was forbidden to refer to her acting career, so Joan never knew anything about it, but at school she discovers she loves acting, has a passion for acting and I'm sure you can see where this is going to go.  At eighteen, by this time she knows her grandmother once had been an actress, they contact Mr. Hobson and he gets her a part with a touring company as an understudy in the play Viva another successful play touring at the same time is Under Dog, written by Adam Fletcher.

Many adventures happen during their impoverished years on the circuit, Joan did not take her jewelry but was advised by her grandmother that she should at least take her clothes, including a fur coat each of which both had to be porned.

During all this time Francis has thought about her daughter, but Imogen has not thought about them, she has carried on in different little flirtations with poets and politicians, this happens one too many times and Mr. Vandeleur comes home to find Imogen In flagrante delicto with Senator Baxtor.  Senator Baxter is not happy with the way Vandeleur spoke to him in front of the servants, he swears to get even with him.  This is the last straw for the Vandeleur marriage, and Imogen may just love this one.  Off she goes to Kentucky for a period to be granted on their divorce.

The Senator laughed as he read the letter over his breakfast table in his Washington apartment.  "She's a devilish lovely women," he murmured, "but what a lot of words she takes to say that she wants a good hug!

Grandma becomes very ill with pneumonia and has to go into a nursing home Joan has to find a way to pay for this.  Eventually things get so bad that she is working as a waitress, but there is a certain young man who keeps coming to sit at her tables, Adam Fletcher.  He eventually reveals that he wrote Under Dog and has a new play and would she play the lead part in it.

The play is called The Combine, set in the garment industry.  The lead part is about a young girl union activist, her grandmother can play the part of the older women who does not want to join, how is she to feed her children?  The play has only partial success, as the ending is not what appeals to the audience, Joan does not reach the fame and stardom that she thought she would, although playing the part very well.  She leaves the company to work for a minor Shakespearean repertory company in New England and grandma continues on the circuit, her part is well loved.  Mr. Hobson is not too happy with Joan's decision for her "art" as she says, but is never one to hold a grudge.

Mr. Fletcher writes another play with a happier ending, on the advise of Mr. Hobson.

"I am afraid it would hardly do, Mr. Hobson."  Adam Fletcher smiled. "You will have to content yourself with my play ending well."

"I guessed you'd say so.  Anyway, it will make them like your play all the better- be more of a contrast."

"It will be a contrast all right!"  This time Fletcher laughed out loud.  "Then that is settled?"

"Yes, but you've got to answer for Miss North;  I ain't going to be turned down a second time.  I suppose if we write her at Miss West's, that will find?  By the way, where's your contract to be mailed?"

"To Wood Haven, Maine."

"Why ain't that where Miss West - ?"  A smile broke over Mr. Hobson's face.  He felt that he had put two and two together, or rather one and one.  "Well, you let me have that play real soon.  I tell you there's rich human blood in it.  that's what the public wants, my boy - blood.  They're sick to death of the Ibsen-Shaw-Maeterlinck gang."

This book was published in 1918 and I think the above reference to the Ibsen-Shaw-Maeterlinck gang is quite interesting, and made me laugh.

The authors ideologies come through in this book, especially with the character of Adam Fletcher, not only a playwright but an ardent Union leader, willing to travel the country for working men.

Sometimes I have found books of the late eighteen hundreds long winded, even though good reads, but the date of the publication takes this book out of that time into a more paired down way of telling a story and it works.

There are still more turns and twists before the end, but it is an excellent read.  I hope you are able to find this book in the archives of one of your libraries.

I am now onto read The Call, also by Edith Zangwill, to be published by Persephone Books next Autumn 2018

I enjoyed sharing this book with you.


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