Mrs Harter

Date of publication
Hutchinson & Co
To Phyllida
Published reviews
Gould, Gerald. ‘New Fiction: Mrs. Harter’. Saturday Review, Dec. 1924, p. 636; K, C. F. ‘A Pleasant Story’. The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959), 28 Nov. 1924, p. 7; ‘Mrs. Harter’. The Scotsman, 14 Feb. 1925, p. 12; Murray, D. L. ‘Mrs Harter’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1194, 4 Dec. 1924, p. 820.
Narrated by the disabled Sir Miles Flower, married to Claire and resident in Cross Loman Manor House. The village is small and there are few neighbours: Mary Ambrey, Claire's cousin and her grown-up children Sallie and Martyn, often in residence; the Kendals and their four grown-up daughters, all living at home; the Rector and his wife, Lady Annabel Bending, widow of a senior diplomat; and Nancy Fazackerly, who escapted a violent marriage when her husband died, and returned home and care for her irascible elderly father. Claire, Miles, the young Ambreys (enthusiastic amateur psychologists: Sallie is a medical student, Martyn "at Oxford") Mary and two of the Kendals meet one afternoon and play a game in which all the participants write down adjectives describing a person on a piece of paper; this is read out to the others who must guess who is meant. Sallie uses the opportunity to snipe at Claire, who has a tendency to self-dramatise and over-emote. To alleviate the situation, they all agree to describe Mrs Diamond Harter; the daughter of a local plumber, she married a solicitor and went to live in Egypt, but has now returned to Cross Loman while her husband remains abroad. All have a strong impression of her, although nobody knows her well and several agree that she is common. Nancy Fazackerly takes a paying guest, Captain Bill Patch. Bill is a writer. Claire's brother Christopher returns from China to stay with his sister, who is passionately and controllingly fond of him. Lady Annabel arranges a concert in the village Drill Hall, at which Mrs Harter sings. She is a good singer and physically striking; her performance and appearance excite much comment. Nancy Fazackerly decides to host a musical evening, at which Mrs Harter appears again; Bill Patch sees her home afterwards. Sir Miles imagines the intimate conversation that must have taken place between them. Christopher, Sallie, Nancy and Bill Patch decide to get up a musical play after which there can be dancing at the Manor House. They base the play on the song Abdul the Bul-bul Ameer; Mrs Harter will sing the song at the start and end of the play, with other villagers taking the acting parts. Lady Annabel passes on gossip gleaned from colonial contacts about Mrs Harter's ill behaviour when abroad. Sir Miles reconstructs the second meeting of Bill and Mrs Harter from information given by Nancy and Mary; he believes that Bill had declared his love for her at this point. The play is rehearsed. Captain Patch is popular and lots of observers attend the rehearsals. Claire, Miles and Mary begin to realise that Christopher is attracted by Nancy; Claire is displeased by this. There begins to be gossip about Bill and Mrs Harter, and people speculate about the views of Mr Harter, and whether there will be a divorce. A local large house is let for the summer to Mr and Mrs Leeds, who host a picnic. It turns out they have known Mrs Harter in Cairo, and they gossip about her. Claire realises that Christopher intends to marry Nancy, and is very angry. The day before the play is to be performed, Mr Harter arrives. Bill goes to see him and Mrs Harter and declares his love for her; Mr Harter refuses to give her a divorce. The play is performed, and is well-received; Mr Harter attends the party. At the end of the evening, the car that had been hired to take Nancy and her father home is unavailable because the driver is drunk. Christopher drives Nancy home, and Mr Harter takes the hired car with Mrs Harter, Bill, and Nancy's father. He crashes the car on the bridge, and Nancy's father is killed; Bill Patch dies when the spare wheel, thrown off the car by the impact, hits him on the head. Mrs Harter is only badly bruised, and Mr Harter unhurt. The inquest finds that Mr Harter's driving caused the accident, and he is committed for trial on a charge of manslaughter. He is found guilty and imprisoned for five years. Nancy sells her cottage and comes to stay with the Flowers in a state of nervous breakdown; the opposition to her marriage to Christopher evaporates. They marry shortly afterwards. Mary Ambrey was the last person in Cross Loman to see Mrs Harter; while she was in hospital, Mary went to her lodgings to start Mrs Harter's packing. Mrs Harter told her something of her relationship with Bill which made Mary believe that they would have separated even if Bill had lived. Mrs Harter went to London, but nobody knows where she settled after that, and the tragedy lives on in the memories of Cross Loman.
amateur theatricals extra-marital affairs gossip marriage