Date of publication
For Kate O'Brien
Charques, R. D., and Elizabeth L. Sturch. ‘Experienced Lovers: Late and Soon’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 2157, 5 June 1943, p. 269.
In 1942, Valentine Arbell (44) is living in her country house, Coombe in Devon, with her arthritic and reactionary brother General Reggie Levallois (56) and her younger daughter Jess (17), who is waiting to be called up for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). Valentine’s husband Humphrey died in a hunting accident twelve years previously. Her older daughter Primrose is 23, lives in London and is currently driving a mobile canteen; she and Valentine do not get on well, as Primrose finds her mother’s diplomatic politeness dishonest, despises her upper-class practical incompetence, and holds very different values. The family is already housing some evacuated children, and the house is very uncomfortable as they have lost most of their servants, there is a single bathroom (and about 8 bedrooms plus servants’ rooms) and the heating and hot water are inadequate. An officer comes to the house and asks whether Valentine would consider hosting two senior officers, a Colonel Lonergan and Captain Sedgwick. In the summer of 1914, living in Rome with her diplomat parents, Valentine had a short, chaste but intense romance with an Irish painter of that name; when discovered, her mother had put a stop to it. Valentine’s subsequent marriage was emotionally limited. She rather hopes that this Colonel will turn out to be the Rory Lonergan of her youth. Colonel Lonergan arrives by car, having collected Primrose from Exeter station; they have been having an affair for a couple of weeks. He is starting to find the age gap awkward and is embarrassed by Primrose’s bad manners when they stop for a drink. She mentions her mother’s maiden name and he realises she might have been the girl he knew in Rome. When they arrive at the house, both he and Valentine realise that they have been reunited. There is an awkward dinner where Primrose is very rude to her mother, and Rory Lonergan tells her he will not sleep with her in her mother’s house. He and Valentine tell each other how their lives have been since they parted. Rory had a long relationship with a Frenchwoman, Laurence, who died in 1934; they have a daughter, Arlette, who is living in Ireland with Rory’s sister. In bed, Valentine realises that she is falling in love with Rory again. But the next day she realises that there is some connection between him and Primrose. At dinner, though, Primrose is rude and argumentative with Rory; he tells her that their relationship is definitely over and then tells Valentine that he loves her, which she reciprocates. He confesses to Valentine that he and Primrose have had an affair, but that it was a short-lived thing and is now over. Valentine is concerned about this but content to accept his proposal of marriage. Venetia Rockingham, Valentine’s sister-in-law, arrives for a visit with Hughie Spurway, a neurotic and probably homosexual young man who is in love with Primrose. Valentine and Rory discuss the differences between them and how they might adjust to them, especially their differences of class and life experience. Reggie, who has anti-Irish prejudice and has already warned Valentine about spending time with Rory, gossips with Venetia about their friendship and Venetia tries to warn Valentine off him. Valentine is newly confident and tells her firmly that she is in love and will marry Rory. Hughie has got drunk and made a scene with Primrose; Valentine scares him away when she comes to tell Primrose of her plans to marry. Primrose is less angry than Valentine expects, and she is able to tell Jess (nonplussed). Hughie gets drunker still and Primrose throws a jug of cold water over him; in the aftermath, Venetia turns the conversation to Rory’s complicated love affairs but Valentine forestalls her by telling Reggie that she is to marry him. Valentine tells Primrose that she knows their relationship has gone wrong and is sorry; they seem to come to an understanding. Reggie is appalled to learn that Rory has slept with Primrose and will now marry Valentine. But Valentine’s old French servant Madeleine is supportive and pleased. Rory and Valentine talk over Arlette, and his relationship with Laurence. Valentine realises that this will always be a source of pain that she will have to live with. Jess tells Valentine that she thinks her marriage will be a good thing, and that she does not think much of Primrose’s treatment of her admirers. Venetia tries to dissuade Valentine from marrying, citing the views of the extended family, Rory’s Catholicism and their class difference. Reggie has a similar conversation with her, suggesting that her feelings are an infatuation of middle age and to put off marriage until after the end of the war. Hughie, ashamed of himself, leaves the house. Rory telephones from his office: he has 48 hours embarkation leave. Valentine walks to meet him, but instead bumps into Jess who tells her that Rory has been called away. Jess has her call-up papers. Later, Rory tries and fails to reach Arlette by telephone. Venetia talks to him to try to put him off the proposed marriage. Rory has obtained a special marriage licence, but he is still concerned about how they will merge their very different lives; Valentine is willing, eventually, to leave Coombe, as her daughters are grown up. But they are both concerned that they will marry in haste and be unable to resolve matters. Rory is called away by war duties; Arlette sends a telegram asking for her father to visit or to send for her. He returns late at night but does not come to see Valentine. The next morning, it is snowing. Madeleine wakes Valentine with a note from Rory. He has got over his doubts, and they agree to be married that morning. They go out into the snow.
Second World War marriage motherhood novel