The Entertainment

Date of publication
Hutchinson & Co
Dedicated as a surprise to Phyllida
Published reviews
‘About British Books and Authors’. Daily Mail Atlantic Edition, 11 Apr. 1927, p. 13; Carew, Dudley. ‘New Novels: The Entertainment’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1305, 3 Feb. 1927, p. 74; Hartley, L. P. ‘New Fiction: Entertainment’. Saturday Review, Jan. 1927, p. 127.
The Entertainment (pp15-23) Two chorus-girls, both under twenty, are taken to lunch by two businessmen, who discuss work matters throughout the expensive lunch of steak and champagne, but Doris and Olive are satisfied with the entertainment nonetheless. The Philistine (pp27-40) Colin is the nephew of Lady Verulam, who has been caring for him in England since his mother died and he was sent back from India. Lady Verulam worries that he is less attractive and charming than her own children, and in fact rather ordinary, with limited enthusiasm or imagination. It is Colin's birthday, and a conjuror will come to his birthday party; he is hoping that his father will send him a telegram from India, and tries to think of a way to stop the other children from seeing it. He successfully intercepts the cable, but it tells him that his father is dangerously ill with cholera. Worrying that the party, which seems to him to be the most important event for the household, will be cancelled, he decides to keep the telegram secret for the time being. After the successful party, Colin's nurse finds the telegram, and takes it to Lady Verulam, who has just had a second cable to say that Colin's father is worse. Colin cannot really account for his actions, although he begins to cry when questioned, and it is Cynthia, Lady Verulam's eldest daughter, who explains why Colin has done this, and Lady Verulam begins to see his actions as heroic rather than selfish, but wonders why he went to bed after the party without telling her about the telegram. Colin's father recovers and comes home on leave, and it is to him that Colin explains that the party was such fun, and the conjuror so good, that he completely forgot about the telegram until the next morning. O Tempora! O Mores! (pp43-60) Amabel Forrester is twenty and lives with her family in Devon in 1894 and is beginning to worry about her marriageability. At a vicarage school-treat, she takes over tea-urn duty and sees a very handsome man; he turns out to be Robert Foster, the son of a local farmer, and whom the vicar has helped emigrate to Canada. She is very disappointed that he is not a gentleman, but still attracted by his good looks and kind nature, until she is rescued by the Vicar's wife, who apologises for leaving them together. Leaving the party, she forgets her parasol, and Robert returns it to her. Amabel's unmarried sisters Louisa and Winifred both go away, and on their return notice that Amabel is going out every evening; Louisa spots that she has been going outside the park of their house, and suggests to Lady Forrester that Amabel is meeting someone secretly. The Vicar's wife arrives, flustered, to pass on gossip that Amabel is meeting Robert Foster in the woods every night. That evening, Amabel is confronted by her parents and tells them that she has been meeting Robert, that they are in love, and that he has suggested that if they marry, the difference in class would not matter in Canada. Amabel's parents are furious, but Louisa suggests that they pay off Amabel's maid to smostly ay that she has been meeting Robert, and the affair is hushed up; Amabel is told how awful life in Canada would be, and Sir John Forrester gives Robert a note said to be from Amabel, but written by her mother, ending their connection. Louisa and Winifred both marry, and Amabel is left at home, until by the age of 40 she is unmarried and living in the family home with her eldest brother and his family after the death of her parents. In 1925, a now widowed and wealthy Louisa comes to visit, and she and Amabel quarrel over the modern ways of their niece Christina. Christina suggests that Amabel and Louisa hold the same, reactionary views; to prove herself different from Louisa, she blurts out the story of her near-elopement with Robert, and finds herself supported and celebrated by her nieces and nephews as a result. Incidental (pp63-76) Mrs Holloway runs a seaside boarding house and is desperate to let rooms for September. She discusses her difficulties with Miss Millingham (nearly 50), one of her guests; the economic downturn and the weather have meant a shortage of bookings. Mrs Holloway's spinster sister lives with her and does the cooking; she has been disappointed in love and keeps away from the lodgers. Miss Millingham claims the same for herself, but in fact has never really had any romantic life. Miss Millingham judges the class position of the various lodgers who have been there, particularly in respect of food: she has her meals downstairs with Mrs Holloway, Edie and the children, and stinginess with food on the part of the guests means that the kitchen-eaters get less variety. A couple, the Swallows, arrive and take rooms for two months, and we hear Mrs Holloway negotiate on the fees. The Swallows have two little boys and a baby girl. There is friction between Mrs Swallow and Mrs Holloway over the washing and drying of the baby's clothes and nappies; Mrs Swallow wants to dry them in front of the kitchen fire, and Mrs Holloway refuses. One day Miss Millingham