Cecily Sidgwick biography - Chapter 15 - Literary output of the post-War years
Cecily continued to produce novels right up to her death in 1934, and those published in the years after the War included:-
My Trifling Adventures
The Purple Jar, 1919 (published in America as Iron Cousins, 1919) (Hutchinson and Co)
The Black Knight, 1920 (with Crosbie Garstin) (Henry Holt and Company)
Law & Outlaw, 1921 (W.J. Watt and Company)
London Mixture, 1924 (W.Collins Sons & Co Ltd)
Humming Bird, 1925 (W.Collins Sons & Co Ltd)
Sack and Sugar, 1926 (W.Collins Sons & Co Ltd)
Bride’s Prelude, 1927 (W.Collins Sons & Co Ltd)
Come by Chance, 1928 (W.Collins Sons & Co Ltd)
Six of Them, 1929 (W.Collins Sons & Co Ltd)
Masquerade, 1930 (W.Collins Sons & Co Ltd)
Storms and Teacups, 1931 (W.Collins Sons & Co Ltd)
Maid and Minx, 1932 (W.Collins Sons & Co Ltd)
Poverty and Riches, 1933 (Ernest Benn Ltd)
Refugee, 1934 (W.Collins Sons & Co Ltd)
I have not located or read all of these books, but the following comments will give an idea of the subjects covered, and concentrate, in particular, on those books that give further glimpses of life in Lamorna.
The years immediately after the War proved to be Cecily’s most successful financially. Following 1918’s earnings of £787, those for 1919 were £1395, boosted by the sale of the film rights to The Kinsman and the success of Karen, for 1920, £885 and, for 1921, £689. Thereafter, they were generally between £400-£600, with 1928 being a good year producing £756.
My Trifling Adventures was referred to as a new novel by Cecily in the advertisements section in the back of The Purple Jar, but I have found no trace of a copy of it or of a review of it.
The Purple Jar, which was the book highly praised in the ‘Leader’ newsletter, was another of Cecily’s anti-German novels. It featured an orphaned English girl, who was brought up by her aunt, who decided to become a governess to the children of a German family in Hamburg shortly before the War. The title is explained by the following passage about the girl’s aunt, who disapproved of the proposal but did not prevent it; "She reminded me of the mother in Miss Edgeworth’s story, who let Rosamund buy the purple jar to find out for herself that it was not worth the money." This rather oblique reference was felt to be inappropriate for the American market, where the book was called Iron Cousins; as no cousins are involved in the story, I can only imagine that it is a reference to the related rulers of Germany and England who, at the time, were flexing their military muscles. The German mother, in particular, is viciously portrayed. She is not only anti-English but also violently anti-semitic. She runs her household through fear, beats her children, and overworks her maids. When two of the children contract scarlet fever, the governess, who has not had the disease herself, is expected to look after them on her own, as no-one else will come near. A nephew, who falls in love with her, will not risk his family’s disfavour by marrying her, but instead wants her to become his mistress. It is only when the governess becomes reasonably well off, after her aunt’s death, that he offers to marry her, but, by that time, he is betrothed to someone else. However, it is not only Germans who come across badly, as another English governess of Jewish origin who is also working in Hamburg is portrayed as a vain, arrogant vixen. As Hamburg was where Cecily’s mother was born and where her sister, Adele, was married, she presumably had visited the city on a number of occasions in her youth to see relatives. Indeed, one section sees the heroine skating on the Amstel, an activity that Cecily records her mother reminiscing about with pleasure. Here, though, the heroine seriously injures her leg, when falling over, perhaps Cecily’s enduring memory of the experience! One departure in the novel is a section written in what she calls "the new fashion", namely a string of short phrases, often without verbs, and sometimes just single words, intended to convey the heroine’s various and incoherent thoughts at a time of crisis.
Law & Outlaw (1921) is refreshingly different, as the principal character is a very young girl, Peggy, who has to endure a malevolent step-mother. Perceived by stepmother and governess as unremittingly naughty, Cecily paints a charming portrait of the girl, who can only find solace in the company of her fox terrier. The action in the first part of the book takes place in a big house in the Lancastrian fells near Manchester, whilst the second part is set against the backdrop of the palio in Siena.
