The Suburban Young Man

Date of publication
1928
Publisher
Hutchinson & Co
Dedication
Dedicated to all those Nice People who have so often asked me to "Write a Story about Nice People"
Epigraph
Published reviews
‘Fiction: The Suburban Young Man’. The English Review, Apr. 1928, p. 490; Hartley, L. P. ‘New Fiction: The Suburban Young Man’. Saturday Review, Mar. 1928, pp. 328–29; Murray, D. L. ‘The Suburban Young Man’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1361, 1 Mar. 1928, p. 148; Powell, Dilys. ‘Four New Novels’. The Bookman, Apr. 1928, pp. 43–44.
Summary
Peter Jannett, a writer lives in Richford, a London suburb, with his wife Hope and their twin sons. Hope is seven years his senior, and Scottish; she is a skilled homemaker and devoted mother. Their villa is called The Korner. Peter is in love with a woman called Antoinette Rochester who lives in London. Hope has learned, from Peter's family, that Peter has been seen meeting Antoinette; Hope has made light of this but suggests they should invite Antoinette to Richford one evening to meet the family. She hopes this will stop the family gossiping. Peter and Hope married without love, and Hope tells Peter that she realises that Antoinette satisfies him in a way Hope is not able to; Hope is satisfied with her children. However, she suggests that eventually Peter will have to choose, and warns that she will divorce him rather than share him with another woman. Peter is moved and admiring of her bravery. Antoinette works for Peter's brother Sydney, who runs the family insurance company, as a typist. Antoinette is from an upper-class background, the niece of Lord Valerian, although her mother is widowed and impoverished. From their first meeting Peter found her sympathetic and intelligent in conversation. Peter meets Antoinette after work; they go to her club, and discuss her family's objections to her working, and her mother's wish that she should marry. Peter voices a concern about the class difference between them, but Antoinette considers that the war has changed society so much that there is little difference in standards between the upper and middle classes. Peter asks Antoinette to come to Richford; she is surprised, and he becomes angry that she has never taken notice of the sort of people who come from the suburbs. They agree to go to Hampton Court the following Sunday; Peter does not know how to broach this with Hope, but luckily a friend invites her to visit. At Hampton Court, Peter and Antoinette declare their love for one another. A Jannett family conference discusses Peter's behaviour and whether somebody ought to challenge him; Norah, Sydney's wife, says she will talk to Hope. The following Sunday Norah and Sydney visit Peter and Hope; Sydney is afraid of a divorce and the associated scandal. Hope heads off Norah by inviting her, and the rest of the family, to come for dinner and meet Antoinette. Hope is anxious about the arrangements for the party and irritates Peter. Antoinette meets her sister Sheila at their club; Sheila wants Antoinette to join her and their mother staying with Uncle George (Valerian) in Cavendish Square. Antoinette tells Sheila that she is going to dinner at the Jannetts and that Peter is married already. Sheila confesses that she is also involved with a married man, Gerald Benson. Antoinette and Sydney meet at Bond Street tube and travel to Richford together. They arrive at Peter's house and Antoinette meets Hope and his aunts; Hope shows her the twins, asleep, and Antoinette is comforted by the fact that they look "common" and will not be heirs to Peter's intelligence and sensitivity. Downstairs, Peter's publisher, the Irish Mr Cassidy has arrived, and eases the atmosphere. Norah and Sydney arrive, and Cassidy flirts with Norah. After dinner, Norah talks to Antoinette about her family background and relationship with Peter. Hope diverts the awkward conversation by suggesting bridge, and Antoinette finds that she likes and respects Hope's quiet and discreet manners, but realises that it would be impossible to assimilate Norah into her own family circle. Antoinette is escorted to the station by Cassidy, who is much more serious when alone, and discusses how Peter needs to mature in order to improve the quality of his work; he suggests that the atmosphere Peter lives in is a hindrance to his art, and that knowing Antoinette, a "woman of discrimination" (72), will help develop him as a writer. Antoinette moves to Cavendish Square. Her mother, Lady Rochester, is pleased to have her back and tries to persuade her to give up her job. Antoinette diverts interest in her own affairs by asking about Sheila; Lady Rochester is worried that Sheila is going to get herself talked about by her pursuit of Gerald Benson. She warns Antoinette not to get involved with a man outside her own class, and reminds her that she needs to think of marrying soon. Sheila brings Gerald Benson to dinner and Antoinette reflects on the typical upper-class conversation which is reserved and avoids controversy; the family discuss whether it is possible to know people out of one's class, which Sheila describes as an old-fashioned view. Antoinette wonders what is attracting Sheila to the rather dull and superficial Gerald, and suddenly wants to write Peter a love letter; by the last post, she finds that Peter has in fact written her a passionate letter. When they meet, she thanks him for it, but suggests that they cannot continue like this; they agree to discuss the matter, and Antoninette invites him to Cavendish Square that evening. She tells him that she liked Hope; Peter confides that he and Hope have never been in love, and that Hope married in order to have children. They agree that Norah is intolerable but that Cassidy is likeable. Lady Rochester and Sheila are amused that Peter will visit, but Sheila suggests that it is quite safe as