If this hadn t been written by Stella Gibbons, I think I d have rated ithighly But the power of the Brand is such that I judge NW by CCF and it just doesn t measure up There are some delightfully cutting remarks, and some pleasant enough scene setting But Part of the problem is that none of the characters are particularly sympathetic or, at least, every scene that might elicit some sympathy for one person or another is followed by an antidote That can work well enough if there is a thorough going villain against whom everyone can unite, but Mr Wither, set up initially as a domineering mysogynistic puritanical Mr Punch, is sadly marginalised So, while this wasn t a completely wasted afternoon, I d hoped for .
Life Is Not Quite A Fairytale For Poor Viola Left Penniless, The Young Widow Is Forced To Live With Her Late Husband S Family In A Joyless Old House There S Mr Wither, A Tyrannical Old Miser, Mrs Wither, Who Thinks Viola Is Just A Common Shop Girl, And Two Unlovely Sisters In Law, One Of Whom Is In Love With The Chauffeur Recently reissued by Virago Modern Classics Yay Because there isn t much plot description on GR I am stealing Robin McKinley s review from her blog until I actually get to read this myself Viola Thompson is a shop girl with no prospects and, having no prospects, somewhat reluctantly accepts the proposal of a dull young man named Theodore Wither, because she is not likely to have any others Theodore, however, is so convenient, or inconvenient, as to die after a year of marriage and Viola goes to live with her in laws the appalling Mr Wither, the watery Mrs Wither, the jolly hockey sticks Madge and the neurotic Tina in a dire, frigid, over furnished house marooned in a bit of Essex countryside Viola is soon lonelier andmiserable than she can comprehend and with nothing to look forward to, and nothing to think about except the one other large house in the area, where an extremely wealthy and rather handsome young man named Victor Spring lives with his mother and his cousin, gives flashy and dashing house parties, and is the romantic fantasy of every shop girl in Sible Pelden and Chesterbourne This is not exclusively Viola s story Tina, although she has kept her brain exercised by reading heavyish books, which might not always be truly wise but at least were not those meringues of the intellectnovels , is in love with the chauffeur, who is twelve years younger than she is and has a drunken washerwoman for a mother, but is very good lookingThey saw him walk past the window on his afternoon off, wearing a grey suit in which he looked as beautiful as he did in his dark uniform differing therein from many chauffeurs, whose appearance when in mufti suggests that of escaped convicts And Victor Spring s cousin, a young woman named Hetty, hates her comfortable, enforced high bourgeois existence, and can t wait for her twenty first birthday, when she is going to run off to London and live in a garret Viola is an orphan she was raised by her father after her mother s death He was a passionate amateur actor, and named her Viola after his favourite heroine She liked to watch her father as he read, and to listen to the smoothly rolling tones she felt no curiosity about what the words meant It was only Shakespeare, and she was used to him But Viola s father was knocked down by a young man driving a car, and died in an hour The young man was fined, and had some severe remarks made about him, and drove away from the court faster than ever because he was so crosswhich is to say this is Cinderella with an edge As Mrs Theodore Wither Viola was not very happy, because after he was married to her, Teddy discovered that she was not so poetic and marvellous as he had supposed, and naturally this made him less fond of her Of the exciting house on the far side of the Nightingale Wood The telephone rang every half hour or so Vans from Harrods, from Fortnum and Mason and Cartier, came up to the houseThese were for Mrs Spring, whose hobby was shopping This being Cinderella, there has to be a ball, and Viola has to go to it, and meet, and dance with, Prince Charming and there is and she does But then the ball is over, and she has to go back to the dire frigid house where there is nothing to do one of the things Gibbons gets bang right to my eye is the mad, frenzied, hopeless boredom of being a nice bourgeois girl of that era Viola thinks I wish I was dead Well, not exactly dead, but I wish I was a nun or something, or something simply marvellous would happen tomorrow Being a nice girl, she cannot ring up Mr Charming and suggest they go to a film together besides, he is already engaged to be married, to an extremely well turned out scion of the smart set But finally and with only a tiny acceptable amount of violent manipulation, she has an excuse to write him a letter She posted her letters, keeping Victor s until the end and pushing it slowly through the letter box, letting it fall at last into the darkness She heard the little sound as it landed on the other letters below She stood for a minute, staring at the box, then turned and walked slowly home And that letter arrives at a crucial juncture, and I really enjoyed this book.
If like me you ve been a long time fan of Cold Comfort Farm, then you ll love this one as well.
If you ve never read Stella Gibbons before then the best description I can come up with is that it s like Jane Austen but about 120 years later, with a very dry wicked sense of humour and just a little bit of sex.
It was written in 1938 and it s a story about people, their social position, manners and relationships There s also an interwoven social commentary about the different roles and stereotypes of women at the time.
I loved the humour in the book and laughed out loud several times.
To sum it up typically English, quirky and fun.
I read this book when on a Stella Gibbons kick, after reading Cold Comfort Farm She s a really interesting figure to me, Gibbons, because she wrote SO much, but is pretty much only known for Cold Comfort Farm, which is, of course, delightful But she was a prolific writer, and just jumped all over the place with her books That s cool Most people don t do that In Nightingale Wood, we have the story of class clash in a small English town That s what this book is all about class, interest, keeping money in your family, or at least keeping your nobility, and coldness The coldness of a hard family, and how the characters try to find love to warm them up again Really interesting.