Whilst None-Go-By (1923), which has been mentioned above in the chapter, ‘Vellensagia’ Days, contains a fascinating description of the Sidgwicks’ own life when they first moved down to Lamorna and some interesting comments about the artist community in general, the three artist characters included in the plot are not very convincing. These three embraced what they termed "the new psychology", and did not get on with the Clarendons (the Sidgwicks), whom they were classified as bourgeois Philistines. Mrs Tubbs was an elderly widow of an artist, who lived in a tiny cottage in the cove, decorated with some rather violently coloured fabrics and cluttered with books, paintings and photographs, "but who had never painted anything herself except her furniture, when she used enamel". She was "under the curious but mistaken illusion that the cove belonged to her and her little coterie", and wondered why the Clarendons had decided to settle in Lamorna if they did not paint. When told that they wrote, "she gave a sniff that put ink as compared with paint in its proper place" and commented, "I never read books by women. Their brains are so inferior to men’s."
Then there was Pitcher Skimming, who dressed in a fisherman’s jersey, a red kerchief and football shorts and never wore anything on his head. He was considered very advanced, as Mrs Tubbs confided, "He painted a picture last spring that created a sensation. Every tree trunk was bright blue, and the only figure you could be sure was human was a nude, wearing a scarlet hat and spotted veil and carrying an enormous umbrella. Pitcher’s great friend, Fisher, said it was deliciously obscene." In fact, the tree trunks represented nudes as well.
The third undesirable was nicknamed ‘The Leprechaun’, although her real name was Vera Protsky She was a queer looking, fat girl in her late twenties, always dirty and untidy, with eyes like a ferret, an enormous mouth and bobbed white hair. She was highly strung, had visions, smoked clay pipes, and had few social skills, sitting on the floor most of the time. She sketched from time to time, but her speciality was wax flowers that were intended to be symbolical. Often referred to as a creature, she is an unbelievable character, albeit some characteristics might have been drawn from Phyllis Yglesias, about whom Laura Knight commented, "Drawing-rooms were not her haven." Whilst Knight remembered her as "our joy and delight, a wild thing of imagination, wit and great talent, a Basque", one can imagine that Cecily found her antics, such as sleeping out at night on the bare earth or hanging like a fly with her finger tips from the high joists in the Knight’s kitchen, a little too unconventional for her taste. Interestingly, in his review of the book, Herbert Thomas indicates that a number of sections of the story had been published in serial form previously in The Westminster Gazette.
When Cecily wrote of the Clarendons again in Storms and Teacups (1931), the story centred mostly around their family and visitor friends, and references to artists were brief. However, Mrs Tubbs was still living in the Cove letting out rooms. Pitcher Skimming had become a famous Futurist artist, who painted portraits which all had slanting eyes, coarse lips and triangular bodies, which he said represented the soul of the sitter as he saw it. "They were very much alike and Mrs Tubbs said that this showed that Capitalism had a pernicious effect on your spiritual inside so that when a great seer like Mr Skimming looked at you he painted what he saw and it was bad." The Leprechaun had gone to Moscow, as she felt her spiritual home was there, but having got through three husbands/lovers, now wanted to get back to England but had no money. As regards other members of the community, there was a new stuffy Rector, with a vacuous wife and an uncontrolled dog, whilst the new tenant of Morwenna, a Mrs Andrew, caused scandal firstly by enjoying nude ‘sunbaths’ in the grounds with her maids to the embarrassment of her gardeners, and then by decamping, without having paid any rent, with priceless tapestries, leaving a trail of debts due to many local tradespeople. One imagines that all these characters are fictional.
London Mixture (1924) is typical ‘Sidgwickiana’. This time, the widow, in straightened circumstances with pretty girls to marry off, has also to cope with the high taxes and food shortages of wartime London. However, she has a guilty secret, which explains why an old friend is happy to fund the education of the two younger children. There is a brief Cornish interlude, when two families holiday next door to each other in what are clearly ‘Rosemerrin’ and ‘Trewoofe Orchard’, whilst the fortunes of several characters are dramatically enhanced by shipping shares worth £5 suddenly being bought out for £80, a clear reference to the take over of the Hain Shipping Company of St Ives by P & O in 1917. The final scenes, which contain some unbelievable coincidences, are in Italy - in Genoa and Pisa.
