Wednesday, March 27, 2024

E.H. Young, The Bridge Dividing/The Misses Mallet (1922)

This was published first as The Bridge Dividing, then as The Misses Mallet.  Is that latter name more commercially appealing?  Maybe.  Everyone likes mallets.  As far as I know.  Interesting facts about Young: 1) she was in a long-term relationship with her lover and his wife; 2) She was an amateur mountaineer.  That first one MIGHT have some degree of relevance to the novel; the second-- seems doubtful.  Though I certainly WISH it did.

So here's the story: there are the Mallets, or more particularly, the Misses Mallets.  There aren't really any others.  They are a well-to-do family.  There's the thirty-ish Rose; her older half-sisters Caroline and Sophia, who I thought couldn't be older than fifty but must be, the chronology here is a bit screwy; and then their orphaned niece Henrietta (their late wastrel brother's daughter), twentyish.  You can kind of forget about Caroline and Sophia; they don't play much role.  But there's this whole deal where this guy named Francis Sales is ardently courting Rose but she keeps on rebuffing him until he moves off to Canada, returning with his new bride, Christabel, only then Christabel is injured in a horse-riding accident and is rendered (I think) paraplegic; following this, Francis and Rose get into this weird platonic romance thing.  And then there's this other dude, Charles Batty, son of the family's attorney, and both of the men have go-rounds with both of the women, blahdy blah, and then Rose ends up with Francis (Christabel having conveniently died) and Henrietta with Charles and oh sorry were those SPOILERS?  I don't know; I had a hard time telling if I was actually supposed to be feeling things about these two couples coupling off.

Can I also just in passing note that the world this all takes place in is weirdly empty.  There are seemingly no male Mallets living, and it's totally unclear how the women are able to maintain the lifestyle they do.  It's weird to say it, but this all sort of reminded me of the Gormenghast novels: everyone just rattling around this castle/estate with no sense of what purpose they're actually serving or what relationship they have with the community at large.  I wish I thought that was intentional.  Is this bad, though?  I dunno; someone on Goodreads compared it to Jane Austen, which is a terrible comparison in any number of ways, one of which is that there's no sense of a larger social world here, or if there is it's fragmentary and disconnected.

Also, can I note that, in the absence of a matrilineal succession system, the Mallet family is done regardless of what happens?  Even if both Rose and Henrietta have kids, they won't be Mallets.  That's never really noted in the book (Caroline and Sophia keep asserting that "Mallet women don't marry," which seems like a recipe for failure), and I'm not sure if we're supposed to notice/care, but I found it odd.

Really, though: again looking on Goodreads, I had the shock of my life when I saw how many other people have been reading Young's work lately.  So good for them and good for her, but I somehow discovered her that year I was trying (and succeeding) to read all female writers, and the very strong impression I got, and still get, is that this is a novel of the sort you'd see in clothbound copies in the decor of "homey" restaurants or B&Bs, and you look to see what the books are and you see that you have never in your life heard of any of the authors, and you look them up on wikipedia and see that, yeah, they were popular in their day, but unread now.  The evidence of my eyes notwithstanding, I have a hard time believing people still actually read this.  O tempura, o morays, or something.

Because really, no joke, this does NOT feel like timeless literature.  These tedious people scurrying around with their tedious little crushes...I mean, maybe I'm missing some theoretically framework that would reveal hidden depths here, but eh.  There are occasional psychologically acute observations, but mostly pretty blah.  

There ARE, though, I must concede, these occasional flashes of humor in the dialogue that are so understated and deadpan that I'm not one hundred percent sure the humor is intentional.  I liked them, anyway!  Examples:

"That's your fault."

"I don't quite see why," she said pleasantly; "But no doubt you are right.  But has a cow died?"

"Of course not.  Why should it?"

"They do, I suppose?"

"Has she any children?"

"No, there's a cat and a dog--especially a cat."

"And a husband, I suppose."

"Yes, a husband.  Do you like cats, Henrietta?"

"They catch mice," Henrietta said informatively.

"Cows," she breathed again.


"But in the winter," she said hopefully, "I should think they shut them up at night, poor things."

"Not cold enough yet for that."

"I'm afraid of them, you know."

"Domestic animals," he said calmly.

"Horns," she whispered.

"Charles," she said, "it's awful."

"No, it's all right.  We've been to a concert."

"Yes"--her voice sank--"I've kept that promise.  But the whole thing--and Aunt Caroline so ill.  She may have died."

"There hasn't been time," he said.

"Oh, Charles, it only takes a minute."

I don't know.  I'd be a lot more into this book if there were more like that.  But I don't think I'll read more Young.  Or maybe I should?  Is there something here worth pursuing?  In fairness, this isn't among her most popular novels, so maybe...?  Am I just perverse?  Probably.  Blah.


Post a Comment

<< Home