Date of publication
Hutchinson & Co
None. Author's note: A good many of the characters in this novel have been drawn, as usual, from persons now living; but the author hopes very much that they will only recognise one another.
"I left the room with silent dignity, but caught my foot in the mat." Grossmith, Diary of a Nobody.
Hartley, L. P. ‘New Fiction: The Way Things Are’. Saturday Review, Sept. 1927, pp. 370–71.Murray, D. L. ‘The Way Things Are’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1337, 15 Sept. 1927, p. 622.
Laura Temple (34) and her husband Alfred have been married for seven years and have two sons, Johnnie, 5 and Edward, 6. They are both vaguely unhappy and live beyond their means in Alfred's family home. Laura struggles with managing the servants and knows her looks have faded. She and Alfred differ over the way to bring up their sons and on how the house should be run. She feels that she has no emotional life of her own in her rather sterile marriage, and wonders if she has ever really been in love; her choice of Alfred was motivated by a desire to be married at the end of the First World War rather than return home after war work, and by the perceived shortage of marriageable men. Laura has been writing short stories and selling them successfully since she was seventeen. A neighbour, Lady Kingsley-Browne, invites the Temples to meet A. B. Onslow, a writer, and his wife. The Kingsley-Brownes have an adult daughter, Bébée, not yet married, modern in style and very attractive to men. At tea, Laura discusses her writing with Onslow, and he is very encouraging about it. Laura reads to her children, and does not realise that they are perfectly aware she is judging Edward's taste in fiction (Beatrix Potter rather than the classics); indeed, she much prefers Johnnie to his brother. Her house-parlourmaid Nellie, reproved for coming home late, resigns and Laura must find a new servant. Laura takes the boys to a dancing-class and is subjected to competitive maternal conversation from Mrs Bakewell; at the library, Lady Kingsley-Browne tries to force her preferences on her and criticises Laura for taking home a murder mystery - Laura deflects this by saying the book is for Alfred. Laura's hunt for a new servant fails, and her cook also leaves; eventually she manages to recruit an expensive and not terribly satisfactory husband and wife to cook and manage the house. Laura's younger sister Christine (29) comes to visit. She is also a writer and lives independently. She asks if she can invite a friend, musician and composer Marmaduke (Duke) Ayland, to lunch. Laura loves and is proud of Christine, but she makes Laura feel middle-aged, criticising her conversation about the winter bulbs. Duke Ayland comes to lunch and is rather quiet and unassuming; Laura likes him. The Temples have a tennis-party, attended by the Bakewells, Christine, Duke, and Bébée and an admirer, the improbably-named Jeremy Vuillamy. Duke tells Laura that he has read and enjoyed her stories and Laura thinks he seems to be interested in her. Later that evening, he plays the piano, and they exchange glances that confirm this. The next day, Laura reflects on Alfred's total lack of romantic or personal conversation. She is required to deal with Johnnie, who has disobeyed his governess, but Duke arrives and she sends Johnnie to her room to wait for her. Duke and Laura discuss her writing; Duke tells her she has an inferiority complex. Forgetting Johnnie for the moment, when she is reminded to fetch him she finds him wearing all her jewellery and engrossed in a book by Marie Stopes. Laura and Christine go to visit new neighbours, the Crossthwaites. On the way, Christine tells Laura that Duke is keen on her, that she (C) is not interested in him romantically, and suggests that Laura should encourage his attentions. Mrs Crossthwaite, who receives them, is extremely bland. Christine tells Laura on the way home that the countryside is causing her to run to seed and lower her standards. The children's nurse resigns. Duke comes to tea, and Laura enjoys a personal conversation with him. She decides to go to London and stay with Christine to recruit a new children's nurse, and to see Duke while she is there. She guiltily asks Alfred if he would mind if she met Duke, and he says it would be a very good thing. Before she goes to London, she must endure her nurse having a day off and therefore caring for the children herself. Of course, Mrs Crossthwaite returns her call that day, bringing an irritating visitor, Mrs. La Trobe. A tedious afternoon is made embarrassing when they run completely out of milk. Alfred annoys her by being late to dinner and insisting on returning to his gardening afterwards, and telling her she looks tired. A letter from Duke cheers her considerably. On the way to London, she meets Lady Kingsley-Browne, who tells her that Bébée has become engaged to Jeremy Vulliamy, who turns out to be heir to an enormous fortune. In London, she stays with Christine and meets Duke for dinner. They have an intimate conversation and Laura feels herself on the brink of a love affair. She is brought back down to earth by prosaic letters from home and the need to do domestic shopping at the Army and Navy Stores. Christine has a party of her modern young friends; Duke attends and sits next to her. The conversation turns to sexual abnormality, which Laura (who has read Havelock Ellis) sees as an opportunity to prove her own modernity. While in London, Laura contacts the A. B. Onslows, who invite her to lunch in Highgate. They have a grand house with a famously beautiful garden. Bébée, elegantly dressed and made up, is also there. Laura finds herself talking about her children, and is dismayed to be called a wonderful mother. The conversation turns on how and where people write, and the pursuit of absolute silence; Laura contrasts this with the domestic circumstances in which she is compelled to write. Bébée is engaged in a flirtation with A. B. Onslow, who is clearly captivated. Christine meets Jeremy Vulliamy by chance and he invites her and Laura to come to the theatre. Laura meets Duke every day while in London, and is happy and at ease with him. She confides that she is rather lonely and disappointed in her marriage, and Duke suggests that she and Alfred don't have much in common. He also suggests that