Humming Bird (1925) was set principally in Italy, and the action swings between Chioggia, Venice, Bologna, Cutigliano and Rome, clearly all places that Cecily will have visited. The central figure - the Humming Bird - is Flora, an attractive, orphaned English girl, brought up in straightened circumstances by her mother’s best friend and her Italian artist husband in Italy. Accordingly, the story features the different standards of behaviour expected of young females in England and Italy, and the attitude adopted by some Italian men to ‘easy-virtued’ English girls. Furthermore, so as to contrast Flora’s laid-back upbringing in Italy, with the rigid lifestyle of an English country house manned by meticulous servants, there are also sections in Manchester, when Flora finally becomes acquainted with her mother’s English relations, (who, incidentally, like Ella Naper, have a Pekinese named ‘Minshi-Fu, "with dark, adoring goggle eyes") and in Bradford, where she has a wealthy admirer. By this juncture, her publisher, Collins, is producing short summaries of the storyline for the dust-jacket, but these seem not to be the work of Cecily, as they are not in her concise style and often miss the subtleties of the plot, which was unfortunate, as they were frequently quoted verbatim by lazy reviewers. In the case of Humming Bird, the dust jacket illustration is also odd. The whole point of the story is that Flora has to decide between her young, wealthy English admirer, Peter, and her older, less well-off Italian admirer, Mario, and yet the Illustration by Ellen Edwards shows the artistically inclined Flora sketching profiles of Mario and Giorgio, the latter being an odious Italian, who is given short shrift. Such lack of attention to detail must have infuriated Cecily. Humming Bird, though, is one of her better novels.
Cecily indicated later that Sack and Sugar (1926) had been one of her most popular novels, which is why she re-used the principal characters in the later Storms and Teacups (1931). However, quite a number of the English characters featured in the story are held up to ridicule, and the English as a race are often criticised. Nevertheless, the book is particularly interesting as it features Thomas and Mary Clarendon again (i.e. the Sidgwicks), and, intriguingly, the narrator, Suzanne Colmar, is stated to be the sister of Mary Clarendon and she too was said to have been born and brought in London, by German parents. As details of the life of Cecily’s sister, Adele, after her marriage to Gustav Maas in Hamburg, are not known, it is impossible to say whether the experiences of the family of Suzanne Colmar bear any relation to those of Adele’s family. However, like Suzanne Colmar, Adele did have four children - Walter (named after her brother), Gerald, Cyril (for whom The Children’s Book of Gardening was written) and Evelyn, albeit Suzanne had two boys and two girls. The Colmars led a very peripatetic life, frequently fraught with financial crises through the naive dealings of Martin, the husband, who delighted in fresh enterprises in new surroundings. This had meant that their four children had been born in different cities - Henri in Madrid, Eva in Naples, Victor in Rome and Gerda in Baden-Baden. At the time covered by the novel, in the early 1920s, Suzanne, now a widow, was living in Paris, with her beloved dachshund, Ludwig, acquired in Brighton, having endured a desperate few years in English boarding houses during the War. Sensible son, Henri, and daughter, Eva, who had recently married a French stockbroker, were also living in Paris, whilst Anglo-phile son, Victor, was living in London, having married an English ‘rose-bud’, Kitty, from a tiresome English family, called Watkins, with whom Suzanne was forced to endure a holiday in Folkestone. The naive Kitty, who had never travelled outside England before, then made a complete fool of herself during a week in Paris. The mercurial Gerda, swept along by passions for men or causes one moment, and threatening suicide the next, flitted between Germany, Paris and England. There is also an interesting reference to the family’s fortunes being restored by shares in an obscure English shipping company, being bought out during the War by one of the largest shipping companies, a clear reference to the takeover of the Hain line of St Ives by P & O in 1917.
Whilst in None-Go-By, Mary Clarendon (i.e. Cecily) is the narrator, in Sack and Sugar, that role is taken by Suzanne Colmar and so, as regards her comments about Mary, we have Cecily, in effect, giving other people’s opinions of herself. Prior to the sequence in Menwinion (Lamorna), there are a couple of references to the Clarendons in the book. On one occasion, she records how the Clarendons had been holidaying in Italy. "My sister Mary and her husband sent me postcards from Siena, where they were living on three shillings and sixpence each day. I was thankful I was not with them when I saw them on their way back and they told me how they lived. Two meatless days a week, no butter, and on Sunday evenings a pigeon bone, on which Ludwig himself could not have found a morsel. Mary said the Cathedral was beautiful, but I told her a man cannot nourish himself on cathedrals. Poor Thomas was so thin that you could see through him, and he told me that he had lost two stone in Italy. I wanted them to stay with us for a bit, but they could only spare two days, as they had to be back in Cornwall. I forget why. They are people who live more by rule and by dates than I do, and their meals are served to the minute. Most uncomfortable." This is Cecily poking fun at herself.
