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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summer of Love: Will she? Won’t she? in Julia Strachey’s Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

Who remembers the moment in Four Weddings and a Funeral when Hugh Grant rolls over in bed and asks “who is it this week?” Because as we enter this, the end of the summer, that is how we feel. In a good way, of course. I love weddings. Which is just as well, because we have been to one almost every weekend of the summer and still have one to go. We have been to Serbia (twice), Russia, the Lebanon, Hampshire, London (more than twice) and Oxford. Honourable mention must also be made of one further “not married party” which was no less a meeting of old friends and a celebration of love and commitment (you know who you are)...

And so it was as a self appointed expert, a connoisseur of nuptials, that I picked up the Persephone Classic, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is short, funny and worth-it. It is the narrative of a single day – the wedding day – of Dolly, a middle-class girl of the early 1930s. The action takes place entirely in her family home, which one presumes to be a medium sized manor house or something of that sort. The house is teeming with comic characters – the status conscious, conventionally minded mother of the bride, Mrs Thatcham, to whom appearances mean a lot; The Bridesmaids – clumsy Kitty who is beset with adolescent insecurities and elegant Evelyn who is worried about being cold in church; School boy cousins Tom and Robert, who are locked into a ceaseless argument about emerald green socks (“Go and put your head in a bag” sticks in the mind); The dour anthropologist Joseph Patten, who moons about the house having tense conversations with everyone and trying to find the bride, for what purpose, the reader must enquire on their own account.... There are numerous others; mad old aunts; domestic helps; a Canon, and they all rumble around the place in a sort of country house comedy way – with people walking out of rooms just as others walk in looking for them and so on.


At the heart of this novella there is a rich and slightly painful vein of social satire. Some characters seem to care more about what things look like than how they really are. Others respond to such hypocrisy with savagery - saying things which are designed to shock and upset. This seems to me to be not just the age old clash between the old and the young but also the clash between the conservative, the traditional and the more socially liberated approaches to life which were emerging in the 1920s and 30s. There is a thick layer of repression veiling most of the main characters and there is a lot of swigging from the bottle in dark corners as well.

Which brings me to another theme which seemed to sing out loud and clear, one to which any wedding goer is familiar: continuity. When Dolly fortifies herself with a bottle of rum and faces the music, she does what many women, possibly even her much maligned mother, have done before her. There were times when I felt that Cheerful Weather for the Wedding was like a form of social archaeology. If you remove the top soil of propriety the first layer you come to is rebellion but underneath that runs a thick course of convention and a willingness to do things the way that they have always been done.

The characters are not as whole or as touching as they could be and I did not find myself rooting for anyone but the book is thought provoking. Other opinions can be found at Stuck in a Book, Vintage Reads, Fernham, Nonsuch Book, Novel Insights, The Green Room, My Porch and the marvellously named What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate.

I have included pictures of the (predictably lovely) Persephone cover and end paper and a portrait of the author by Dora Carrington.

16 comments:

  1. I shall definitely read this one!
    I love the thought of the all characters assembled for the one occasion.

    Good luck with your wedding trips! We were on a run of weddings last year - each so very different and not all in the same country .....and, I remember Hugh Grant!

    A happy, cheerful post and a book that seems as if it will be fun to read.

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  2. Since the spirit of weddings is still over my household!!! I think I would love to read this book. Who can forget Hugh Grant!

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  3. I've had this book since early this year but haven't dipped into it yet. It seems to be one of those that has divided Persephone readers. Most of the reviews I've read have been negative so its been good to read yours.

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  4. I adore this book - one of my favourites!

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  5. Another book for my Persephone wish list...

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  6. I still have not bought a Persephone book, but I am amassing a list of them that I'd like to read, and this book just went on this list. I like your comments about continuity in the story, and think that this would be a really enlightening read for me. Though you didn't find yourself rooting for anyone in particular, I am glad that you enjoyed the book, Hannah!

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  7. Oh I love a good wedding. Having had a summer of weddings and reading this book will your autumn reading/re reading be Greenery Street?

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  8. you have an interesting blog, lots of interesting books to find out more about. i also haven't bought a persephone book yet but look forward to one day.... they are really beautifully done.

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  9. >like a form of social archaeology.

    I absolutely love this comparison and makes what could be seen as a fluff story so much more than that--which is actually very Austenian.

    Goes on the list...

    BTW, as luck would have it, I recently rewatched Four Weddings and a Funeral with my teenagers. I hadn't seen it since it first came out and enjoyed it again. Great line, btw!

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  10. I loved this when I read it back in the spring. For me, it reads as much like a play as a novel and I love it all the more for that. Tom and Robert were particularly memorable.

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  11. Thank you all so much for visiting and commenting

    Aguja - so glad that you are inspired and thet the memory of Hugh is alive and well!

    Mystica - well I did love to see your recent post on the same subject....

    Mrs B - I did really like it so I hope that you do too

    Naomi - good! I don't blame you...

    JoAnn - it get's so long doesn't it?!

    Zibilee - I think that you will enjoy it - it is not super touching but it is not meant to be.

    Joan - I have never read Greenery Street but did get the September email from Persephone this morning, so maybe I should try it... do you recommend?

    Le Baron de Charlus - thank you for your kind words. You have an interesting name... Persephones are rather beautiful

    Jane - so glad that you enjoyed it - I must admit that it is one of my favourites

    Claire - -yes I agree - it does feel just like a play and who can forget "put your head in a bag" etc...

    Hannah x

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  12. Oh yes do read - it's about a married couple's first year living in London, though that's not as important as their discovering each other.

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  13. It sounds like a really sweet book. I have actually picked it up and put it down a couple of times but next time I pick it up, I will read it :-)

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  14. Another good one...my wishlist is getting so long, thanks to your reading!

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  15. Good evening all and sorry for being such a slack person in responding to comments - which it goes without saying, I do *love* to receive.

    Le Baron (I hope you don't mind if I call you that...) - thanks for the clarification and a fine choice.

    Joan - thank you - I will - top of my list when I get back to the UK (worryingly) soon.

    Willa - I totally recommend it, maybe on a chilly afternoon.

    Bybee - I know so is mine, will we ever get to the end of them do you think? I think certainly not but I am trying...

    Happy reading all

    Hannah

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