Antoinette will never lose her head; when Peter arrives, however, the conversation flows easily and Peter is accepted by the family. Alone, the lovers embrace and Peter asks Antoinette to marry him if Hope consents to a divorce. Antoinette is not sure that they have the right to break up the family, even if Hope is willing, and also that the class differences would make a marriage with Peter less than harmonious. She asks for time to think over Peter's proposal; they agree to meet again in a week. Peter is irritable during this week, annoyed with the children and with Hope. They discuss the situation; Peter tells Hope that Antoinette knows of his love for her and that he wants to marry her, but that Antoinette feels she cannot take happiness at Hope's expense and has raised the class issue. Hope agrees that this may be a problem, but says that she liked Antoinette and approved of her. Cassidy arrives, and mentions that he has seen Antoinette out with Sheila and Gerald. Cassidy tells Peter that now is the time to try some serious writing. Norah arrives unexpectedly and Peter realises that she and Cassidy have arranged to meet at his house. After they leave, Hope asks Peter to resolve the situation as quickly as possible, and before Christmas at any rate, as she is suffering from the strain. Antoinette meets Lord Halberton, an old friend of her mother's who was once thought to be a likely second husband for Lady Rochester. They discuss Gerald and Sheila, and Antoinette's job, which Halberton suggests she should give up, but Antoinette suggests she needs to work given her lack of a permanent home. Halberton also reports that Lady Rochester is worried that neither of her daughters is married and settled. They bump into Cassidy, and Halberton is astonished that Antoinette has been meeting people in Richford, which he considers to be only good for football matches; he considers that association between the classes is a bad thing and that middle-class people may not share upper-class traditions, and therefore cannot be relied on. He agrees to meet Peter, however, but tells Antoinette a cautionary tale of a girl he nearly married after his divorce, but agreed not to, as it would be unfair on the girl concerned. Cassidy comes to have tea with Antoinette and they discuss books. Antoinette reflects on her problems, and wonders whether her love is strong enough to overcome the class barrier; she considers Halberton's problems to have been much less complex. Ursula Benson, Gerald's wife, comes into the club and cuts Antoinette and she realises that Hope will also feel like that. Antoinette and Sheila meet a group of friends who discuss a mutual friend who has married a poor (but upper class) man out of love, and they are living on the outskirts of a suburb called Paybridge and doing all their own chores. Sheila confides in Antoinette that she is in love with Gerald and jealous of Ursula, and Antoinette admits her own love for Peter; Sheila hints that she would consider running away with Gerald if it would not harm his career. Lady Rochester is worried that Antoinette's work is affecting her health and her looks, and realises that part of the problem is her love for Peter. She warns Antoinette not to be reckless. Antoinette develops flu, and goes into work, where Sydney is also ill; he mentions, crossly, that he would like Peter to work in the business to share the burden. Antoinette cancels her meeting with Peter, as she feels so ill, and goes back to Cavendish Square; the doctor is called, and she is told to stay in bed for a week. Peter is devastated by not seeing Antoinette; Hope asks if he was not getting over his infatuation through not seeing Antoinette, but he has not. He fantasises about a life, perhaps abroad, with Antoinette, and then brings himself back to earth by considering his home. Sydney sends to ask Peter to cover at the office, and he agrees. Hope admits that she wishes he would take a permanent part in the business, as it would be more "genteel" (147). Peter and Hope visit Sydney, who reminds Peter that he does not approve of his relationship with Antoinette. Peter goes to the office, and afterwards to Cavendish Square to ask after Antoinette's health. Sheila invites him in, and agrees to let Peter know how Antoinette is getting on. Norah has been meeting Cassidy in secret; they go for tea, and then to the cinema and for a late supper, where they see Sheila with Gerald Benson. Cassidy tells Norah about the affair, and asserts that Antoinette is made of finer stuff than her sister. Ursula Benson arrives, and Norah hopes for a scene, but in fact there is no drama and the three talk together, apparently amicable. Cassidy attributes this to Ursula's status as an upper-class Englishwoman. Norah gives Cassidy to understand that Peter is in earnest about Antoinette, and that it is possible he will divorce Hope. Lady Rochester telephones the Jannett office, and tells them Antoinette will not be returning to work there. Antoinette, partially recovered, is amused if indignant, and wonders how this will affect her relationship with Peter. Antoinette has decided to join her mother on a visit to Lord Halberton; they are staying there for Christmas. Sheila tells Antoinette about meeting Ursula in the restaurant, and Antoinette suggests that Sheila is wrong to persist in the relationship and to assume that Ursula has no rights. Sheila reassures her that her relationship with Gerald is not physical, but asserts that she doesn't care if people think that it is. Antoinette tells Sheila that she is seriously thinking of marrying Peter; although she is weighing up the risk of their "conflicting traditions", if Peter were free she would definitely marry him. Sheila is aghast, and thankful that Peter's married state will prevent this. Antoinette decides to invite Peter to visit her the following week. Lord