Suzanne indicates that, although she was very fond of Mary and Thomas, her previous visits to her sister had not been entirely successful. "When I used to stay with them in Wimbledon, I suffered terribly, because at that time they believed in a doctor who told them to live day and night all the year round with open windows." She also said that she had never been invited to ‘None-Go-By’, "where they led the Simple Life, with one maid and every discomfort", as the Clarendons knew that this was not her style.
During the sequence in Cornwall, Thomas, whom Suzanne thinks looks like the President of the Royal Academy in a George Du Maurier sketch in Punch, acts in his normal distrait manner. She comments, "By profession he is a philosopher, and writes books about Pragmatism, which means the matter-of-fact treatment of things. How he can write books about a side of life he constantly ignores I don’t know." Later, talking about his study, she writes, "Thomas’ room is lined with books from the floor to the ceiling, most of them not to be understood by such as me, but Thomas’ learning seems to dwell in such deep recesses of his mind that most of us never know it is there unless we try to read what he has written, when we find that, though it is in plain English, we cannot follow it. Philosophers are like that, and I often wonder what use they are. Thomas is of use because he likes sawing wood and carpentering and dredging his pond." He was also a good sounding board if one wanted advice. "He never gives you any that you can lay hold of, but he listens and looks interested. He nearly always says that if he were you, he wouldn’t do anything, or that he doesn’t see what you can do, or that it doesn’t matter, does it?"
At one juncture during the stay, Thomas caused a mild panic, as his nephew, Sam, who also features in None-Go-By and Storms and Teacups, had showed him how to ride his new motor-cycle, and Thomas, having set off on it, had not been seen for hours. In the end, he returned wet, tired and dishevelled from near Land’s End, having been forced off the road by a car and ended up in the middle of a farmer’s field. He and the bike were unharmed, but he had forgotten how to start the machine, and so had been forced to walk home! This sounds like a typical Alfred escapade.
At the time of Suzanne’s stay, Mary and Thomas also had Thomas’ sister, Mrs Dalham, a food faddist, staying, but she comes across as a shallow construct for jokes on one subject. There is no suggestion that she is from Yorkshire.
Suzanne had the typical city-dweller’s preconceived ideas of life in a rural retreat. She comments, "I thought that Thomas and Mary lived like scholars and recluses amongst their books, and that the only people they ever saw were the friends who occupied their spare rooms according to plan; and that these friends were mostly birds of Thomas’ feather, who played chess and never knew what was going to happen next." Accordingly, she was amazed to overhear some women, on the train journey down from London, referring to Menwinion (Lamorna) as rife with scandal and, whilst the nature of the scandal is never alluded to, it was probably based on the premise that nude models meant lax morals. However, Suzanne found no trace of scandal in the Clarendon’s circle. "Their home, their habits, and their friends are all cut and dried English, a little more brainy perhaps than the family Watkins, but equally hide-bound and respectable." Mary’s friends were "all of them people I should describe as those who have no histories. Some of the women were married, some were not. Several of them were artists, and those who were not were gardeners. They seemed to play a good deal of mild bridge, and the gardeners asked each other to tea. The artists considered tea-parties a waste of time, but did not mind whole days out. They were mostly married people, and Mary assured me that as far as she knew none of them had ever changed partners. She said they led exemplary lives, and worked hard."
The presence of knowledgeable gardeners in the locality, with very particular views, clearly caused Cecily some problems, as she was aware that they seized upon perceived deficiencies in her garden at ‘Trewoofe Orchard’. Accordingly, whilst Mary Clarendon liked flaming borders, full of common hardy perennials, such as Sweet Williams, Delphiniums, Poppies and Canterbury Bells, these were considered by the know-alls to be "despicable", "and no one in Cornwall who was acclaimed as a gardener would look at them". They seemed more interested in the rock garden at ‘Rosemerrin’.
