In urgent need of an antidote to Paul Burrell's memoir (see Short Cuts, 20 November), I hurried down to the London Review Bookshop to pick up a copy of Henry Green's Loving. The recent (2000) Vintage Classics edition seemed as good a bet as any: it has a nice picture of a peacock swanking on the cover, and costs only £6.99. Loving, first published in 1945, is concerned with the lives of the servants in an Anglo-Irish country house during World War Two. Mrs Tennant, the mistress of the house, is away in London for much of the book, visiting her son who is on leave from the Army. Her daughter-in-law hurries off to join them a few days earlier than planned, after Edith, one of the housemaids, discovers her in bed with a neighbour, Captain Davenport. The servants, meanwhile, are left to their own devices, conducting power struggles and love affairs among themselves, and anxious about an imminent German invasion or an attack by the IRA. Mrs Welch, the cook, forbids her girls from speaking to tradesmen on prevention of terrorism grounds, though it turns out that her real motive is safeguarding the secret of her illicit gin supply. Charley Raunce, the former head footman recently promoted to butler, continues his predecessor's practice of skimming a few pounds off the household accounts every month.
LRB 4 December 2003 | PDF Download