Fiction — print. Persephone Books, 2009. Originally published 1932. 119 pgs. Purchased.
On a March day in England, Dolly Thatcham prepares in her childhood home to marry her fiance, Owen, before the two of them set off for his diplomatic post in South America. The cover image for Strachey’s novel — not to mention the suggestion of “cheerful” in the title — suggests that the day should be serene and wonderful. Yet chaos reigns in the family home.
Two cousins by the name of Tom and Robert are arguing over the acceptability of wearing green socks to a wedding while Dolly’s sister, Kitty, mourns how she’ll never be as sophisticated as Dolly’s bridesmaid. Mrs. Thatcham is busy snapping at the family’s maid for failing to follow the contradictory instructions she’s been given on where to set the luncheon, and the whole family is awaiting the arrival of Cousin Bob, who is set give Dolly away at her wedding since her father has passed.
Adding to the chaos is Dolly’s old beau, Joseph, whose arrival at the Thatcham home only hours before the wedding is to occur causes Dolly to rethink whether or not she’s making the right decision on whom to marry. A maelstrom of emotions further matched by the weather outside, which, despite Mrs. Thatcham’s assertions to the contrary, consists of gale-force winds and the threat of rain.
In this short novella, Stratchey’s characters are forced to contend with the realities of regret and lost opportunities. Much of the book’s hundred or so pages are spent setting up the chaos of the home before delving into the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ of two lovers who have been separated by time or circumstances.
Or, have they? Because the ultimate conclusion shows why separations happen, why we cannot pretend the “weather” is cheerful when it is not. The final moments stole the label of “sweet” from this novella; the conclusion had me wondering how I could have underestimated Strachey or Persephone’s decision to publish her. (For those who have read the novella, I’m in the camp that does not believe a word of what Joseph says.)
Yet for all the shock at the conclusion, the characters and, ultimately, the novella fell flat for me. I loathe to blame the short nature of the story having read marvelous short stories– some published by Perspehone and some not — that created fantastic characters in limited page counts. Perhaps it was the chaos of the Thatcham home that never allowed me to settle in with the characters? Or, perhaps it was the praise of Strachey’s humor on the inside flap of the cover that set up false expectations? Either way, not my favorite Persephone.
Note: The endpaper (above) is a 1932 design for a printed dress fabric by Madeleine Lawrence. I read the novel as issued by Persephone Classics (right) so the endpaper in my copy was grey-scale.