Instead of the quiet stay anticipated, Suzanne found the non-stop social life that she experienced in Menwinion somewhat wearing. "I know there is still talk of the leisure and tranquility of country life. You hear it in cities. In the country they know better. I suppose there are houses where those who wish it lead cloistered lives, but Mary does not manage it. She says some of her neighbours do, but I heard her ask two of them to bridge, and they were engaged five nights ahead. Everyone except Thomas and Mary seemed to have a car, and to racket about in it from morning till night. Those who painted ran here and there looking for subjects, and those who did not went to the world’s end to play bridge, or to see someone’s rhodedendrons. When they stayed at home, it was to receive their friends and entertain them. Mary said she sometimes longed for a city in winter, and for music and good acting, but she was too busy making the best of the life she led to trouble much about what she missed. It was difficult to get a word with her. She had young maids, so her housekeeping took up a good deal of her time, and so did her poultry and her vegetables....The house seemed to me like a pigeon-cote, with an everlasting flutter of people to and fro." This is, accordingly, a fascinating account of social life in the valley.
However, Suzanne’s ultimate verdict on life at Menwinion was, "How Thomas and Mary can bear to live where they do I don’t understand. They can’t telegraph, and their shops are five miles away. The grocer sends once a fortnight, and the butcher refuses to send at all. They get their meat put into a baker’s cart, or on the Morwenna lorry, and if it comes they are lucky. One day when they were expecting people to dinner, it had not come by tea-time, and all they could find out by asking here and there was that it had been given to one of the farmers. Luckily, the farmer was obliging, and sent it down just in time for the oven. But Mary told me that at Easter their meat had gone quite astray, and had never been traced. It is all very well to have the Atlantic air, and a garden full of flowers, but the air makes you hungry and unless you are a bee or an aphis you can’t live on flowers." It is too easy to forget now the logistical difficulties that the early colonists at Lamorna had to endure.
The Spectator was again full of praise for the novel, "It is refreshing in these days of psycho-analytical novels and bloodthirsty adventure stories to read this very entertaining description of the life of a well-to-do, middle-aged cosmopolitan widow. The story, told by Madame Colmar herself, has all the charm of a private diary, full of the intimate confidences of a witty, unconventional woman: Madame Colmar has spent her life wandering on the Continent. She is good-natured and wise in her handling of her children who were born in four different countries and who make constant demands upon her.....This novel will make a wide appeal because it is delightfully amusing and romantic and is written with Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick’s usual charm and finish. But it is Madame Colmar’s healthy love of the "sack and sugar" of life that will, above all, ensure its success. The dishes she describes on her epicurean table are so appetizing and have been created with such skill that we can only wish we may meet Madame Colmar in the flesh and have dinner with her in her appartement."
The Bride’s Prelude (1927) was set largely in Cornwall and featured a number of significant families in the West Cornwall area - the Godolphins of ‘Treeba’, the St Justs of ‘Boscarne’, the Gilfoys of ‘Fearnaise’ and the Hendras of ‘Lidcot’. Wealthy widower, Jim Gilfoy, is a keen gardener and an enthusiast for Himalayan rhodedendrons and descriptions of the garden of ‘Fearnaise’ seem to bear similarities with that at ‘Boskenna’. The bride of the story is his daughter, Cressida, who, two days before her wedding to Tim Hendra, compromises herself in an unguarded moment at the end of a boozy birthday party with a friend, Colin St Just. However, St Just becomes a suspect in the theft of a valuable pearl necklace given to Cressida as a wedding present by Colonel Godolphin and cannot clear himself without jeopardising the girl’s character, whilst the true thief, having seen St Just enter her room, tries to blackmail her. As the thief is known from the outset, it is not really a crime story, but an analysis of how modern ideas about free love, whilst seemingly attractive, still caused bitter anguish to those who had been brought up under a different code of conduct. In the words of the summary put out by the publishers, Cressida "finds that she has been misled by the false prophets of her day, and that the taboos of her Faith, her ancestors and her environment still count and are still binding on her". Albeit a relatively common theme, the manner in which it was handled, particularly in the use of the minor characters, such as the village gossip, Mrs Cotton, and an unpolished but forthright Australian girl, Sandy, who marries St Just, was considered in some quarters to be masterly. Herbert Thomas was less effusive than normal in his review of the book, for Cressida was not the type of 1927 girl of whom he approved, but he refrained from the righteous indignation that he let fly at Margaret Kennedy’s heroine in The Constant Nymph!