finds Mr Swallow arranging baby-clothes in front of the kitchen fire. Mrs Holloway comes in, there is an argument and Mr Swallow swears at Mrs Holloway. But Mrs Holloway considers herself the victor in the argument and that the Swallows will stay for their two-month booking. The Luggage in the Hall (pp79-94) Bertie Helston is a bachelor, returned to England after twenty-five years in India, and very popular, as he is tall, good-looking, sociable and a good dancer. His old friends, George and Julia Despard, are returning from India with their three children. Bertie has been slightly in love with Julia but now she encourages him to find a wife. He has had several affairs, and is now involved with Ivy Abbott, Julia's cousin, a modern young woman who drives a car and is boyish and independent. But he also likes his comfortable bachelor existence. When the Despards, arrive, Bertie goes to see them at their hotel and, while waiting for them, he is appalled by the evidence of family life in their luggage: a baby's bath and some saucepans are visible. To compound this, the family's Ayah appears with some wet laundry, clearly nappies, to ask the hotel staff where she can dry them. At dinner, it becomes clear that George and Julia have aged - both are fat - and are happily involved with the lives of their children, which they discuss at length. Bertie returns home and ponders Ivy and the evening with his friends. At the end of the story a coda tells us that he is still unmarried and that Ivy is engaged to someone else. "And Never the Twain Shall Meet" (pp97-115) Elena della Torre is seventeen and of noble Italian birth. She has been out of her convent school for six months and her parents have taken her out into society, where she has attracted the attention of the older French Duc de la Charmelle. She knows that her parents are likely to select a husband for her and is vaguely keen on the idea of marriage and babies, although convent modesty means she has no idea about sex. After visiting a friend who is staying at the convent as a nun, she is walked home by the "Mees", an Irishwoman called Anna O'Brien. Elena is mystified by the freedoms allowed to Anna because she is not Italian - she can walk home on her own, for example. Anna is formally introduced to the Duc at a family party and it becomes clear that her parents support the match and expect her to consent. But then she becomes ill, and needs nursing. Anna returns to care for her and tells her of her own engagement to Dick; they will not have much money and she will have to do her own housework once they are married, but she is pleased to be marrying an Irish Catholic - her sister married an English Protestant. Elena is confused by Anna's marriage for love and its contrast with Italian arranged marriages, and asks to discuss this with her uncle, a Cardinal. He tells her that her proposed marriage will have ramifications beyond the personal - France may become a Catholic country again because of it - and that she is unlikely to be able to enjoy the sort of marriage Anna expects. Elena is convinced by his arguments, but still more so by a new, fashionable dress (it's the 1920s, Elena has shingled hair and a short sheath dress). Blairgowrie (pp119-137) Beautiful, intense and tempestuous Lady Marise Harley is marrying Sir Wilfred Gray, a career diplomat. His wife has been dead for eight years, and he has two children: Harry (11) and Priscilla (about 9-10?). They live in a suburban house (Blairgowrie) with their maternal grandmother, Mrs Craigie, who has been caring for them while Sir Wilfred is abroad. Marise and Wilfred visit them there, and Marise judges, snobbishly, the furnishing of the house and the clothes of her hostess and the children, the food they are served. But she charms the children. After the wedding, for a few months the children come to stay with the Grays before Sir Wilfred's next posting. The point of view shifts from Marise to Priscilla. She finds life with Marise, who spoils them generously, very exciting, but is worried by Marise's rudeness to the staff of the shops they go to. Marise manipulates Priscilla into getting her hair bobbed, and refers to the children as 'mine now'. Point of view switches again to Marise. Before the Grays leave, Marise suggests that the children should come out to them for their school holidays in future, rather than returning to Blairgowrie. Wilfred is unsure and feels it will be a blow to Mrs Craigie; Marise has hysterics and proposes to go to Blairgowrie and discuss the matter. Mrs Craigie, calmly, puts her opposing view, that the children need consistency and routine, and suggest this should be discussed with them. When it is, the children prefer Blairgowrie. The story closes with a letter from Priscilla to Mrs Craigie explaining how the time with Marise had been fun, but not real, and how they will be coming home for their holidays as expected. Dedicated "to A.B.C., who presented me with the theme". "This is One Way Round ..." (pp141-53) Lois is a clerk in an insurance company who is very fond of reading. Having her lunch one day in an A.B.C. café, she meets Ernest, who is also carrying a library book and they begin to talk about reading, Ernest making her a list of books she ought to read. They meet at lunchtimes and go for walks, discussing their favourite authors. She brings Ernest home to meet her parents in Highgate, and they all seem to get on, but their plans