30 October 2016

Lady into Fox by David Garnett

My last read (After Me Comes the Flood) failed somewhat in its bid to make me believe a man could happily cross the threshold of a strange house and settle in with its questionable inhabitants.  So what do I do?  Jump straight into a book about a woman who suddenly morphs into a fox.  The difference is that Lady into Fox completely reeled me in with a tale that could not be more perfect for a late October read.

'Wonderful or supernatural events are not so uncommon, rather they are irregular in their incidence'.

Published in 1922, the story is set in Oxfordshire during 1880, Richard and Silvia Tebrick are newlyweds out for a walk in the copse when suddenly, hearing a slight cry, Richard turns to his wife only to see a small vixen.  The way the fox looks pleadingly at Richard leaves no doubt that it is, in fact, Silvia.  His 'wife' begins to weep.  Bereft, Richard sits in the copse beside her until dark trying to think what to do next.  The only thing that can be done is to hide the fox under his jacket and bring her home.  Adding to the mystical circumstance...Silvia's maiden name is Fox.

Returning to their home Richard quickly sets about paying the servants to leave so he can be alone with 'his vixen'.  A quickly put-together excuse is doled out while Richard moves about the house in a state of semi-madness.  In a tender moment he realizes Silvia would never wander about naked so he finds a suitable bed-jacket with shortish sleeves and dresses the fox.

As a fox, Silvia is happy to walk on her back legs, play cards, and eat dainty sandwiches.  But as each day progresses the civilized creature sinks deeper into the characteristics of a wild animal.  Richard is in agony when he hears 'his vixen' crunching chicken bones under the dining table.  The realization that his beloved wife will need to be free of the confines of a Victorian household terrify Richard.  The local guns conduct fox hunts just outside the confines of their property.  While this story reads very much like a fairy tale, the elements of emotional conflict within a relationship ring incredibly true.  Add in the aspect of a vulnerable creature pitted against a hunting group with dogs, not to mention nature's elements, and I found myself completely invested in Richard's actions.

This was my first experience reading the work of David Garnett.  For people who enjoy anything involving the Bloomsbury Group, this novella is dedicated to Duncan Grant, also the author chose to name a very sweet 'character' Angelica, after Vanessa Bell's daughter.

This novella is a mere 73 pages long, and while you can download it through Project Gutenberg I highly suggest reading a copy that includes the charming woodcut illustrations.

My friend Simon has had this listed on his sidebar as a book 'You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About' for several years.  He is so right.  Lady into Fox is a bit of perfection.  Read it!

   Woodcut illustration by R. A. Garnett

4 comments:

  1. Belatedly - so glad you enjoyed this one, Darlene! It's a real one-of-a-kind gem. I've still not read much else by Garnett, but have lots of my shelves.

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    1. Hi Simon! If Garnett's other books are as intriguing as this then I need to stock a few more on my shelves too. Lady into Fox is a book I'll read again and again so massive thanks for publishing that list of yours!

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  2. Didn't he later marry Angelica? Or am I getting my Bloomsbury couples mixed up?

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  3. You're right! I think it was my clumsy wording that made it seem as though Angelica was Garnett's daughter but it was Grant I was referring to. That's been sorted! And lovely of you to stop by!

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