After 1928’s disappointing, Come By Chance, (the story of an illegitimate child, Nan Sothern, who enjoys a tomboy Cornish childhood, and her disreputable mother), Tim and Cressida Hendra and Cressida’s father also make a brief appearance at various parties in Six of Them (1929), which was also set in Cornwall, in Penzance - again called ‘Porthlew’. In this novel, which is an enjoyable read, the narrator, Mrs Brooke, who shares many characteristics with Mary Clarendon, describes the joys and difficulties of bringing up six daughters on limited means and getting them launched in life, either as wives and mothers or in careers. Husband, Nicholas, is a partner in a local China Clay works, but lets much of the household angst wash over his head. His aunt, Bethia, is a well off, no-nonsense, self satisfied Yorkshire woman, who has strong opinions and interferes when she comes to stay, particularly as she has an obsession with match-making. She commented, "When girls haver and waver, they end by not marrying at all", reflecting perhaps the reason for her own spinsterhood. Given the Sidgwicks’ Yorkshire connections, she may be based on one of their relatives. Aunt Bethia considered the Brookeses to be "a scrambling poverty-stricken family enervated by the Cornish climate and slack Cornish ways". As an example of Cecily’s nice sense of humour, Mrs Brooke comments when Aunt Bethia arrives from a snow-bound Yorkshire, "Of course, she was proud of what Yorkshire could do in the way of weather and despised us for having nothing but a frost and an east wind; and just to show how soft our climate was, she went out in a thin coat and got a bad chill." Aunt Bethia is one of the stars of the book, and her frosty conversations with Mrs Cleveland, the snobbish widow of Nicholas’ boss, whose son, Bill, is, to his mother’s intense annoyance, interested in Celia, the most attractive of the daughters, are full of delightful put-downs. An obnoxious self important daffodil grower is one of the suitors that has to be endured, whilst the family also have to try to care for the three unruly children of a neighbouring widowed solicitor, who is incompetent at home management. In the end, one of Mrs Brooke’s daughters, Nancy, who had seemed set on a medical career, has to propose to him, but then demonstrates her own uselessness at running a household, until her mother sets her straight. Another daughter, Hester, has artistic tendencies, and hangs around with women who dress like men. Here Cecily may be drawing on her experiences of Gluck and her lover, Effie Craig. Hester then moves to London, where she mixes with a group of degenerate communist revolutionaries that Cecily christens ‘The Red Herrings’, who were into Free Love and the Extermination of the Bourgeoisie. Just as Hester is about to compromise herself in a grotty bedroom of a Soho pub with the Lenin-inspired leader of the group, who went under the name Tcherikov (but was known to his detractors as ‘The Cheery Cove’!), Mrs Brooke was able to demonstrate that he was, in fact, called Henry Grimes and that he normally lived comfortably in suburbia with his wife. There is not much mention of the artistic community in the Penzance area, except for the following small passage:-
"Round about Porthlew there are a great many studios and a scattered society of artists, and we have been friendly with some of the artists for years. They have their conventions just as we who are not artists have ours, and I knew they called their evening meal supper even if they sit down to it at eight....Another convention is that the women dress but the men do not."
Cecily assured Herbert Thomas, who reviewed the book at length in The Cornishman (24/10/1929), that none of the characters were based on actual people, but her childlessness seems to have drawn her to other people’s children, whose behaviour she could analyse objectively, without allowing personal emotions to interfere.
Masquerade (1930) returned to the theme of the impersonator, as in The Kinsman (1907). This time, it was the identity of the prodigal son of a German mother returning after his father’s death to claim his inheritance
In 1930, the writer, Arnold Bennett, lived close to the Sidgwicks in Lamorna (possibly at 'Rosemerrin') and Cecily indicated that she thought him "the kindest and most stimulating man to talk to about one’s own work". She discussed with him a couple of ideas for further novels, but, in the end, decided to bring together in Storms and Teacups (1931) the leading protagonists of two of her most popular novels, None-Go-By and Sack and Sugar. As recorded in the Chapter ‘Trewoofe Orchard’ Days’, this contains some detailed descriptions of the Sidgwicks’ own home.