to go for a walk after supper are thwarted by the rain. Instead, they go to see a film which curiously echoes their own friendship. Ernie puts his arm round Lois in the darkness, and after the cinema they kiss and declare their love for each other. The Tortoise (pp157-166) Told from the point of view of Paul, a smallish boy (maybe 7ish), whose family are preparing for their summer holiday to Croyde Bay in Devon. They have been there before, and Paul is relieved because he wants to revisit all the things he loves about the place. Paul's father is a leftish political writer of some sort and his mother works very hard to make sure he is happy with all the arrangements on holiday. But for work reasons he cannot come with them for the first week, so they travel down alone. The journey is much calmer and more relaxing and Paul reflects on all the things that happen that would have irritated his father. When he does arrive, he and Paul go for a walk. They meet an old man who passes the time with them but seems slightly unfriendly, and then Erbie, a fisherman Paul has made friends with, who gives him a tortoise. Paul's father praises Paul's democratic instinct and talks pretentiously to Paul about his own championing of democracy. Erbie tells them that the old man is stone deaf, but knows the conversational topics of visitors so well that he just makes form replies to conversational attempts. This enrages his father who, on returning to the guest house, declares it is high time he came down to restore order. Reflex Action (pp169-188) Told from the point of view of Violet Western, newly appointed maid to Miss Clemson (aged 36), who has found herself removed from her quiet life in her provincial town to keep house and entertain for her brother. He has unexpectedly become a cabinet minister, having been a war profiteer. Violet judges Miss Clemson as not a real lady, and is frustrated that she constantly has to hint to her about the right thing to do. They go to stay at a New Year house party at Hayes Castle in Devon, near Violet's own home, where Violet's love interest Ted Hewer is an under-gardener. Violet learns from the other servants that another guest, Hon George Kenway, is believed to want to marry Miss Clemson. Miss Clemson is old-fashioned and still has long hair, and compares herself unfavourably with her peer, Lady Sybil Arden, who is fashionably shingled and wears short dresses; it seems, after their first evening at Hayes, that George Kenway is more interested in Sybil. Violet slips out to meet Ted, who surprises her by kissing her passionately and awakening a passionate response in her. The next day, there is a meet and George Kenway pays more attention to Miss Clemson. At the servants' ball on NYE, Ted and Violet dance together; the house-party joins them for the first dances, and George Kenway dances with Sybil, who dances very well. Miss Clemson's temper is bad the next day, and she refuses to allow Violet to go to a dance in the village. Violet goes to meet Ted, upset, but is astonished when Ted proposes, and she accepts. She gets in just in time to help Miss Clemson undress; she is calm. The next day Violet does the packing while the house-party goes shooting; talking to William, the chauffeur (and Violet's cousin) tells her that George Kenway is definitely interested in Miss Clemson, and Lady Sybil is now pursuing Mr Clemson. Lady Sybil's maid Hortense, however, reports that her employer is in a fit of temper. At the end of the story Violet sees Miss Clemson looking handsome and happy, and she gives Violet permission to go to the village dance. Holiday Group (pp191-206) The Reverend Herbert Cliff-Hay and his wife Julia have come into an inheritance. This has allowed them to pay their debts, save some money for their children and to go on holiday. Julia goes to Bewlaigh, a small resort, to find rooms, and eventually finds someone who will take children (she has three, Martin 5, Constance 4 and Theodore 2) although Mrs Parker's house is a longish uphill walk from the sea and she negotiates on her fees firmly. The family set off by Bewlaigh, waiting as long as possible before waking Theodore, who is fractious all the way there as as result of being woken. They arrive, and settle into a holiday pattern. bathing in the morning - which Julia finds she no longer enjoys as much as she did, now that she has to keep an eye on her children - having lunch, then going out again until tea-time. After tea Julia puts Theodore to bed and entertains the other children until they go to bed. Herbert - who is, Julia notes repeatedly, very good with the children - hopes that they might go for a walk after their cold supper, but Julia is too tired most evenings and doesn't want to leave the children. Herbert is disappointed that she is so sleepy most of the time. On the last day, Mrs Parker presents her bill, with a number of extras; the Cliff-Hays have to negotiate again. Herbert says that he hopes they will now be able to afford a holiday every year, and Julia reflects on how lucky she is to have such a kind husband and to have enjoyed her holiday. The Waiting Lady (pp209-221) The story opens in 1908, when the narrator, a girl of 19, meets Noelle Manders at a garden party. She is told by her friend Marjorie that Miss Manders is engaged to a man, Stephen Anson, now in prison for fraud. Dressed in black with a sad expression, beautiful Noelle Manders presents a romantic,appearance. Marjorie