Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Miss Herbert : suburban wife (Stead)

Although I had enjoyed the first two Christina Stead's that I read (For love alone and The Salzburg Tales), having not enjoyed Letty Fox so much, I didn't have as high hopes as I might have done for Miss Herbert. I'm glad to say that these were misplaced as I thought this novel was wonderful.

The heroine is Eleanor Herbert, later Eleanor Brent, and we meet her engaged to be married, but restless. She goes off on a cruise, breaks the engagement, makes another one, and breaks that too before returning home to be engaged once more to her first fiance. An intriguing start! Eleanor and Robert do not get married immediately, and Eleanor leaves for London to pursue a life on the literary fringes, running a correspondence class and living a very bohemian existence in lodging houses. As years pass, the engagement weakens and is eventually broken off. Eleanor has more suitors, but eventually meets another man whom she will eventually marry. We then see Eleanor married to Henry, enjoying running a household and trying to implement household economy; they have children and get an au pair. But somehow conventional life is too difficult for Eleanor and the marriage eventually breaks down and she returns to the literary life trying to support her children. It was definitely a read that I didn't have any idea where it was going, and the first part too was incongruous with the title.

I wish that my copy was the original green one, as I think that the hat of the woman on the front is absolutely fantastic! But I have the later green edition and think that there is a certain mischievousness about the woman on the front of that version which encapsulates Eleanor entirely. 4*

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