Date of publication
"Who loved her best? There's no one now will know." Moira O'Neill, Songs of the Glens of Antrim
Charques, R. D. ‘Past and Present: No One Now Will Know’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 2057, 5 July 1941, p. 321; Muir, Edwin. ‘New Novels: No One No Will Know’. The Listener, vol. 26, no. 655, 31 July 1941, p. 175; ‘Notes for the Novel-Reader: Fiction of the Month’. The Illustrated London News, vol. 199, no. 5340, 23 Aug. 1941, p. 252.
The novel is organised into three sections running in reverse chronological order. Part I, Nice Maritime (August 1939), introduces us to Sue Ballantyne. Sue is nineteen, and travelling to the South of France for the first time with her wealthy and glamorous aunt Mona (Lady Dallas); her cousin Rosemary who is seventeen, pretty and charming, and both smokes and wears make-up; and Sue’s brother Carol, who is handsome but impoverished. Their parents, Callie and Cecil, are first cousins; her father, a farmer, has a lame foot from a war injury and, it is implied, ongoing psychological problems too. The family is not well-off and Carol works for a publisher in London. The group discuss the likelihood of war, and the fact that Sue’s grandfather (and Rosemary’s great-uncle) Lucy (Lucian Lemprière) is buried at Nice. Lucy, born in 1865, is described as a Creole who had a sugar plantation in Barbados. Rosemary is reminded that she also has West Indian blood through her grandmother, Fanny Lemprière - which she describes as ‘ghastly’. The cousins reflect on the possibility of death through wartime bombing. Sue compares herself, unfavourably, to the vivacious redheaded Rosemary. Part II, Rock Place (1910-1914) tells the story of Sue’s mother Callie. She is twelve years old when this section opens and living in Bridgetown, Barbados. Her grandmother Celia (born Odell, married first to Frederick Lemprière and mother of Fred, Lucy and Fanny, married secondly to Lorimer Charlecombe and mother of Kate) has just died, and Callie is sent by her uncle Fred to live in England with Fanny and her family. Separated from her Barbadian amah and everything she has known, she is dismayed when she has to leave; Fred leaves her with a parting gift of all the silver coins he has in his pockets. On the boat, in charge of Major and Mrs Edwards, Callie overhears a conversation about some scandal attached to her family - “typical Creole” - and the death of woman in a carriage accident. Arriving in a cold English February, Callie travels to London with the Edwardses, who leave her alone at a hotel to await her family. Her uncle Tom Ballantyne arrives - Fanny is an invalid - but Callie is now missing. She is soon found, however, crying from homesickness that only the Edwards’s amah has perceived. Callie arrives at Rock Place, in Devon, a slightly worn and untidy converted farmhouse, and meets her aunt Kate, and her cousins Awdry (14), Juliet (13), Reggie (10), Cecil (15) and Mona (9). The older girls are pleased to see her. Aunt Fanny has large dark eyes like Uncle Fred’s, and keeps to a sofa. Kate (called Aunt by all) is dynamic and kind. Put to bed in her own, pretty room, Callie has a nightmare but is kindly dealt with by the family. She settles in well with the Ballantynes and Kate talks to her about her mother and father. Her mother Rosalie died when Callie was very small, and her father Lucy has been living abroad, travelling about ever since. Callie shares lessons with the governess, Tansy; most of the Ballantynes ride, and they all play cricket with enthusiasm. The Ballantynes’s neighbours include the foxhunting squires the Berringers, who have a French Catholic governess; the Palambos, whose son has gone to the bad and who feud with the Berringers and with each other; Dr and Mrs. Umfraville, and their occasionally visiting niece Elisabeth; and the ffillimores, four foxhunting spinster sisters who look after their bachelor brother Bob. Cecil is odd one out in the family; he is quiet and does not hunt, and is a disappointment to his father. The family attends a village concert, and Callie sees Elisabeth for the first time. Uncle Fred turns up unexpectedly for a visit. He plans to sell The Grove, a large house in Wales that belongs to Kate, inherited from her father Mr Charlecombe. Fanny explains to Callie that the Lemprières owned sugar plantations in Barbados, and shows her a picture of her mother Rosalie as a girl, but Callie cannot relate to her as her mother. Callie is taken by Kate and Fred to call on neighbours. She does not care for the Palambos but enjoys her visit to the High Victorian home of the ffillimores, who are kind to her. Eavesdropping, she hears that Bob ffillimore proposed to Kate, who turned him down as she did not wish to marry. They visit the Umfravilles and Callie and Elisabeth make friends; Elisabeth’s mother