As well as a lovely lot of Margery Sharps (including “Rhododendron Pie”, reviewed here) Dean Street Press have republished a batch of novels by Stella Gibbons in their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint. You can see all the delights that have just come out on the Furrowed Middlebrow blog. And another pretty cover, getting across the nature of the Hampstead setting beautifully!

Stella Gibbons – “A Pink Front Door”

(01 November 2020)

Marcia and Ella are elderly cousins who live together in a large house now divided into flats, always the protector and the protected, loved more than they know, and ruled by a tyrant of a maid. Marcia has past glories and Ella continues to go out every day to paint miniature scenes of the neighbourhood. Their cousin/niece Daisy is a collector and organiser of lost souls, always with a new one to flit to if one doesn’t quite come up to scratch, and these lost souls and their various housing solutions form a sort of loose network around North London and especially Hampstead, somewhere Gibbons loved living herself and which she writers about in several others of her novels. But is the little house with the pink door, on whom you’re never sure who will be knocking, really the perfect family home?

We get caught up in the lives of the people Daisy is trying to help, not always noticing her poor, long-suffering husband James in the background. There is a strong feminist commentary, with the waste of a good scientific mind when the babies come, the punitive attitude of employers when they do, the need for poor women to coast from man to man to keep themselves off the streets, the lack of servants leading to a double shift for working women, and the older, single woman’s

wonder that anyone could prefer the state of marriage to that of celibacy, which offered one so many more opportunities for solitude.

There’s also a commentary on

This howling mid-century wilderness – without domestic service, enough house room or well-defined social customs

which the older generation find so difficult – Daisy’s father in particular seems stuck between two ways of life, not sure what the right thing is to do and knowing that really he used to meddle as much as Daisy does, and a woman slightly connected to him frets about renting out her top floor, but clings to views of servants that are sadly outdated. But younger women are also having to choose between the new sexual freedoms and being safe, and the expectations that they will manage both.

The perspectives shift between an overarching one and the internal narratives of certain characters, so we really understand them from the inside, and this is done to particular effect in the final parts of the book. Three quite shocking events advance the plot quite quickly and those shifting narratives come quickly, letting us deep into observation of the characters’ lives.

A very interesting and readable novel and I will undoubtedly be picking up more of this crop of reprints.

Thank you to Dean Street Press for sending me an ebook of this novel in return for an honest review.