Date of publication
This book is dedicated to A. D. Peters, kindest, most efficient and most patient of literary agents.
‘Books of the Day: New Novels--Turn Back the Leaves’. The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959), 7 Mar. 1930, p. 9; Cook, Marjorie Grant. ‘Turn Back the Leaves’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1463, 13 Feb. 1930, p. 120; ‘Fiction: Turn Back the Leaves’. The English Review, Apr. 1930, p. 513; ‘New Novels’. The Times, no. 45437, 14 Feb. 1930, p. 20; ‘Notes for the Novel-Reader: Fiction of the Month’. The Illustrated London News, vol. , no. , 22 Mar. 1930, p. 488; Pritchett, V. S. ‘The Month’s Fiction: Turn Back the Leaves’. Fortnightly Review, no. 127, Mar. 1930, pp. 429–32; West, Douglas. ‘Too Many Novels of Life in Little’. Daily Mail, 17 Feb. 1930, p. 4.
In 1890, Edmunda has been married to Sir Joseph Floyd for two years; he is twenty years her senior and had wanted to become a monk, but his confessor told him it was his duty to marry and produce a Catholic heir to Yardley, his family home. Yardley in Gloucestershire is a Queen Anne house, beautiful but already slightly decayed, with many of the rooms shut up. Edmunda has yet to have a child, and a sea-voyage is suggested to improve her health. The Floyds go to Rome; stopping at Genoa on their return, Edmunda meets Lord Charles Craddock, a diplomat. She falls in love with him and he pursues them to London where he arranges for them to be invited to a ball. Edmunda persuades her husband to allow her to attend, and she confesses her love to Craddock, but attempts to tell him she cannot see him again. Edmunda stays with an old friend, Theresa Delancey, in London while Sir Joseph attends a family funeral. Back at Yardley, Sir Joseph is informed that Edmunda is pregnant. Father Bailey, the priest living at Yardley, finds Edmunda sobbing; she confesses that the child is not her husband's. Edmunda goes to London to have the child, and Craddock goes abroad, having made arrangements for the baby's maintenance. Sir Joseph is persuaded by Father Bailey that he should forgive Edmunda; he agrees to this provided she gives up her baby. She agrees to this, and returns, but is a shadow of her former self. Edmunda has four more children in quick succession: Helen, Veronica, Casimira (Cassie) and finally Joey, after which birth Edmunda dies. Two years later, Sir Joseph marries Theresa Delancey on the advice of his confessor. In 1901, Chloe Bourdillon, a twenty-eight-year old New Woman, is in the habit of visiting Edmunda and Craddock's daughter Stella. Chloe is beginning to realise that she may now never be married. Stella lives with her nurse, Cording, and a maid and governess; she is a pretty but adaptive child, prone to telling people what they would like to hear. Chloe's father Stephen is an architect, and more socially successful than his plaintive wife; he excludes his wife and daughter from his social life. He has met Lord Charles Craddock, who knows of his daughter's interest in Stella; Mr Bourdillon reports to his that it seems likely that Stella will soon come under the care of the Floyds; they speculate that Stella is Edmunda's daughter and that Sir Joseph forgave Edmunda because of his extreme faith and need of an heir. Theresa comes to see Stella, and asks her if she would like to come and stay at Yardley; her objective is to bring up the child as a Catholic. Stella assents, but her nurse is not willing to compromise her Protestant principles and go with her. Miss Thompson, the governess, is more flexible, but in the end neither move to Yardley. Chloe arrives to say goodbye and meets Theresa; a sentimental reference to Catholicism means Theresa begins to consider her a possible convert. Chloe hopes Stella will remind Theresa to invite her to Yardley, which would confer social distinction, and give her an opportunity to meet men. Stella arrives at Yardley, and Theresa reflects on how she persuaded Sir Joseph to receive the child, which she achieved by appealing to his duty as a Catholic and with the support of Father Bailey. Stella is better educated than the young Floyds, but far behind them in terms of her religious upbringing. Stella meets the children - she is to be passed off as a cousin of Theresa's - and Theresa notices the resemblance between her and Cassie, who favours her mother; this causes Sir Joseph to pale when he is introduced