Date of publication
To Lorna [Lewis], with love and gratitude
"The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything." Lewis Carroll
‘Best Sellers in London’. The Observer, 28 June 1936, p. 7; Brighouse, Harold. ‘The Novelist on the Egotist’. The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959), 2 June 1936, p. 5; Lewis, C. Day. ‘New Fiction: Miss E. M. Delafield’s Success’. Daily Telegraph, no. 25280, 5 June 1936, p. 8; Muir, Edwin. ‘New Novels: Faster! Faster!’ The Listener, vol. 15, no. 389, 24 June 1936, p. 1223; ‘New Novels: Faster! Faster!’ The Times, no. 47384, 26 May 1936, p. 10; ‘Notable Novels’. The Times, no. 47435, 24 July 1936, p. 9; ‘Notes for the Novel-Reader: Fiction of the Month’. The Illustrated London News, vol. 189, no. 5072, 4 July 1936, p. 30; Struensee. ‘Books of the Day: New Novels: Faster! Faster!’ The Times, 26 May 1936, p. 10; Sturch, Elizabeth L. ‘Another Domination: Faster! Faster!’ The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1791, 30 May 1936, p. 457; West, Douglas. ‘Books To-Day’. Daily Mail, 28 May 1936, p. 20.
Frances Ladislaw has returned to London after the death of her husband, and visits her old schoolfriend Claudia Winsloe. Claudia, in her early forties, has established London Universal Services, a business that functions as a literary agency as well as organising schools for children, providing escorts for journeys, finding houses, and shopping. Her business partner, Sal Oliver, has no great fondness for Claudia but admires her hard working nature. Frances and Sal accompany Claudia for an August bank holiday visit to her country house, Arling. Arling was Claudia's childhood home and she has stretched herself to buy it again. Living with her there are her husband Copper, her daughters Sylvia (nineteen) and Taffy (seventeen), eleven-year-old Maurice, and Claudia's mother, Mrs Peel. Copper has not worked for some time, and Claudia supports the family. Also visiting is Andrew Quarrendon, an Oxford don who has met Claudia through her work, and become friendly with her. The children are good-naturedly boisterous, fond of the wireless and dance music, but willing enough to turn it off at Sal Oliver's request. Mrs Peel's constant refrain is that Claudia works too hard; she is ill at ease in Claudia's modern household. Copper Winsloe, frustrated and bored, is snappish with his children and his wife. The weekend is a long holiday one; Claudia is unable to leave her work and is thoroughly martyred about her devotion to duty, in the face of constant criticism from her family. Claudia and Frances have some time to catch up; Claudia tells Frances about her sister Anna, married to a rich banker, Adolf Zienzi, and mainly now living in America. Claudia feels she has lost Anna; she believes Anna resents her controlling and bullying behaviour when they were young. She also confides that she knows her husband is unhappy that he is out of work and that the family relies on her income, but does not see how she can stop him minding this. Andrew Quarrendon is persuaded to play tennis by Sylvia, and talks to her afterwards; her mother has fixed up an interview for her at a publishing-house, but Sylvia would prefer to live at home and do nothing. The kind of life girls were expected to lead when Mother was young (42). She is, however, ashamed of this. Sylvia likes Quarrendon and compares him favourably with a young man at a dance who had wanted to kiss her. Sylvia and Taffy speculate about his attraction to their mother. Taffy and Claudia have a brief, muted disagreement over Taffy's choice of evening dress; Taffy is pulled between admiration of her brilliant, vital mother (51), and a recognition that her mother's need of admiration for her talents is excessive. After dinner the family, minus Copper, play paper games. Claudia, who prides herself on her honesty and ability to face facts, is disturbed when her talent for sincerity is graded 2/10 by an anonymous marker. The children, accompanied by Andrew Quarrendon, go to the beach. Quarrendon and Sylvia talk more, and declare themselves to be friends, but Quarrendon realises that he has fallen in love with the much younger Sylvia, and that she is similarly drawn to him. Claudia, working while the beach party takes place, is criticised by Sal Oliver for making a martyr of herself over her work. Claudia is annoyed but professes herself interested in Sal's view. The whole family goes to the beach for tea, and Frances is disturbed by Claudia's over-strained presentation of a happy, perfect mother. Frances and Taffy talk, and Taffy confides that she wants to go to college in America through the agency of her aunt Anna, who has suggested this. Taffy is keen to get away from home and to explore life outside England, and is very definite about not marrying an Englishman. It is a hot evening, and Sylvia is entrusted with the family car for a moonlit bathe. Quarrendon goes with the children, and Claudia realises that he is attracted by her daughter. There is a slight shock to her vanity, but she is determined to prevent Sylvia by being hurt by this attraction. On the beach, however, Sylvia and Andrew have become closer, and made avowals of love, and when they return to the house he kisses her in the garden. Claudia seeks out Sylvia, and understands what has happened, although Sylvia will tell her nothing; Claudia is pained to be deceived. Anna and Adolf call the following day and propose to visit for lunch. Frances discusses Claudia's work with her, and suggests that Claudia might be able to make use of her in her business. Claudia mentions that she is thinking of sending Sylvia to Paris