I’m very much enjoying my little whirl of Persephones towards the end of this month – here’s my review of “A Lady and Her Husband” and I’m currently reading “Greengates”, which is proving lovely so far, with “Madame Solario” to go. What treats! I’ve also been buying books again, but I think that’s for a different post. So here’s my review of a book which Ali bought me for Christmas last year and I suspect I might have bought it for her, too. I link to her review at the bottom of mine – I saved it up to read when I’d written my review!

Amber Reeves – “A Lady and her Husband”

(25 December 2016 – from Ali)

An excellent feminist novel, written in 1913 so looking forward quite confidently to women getting the vote but still perhaps looking at the quieter and more subtle ways in which women can effect social change. It certainly celebrates both socialism and suffragism and people’s commitment to society – not a surprise when you consider that Reeves was the daughter of the authors of the wonderful “Round About a Pound a Week” which I read back in 2010 and lover of HG Wells (a sister in arms of Miriam from “Pilgrimage” as well, maybe, in that case).

Mary – considered old and faded at 45, which shocked me a little, reading it amidst hard work and marathon training at the age of … 45 – is encouraged by her daughter to take an interest in the firm her husband runs, but of which she owns half. She has a secretary employed for her who is a bit of a caricature of a man-hating New Woman socialist but to whom Mary becomes closer, and, reluctant at first, she has her eyes opened to the conditions under which the tea-shop girls have to live. I was expecting here more details about the running of the tea shops, maybe thinking of Dorothy Whipple’s “High Wages” about shops, but it’s a different kind of book, exploring a marriage and a dawning consciousness.

Rosemary, Mary’s younger daughter, is a proud socialist and rather strident, but Mary possibly achieves more in her quiet way. I loved her assessment of her daughter and her principles:

Fortunately, it was not of much importance what Rosemary believed – she was a dear, good girl under all her modernity and could be trusted not to act on her convictions.

While James’ assessment of “Little Mother” Mary is patronising and awful, this seems to be more clear-eyed and affectionate, and indeed, Rosemary eventually succumbs to married bliss, having protested a little, although Mary now wonders how long that will actually last. I liked Rosemary a lot and wondered how her marriage would indeed go.

So, Mary doesn’t really want to be mixed up in James’ business, he sees a little role for her which will not interrupt his masculine workings, and both of them continue in their belief of the different spheres men and women occupy in business and life – this feels like very much a product of its time and you wonder what a different book it would be if written just half a decade later. Mary charmingly educates herself, meeting different kinds of people, reading books recommended by Rosemary and giving herself space to think and join up her half-remembered, rather patchy education.

A couple of significant scenes awaken Mary’s practical knowledge of the darker side of life and she’s brought to see that ‘luxury’ can consist of being protected from this as well as lying in houses and possessions. “A long forgotten curiosity awoke in Mary and urged her to see for herself what the world was like” – she decides she won’t let herself be persuaded she’s an invalid and i love that she goes out to learn about the world and business and economics rather than ‘awakening’ into just love affairs and whatnot. By the end of the book, she’s coming to terms with using the power she didn’t realise she had all along and has expanded her view of her duties towards her fellow people. An excellent and unusual read.

You can read Ali’s review of this novel here.

This was Book 18 in my #20BooksofSummer project. It would have covered 1914 in my Reading A Century project had I not already read the equally excellent (and perhaps companion-piece), “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists“. It’s also part of my annual All Virago / All August project!