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.