4 thoughts on “Read With Pleasure

  1. Kate – I normally have such a high regard for your views that you gave me quite a shock! Vita Sackville-West? A thoroughly nice person?! You obviously haven’t read the three self-indulgent volumes of Diaries and Letters by her husband. She enthusiastically recommended involuntary euthanasia for “mental deficients” (her words) and also the indigent elderly to save the cost of pensions. A bus company wanted to run a service every two hours along a country road that bordered her estate – half-a-mile from her stately pile – and she protested vehemently at the hideous disruption to her tranquility, deeply indignant that common people should feel it necessary to move about so often. She also hated women . . . unless they were of the same breeding and class as herself. How some figures escape cancellation in these censorious modern times is beyond my understanding.

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  2. I found The Devil and Mrs Devine for $9 here in the US, just dumb luck, a 1974 paperback which looks like it was the first edition. You ask, so I’ll try, though I don’t have your gift for vivid summary. It’s a much more ambitious book than Mrs Muir, and there’s a lot going on. It starts as a Regency romance. Danielle Bellairs is a lonely child, living in her family’s house in the country. her father has been abroad since her mother died giving birth to her. Her step-aunt looks after her, and is cruel. There’s something uncanny about the family. An ancestor was known as the Wizard of Merriedown. Danielle has the family birthmark on her arm. There’s a maze in the grounds only the head of the family knows the secret to and everyone else is afraid to enter. Danielle hears a voice, the devil, who tempts her and encourages her wilfulness. There’s a scandal, a happy chaste short marriage to a rich old neighbour with fabulous jewels, more scandal, a duel, another short happy marriage, this time with children. She hides the jewels in the maze. The devil offers her love and happiness in return for her soul. She doesn’t agree but doesn’t reject him, either. He tells her she won’t die till she wishes to, and she doesn’t, in fact, age physically past the age of 30. Eventually, at 70, unhappy with her children and grandchildren, and looking younger than her ageing daughter-in-law, she leaves for Italy. After a fire which she survives and is mistaken for an American girl who dies, the book briefly sketches name changes and travels over the years (nothing like adventures), as she grapples with the Highlander’s, the Vampire’s, puzzle of how change identity as she remains too young to be able to stay in one place. Is this the first book to do so? Danielle lives in America and Australia, and returns to the UK in 1973 (present-day, for a novel published in 1974) to retrieve the stash of jewels, to find a high-class asylum installed in the big house, and a young great- great- great- grand-nephew (or something) who looks just like her husband who died at Waterloo, while she looks just like the portrait painted of her at 16 by Thomas Lawrence. An amateur jewelry historian, a suspicious and interfering doctor, jewel thieves plotting in the pub saloon bar, an hour’s grace and a different, wise, kind voice in Church, and a shoot out in the maze, where she dies saving the young man and is able to foil the devil and get to heaven. It’s an awful lot, much too much, for 282 pages. Danielle and her first husband are excellent characters. There’s a good Regency romance building up early on, but as her children get past childhood the plot speeds up and loses focus. The book is pleasantly written, we build a connection with Danielle, it’s all good fun, if not a success. Recommended if it crosses your path, but not a long-lost masterpiece. A lot like The Ghost and Mrs Muir, I suppose.

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    1. Fascinatng! And thank you! You’re right: that never-ageing problem is a hard one to get past without actively changing identities and emerging from the ashes every two generations or so. Which is why having a castle to retreat into and keeping a low profile is the best option.

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