Nightingale Wood is a really delightful Cinderella type tale from the author who of course is better known for having brought us Cold Comfort Farm However I think that the novel is a little deceptive, it is not as light as it may appear, and there is a complexity and poignancy to it that is especially well done Gibbons has captured a rural community of the 1930 s with its class divisions and restrictions, highlighting the differing social positions of her characters and the way those positions are perceived by others Viola Withers is just twenty one, newly widowed of a much older husband, she finds herself obliged to go and live with her in laws at The Eagles in Essex This household of women Mrs Withers, middle aged daughters Madge and Tina and their three female servants are all very much in thrall to Mr Withers, a strict patriarch preoccupied by the management of other people s money The Wither s invite Viola to live with them, out of nothingthan a sense of duty, and Viola s gentle soul quails rather at the coldness she finds Mrs Withers regards her daughter in law with some suspicion, a former shop girl who married her son rather suddenly her main occupation seems to be keeping her husband calm Tina, thirty five, and secretly in love with Saxon the chauffer twelve years her junior, hopes that Viola will bring some much needed life to The Eagles Madge on the other hand nearing forty having never really grown up, is only concerned with hunting, fishing and dogs Madge famously known for not howling , sobbing hysterically as she begs her father to allow her a puppy, is pitifully memorable Stella Gibbons portrays the family at The Eagles with her familiar humour, but there is a definite sharpness to it which is very telling The family at The Eagles was assembled in the drawing room at that dreary hour when tea is long over and dinner not yet in sight It was a tranquil scene it would have annoyed a Communist Five non productive members of the bourgeoisie sat in a room as large as a small hall, each breathingair, warmed byfire and gettingdelight and comfort from the pictures and furniture than was strictly necessary In the kitchen underneath them three members of the working class swinked ignobly at getting their dinner, bought with money from invested capital But perhaps this is not a very interesting way of regarding poor Mr Wither and the rest Not far away from The Eagles, and another rung or two up the social ladder are the Springs, Mrs Spring, her bookish niece Hetty and her son Victor, handsome and full of confidence, he is the undisputed Prince Charming of the neighbourhood Victor is unofficially engaged to Phyllis a rather hilariously awful character that Gibbons is so good at creating Victor Spring may be the Prince Charming of the piece, but he certainly appears to not be in any way a hero At a ball which serves to bring some much needed distraction to the inhabitants of The Eagles, Victor first really notices Viola, despite having already given a lift to her and Tina when caught in a rain storm his intentions however are anything but honourable Yes.
of course, she was a widow He had forgotten that She looked the very image of innocence, she talked like a schoolgirl, but widows were not innocent However young and simple a widow might seem, you could not get away from the fact that widows, presumably, were not Well this girl was actuallyexperienced than old Phyl What I really enjoyed about Nightingale Wood aside from the humour and the wonderful characterisation are the several different plot strands which weave together so nicely Tina s relationship with her unlikely seeming lover Saxon, Viola s romantic infatuation of Victor Spring, Victor s unsatisfactory relationship with the eminently eligible Phyllis, manage to be wonderfully satirical and touching Without giving too much away in the resolutions of these fairy tale stories Gibbons is ever so slightly subversive It all makes for a hugely readable and engaging novel maybe less of a classic than Cold Comfort Farm it is still well worth reading.
From BBC Radio 4 Extra On either side of Nightingale Wood through one idyllic year in the late 1930s, hearts beat and minds scheme, as the dowdy Wither family tries to compete with the glittering Springs Bookish Tina Wither is in love with Saxon, her father s handsome and aloof chauffeur Her shopgirl sister in law, Viola, has fallen for Victor Spring, the lord of the manor And Madge is in love with a dog.
this review refers to the audiobook version oh what fun like jane austen with icky people.
this book tends toward a dim view of the human race, which is quite fine with me there s the father in law, who wants only to get his paws on other people s money his low wattage wife, who must have never met an intellectual challenge she didn t run shrieking from his eldest daughter, a spinster so cold she can love only a dog his youngest daughter, whose chances for marriage are a candle in the wind and the friendless young widow his family takes in, only to be mean to her Gibbons is a new experience for me this is like the anti romance novel, for the most part but not just romance of the boy girl kind she writes quite clear eyed about money and its corrosive effects about living or not quite living in a stultifying society about how small town life can make a person, well, small only the natural world gets a pass.
i d like to listen to this again sometime Gibbons social critique is sharp and often very funny, and she has clear respect for her readers the end wraps up with a wedding, but rest assured, not everybody lives happily ever after, not by a long shot.
A very funny, very smart novel about upper middle class life in late 1930 s England Two families, separated by a woodland where The Hermit, the town drunk and squatter lives, come together in unlikely ways when Viola, the Withers widowed daughter in law, arrives and chaos starts brewing Lots of wit, some tongue in cheek moments and just enough sadness to make all of the lovely bits sting just a bitIf you liked Cold Comfort Farm you will probably like this one For the longer review, please go here