to work with a dressmaker, rather than to London, remembering to add that the decision will, of course, be Sylvia's. Anna and Adolf arrive for lunch; Anna is rich, beautiful and glamorous. Anna asks Claudia whether she will allow her to take Taffy to America, where she can attend Bryn Mawr. Anna, Claudia, Sal and Frances discuss the issue. Anna and Sal feel that Taffy's aggressive tendencies will only increase if she is required to stay at home in regular combat with her equally assertive mother. Claudia is against the plan, for what she says are dispassionate reasons, but Anna confronts her and tells her plainly that she is deceiving herself - that her personal feelings for Taffy are influencing her decision. She goes on to say that the self-image Claudia has made of wife, mother and breadwinner is entirely artificial. Frances, appealed to as an arbiter by Claudia, agrees that this is part of the truth - that Claudia dramatises her position. Quarrendon and Sylvia discuss their future. Quarrendon does not wish for marriage; his preference is for affairs that allow him to dedicate himself to his academic work and allow him to take professional risks - the pram in the hall would be the end of his career. Sylvia consents to becoming his lover, at some unspecified point in the future. Mrs Peel criticises Claudia's plans for Sylvia's future; when Claudia reiterates that the decision will be Sylvia, Mrs Peel tells her that the children never think anything but what you've taught them to think (155); the decision will be Claudia's. Sylvia and Quarrendon make plans to meet in the old school-room after the household is in bed; they are surprised there by Mrs Peel, who thinks she has heard a burglar, and Copper, who grasps the situation and calmly sends Sylvia back to bed. Copper tells Claudia of this in the morning; he does not think the matter serious, although Sylvia ought to be spoken to. Claudia confronts Sylvia and Quarrendon about it and they tell her they are in love. Claudia criticises Quarrendon for wanting to have it both ways - to expect Sylvia to commit to him emotionally and sexually without giving her the security of marriage, although she agrees that they should not marry because of the age difference. Claudia attempts to diminish the importance of Quarrendon for her daughter, claiming that he doesn't love you enough (183); but Sylvia is unconvinced. Quarrendon ends the scene by proposing marriage. Claudia and Frances discuss the issue, and Claudia suggests again that Sylvia should be sent to Paris. Frances suggests that Claudia might be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Sylvia tells her mother that she is not going to accept Quarrendon's proposal, because she knows it is not right for him. Quarrendon goes away, having said a tearful goodbye to Sylvia and tried to persuade her to marry him. Claudia, at Sylvia's request, agrees to look for a career for her away from London, and writes to her Parisian contact. It is now October. Claudia is back at work; we meet her kind and hardworking employees, who have a tendency to be frivolous and vulgar. Frances seeks some employment from Claudia, who is unwilling to give it; Sal Oliver believes that Claudia wants to keep her office-self away from Frances, but the illness of a member of staff's daughter means that Frances becomes necessary. Copper appears unexpectedly to see Claudia, who is away from the office, and takes Frances out to lunch. He has the possibility of a job as the manager of a social club in the Midlands, but will need £200 capital to join the organisation. Claudia is unsettled by this, and unwilling to give up her place as chief breadwinner, but there are several people willing to put up the capital, and her brother-in-law endorses the project as sound. Anna invites Claudia to dinner, and they discuss again the issue of Taffy; Claudia has decided against letting her go, because she believes it would be bad for Taffy to think herself special at this stage in her life. Anna confronts her and states plainly that the reason Claudia puts obstacles in the way of Copper and Taffy is because she likes seeing herself as Atlas supporting the world. She says that Claudia is acting as the perfect, selfless mother, the sole support of them all, the woman who's gallantly working herself to death (277), and that she fears losing her influence over Taffy should she go away from home. The next day, news comes that Copper has indeed been offered the job. Sal suggests that Claudia looks ill and tired, but she will not spend a day resting. Claudia is tired, but is determined to drive down to Eastbourne to visit Maurice at school, despite many suggestions that she should leave it to the following day. The evening is wet and the traffic heavy. In a rush, Claudia overtakes a tram, only to crash into another tram coming the other way. A few months after Claudia's death, we catch up with her family and friends. Taffy is on her way to America with Anna and Adolf. Frances Ladislaw visits Maurice at school, and takes him out to tea; she provides unobtrusive comfort to the grieving child. Sylvia and Copper are living near the social club, which is proving a success. Andrew Quarrendon has written asking her to meet him in London, and hinting that they will become lovers, a prospect Sylvia welcomes; she believes that her mother will know about this and understand. Work at Claudia's office continues in the usual way. Copper has become fond of Frances, and looks forward to her letters, which seem to him to open a new possibility.
gender roles marriage mother-daughter relationships novel women's friendships women's work