For Maid and Minx (1932), Cecily reverted to the War and the story, whilst featuring one Cornish-born stalwart, was based in London and Yorkshire. It featured a charming, attractive and wholesome housemaid, Ada, for which the titled son of the house, Quentin, falls. They marry but he is disinherited and she has to bring up their children on limited means. When he is injured in the War, the wealthy Clothilde, the ‘minx’ of the tale, who had fancied him previously, oversees his recovery and entices him away from his wife. After their divorce, Ada struggles on to make the children a credit to their family, and is eventually rejoined by her wiser, invalid ex-husband. However, Herbert Thomas felt that one of the best features of the book was Cecily’s depicition of the reaction of the ordinary working class characters to the War. Many were not in the slightest bit worried initially whether they were servants under King George or the Kaiser. However, the raid by the German Navy on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby, which took place on 16 December 1914, and which resulted in 137 fatalities and 592 casualties, many of which were civilians, resulted in public outrage and led to a change of heart. With her Scarborough connections, Cecily probably heard first hand accounts of the raid and its aftermath.
Poverty and Riches (1933) was unique in Cecily’s output, as it was only published in paperback. It was one of Ernest Benn Limited’s ’Ninepenny Novels’, and its briefness was thus probably one of the publisher’s requirements. It is likely to be this novel that Herbert Thomas was referring to when he said that Cecily should, on occasion, have resisted the demands of her publishers, as the story is not her most memorable, albeit an Aberdeen paper considered that it would be the most popular of the series. The Redford family, who live in Putney, Cecily’s old stomping ground of the 1890s, are reduced to penury when the father, aged 60, is laid off by his City firm in the Depression. Their attractive daughter, Molly, is forced to act first as a cook and than as a put-upon Governess, whilst the family have to take in lodgers, who include the obnoxious Mr Porchester, the most vividly drawn character in the story. However, miraculously, a long-lost relative in South America then dies, leaving them a fortune, and a suitor of Molly, who ignored her in her poverty-stricken days, gets his come-uppance. The final scenes take place in Venice, which suggests that the book at least paid for a visit there. The novel also introduces Cecily’s readers to the Jewish family, the Cones, formerly Cohens, who take a more prominent role in her final book.
Given her interest throughout her life with both Germans and Jews, it is fitting that her last book, Refugee (1934), should attempt to draw early attention to the persecution of the Jews in Germany by the newly-elected Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. The heroine of the novel, Helga Aguilar, is a beautiful girl in her early twenties, whose wealthy Jewish father had been seized and beaten by Hitler mobsters, subsequently dying in jail in Berlin. When they came again for her brother, Otto, he shot himself. Helga was whisked away by a visiting Jewish friend, Mrs Cone, who lived in London, and was deposited by her with two Aguilar cousins, both middle-aged, unmarried, wealthy barristers, who lived a sedate batchelor existence in Wimbledon. At first thought penniless, all property in Berlin having been seized by Hitler, Helga was housed and financed by her cousins. However, the arrival of her larger than life devoted German nurse, Bienchen, with the family jewels sewn into her vast underskirt and papers giving title to Swiss assets, made Helga an attractive prospect to suitors, but, in shock at the horrors that she had witnessed and in mourning for her family, she was not in the mood for romance, particularly as her German fiancé had thrown her over as soon as her father had been arrested. She finds, though, that her presence in a batchelor household is considered by some inappropriate, but, when she moves out and gets her own flat with Bienchen, this arrangement, too, is frowned upon. However, as with all of Cecily’s stories, there is a happy ending. The action takes place not only in Wimbledon but also in Scarborough, suggesting that the Sidgwicks may have returned to Yorkshire for a seaside holiday recently. Despite her age and recent illness, the novel is just as good a read as many of her earlier works, with the excitable, well-meaning, but wearing, Bienchen providing the comic moments, and with Helga and Mrs Cone’s three daughters, Poppy, Myrtle and Lavender, providing starkly contrasting alternative takes on the attitudes and behaviour of young ladies of the day, who, having read modern novels and seen love scenes at the cinema, were challenging long-established etiquette. Whilst the book highlighted at an extremely early juncture the plight of Jews in Hitler’s Germany, Cecily’s standard light touch meant that the issue was not debated in any great depth after the initial explanation of the tragic circumstances that led to Helga being the refugee of the title. There was hope expressed in certain quarters that the problem was just a temporary one. No-one foresaw, or could have imagined, that these horrors would be as nothing compared to the holocaust.