and the narrator are worried about being old maids, and Noelle's fate - still unmarried at over thirty - seems appalling. By 1913 both Marjorie and the narrator are married, and in 1919 the narrator visits Marjorie and her husband. Noelle's father has died, and she has moved with her mother to a hotel in London. She remains unmarried but, according to Marjorie, sizes up every man she meets as a potential husband. The narrator then sees her in a Soho restaurant, with her mother, an older man, and a younger man called Captain Brady. Noelle has aged, and looks predatory and anxious; she sets out obviously to gain Brady's attention, and invites him to a concert. He declines, rudely. In the ladies' room afterwards, Mrs Manders is complaining to her daughter that this young man is of no use, and the narrator sees that their relationship is entirely focused on the project of getting Noelle married. The third section takes place in a Sicilian pension in 1924; it is implied that the narrator has been widowed. She becomes friendly with another Englishwoman there, Mrs. Maitland, who turns out to be Stephen Anson's mother. They have changed their name; he is now free, and has married Noelle after writing to her and finding that she is still unmarried. They arrive at the pension, and Noelle, although aged, has recovered her beauty and lost her anxious, predatory look, and both she and Stephen believe sincerely that she has waited for him. Terminus (pp225-235) Katherine, a nursery governess, is leaving Bristol, having been suddenly let go by her last employer, and moving to a post in Cornwall. She is leaving behind Edmund, her young man, who is seeing her off to the train. Katherine has a friend, slim and pretty Sylvia, who she thinks of as 'very modern'; on the cold station, where Edmund is seeing to Katherine's luggage, Sylvia arrives to see her off. Separately, Katheriine encourages each of them to seek out the other, as neither has other friends in Bristol. The three of them have tea together, and Sylvia and Edmund encourage Katherine to have more confidence and think more of herself. Sylvia gives Edmund her telephone number and they agree to go for walks together. Katherine gets on her train, says goodbye to Sylvia and kisses Edmund for the first time. They say a sad and protracted goodbye, and the train leaves. As her journey begins, Katherine realises that she has forced her lover into the company of another, much more attractive woman, much to her distress. A Tale of the Times (pp239-255) Miss Southernhaye runs a domestic service bureau in a small cathedral town. The story follows her through a spring day in 1924, during which several potential employers come looking for servants, a young woman (Maggie Beale) and her mother come looking for a place for Maggie, and Miss Glass, an ageing ladies' maid, comes in to enquire after a new position. Miss Southernhaye disapproves of the social changes which have led to a reduction in available staff, and the changes in employers caused by the increased middle class. Mrs Maitland embodies this category, so desperate for a housemaid that she offers too much money and time off to Maggie, who takes a job elsewhere. Maggie and her mother are, in Miss Southernhaye;s view, vulgar and with poor manners. Miss Glass takes a housemaid's job with a local aristocratic family, preferring a family of that class to a ladies' maid post with a middle class family. Reparation (pp259-273) Emily, 18, lives with her aunt Howgego who runs a boarding house, and as well as helping with the work, tries to entertain the other boarders. One day she tells an exaggerated story about a former maid coming in, appearing to be drugged and having been the victim of an attempt at seduction or possibly kidnapping. Later, in bed, she regrets this and realises she will have to go to confession in the morning so she can make atonement - she was raised Catholic by her dead mother. At the church, the priest hears her confession and tells her she must atone by telling the boarders the story was untrue. Emily is appalled by this but forces herself to do it anyway. The other boarders are mostly either uninterested or accuse her of trying to draw attention to herself. Emily, upset, leaves the room - but Robert Irwin, a young man who lives there, follows her and tells her he thinks what she did was splendid. He asks her to go out for a walk with him on Sunday, and Emily's composure is restored. The Threshold of Eternity (pp277-287) A story told to an assembled group, including the first person narrator, by a professor. He tells that he was in a Welsh village on the night that the world was supposed, by some religious cults, to come to an end. Outside the church he meets a young woman, a member of the cult, who tells a sad story about how her controlling parents wanted her to marry an older man, and give up Arthur, the young man who she loved. Then a different young man comes, and tells of the dissolute life he has led in gambling and debauchery, saying he has once been to prison. The world does not end, and at his hotel he asks his landlady if she knows either of the young people. It turns out that both have exaggerated the drama of their lives considerably; the young woman has pursued Arthur, who did not love her, and the young man is a respectable bank clerk.
Catholicism domesticity fatherhood holidays motherhood short stories social class spinsters stepmothers suburbia