is separated from her husband, who treated her badly. The children socialise between each others’ houses; Cecil and Reggie go back to school, and Elisabeth’s cousin Bella arrives for a visit. Fred, after much inaction (”No Lemprière ever works”), decides to go with Kate to South Wales to arrange to sell The Grove. They take Callie with them, as she was born there. Fred oversleeps, and Kate and Callie go to Chepstow alone. In Wales, they meet elderly cousins Joe and Edith Newton, and John, formerly overseer of the Lemprière plantation in Barbados. Edith tells Callie about Kate’s early life and the loss of Rosalie. They explore the house, which is mostly empty, but Callie finds it delightful. Kate and Callie visit Rosalie’s grave; she died at 26. The Newton cousins are former plantation-owners, and now impoverished. Edith hints to Kate that Callie may not be Lucy’s daughter. It is decided to auction The Grove. The action moves on to early 1914. Cecil is now at an agricultural college, but lacks enthusiasm for it - and for anything else. Reggie has joined the Navy. Fanny and Kate discuss the Lemprière disposition to idleness and to putting on weight. A letter comes from Nice, telling Kate that Lucy is seriously ill. Kate, distressed, arranges to leave to see him. Fred is expected to join her there, but as usual his plans are vague. While Kate is away, Callie hears more than she ever has about her father and how he and Kate were both devastated by Rosalie’s death. By May of 1914, Lucy has died; Fred arrived a day too late to see him. Callie again overhears a hint that Lucy may not have been her father. This section closes with an epilogue in 1918. Cecil has survived the war but been wounded and shell-shocked. Callie comes to visit him at his London club; she has been working as a nurse in Salonika. Reggie has been killed in the war. Callie has been in love with a man called Michael Lorac, who married her friend Elisabeth, but she claims to have got over this betrayal. Kate also nursed in the war, and Fred turned up suddenly in France, ill, alcoholic and overweight. Kate has gone back with him to Barbados to look after him. Part III is The Grove (1872-1901), focusing on the youth of Fred, Lucy, Fanny and Kate. A prologue tells of their origins. Frederick Lemprière senior is “a Creole gentleman of French origins [...] in whom the Barbadian climate had served to increase natural apathy”. He and Cecilia marry in 1863 and move to Bridgetown, where he has sugar plantations staffed by “coloured labour” (p169). Cecilia is an orphan on her marriage and glad to swap her Brighton home for Bridgetown and a rich, amiable husband. Her real passion, though, is for her firstborn son Fred; she is fond of Lucy and frankly dismayed by the arrival of Fanny. When her husband dies of fever at 42, she lets her house, leaves loyal and capable John Newton to manage the plantation, and takes her children back to Britain, having commissioned Joe Newton to find them a house in South Wales. Joe finds them The Rise, and he and Edith are endlessly helpful to Cecilia. She keeps the children at home despite expectations that Fred and Lucy will soon go to school; Fred is spoiled, Lucy loved rather less, and Fanny mostly ignored to the extent that she is selectively mute. Eight years later, the boys are at Harrow and Cecilia meets Lorimer Charlecombe, a civil servant who has inherited The Grove, a house nearby. He courts her, throwing cricket lunches to which she brings her sons, and they marry. Their daughter Kate is born two years later. Visiting Barbados with her husband, Cecilia tells John Newton that Lucy will be sent out to manage the plantation in due course. Charlcombe dies following a riding accident when Kate is three; The Grove is left in trust to her. The story jumps forward to Kate at seventeen, excited because Lucy is coming home after a Grand Tour, and her friend Rosalie Meredith is coming to visit. Fanny has been married to Tom for four years, and Fred has gone to Barbados against his mother’s wishes. Tall and blonde, Rosalie is five years older than Kate, who cares for her passionately. Otherwise, she is fondest of Lucy, and is delighted that he has come home. Rosalie meets Lucy at a cricket match at The Grove; her aunt, Mrs Troyle, also attends, and reports back to Rosalie’s mother that Lucy seemed attracted to Rosalie, but is very concerned that the Lemprières might have black ancestry. Mrs Meredith - who is not well off - denies this emphatically and insists that either of the Lemprière sons would be a good match for Rosalie. Rosalie herself is fond of romantic adventures and is attracted to Lucy. Cecilia decides to have some parties for Lucy, and invites Rosalie to stay for a few days. Lucy collects her in a dog-cart and they engage in some enjoyable flirtation. Fanny and her family