to Stella. By 1909, Stella is eighteen and comes out; a garden-party is held to launch her in society. Stella gets on well with her half-siblings and with the extremely catholic nursemaid Agnes Martinelli, but is excited about being grown-up. Helen is tall, noisy and clumsy; Veronica equally noisy although she has pretensions to the religious life. Joey is now at boarding school, but has come home with a complaint from his headmaster for behaviour that cannot be discussed with girls. Cassie asks her stepmother about this, and is told not to ask Joey any more about it. Chloe Bourdillon attends the garden-party with the Nevilles, local Protestant gentry who have two grown-up sons, Peter and Thomas; Chloe's enthusiasm for Stella is rekindled. Peter Neville talks to Stella and is clearly attracted by her. Stella discusses her parentage with Theresa, and extracts from her the nature of her parent's relationship, that her mother is now dead, the name of her father and that provides an allowance for her, and that she may meet him. Stella and Theresa attend a tennis party at the Nevilles; Chloe suggests that Stella might come and stay with her family in London. The Floyd children speculate that Peter Neville might marry Stella. The Nevilles bring Chloe to Yardley for a final visit before her return to London, and they have an improvised picnic; both Tom and Peter Neville give Stella a great deal of attention. Veronica climbs a tree, gets stuck, is helped down by Peter. Tom and Stella discuss the Floyds; Tom is interested in character and his accurate assessment of Stella's annoys her. Theresa is angry with all the children, particularly Veronica for her "fast" behaviour. Stella goes to stay with the Bourdillons, with Sir Joseph's approval; he is averse to Stella anyway and worried that admirers will cause Joey, or one of the girls, to "lose their innocence." Stella sees both Peter and Tom Neville in London; Tom is pursing a medical degree with the aim of become a psychiatrist. Stella returns to the Bourdillons after Christmas at Yardley, as a paying guest. At Yardley, Helen has left school but is sulky and unhelpful; Sir Joseph has become even more withdrawn from the family than ever, and unable to tolerate conversation that does not revolve around Catholicism. The children all avoid him as much as possible. Cassie, on her seventeenth birthday, is dressed up in one of Stella's evening dresses by Agnes; Theresa is shocked by the resemblance to Edmunda, but Sir Joseph, returning from a retreat, is appalled by Cassie's lack of modesty. Veronica and Peter Neville fall in love; Peter will not consider conversion to her faith, and will not make the promises to allow their children to be brought up Catholic. Sir Joseph will not consent to the marriage on these terms. The young Floyds wonder whether the stringent rules of their faith are really necessary for salvation, and regret the lack of suitable Catholic young men in England. Peter is in the Army, and about to be sent to India; Veronica is sent to stay with a cousin in Bournemouth to recover from her disappointment. Shortly afterwards, Veronica writes to Helen and Theresa to tell that she has married Peter in a register office. The family are shocked to the core; Theresa reports that it would have been easier to tell Sir Joseph that all the children were dead, and that she would rather Veronica had been drowned. Sir Joseph and Father Donovan visit the young couple in London, but cannot get Veronica to come home, and she leaves for India with Peter. Sir Joseph tells the family that Veronica will not be received at home until she is reconciled to the Church. In London, Stella sees more of Tom Neville, who attracts her strongly. The Bourdillons are fascinated by Sir Joseph's disowning of his daughter, and Veronica's marriage is an ongoing topic of conversation. At a dance, Tom Neville kisses her, and after a few days asks her to marry him when he has completed his training in Vienna, in two years' time. He gives her a ring to wear in secret, and Stella promises to become engaged to him on his return. At the theatre, Stella meets Lady Charles Craddock, her father's wife; Mr Bourdillon suggests that she will take Stella up, and this proves to be the case. Stella consequently meets her father for the first time, and is charmed by him. The Craddocks take her to the South of France, and Lady Charles encourages