The Chip and the Block

Date of publication
Hutchinson & Co
Published reviews
C. E. B. ‘Books of the Day’. The Illustrated London News, vol. 167, no. 4511, 3 Oct. 1925, p. 624; Cook, Marjorie Grant, and M. Grant. ‘The Chip and the Block’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1237, 1 Oct. 1925, p. 636; ‘The Chip and The Block’. The Sketch, 21 Oct. 1925, p. 88.
The Ellery family are living in Kensington in the 1890s. The three Ellery children, Paul (9), Jeannie (8) and Victor (7) have had the flu. When their writer father, Chas Ellery, comes down with the illness, the three children are sent to convalesce at a hotel in Boscombe so their mother Mary and their servant Stella can deal with Chas. Chas is not as ill as the children have been, but is so demanding as a patient that Mary cannot cope with all of them. Mary visits the children at Boscombe and tells them their father is nearly better. The children, especially Paul, love their mother dearly but are less enthusiastic about their father. Chas, recovering, comes to Boscombe; Nurse Mordaunt suggests that Mary may not be well, but Chas brushes this off. Victor catches his father out pretending to be more ill than he really is, leaning on a stick he does not need. The family history is described. Victor has been a fragile and fretful child; Chas sees his own sensitivity reflected in Victor; Chas is slightly bohemian, writes unsellable novels, and the family is not well off. Chas's affinity for Victor is challenged when Victor contradicts him over the correct wording of a Browning poem; he begins to suggest that Victor is not all there. However, when Victor is ill Chas dramatises his own suffering to Mary, who is torn between the demands of her son and her husband. Chas and Mary married young, while Chas was still at Oxford, and have managed on a low income ever since. Chas's family are comfortably-off bankers from Bristol. Not only do Chas's books fail to sell, but the family is in debt that they cannot envisage paying off. Nurse Mordaunt leaves the family, and suggests to Mary that she is in need of a proper rest, but Mary dismisses this. Victor tries to write a poem, but is frustrated by his inability to get on paper the words in his head. His father tries to help him improve it, but this only irritates Victor. Chas begins to have some success with his journalism. Mary becomes ill, and the children are not allowed to see her; Paul is deeply worried, more so when he finds they are to be sent to stay with their grandmother. Paul goes to see his mother secretly, during the night; she tells him that she will be having an operation, and says that she will be happier knowing the children are with their grandparents in the country. The children say goodbye to Mary and their father takes them to his childhood home, Risewater. At Risewater, old Mr and Mrs Ellery live with their three unmarried children: Aggie, Lena and Joseph. Mrs Ellery disapproves of Mary and considers that she spoils Chas and encourages him in his "scribbling". Victor starts to cry at tea because he dislikes the room, and at bedtime throws a tantrum, inspired by dislike of Risewater and his aunt's faces and dress, that only his grandmother can quell. The children are cared for by Lena and Aggie, who have old-fashioned notions of correct behaviour; Jeannie is set to making the beds while Paul and Victor play, and the children's enthusiasm for reading is discouraged. Word comes from London that Mary Ellery has died. Victor claims to have seen his mother at Risewater on the day of her death, and then faints. Paul and Jeannie overhear the news; Stella is sent for to help with them, which helps them although the Risewater household does not take to her. The children are kept from the funeral, and Chas arrives at Risewater. Mrs Ellery offers to keep Victor and find schools for Paul and Jeannie; she ends up funding their education when Chas makes plain that he cannot afford to pay. Victor walks in on his father toying with a revolver; Chas claims it was touch and go, but Victor's arrival prevented his suicide. Paul, unable to realise that his mother is really dead, is sent to school near Weston. Jeannie is at a neighbouring girl's school and they see each other regularly. Paul gets on well at school; he suffers from sleepwalking but this makes him rather celebrated among the boys. Chas's new novel has been successful, and Paul is told he will go to a new school. Victor guesses that Chas hopes to marry again and the children are introduced to Caroline Considine, a serious, pretty woman in her late thirties. The children like her, and her deaf, elderly mother. Chas and Caroline become engaged; visiting Risewater, the musical Caroline discovers that Victor has perfect pitch, to the annoyance of his aunts who have tried to teach him music. The Ellerys give Caroline lots of advice abut handling the children, particularly Victor. Caroline asks Stella to continue to care for the children after she and Chas are married. Caroline discusses the future with Chas and it is made plain that she is marrying mainly to have a home and family, and is not in love with Chas. Paul goes