“Date with Romance” - A Short Story by Mollie Panter-Downes - first published October 14, 1939 in The New Yorker - lead story in Good Evening, Mrs Crave - The Wartime Short Stories of Mollie Panter-Donnes - published by Persephone Books 1999
“Time now seemed to have receded, to be an enormous empty room which she must furnish, like any other aimless woman, with celluloid shadows of other people's happiness, with music that worked one up for nothing.”
― Mollie Panter-Downes, Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes
Born August 16, 1906
At age 16 writes a best selling novel The Shoreless Sea
1927 - Marries
In August 1938 she begins to write for The New Yorker. From 1939 to 1945 she was their London Correspondent. All of The Short stories in this collection were published there. The New Yorker had first refusal on her work. Ultimately she would publish 852 items in The New Yorker.
September 3, 1939 England declares war on Germany
January 27, 1997 - Surrey, England - dies
As today’s story opens Mrs Ramsey is getting ready for a lunch date with
Gerald Spalding, an old romance. Five years has gone by since they have seen each other. He has just returned to London from Malaysia. I love these lines describing her preparations:
“Mrs. Ramsay dressed for her lunch with Gerald Spalding in a mood of fine old nostalgia, well crusted on the top and five years in the wood.”
I was left wondering what “well crusted” exactly means and i am thinking “five years in the wood” refers to Gerald’s time in English colonies in South East Asia.
I cannot help but share these lines when Mrs Ramsey is at Gerald’s club waiting for him for their lunch date. Of course this is a class marker. Also I think men met women at their club that they might not want to be seen to much with in public.
“Mrs. Ramsay felt that it would be tragic for Gerald to sit in Malaya for five years thinking about a woman in London who looked as though she were protected by invisible cellophane and then be faced with someone limp as a wilted lettuce in crumpled chiffon. The hat was a bit of a problem. Used to women skulking about under double terais, Gerald would possibly shy back in alarm from an old love glimmering at him like a submerged oyster through layers of chenille fishnet or making an Ophelia-like entrance under a haystack of pansies.”
Just ponder is there a 21st century writer or even many readers might understand The Opehila allusion.
Parker-Donnes is a Master at creating verbs and unexpected adjectives to convey volumes in a few words.
Take a look at these wonderful lines
“At Gerald’s club, the hall porter informed Mrs. Ramsay, in discreet confidential tones which made her feel like a naughty Ouida lady visiting a man’s chambers, that Mr. Spalding had not yet arrived. The porter then came out from his dog kennel and smuggled her into a room full of imitation Chippendale furniture and genuine Sheraton members uneasily entertaining female period pieces to a glass of sherry.”
I had to use Google to learn what an “Ouida Lady” was and ponder “Dog Kennel” and “female period pieces”, which does sound a bit harsh, dare one say “catty”?
I must share one of her verbs with you, “retriever patting” which Gerald does to Mrs Ramsey under the table. Not just dog patting mind you.
When I read of Gerald fumbling with his gas mask of course I thought of our masks now.
There are twenty other stories in the collection. I hope to read them all. Gregory LaStage conveys in his preface and afterword valuable information about her life and her relationship to The New Yorker.