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Mrs. Harter by E. M. Delafield

Mrs. Harter

by E. M. Delafield

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Mrs Harter is set in rural Devon in the mid 1920s. Mrs Harter, daughter of the local plumber and who has the brilliant first name of Diamond, returns to the village of Cross Loman following a stint in The East with a husband who does not return to England with her. The events following her return are narrated by Sir Miles Flower, a crippled local resident (WW1 injury) who is married to the volatile and high-maintenance Claire. Sir Miles is part of a small circle of upper middle- and lower upper-class residents and through him we see how the different members of this circle have very specific reactions to Mrs Harter and the dramatic conclusion to her situation.

It's a classic set up of a stranger coming into a tightknit group and disturbing the status quo but the author handles it well. She lets the reader come to their own conclusions about the veracity of Sir Miles' reporting of events and people's characters, for example. The climax of the novel does feel a little contrived to create the most tension possible but, as one of the characters points out, there was probably no other way for Mrs Harter's story to conclude.

E. M. Delafield is great at poking fun at the English middle/upper classes (see Diary of a Provincial Lady), a literary tradition that includes Anthony Trollope and E. F. Benson. She deftly shows us, through Sir Miles' observations, their prejudices about class and acceptable behaviour, their suspicion of emotion and reactionary opinions.

I love this genre and chuckled out loud several times on public transport . Here's one particular gem:

"Her husband is a solicitor in Singapore, I'm told," said the Rector.

"Oh I see!" said Mumma, so emphatically that it seemed quite a visual achievement. "I see. We had some dear friends in India, who went to Singapore, once, and they liked it very much. The wife, I'm sorry to say, was drowned in a boating accident there. That rather spoiled their stay." ( )
  charbutton | Jan 19, 2014 |
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