While various members connected to Lyndon gather at the country manor, the tail of an airship slips past a window resulting in a mad dash through the house to catch another look....
'A short discussion was held as to the best vantage point from which to see it again. Lois suggested James's studio, which had a window looking that way. She ran indoors again, up the main staircase, down a long gallery, through a baize door into the kitchen wing, up more stairs, noisy and uncarpeted, through a corridor and up a narrow garret ladder into a spacious loft running the whole length of the wing. The company panted at her heels.'
This first novel by Margaret Kennedy ticks so many boxes. If you're like me and never tire of a family saga set in an English country home where manners and appearances matter, have I found a book for you. While this novel paints a picture of the strict moral code and importance of those parameters within the upper classes, Kennedy is wonderful at highlighting the ridiculousness of it all in certain cases.
The Ladies of Lyndon begins, as so many of these stories do, with Mrs. Varden Cocks having reached the pinnacle of motherhood in seeing her daughter, Agatha, engaged to John Clewer... 'an entirely suitable young man'. The minute we find out that she's only eighteen years old, there's an assumption (at least on my part) that stormy seas lie ahead once Agatha achieves a bit of independence. Well, as much independence as a wife can achieve within an Edwardian marriage.
The Clewer famly have a London home in Eaton Square while Lyndon sits in the picturesque setting of Oxfordshire; the grounds established by none other than Capability Brown. The early introduction of various family members might have you jotting down a bit of a family tree. The first Mrs. Clewer died giving birth to her third child, James, so there's a second Mrs. Clewer which means step-children and half-siblings. Each is a character worthy of a stage role and considering The Ladies of Lyndon is Margaret Kennedy's first published (1923) work of fiction, I would say this is quite an accomplishment.
So at the heart of it all we have a marriage between ill-suited people. a man born into an upper-class family with a streak of artistic brilliance who sees no reason to conform (he marries the housemaid), alliances to keep secrets away from those who need to know most, and enough arm-flapping over the 'proper' thing to do to be a bit of a farce at times.
Some favourite passages....
'In her print frock, with her flaming hair tucked away under her cap, she looked out of place in the exotic richness of Agatha's bedroom. She suggested a marigold in an orchid house.'
'With a thrill of inward repulsion she beheld Cynthia and Sir Thomas descending the shallow stairs side by side. They evoked in her mind a medley of exotic images: a magnolia and a peony...a satyr and a naiad...a silver moon and a rubicund sun. She could never see them together without an invasion of contrasting ideas'.
'It's broadminded of you, Dolly, to take John Bull and the Daily Herald. We only take The Times.'
'He would do for his son what no one had done for him; he would see to it that the lad never met any young woman encumbered with surviving relations'.
'I took Mrs. Downsmith there the other day to call, and really that girl has absolutely no idea how to do things. Tea! You should have seen it! Shrimp paste in a pot, and we were offered eggs. And after tea they played us tunes upon that awful gramophone. I really didn't know which way to look...'.
'She hunted in the tray of her box and produced a small spirit lamp, a cup, a saucepan, and a tin of Oxo cubes, She rather enjoyed making Oxo, for it was a new accomplishment.'
'Mrs Cocks had always been a little inconsistent in her ethical conventions. The line she drew, where the social irregularities of her friends was concerned, had strange curves in it.'
'Why don't you occupy your mind with some solid reading? When your father died, I remember, I read all through Prescott's Conquests of Mexico during the first few weeks of mourning.'
I so enjoyed The Ladies of Lyndon for being a blend of Downton Abbey and Keeping Up Appearances. While quite a lot of the book made me laugh down to the near-constant deciphering of the hierarchy of sins, if you will, I found the ending of the book quite poignant. There's more than initially meets the eye with this book so I look forward to reading it again.
Thanks to Audrey for tempting me to read this book with her review, and Jane for hosting Margaret Kennedy Day.
And I'm quite proud of myself for finishing this book and constructing some sort of blog post while working around a glorious new puppy. The nip marks and scratches are healing nicely and I have yet to cry one single tear in frustration!