her in an attraction to Julius Pemberton, divorced, rich and fifteen years older than Stella. She breaks off her engagement to Tom and becomes engaged to Julius; his divorce is not mentioned in her letter to Yardley. However, she cannot be married in a Catholic church under these circumstances, and Theresa pleads with her not to go through with the marriage; Stella does marry Julius, however, with the backing of the Craddocks. The Great War starts. Joey enlists in 1916 and expects to be sent to France. Helen stays at home and works on the land (Sir Joseph forbids her to wear breeches, so she does her farm work in a skirt) and Cassie gets a clerical post in Bristol. At first she stays at a convent, but then decides to move nearer to work and takes a room in a boarding-house. In 1917 Joey is sent to France, and takes Cassie out to lunch before he leaves. He is very bitter about their oppressive upbringing and Sir Joseph's tyrannical nature, and asserts that he will never marry a good Catholic girl and settle down at Yardley to continue the family line. Joey seems to want to confide in Cassie, and says he hopes he will be shot as this will end his "difficult" life, but does not go further. Cassie writes to Veronica, who is now in Alexandria with Peter and her two children, and to Stella, who is organising Red Cross entertainments and hoping to get war work in France. Theresa reports from Yardley that Helen is becoming very odd and silent. On leave at Yardley, Cassie learns that Joey has spent his leave in Paris; Helen is very hard about Veronica and refuses to hear anything about the children. Yardley seems very shabby and decayed to Cassie, and is terribly cold. Sir Joseph welcomes the wartime privations and suggests it will help people realise they have been eating too much all their lives. A telegram arrives to say that Joey is reported missing and feared killed. Tom Neville visits,on leave from the army after an injury; Cassie is in love with him, but clearly he still thinks of her as a child; she persuades him to give his professional opinion of Sir Joseph. Tom considers that he has religious mania. News comes that Peter Neville has been killed; Cassie hopes to go with Tom to bring her back from Alexandria, but Stella, whose husband is now working in the war office, is able to go and fetch her. On Cassie's last afternoon at home, she walks with Helen and Theresa into the village to take boots to be mended, and they meet Veronica, returning to stay at the Nevilles'. Theresa does not dare take her up to the house, but Tom manages a picnic tea in the pavilion; the time passes happily, with Theresa playing with her grandchildren and Cassie enjoying Tom's company. The Floyds return to the house, to find Sir Joseph enraged; a telegram has come while they were out to say that Joey is dead. Theresa goes to comfort him, but he throws her off, violently, shouting that she has been the cause of his sin, and now he has no heir to comfort him for ignoring his vocation. He then collapses into depression; Tom brings a specialist to see him, and although his verdict is kept from Helen and Cassie, Tom tells them that the inbreeding of Sir Joseph's lineage and the circumstances have caused his insanity, and that Theresa is determined to keep him at Yardley. Agnes tells the girls that Sir Joseph has behaved in a saintly manner in respect of Stella, and the story of her birth is gradually realised by Cassie. Helen is shocked and horrified, and considers that none of them can ever pray enough to atone. Cassie hopes that she will still be able to leave Yardley and work, and Tom Neville, paying a visit at the end of his leave, encourages her to do this. She returns to Bristol. Paying a visit after the Armistice, she finds that Sir Joseph is now paralysed and has a tendency to confess sexual excesses he believes himself to have committed to Theresa. Helen announces that she has made arrangements to enter a religious order, the Poor Clares, as atonement for Edmunda's sin and Veronica's apostasy. Cassie realises that she will now have to stay at home to help Theresa in Helen's place. In an epilogue, two young riders out hunting pass Yardley, and see the ancient Sir Joseph being wheeled down the drive by Theresa and Agnes, much to their amusement.
Catholicism First World War extra-marital affairs heredity illegitimacy mental illness sexuality spinsters women's work