Date of publication
Hutchinson & Co
To YOÉ: my sister, and always my greatest friend. “Provinces twain o’er the land held sway, and the country was ruled by twain, I made the laws, as King, but you, as Premier, revoked them again. You were my faithful A.D.C., when I was the Captain bold. But Watson I, to your Sherlock Holmes, in the Baker Street days of old, We went through times that were strange and bad, and we shared and shared the same. And talked and dreamed and planned of the day when we’d come to freedom and fame. And the dreams came true, and the times were changed, and we did the things we’d planned — (Don’t you remember the two Fur Coats, and the trips to Weston sand?) — So now you work at a real Career, and I’m writing, in Singapore, And send my book to my Twin — a token of all that has gone before. A sign of the past — but a symbol, too, that is known to you and me. Of the days together still to come, and the best that is yet to be”
Fyfe, Hamilton. ‘Books and Their Writers: Self-Centered Women’. Daily Mail, 20 Apr. 1921, p. 10; Murray, D. L. ‘New Novels: The Heel of Achilles’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1004, 14 Apr. 1921, p. 243; ‘Novel Notes: The Heel of Achilles’. The Bookman, May 1921, p. 107; ‘The Heel of Achilles’. The Observer, 24 Apr. 1921, p. 4.
The novel’s protagonist, Lydia Raymond, is orphaned at the age of twelve and goes to live with her cynical grandfather, kindly Aunt Beryl and Beryl’s brother George, a middle-class family living in a seaside town. Lydia is clever, but also egotistical; she seeks the lion’s share of the limelight in any situation, but is clever enough to manipulate circumstances to always give a surface appearance of self-effacement. Her grandfather recognises these characteristics, and gives her various pieces of advice – in particular his golden rule, “always let the other people talk about themselves” – which, when put into practice, shroud her egotism. After a successful period at school, Lydia gets a job in London as accounts clerk at a dress shop, and has an abortive flirtation with a Greek resident at her boarding-house. When he is found to have a wife already, Lydia enjoys the status of being a wronged woman, and turns her experience into a novel, which has a minor success. She moves to a new job as secretary to financier Sir Rupert Honoret, where she first meets a young clergyman, Clement Damerel, who is involved with Sir Rupert’s charitable work. Lydia is inadvertently drawn into Sir Rupert’s covert investigation of his wife, who he suspects of infidelity. Clement finds Lydia distressed after an interrogation by Sir Rupert, and terrified that she will be called to give evidence in court; he undertakes to help her. Lydia and Clement marry shortly afterwards and move to his family home in Devon, where he will be a curate. The final third of the novel focuses on Lydia’s relationship with her daughter, Jennie. Lydia and Clement’s marriage is initially happy but then Clement becomes distanced from her, and they have only one child. When Clement dies of appendicitis, after twelve years of marriage, it is the beginning of conflict between mother and daughter, as Lydia resents Jennie’s claims to grief, particularly when they are upheld by others. Jennie grows up to be tomboyish, uninterested in her appearance and resentful of her mother’s self-sacrificing tendencies. At seventeen, she meets a Canadian, Roland Valentine, who arrives in their Devon village in his own plane during the summer of 1914; they are immediately attracted to one another and a few weeks later Roland returns to ask for permission to marry Jennie. Lydia objects to the match, ostensibly on the grounds of Jennie’s youth and immaturity, but when war is declared and Roland joins the forces, she is persuaded to allow the marriage to take place. Lydia loves her daughter as she has never really loved anyone, and the trauma of losing her causes her to seek advice from several friends and relatives. Consequently, she is obliged to hear a substantial number of home truths about her egotism and her determination to force Jennie’s continued dependent status. Gradually, she comes to realise that her egotism and her need for praise and status has led her to take from her child the opportunities that would have allowed her to mature. The novel closes as Jennie and Roland leave after their wedding, and a distressed Lydia is comforted by her friends and family.
First World War egotism mother-daughter relationships novel social class women writers women's work