Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Ballad and the Source by Rosamond Lehmann. 1944

Upon publication in America, 600,000 copies were sold when it became Book of the Month Club Selection.  Hollywood, though no movie was ever made, paid then then huge sum of $250,000 for the movie rights.  

"The book opens in a manner reminiscent of the opening of Dusty Answer, with the sudden coming to life of a nearby house whose owners have been long away. ‘One day my mother114 told me that Mrs Jardine had asked us to pick primroses on her hill, and then, when we had picked as many as we wanted, to come in and have tea with her.’ The elderly lady who welcomes them inside is like a figure from a fairytale."  from Rosamond Lehmann A Life by Selina Hastings

1901 to 1990. England

Dusty Answers 1927

A Note in Music 1930

Invitation to the Waltz  1932

The Weather in the Streets  1936

The Ballad and the Source 1944

The Gypsey's Baby and other Stories 1946

The Echoing Grove  1953

The Swan in the Evening 1967

A Seagrape Tree 1976

The Ballad and the Source is an account of the long term relationship between a new neighbor and the children in the family next door,  with a mysterious somewhat sinister older lady, Mrs Jardin, who was a friend of their mother.  Her closest contact will be the ten year old when we meet her Rebecca.

Selina Hasting tells us that this novel received at best mixed reviews. Much of the conversation is in indirect speech and their is a very condescending portrayal of a cockney woman,  Contemporary readers said it reads as if Lehmann had never heard an actual cockney speak.  There are lengthy conversations where the aristocratic Mrs Jardin mocks the accent of the cockney woman and vice versa when she mocks Mrs. Jardin mocking her.  

"The story is long and the plot difficult to follow through all its convolutions; at one point even the enthralled Rebecca is obliged to admit, ‘My head was whizzing round, 117 hectically active but at the same time hopelessly confused.’ Although parts of Mrs Jardine’s ‘ballad’ do have a powerful, hypnotic effect, a major obstacle to enjoyment is that so much is conveyed at second hand: out of a total of 317 pages, 179 are in indirect speech, which has the effect here of thickening and dulling the narrative flow. Mrs Jardine is by no means the only offender, for there are three others, the worst Tilly, a chirpy little seamstress talking page after page in a dire version of an educated lady novelist’s idea of Cockney; worse still, she and Mrs Jardine lengthily quote each other, ‘imitating’ each other’s voices so that the reader sometimes has to cope with Cockney imitating refined imitating Cockney, and vice versa...As always Rosamond is faultless in her treatment of children and in her understanding of the child’s point of view; and substantially the best parts of the novel are those describing Rebecca’s thoughts and feelings, her relations with her sisters, and their interaction with Sybil Jardine’s three Malcolm, and the youngest, the spoilt, manipulative Cherry. For the rest, despite the undoubted quality of the writing, it is hard for a modern reader to comprehend how such ‘a thumping melodrama’, as even its author referred to it, could have been taken seriously, let alone praised and enjoyed."  Selina Hastings

The spirit of Mrs Jardin returns in Lehmann's last novel,A Sea-Grape Tree

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