to Clifton College, while Jeannie continues at her school in Weston; Victor is sent to a co-educational school in Kent called Mount Delectable, which allows for spontaneous self-expression in its pupils. Caroline and Chas settle at Kester's End, a country house in Kent. Victor is independent and anti-materialistic, giving away his possessions. Paul makes a good friend at school - David Evans - who shares his interest in psychology, but does not rate Chas's novels. Chas's work is becoming more successful and he becomes more social as a result. Jeannie, grown up and pretty, goes to be 'finished' in France, and is openly materialistic about clothes and dancing lessons; Caroline is generously sympathetic to the children's wants. Chas and Victor continue to be in conflict, and Chas wishes to send him to a public school. Victor refuses and becomes too ill for school, and Chas immediately develops tonsilitis. Caroline is called to the nursing home where his tonsils are removed. Paul goes to Cambridge to study engineering; Jeannie comes out, and Victor goes to Germany to study music. David Evans falls in love with Jeannie, she reciprocates but does not believe it will last. She tells Paul that she has been in love several times before, and allowed young men to kiss her, which rather shocks him. David and Jeannie do not get engaged. Victor comes home from Germany in unusual clothes and vaguer than ever. Paul meets, and is attracted by, Gladys St Lawrence. Sir Reginald Millways, a well-known dramatist, comes to stay at Kesters End. Victor, in private, criticises his work as lacking realism. His visit coincides with one from old Mrs Ellery and Aggie. Victor catches out Chas by pretending to play a Chopin nocturne Chas claims to love - in fact, Victor is just improvising in the Chopin manner. Millways is pleasant to all the family, but shows a strong preference for Jeannie. He takes an interest in Victor, and helps him find a job as well as looking at his writing. Victor and Paul visit Gladys at her home in Hampstead; her tea party has many bohemian members who are interested in astrology and theosophy. Paul remains attracted to her, however, and continues to visit. Jeannie becomes engaged to Sir Reginald, confiding to Paul that she does not care for him as she does for David, but marriage to David would be impossible. Paul starts work on an engineering project on the east coast, living in lodgings there. He visits Gladys again, and she tells him about her life and hopes; she is a disappointed concert violinist who only has enough talent to work as a teacher. Paul finds Glady's mother snobbish and common; he realises he is not comfortable with the idea of inviting Gladys to Kesters End. Jeannie marries Sir Reginald and Paul keeps up his friendship with Gladys. Old Mr Ellery dies, and leaves some money to Paul. Jeannie has a baby boy; David Evans visits her frequently. Paul takes Gladys out on the river; she dislikes the proximity of other boaters and their flirtatious behaviour Their conversation remains academic and unromantic. Gladys speaks of her frustration at the family's poverty and of a previous love-affair that has left her bruised. They realise David has pulled up in the next boat; he is entertaining a chorus-girl. As they leave the river, they notice David and his girl kissing in the bushes. Paul is disappointed with Gladys and with the atmosphere of their outing. Paul starts to get to know his landlady better. Mrs Foss is in her mid thirties, pleasant and a good cook. She is a doctor's widow and tells Paul her late husband drank himself to death. Paul begins to to find her physically attractive. Visiting Gladys again after a long interval, he meets Mrs St Lawrence instead, and is interrograted about his intentions. He realises he does not want to be engaged to Gladys. Victor's novel is published. Paul begins a lighthearted affair with Mrs Foss. Mrs St Lawrence manages to meet Chas, and quizzes him about Paul's plans; he telsl Paul off for encouraging Gladys but advises him to enjoy his youth while he still has it. Gladys asks Paul to meet her, but it is to ask his advice on whether she should marry an older Jewish man. Paul is in favour. Victor's novel is well-received. Paul hopes that his next job may take him abroad, and he obtains a post in East Africa. Old Mrs Considine dies after a long illness, and Caroline breaks down and is sent to rest in a nursing home. On her return, Chas immediately gets appendicitis. The family is gathered, and Chas discusses his will with Paul and Victor. He wants to leave Victor the interest on his investments, but Victor rejects this; he can earn enough to support himself and would give away any extra money. Paul points out to Chas that Victor's principles have been developed by Chas himself, and that he should not seek to control or undermine them. Chas is trapped in agreement, but pronounces that he can only co-operated because he sees so much of himself in Victor. Paul leaves for Africa; at Aden, he receives a letter from Victor. Chas's appendectomy has been a success, and he is recovering well.
Edwardian fatherhood sexuality social class writers