she is repressing her real feelings. This causes Laura, in a rush, to confide all her resentments and disappointments about her love life, and how limited her emotional life is. She realises she is in love with Duke, and he tells her he loves her; they kiss. The following day, they discuss their circumstances. Laura refuses to countenance leaving Alfred and the children; Duke does not want to give her up. Laura meets a middle-aged children's nurse, Charlotte Emery, and offers her the job. Laura wonders whether to tell Alfred about Duke, and realises that she must either deceive her husband or give up Duke. She then wonders whether they could have an ordinary friendship. At a party, Laura again meets A.B. Onslow, with Bébée; Lady Kingsley-Brown is there, and looks worried about her daughter's behaviour. She invites herself to visit Laura at Christine's flat. There, she bursts into tears, and confides that Bebee is having an affair with A. B. Onslow and has moved into the couple's house, and will not leave. Lady K-B asks Laura to intervene. Afterwards, Laura and Christine discuss provincial views on extra-marital affairs, obliquely discussing Laura's own situation. Christine suggests that it's better to go on with a marriage than to leave it for another man - and that one love affair is very like another. The sisters go to the theatre with Jeremy and Christine's friend Losh, a medical student. Jeremy and Christine go out dancing, and Losh takes Laura home. He advises her to read Jung (which she has) and to address her inhibitions. The next day, Laura goes to visit Bebee at the Onslows. Laura finds her packing; she has told A. B. that she will go with him on a trip to America, as his secretary. Laura tries to persuade her that she should not do this, and is expecting too much of A. B. (who has insisted on bringing his wife on the trip too) but Bébée will not be moved. Laura returns home and finds she is pleased to see Alfred and the boys, but appalled to find that Alfred has had words with one of the servants. She finds it is easier to talk to Alfred now that she has something to talk about. The story of Bébée and the Onslows is all over the neighbourhood; at the Bakewells, Mrs Bakewell is very judgemental about it, and Laura feels ashamed of her own behaviour. Duke writes to Laura but she finds his letters a little diappointing, because they are circumscribed, and finds it hard to reply to him. Domestic responsibilities press in and her married servants give notice. She visits Lady K-B, who confirms that Bébée has gone to America with the Onslows. Laura appoints a new cook, and then learns that Duke will be in Devon and wants to meet her. The new cook is delayed for a day, which makes leaving the house to meet Duke very difficult, but she determines to go anyway. On the day they are due to meet, Edward is diagnosed with whooping cough, and she cannot go. The children have to be kept at home for some time, although they are not seriously affected by their illness. The new cook stays only a day and Laura begins the search for servants again. Christine becomes engaged to Jeremy Vulliamy. Laura and Alfred are invited to visit his parents, who are immensely rich but whose money comes from trade. The Vulliamys have a vast house in Norfolk and are kind but a little boring; Mrs Vulliamy discusses Jeremy's previous attachment to Bébée with Laura, and suggests she must be a little mad. She irritates Laura by treating her like Christine's mother. Christine is happy, but unromantic, and Laura envies her powers of detachment. Her sons are to be pages at Christine's wedding, and Laura thinks of how they must, inevitably, move out of her orbit as they grow up. Laura breaks the news of the engagement to Lady K-B, who tells her that Bébée has left A. B. Onslow and taken up with an American, Ernest Blog. He has founded, and is promulgating, a new religion based on eating only raw sun-ripened food and free love. They are to return to England together. Laura goes up to London a week before Christine's wedding. Duke meets her train, and they kiss passionately in the taxi on the way to the hotel. Much of her time is taken up with Christine's wedding, but she meets Duke again and he presses her to come away with him for a week. Laura cannot agree to this but does arrange to see him again. At the hotel, she meets Losh again, and puts her circumstances to him in the guise of a story about a friend. Losh suggests that her 'friend's' feelings cannot be as serious as she suggests, otherwise she would leave her children and her marriage to be with the other man. He suggests that a brief affair would be the best thing, without telling her husband; lies and cheating are undesirable but inevitable in modern society. Christine, discussing her marriage plans, disagrees with Laura that children keep a marriage together, pointing out that it is unfair on the children, and tells Laura that she is conventional and tends to accept arbitrary standards. Laura, nettled, defends herself and then reflects on how much more of a success Christine has made of her life. Alfred and the boys arrive in London for the wedding; Alfred has travelled first class, while the boys and nurse travel third. Before a family dinner party for Christine, Laura is dissatisfied with her appearance. Alfred reminds her that nobody is likely to be looking at her. The next day, at the wedding, Laura is cheered by Johnnie's appearance as a page, and reflects on the fact that she will never know what it is like to marry someone you are in love with. At the reception, she speaks briefly to Duke, and they make tentative plans to meet the following day before she goes home. The next day she is tired and suffering from an emotional reaction to the wedding; she meets Duke, tells him she must give him up, and then kisses him all the way to the hotel in a taxi. The family return home and Edward shows signs of a relapse into whooping-cough. Alfred tells Laura they will need to economise after the London trip. Laura is dispirited by her domestic responsibilities and realises that her love for Duke will wane, and she could not even renounce him unambiguously. The novel ends with her contemplating her ordinariness and wondering if she can endure her limited situtation by accepting her own limitations.
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