Nothing is Safe

Date of publication
Dedicated to Cicely [McCall], who doesn't need convincing.
Published reviews
Beresford, J. D. ‘Mr. Wells and Miss Delafield’. The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959), 4 June 1937, p. 7; Cook, Marjorie Grant. ‘Defrauded Children: Nothing Is Safe’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1844, 5 June 1937, p. 427; J. S. ‘New Novels: Nothing Is Safe’. The Times, no. 47702, 4 June 1937, p. 9; Muir, Edwin. ‘New Novels: Nothing Is Safe’. The Listener, vol. 17, no. 441, 23 June 1937, p. 1276; ‘Notes for the Novel-Reader: Fiction of the Month’. The Illustrated London News, 7 Mar. 1937, p. 36; Richardson, Maurice. ‘New Novels: Nothing Is Safe’. The English Review, vol. 64, no. 7, July 1937, pp. 866–67; ‘What to Pack--Ii: Novels, Literature, and Travel’. The Observer, 8 Aug. 1937, p. 7.
Ten-year-old Julia is fiercely protective of Terry, her vague, clumsy older brother. Their parents, Daphne and Alick, separate at the start of the novel, and the children return to their boarding schools not knowing where or how they will spend the next holidays; Julia is also very worried about where her beloved dog Chang will live. For their first school holidays after the separation, the children and Chang stay with their grandparents at Chepstow, who, although old-fashioned, indulge the children rather. Alick, a journalist, comes to visit Julia at school with his fiancee Petah, who at 22 is much younger than her future husband. They will live in a mews flat in London, which means that Julia and Terry can never visit together, as there is no room. Daphne writes to say that she is to marry Captain Prettyman, who the children already know and dislike. Julia is disappointed by all this and worried about how Terry will cope. After a muddle at the end of term when both children linger in their mother’s London club, Captain Prettyman collects them and takes them to Wimbledon. There are good aspects to their mother’s new home - the food, and the Captain’s favour of Julia - but Chang is not there, and the Captain is perpetually impatient and angry with Terry’s clumsiness, bullying him in the guise of toughening him up. Their mother is very taken up with her new husband, and quarrelling with their father about money. When Daphne and the Captain leave unexpectedly for Paris, Julia is sent - via the club, and Mrs. Capper, Petah’s mother - to her father’s flat, where Terry is already staying. The flat is small, and there seems to be a constant party going on. But there is no room for Julia, who is to stay in Mrs Capper’s flat. One night Julia is there alone - Annie, Mrs. Capper’s kind maid, has the evening off - when she develops agonising earache. Mrs Capper is no use to her and Julia spends the night in pain until her father and Annie appear. After this, both children return to their grandparents’ house and are delighted to see Chang again. The children enjoy their holiday there and escape into the imaginative games they like to share. Gradmama talks to Julia about Terry going soon to public school, and learning to do without Julia. Julia is convinced, however, that Terry needs her to protect him from the world. Their mother arrives to stay, with presents from Paris. The children visit a neighbouring family, the Drummonds, and are taken to watch rabbits being driven out of the corn and killed. Terry, very upset, disappears, and is found to have locked himself in the lavatory, refusing to come out after being sick and crying. He stays with the Drummonds to recover while Julia is taken home. The Drummond parents visit to complain about Julia’s conversation (divorce and adultery) and to suggest that Terry is not emotionally ready to go to public school. Their mother agrees, but their grandparents do not. Daphne takes the children back to Wimbledon, and the Captain resumes his bullying of Terry. When he tries to make Terry ride his bicycle no-hands, and will not accept Terry’s refusal, Julia physically attacks him. He is more amused than angry about this, but refuses to have Terry stay longer in the house. The children are sent to stay with Alick and Petah, who have been lent a tiny cottage in the country. Eavesdropping, Julia learns that her parents are seriously worried about Terry and considering psychological help for him. Soon, Terry is taken to London by Alick, and they see a psychotherapist, Dr Dubillier. Julia is taken too the next day, and the doctor talks to her and Terry about their parents and stepparents. Daphne arrives, and Julia eavesdrops, hearing things she doesn’t understand about a dependency being broken, and that Terry should not go to public school yet. The children are moved to a London hotel with Daphne and their grandmother, and Terry continues to see the doctor. The new plan is to send Terry to stay with a tutor in Norfolk, who teaches a few boys at a time. Julia is also to go to a new school, nearer to her grandparents. But all the adults are very vague about plans for the Christmas holidays. Catching her school train, Julia is distraught that Terry is late to see her off, but he just makes it; as the train leaves, she realises that her parents plan to keep the two siblings separate.
divorce marriage masculinity mental illness motherhood