8 June 2016

Bassett by Stella Gibbons

Published in 1934, this novel contains all the hallmarks of a quintessential 'cosy' read.  The stereotypical ingredients are all there...a country house, spinsters, privileged adult children, a village, hired help, and the dreaded neuralgia.  Class distinction is also present as an inappropriate coupling drives one of the storylines.  While reading about Stella Gibbons after finishing this book, it turns out that Bassett is a veiled telling of two painful episodes in Gibbons' personal life.  Finding this out after the fact has made the tearful episodes of one character all the more poignant.  

Miss Hilda Baker has worked in London as a pattern-cutter for twenty-one years and is pondering how to shape her future.  She has inherited a bit of money from a deceased relative - coupled with her ability to save she has accrued £380 and is looking for an investment.  Conveniently, a letter catches her eye in a copy of Town and Country by a woman who is looking for someone interested in sharing the expense of running a boarding house.  

Miss Eleanor Padsoe lives in her ancestral home near Reading University.  It's a modest house, named The Tower, but dwindling finances have led to its looking a bit worse for wear.  Circumstance leads Miss Baker to the decision that she should merge interests with Miss Padsoe, who turns out to be as meek as they come.  Her two servants, a mother and daughter, have been fleecing their employer out of money and food to such an extent that they eventually try to turf Miss Padsoe from her own home..  Being a Londoner, Miss Baker plots the exit of these two conniving swindlers in a farcical scene that made me cheer.  From this day forward the two women decide to wade into a world they are totally unprepared for...

'For Miss Baker could not cook, nor could Miss Padsoe.  They could, it is true, each boil an egg and fry chops (although Miss Padsoe's usually got burnt) but they did not know how to turn out a dish of creamy, well-seasoned mashed potatoes or a fruit tart, or even a nourishing stew.  Miss Baker had lived for nearly thirty years on meals in restaurants or meals cooked at home on two gas rings, and Miss Padsoe being an Edwardian achievement, rather than a late Victorian one, did not think it necessary for a lady to know how to cook.'

Another storyline features the wealthy Shelling family.  The 'c' has been removed from their surname's German spelling.  Most of the time spent at Baines House involves Bell (short for Isabella) and her 'moodily beautiful' brother, George, in their daily flouncing about as they ponder a world outside the bubble of lawn tennis, food, and parties.  George works in a managerial capacity at the family-owned factory but you would barely notice.  Add a very pretty servant with strong political views from a free-thinking family (and a pinch of hormones) and voilà...tears.

On the surface this is a 'gentle' read, but the emotions are so genuine and sincere that I doubt many readers would be left unmoved by several of the characters.  The young women are frustrated by the expectations of their family and tradition.  The burden of responsibility and duty also weighs heavily on the young men.  Someone is bound to be disappointed, while others find peace in situations they never thought possible.  

Something for consideration...this book does contain a few spots of racism that readers may find offensive.  Other than those moments that made me snort with incredulity, this book exceeded my expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  A while ago, this title came up in discussion on a couple of blogs; some thought that it started off as a very good read but lost some of its shine towards the end.  I disagree!

  
   'Tot' (Sister of painter Arthur Roy Mitchell) by Harvey Dunn

15 comments:

  1. After reading (and not enjoying Cold Comfort Farm) I haven't tried another Stella Gibbons, but on the other hand there seem to so many that people have enjoyed. So I should! I will!!

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    1. There seems to be two camps when it comes to Stella Gibbons - those who adore CCF and are left 'cold' by the rest and the other camp is the reverse. We're of the latter, Audrey. Try one of her other books on for size and you might be pleasantly surprised!

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  2. I've collected quite a few Stella Gibbons novels (not this one, though) over the years, but haven't read any of them - yet! Both storylines in this one sound just wonderful - do they connect?

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    1. There is a mild connection. The reader stays with one storyline for large sections and once I finished, I did think that it would have been nice to have the two stories interspersed through chapter breaks. But how many novels have I written...none! Gibbons did quite well without any advice from the likes of me.
      Oh Anbolyn...I remember your reading slump. If you have Stella languishing on your shelf you simply need to grab one. She's perfect for when your mind is busy or as a gear-switcher between heavier content.

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  3. Sadly I don't have this one and neither does my library, but I do have a couple of unread books by Stella Gibbons and I think it's about time I read one of them.

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    1. Keep your eye out for it, Jane. My appreciation for this author's writing style is growing...initially they seem to be light reads but there's more to her characters than meets the eye. I think you would like this one!

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  4. I do like Stella Gibbons, I think she tells a fine tale. I shall investigate this one, thank you for the nudge.

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    1. You're welcome, Toffeeapple! Glad to hear you're a fan. Where do you sit with Cold Comfort Farm? I can't seem to warm up to that one...

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  5. I've read several of Gibbons short stories, but none of her novels. That must change...

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    1. And I've never read any of her short stories! Something to look for, JoAnn. You've given me a mission now...

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  6. I must read more Stella Gibbons. I liked but didn't love Cold Comfort Farm. This sounds great in your review.

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    1. You too? Well, having said that...I didn't even finish CCF. So many people absolutely love it but either I need to work my way there, or I just don't get it.
      This was a delightful read and made me want to email someone about adapting it for television. Keep your eye out for a copy!

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    2. You too? Well, having said that...I didn't even finish CCF. So many people absolutely love it but either I need to work my way there, or I just don't get it.
      This was a delightful read and made me want to email someone about adapting it for television. Keep your eye out for a copy!

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  7. I have this, in an old hardback, but was put off by reading The Matchmaker. which I found tedious and irritating. And I've read some of her short stories, and quite liked them, but they were a bit patchy... But then I'm a Cold Comfort Farm fan, so perhaps I'm a lost cause as far as her other work is concerned!

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  8. I love this review. Its just the one for me. To track this book however will be the problem but I am making a note of it.

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