Challenge to Clarissa

Date of publication
Published reviews
‘Challenge to Clarissa’. The Women’s Leader, 3 July 1931, p. 5; Dane, Clemence. ‘Sowers and Reapers of the Novel’. The Listener, vol. 5, no. 127, 17 June 1931, p. 1027; Harwood, H. C. ‘New Novels: Challenge to Clarissa’. Saturday Review, June 1931, p. 832; ‘Notes for the Novel Reader: Fiction of the Month’. The Illustrated London News, 11 July 1931, p. 64; Scott, R. McNair. ‘New Novels: Challenge to Clarissa’. The English Review, July 1931, pp. 249–53; Thirkell, Angela. ‘Challenge to Clarissa’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1531, 4 June 1931, p. 444; West, Rebecca. ‘Good Books from England, Ireland & France’. Daily Telegraph, no. 23734, 12 June 1931, p. 17.
The novel opens with Clarissa's pursuit of, and eventual marriage to, the impoverished, limp and dissipated Reggie Fitzmaurice. Clarissa has been widowed during the first World War, and has inherited her husband's property and her father's money. Fitzmaurice is already married, to the daughter of the Princess de Candi-Laquerrière, adulterous Aldegonde, but is not seriously inclined to divorce her until Clarissa forces his hand. We get an early taste of Clarissa's belief that all obstacles can be removed with a liberal application of cash when she offers to settle £5,000 on Aldegonde once the divorce is completed, an offer that is gently turned down by the Princesse. Fitzmaurice makes one condition before agreeing to the divorce: to keep in his care his daughter Sophie. The narrative jumps ten years. Sophie is newly grown up and being circulated vigorously by Clarissa on the marriage market. Clarissa's son by her first husband, Lucien, is a year or two older than Sophie, and has been brought up to view her as his sister. During a summer house party at Mardale, their country home, Clarissa engineers a visit from a rich young lord, the hilariously named Bat Clutterthorpe, who proposes to Sophie; she obediently accepts. However, the Princesse and her retinue have arrrived in the area and meet Sophie and Lucien. Lucien quarrels with his mother, rushes from the house and immediately encounters the Princesse, who correctly diagnoses his problem: he is in love with Sophie. With his true feelings brought to light, Lucien proposes to Sophie, who accepts and immediately breaks off her engagement to Bat, who is decidedly unbothered. They announce to Clarissa that they intend to marry. Her response is to throw an impressive tantrum; refusing to countenance the marriage, she sets about arranging to send Lucien abroad and to ensure that Sophie becomes re-engaged to Bat. The Princesse, realising that Clarissa's only vulnerability is her abiding love for Fitzmaurice, bribes him to intervene. Unable to refuse the temptation of £300 a year of his own, Fitzmaurice threatens to leave Clarissa unless the marriage goes ahead. Clarissa is outraged, but defeated, and soon she is managing Lucien and Sophie's wedding plans as if it had been her idea in the first place.
First World War comedy lesbianism motherhood women's work
Published as House Party in the USA.