Thursday, 22 December 2011

Love Has No Resurrection by E.M. Delafield

This 1939 anthology was Delafield's last collection of short stories and comprises a varied selection - some short, funny squibs, some longer pieces both comic and tragic,  and a rare Delafield outing into crime fiction.  Like a lot of writers, Delafield extended her range in short fiction, so as well as her familiar territory of matrimony and domesticity, these stories cover boarding-houses, beaches and even a film set; in "O.K. for Story" a writer, employed by a film studio, successfully manages to repackage The Merchant of Venice as an outline for the studio's next production.  The employees of the studio are of course too lowbrow to spot the reference.

"My Son Had Nothing on his Mind" is Delafield at her humorous best, describing young Gilbert Catto's escape both from his overbearing mother and his intended bride two days before the wedding.  Mrs Catto is a triumphantly awful Delafield matriarch and Rhoda, Gilbert's fiancée, a perfectly ghastly "very feminine, very old-fashioned girl".  Gilbert is rescued by Shirley, a rather hard young medical student, who is decidedly not old-fashioned and sports a perm and plucked eyebrows.  Unusually for rather hard young women in fiction, Shirley is the heroine of the piece, telling Gilbert frankly that he ought to run away and get a job if he dreads the marriage so much.  Equally unusually, there is no romantic conclusion, since Shirley finds Gilbert's passivity rather insufferable.  As well as confounding reader expectations in terms of plot, this short story also sees Delafield experimenting with narrative time, cutting back and forth between past and present.

The story "Opportunity", conversely, is as sad a depiction of an unhappy marriage as you might hope to find.  Fan Hancock - not a euphonious name - has been enduring marriage to dull, pernickety Harry for some years.  Her sister Millie, visiting from America, seizes the opportunity to tell Harry that he is perpetually "nagging and grumbling and petty bullying" and that he could make Fan's life much better by helping her and praising her occasionally.  For a moment, it looks as if Harry will take the opportunity offered, but by the last paragraph he is back in full tedious, self-centred flow.  There is no hope for Fan, who is too trapped by her love for her children and years of accreted loyalty to her husband to assert herself.

The final story, "They Don't Wear Labels", is set in a boarding-house and concerning charming, helpful Mr Peverelli and his neurotic wife.  They are recent arrivals, and Mr Peverelli dotes on his wife with apparent uxoriousness, but it emerges that she is in fact terrified of him and convinced that he is trying to poison her.  The story is narrated by the boarding-house keeper who initially accepts Mr Peverelli at face value, but who comes to doubt his motives.   Rather like Hitchcock's Suspicion, the story sets up possibilities and undermines them, creating an atmosphere of sinister uncertainty among banal domestic activities.  The story concludes at Christmas, and would make a good spooky fireside winter treat.

Unfortunately, if you fancy that treat for yourself you'll either need to be extravagant or patient, as there are very few copies of this book about.  Perhaps we will see it reprinted when Delafield comes out of copyright in 2014. 

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