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Seaview House by Elizabeth Fair

Seaview House (1955)

by Elizabeth Fair

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All six of Elizabeth Fair’s novels have been re-issued by Dean Street Press in conjunction with Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow – this is the second of them that I have read. A Winter Away was the first, and with Seaview House we are in fairly similar territory. A village setting, its inhabitants, a few humorous incidents and some romantic misunderstandings. If nothing else it is lovely, feel good escapism, and there are plenty of times when we all need a bit of that.

The village in question is Caweston a seaside village on the East Anglian coast. The inhabitants of this small coastal community have always enjoyed their uninterrupted view of the sea. Two of the village’s most prominent residents are sisters Rose Barlow and Edith Newby – they have come down in the world – so thinks their friend Mr Heritage – as they have been forced to run a small hotel. Widowed Rose, and her elder sister Edith are the daughters of Canon Newby – who had enjoyed a certain standing in Caweston, as did his daughters. Now with the occasional help of Rose’s daughter Lucy – who is taking a secretarial course at college – they must minister to the vagaries of summer visitors. During the summer season, Rose, Lucy and Edith must live in the small attic rooms they can’t let out to guests – where they are surrounded by the memories of their past in the old furnishings that surround them up there. Mr Heritage is a confirmed old bachelor who has all his needs catered for by a cook and butler. He is a terrible snob, set in his ways, and oddly suspicious of Lucy, Rose’s daughter. As the novel opens Mr Heritage is taking tea with Edith and Rose – and is – he believes the bearer of interesting news.

“Her three elders, however, did not realise that Lucy had outgrown the little stool, though Mr Heritage noticed how hunched and awkward she looked. He was more ready than usual to find fault with her, because her arrival had been so particularly ill timed. He was the bearer of interesting news, and he had been saving it up to tell his old friends and looking forward to the effect it would produce. The right moment for the telling would have been just now, when the first cups had been drunk and the pangs of hunger assuaged; but Lucy’s entry had deprived him of their undivided attention, without which he could not so himself justice. He felt aggrieved, cheated of his happy moment, and he almost decided to keep the news to himself.”

A controversial new development is underway in Cawseton, a small terrace of superior houses with a sea view – they will block the view completely for some residents. Edward Wray, a young architect is involved with the project and is obliged to come and stay in the area from time to time. Edward, is the godson of Mr Heritage, and with Edward spending so much time in the area, the two take the opportunity to get to know each other again after having lost touch. Edward stays with his godfather at his home Crow’s Orchard. Edward is passionate about the future regeneration of this seaside town, for which he can see a great future.

Some delightful little dramas are given a lovely little touch of humour by Elizabeth Fair, including a fire in a neighbouring bungalow, and Rose and Edith getting trapped in a caravan. Peripheral characters are brilliant too – we have the hotel cook Mrs McWilliams-Jones – commonly known as Mrs M-J and the colourful Mrs Turnbull, she of the bungalow and the caravan.

In the months before the summer season gets underway for the women at Seaview House, Edward Wray becomes a regular visitor. Always happy to help out, Edward soon begins to get involved in the life of Seaview House and its neighbours. Lucy is always delighted to see Edward, he shows himself to be thoughtful and good company. Two people, Mr Heritage and Lucy’s childhood sweetheart Nevil; a school master at a local private school, are less than happy about Edward’s friendship with Lucy. Lucy can’t help but compare the two young men, and often it is not to poor Nevil’s credit, Nevil has developed some annoying habits – including taking meals at the hotel, and never offering to pay, despite the narrow margins Lucy’s mother and aunt must work to. Nevil can’t help but see Edward as a rival – but Nevil is sometimes just a little too confident in his prior claim to Lucy’s affections. Rose thinks Edward would be perfect for her Lucy while Edith seems to favour Nevil.

“‘I wonder what Mr. Heritage thought of his godson,” she said quickly.

‘Rather clumsy, but quite good manners,’ Edith remarked. ‘And a well-shaped skull.’

These were her own views, but she took it for granted that sensible people would agree with her.”

Another rival is Lucy’s friend Philippa – the two young women don’t seem to have much in common but have been friends for years. Philippa is very concerned with her appearance, shocking her parents and naturally old Mr Heritage with her London bought latest fashions. When they meet, Philippa is very taken with Edward herself, and arranges an outing for herself, Edward, Lucy and Nevil.

Mr Heritage becomes obsessed with the idea of keeping Lucy and Edward apart, going as far as to try and arrange their engagement with the help of his doctor – Nevil’s father. Mr Heritage, is a brilliantly written character – guaranteed to make the reader’s blood boil – he is bitter, small minded, manipulative and downright nasty, and it isn’t long before his godson begins to see him for what he is.

As the summer season gets underway Lucy finishes her college course and promises to spend the summer helping at the hotel. Manipulations and romantic misunderstandings get tidied up after a disastrous lunch to celebrate the memory of Edith and Rose’s father – where everything gets a little bit fraught.

Elizabeth Fair’s fiction is light, bright and affectionately humorous – perfect escapism, though written with a certain amount of shrewd observation, and brilliant characterisation. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | May 29, 2017 |
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Seaview House (1955, published in the U.S. as A View of the Sea)
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