arrive, as do Joe and Edith Newton. There is a plan to go to a local flower show; Kate is disappointed when Rosalie prefers to stay behind with Lucy. He kisses her, and asks her to marry him; she does not give a straight answer, but is powerfully attracted to him but wishes to retain her freedom. Cecilia has noticed their attraction and endorses the match, tacitly. Rosalie becomes more distant from Kate, and Fanny points out the growing attraction between her and Lucy; Kate is stricken with jealousy. At a dance, she is overwhelmed by conflicting emotions. Rosalie returns home and Lucy finds pretexts to visit her there. Her mother sees them holding hands and confronts Rosalie, who prevaricates about accepting Lucy’s reiterated proposals, but is eventually persuaded and they become engaged. Kate is desperately unhappy; Cousin Edith listens kindly to her and invites her to come and stay for a while. Cecilia tells Kate Rosalie was never really her friend, and that both Lucy and Rosalie are disgusted with her; but Rosalie is kind and reassuring. Lucy, however, lets Kate down when he has promised to talk to her and she leaves for the Newtons without talking to him. Fred arrives home and says the plantation is doing badly. Cecilia is unworried, she has other income and would prefer it if Fred came back to Britain permanently. Rosalie comes to visit Lucy and is alarmed by a loose horse pulling a buggy; she approaches who she thinks is Lucy, but it is Fred. She becomes faint, and Fred helps her to the house, telling her how lucky Lucy is and how he wishes he had come home earlier and seen her first. As the wedding preparations continue, Rosalie realises she is attracted to Fred. When he visits her in London, where she and her mother are buying her trousseau, she faints. Fred takes her out in his carriage, having said they would dine with Fanny, who is in Devonshire. He asks Rosalie to break off her engagement and kisses her. They go to Kenwood, and dine outside before he takes her for a walk in the woods; Rosalie is overwhelmed by her passion and happiness. Back in Wales, she cries over Kate on the day before her wedding to Lucy, but goes ahead with the marriage. After their honeymoon, the couple return to The Grove in December. Fred is still there and the plantations are doing worse than ever; he reminds Rosalie that they are still in love, but Rosalie does not want to hurt Lucy. Kate is calmer and she and Lucy are reconciled. Lucy confronts Fred and Rosalie; they admit their attraction but Rosalie wants to remain with Lucy. Fred refuses to leave and, when he meets Rosalie out walking, makes love to her again. Rosalie’s daughter Callie is born in October 1898. The plantations continue to decline. Kate, now twenty, has lost confidence and spontenaity; she does not seem likely to attract a husband. Lucy serves in the South African war and Fred comes home while he is away. Lucy is taken prisoner and correspondence is very patchy. Rosalie realises that the attraction between her and Fred is as strong as ever. Lucy returns but the atmosphere at the Grove is sombre; he and Fred barely speak and Rosalie is distracted. Her mother is ill, and must have an operation. Lucy speaks of moving his family out to Barbados but first they go to London to be near Mrs Meredith, who dies during surgery. Back in Wales, Lucy gives Fred and Rosalie - who may be pregnant again - an ultimatum: Fred will go back to Barbados and take Rosalie with him. There will be no divorce but they can live there together without scandal. Fred goes to London and Lucy asks Kate to pack up Rosalie’s things, telling her that Callie will stay behind with her. Lucy drives to collect Rosalie from her father’s in a storm; there is an accident and Rosalie is thrown from the buggy and killed. After the inquest, Fred and Cecilia return to Barbados with Callie; Kate has moved to Rock Place while Lucy wanders around the earth.
Victorian courtship lesbianism novel
Description of Rock Place possibly East Butterleigh? Also Fanny remaining “a West Indian” and never becoming a lady of the manor (p48) possibly reminiscent of Mrs Henry? The Grove is definitely The Priory. Waspish comment on Cecilia: “Sooner or later, and probably sooner, men would want to marry her, attracted by her fortune, her good looks, and a latent strength of character that at present manifested itself principally in her management of her children. It was Joe’s opinion that Frederic had never awakened Cecilia to passion, but that a stronger man might do so, all the more successfully because she was no longer in her first youth.” (pp174-5). Fairly strong intimation that Lucy has murdered Rosalie - reference to an inquest confirming it was an accident (p362) and Lucy admits to letting his horse have its head (p363) - it’s the same horse that bolts earlier in part III.