Valerian comes to see her, and asks her not to cause her mother this sort of worry again; he tells her he would like to see her settled and married, and Antoinette realises that for him, marriage to Peter and a home in Richford would be unimaginable. Lord Halberton comes to dinner and they discuss her position; he feels that she will not provoke a divorce, and tells her that Ursula's family is very angry with Gerald and Sheila; he asks Antoinette to try to get Sheila to miss a house party at which she will see Gerald. Sheila is not offended, but takes no notice, and also confides that she does not like the idea of living in social purdah as the wife of a divorced man. Peter comes to see Antoinette and tells her that Hope is ready to allow a divorce; he is not willing to accept Antoinette's attempt to break off their relationship. Antoinette points out that they could not manage on Peter's income; for one thing, she has no idea how to cook or keep house. She insists that they say goodbye now and preserve the best of their love for one another without damaging the happiness of others. Peter persuades her to see him again after Christmas. Antoinette goes back to the Jannett office to collect some items; she apologises for her mother's actions to Sydney, and resolves some problems that have arisen. While she is there, Norah, Hope and Cassidy arrive; they are all going to the theatre. Antoinette's replacement has left for the day and she offers to help Sydney get some letters out. Norah and Hope watch her work. Afterwards Hope walks with her to the tube station, and asks her to come to visit in Richford to see Hope alone. Antoinette realises that she and Hope could have been friends, and that she cannot break up Hope's marriage; she is comforted to think that Peter will be with Hope if he cannot be with her. The next day, she visits Hope as requested, and Hope tells her that Peter has been very unhappy; that she does not resent Antoinette; and that she has offered to divorce Peter. Their marriage has been based on friendship rather than love and she recognises that Antoinette can offer him something she cannot. Hope also mentions the degree of adjustment to each other's standards that would be required if Antoinette and Peter marry. Antoinette, distraught, tells Hope that she cannot break up their marriage, and agrees that she should not see Peter again. She and Hope part on good terms, and Hope expresses a hope that Antoinette will find happiness. Antoinette and her mother go to Earl Willows, Lord Halberton's home in Kent, where they are to spend Christmas. She and Halberton go for a walk together, and she tells him she has given up Peter. They discuss Sheila's behaviour. Antoinette feels at home in the familiar atmosphere, and contrasts it with her experiences at work and in Richford. News comes that Lord Valerian is unwell, and the family decide to contact Sheila, staying at her house party, so she can find out if he needs more help. But Halberton finds out that Sheila has left with Gerald, having told her host that she was coming straight to Earl Willows, two days before. She has not returned to Cavendish Square and Halberton and Antoinette are very worried that she has run away with Gerald. Antoinette begins to realise that Halberton admires her. A letter from Sheila arrives; she and Gerald plan to spend Christmas in Paris as a last fling before he returns to Ursula. Antoinette then gets a letter from Cassidy, who mentions seeing Sheila at Croydon Airport, which has been fog-bound. Antoinette and her mother leave for Croydon, where they find Cassidy, who tells them that Sheila is at a local hotel. They go there, but Sheila has not yet arrived. Cassidy tells Antoinette that he realised what Sheila was planning, and wanted to avoid worry for the family; he will not take advantage of his knowledge. He also tells her that Peter is unhappy, but that he believes this will improve his work. Sheila and Gerald arrive, and are surprised by Lady Rochester, who proposes lunch. Sheila tells her family that she has been staying at her club, and it is clear that she is half-grateful to be rescued from her escapade. She tells Antoinette that Gerald has been terrified about the whole thing. The three women return to Earl Willows, where Antoinette writes to Cassidy to thank him. Halberton proposes to Antoinette; she tells him she is still in love with Peter, and wonders whether someone nearer Halberton's age (50) would be better, but does not give him a definite refusal. In Richford, Hope's sister Jessie is a pleasant visitor for Christmas. Cassidy visits, and tells Peter about Sheila and meeting Antoinette; Peter confirms that he will be saying goodbye to her after Christmas. Hope tells Peter again that she would rather he took a job at the office, for reasons of status and position, and he agrees to talk to Sydney about it. On 31 December, he visits Antoinette at Cavendish Square. They drive to Hampstead Heath, and Antoinette confirms that their relationship is at an end. She tells Peter how much she admires Hope, and he hopes to hear that she marries one day. They discuss Cassidy, who will always be a link between them. Back at Cavendish Square, they part, both distraught. Later that evening, Lady Rochester tells Antoinette about one of her own love-affairs and how she recovered from it, to comfort her. A year or so later, Peter is working in the office regularly, and Antoinette's engagement to Lord Halberton is announced. Norah and Sydney discuss it, and Norah goes to see Hope to tell her about it. Hope is pleased, and tells Norah that the affair did Peter a great deal of good; he is more settled, and writing better work. Peter has come to realise that he and Antoinette could only retain the value of their love by relinquishing it.
Tags
mother-daughter relationships motherhood social class women's work writers
Notes