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Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy

Troy Chimneys (1952)

by Margaret Kennedy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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i really enjoyed this but i lost track at the end. ( )
  mahallett | Jul 20, 2016 |
I had fully intended to join in with Beyond Eden Rock’s Margaret Kennedy day – and read and review this in time for last Monday. I just didn’t remember in time, plus the week has turned out busier than I had realised – my evenings taken up with other things. This is only the third Margaret Kennedy book I have read – but I knew already that it would be rather different to The Ladies of Lyndon and The Constant Nymph.

Margaret Kennedy won the James Tait Black memorial prize, in 1953 for Troy Chimneys which some people have mkdaycalled her finest novel. Margaret Kennedy was a prolific novelist and playwright. Her first novel, The Ladies of Lyndon, was published in 1923, although it is probably for her second novel The Constant Nymph that she is best known.

An historical novel, Troy Chimneys is set in Regency England, it concerns the two different sides of one man’s personality. Miles Lufton M.P is a self-made politician. He comes from a large, loving family. His father, an Anglican priest, his mother seemingly loved and respected by all. Miles is a second son, so needs to make his own way in the world, and has been doing a pretty fair job of it. Miles appreciates the countryside around him, he is a reliable, trustworthy young man, often driven to rail against injustices, happy in the company of a local farmer, the humble friend of his childhood. However, increasingly Miles feels that he is in fact two men; Miles Lufton, and his alter ego Pronto.

“Nor did we fall out. Though accomplices, we were never friends enough to quarrel. Each meant, at some time to be rid of the other. Miles was content to let Pronto take the lead to a certain point: he did not mean to put up with fellows like Crockett for ever, but he was anxious to secure an income of £3000 a year. Having got that, Pronto was to be dismissed; a pretty little property in the country was to be rented where Miles could retire and listen in surroundings, to the nightingales.”

The novel in fact opens with a short framing piece from the late nineteenth century, with some correspondence between some future descendants – discussing the finding of the ‘Lufton papers’ – part of a journal and the memoir of Miles Lufton covering the period of 1782 – 1818.

Miles recognises that it is Pronto – a nickname coined by some acquaintance that stuck, who is the ambitious, M.P, the man about town, society diner-out, weekend guest and flirt. Miles Lufton is not Pronto. Pronto is not the Miles, who dreams of a quieter life one day, he is not the man who meets Harry Ridding, farmer and childhood friend on an almost equal footing. It is certainly not Pronto who spends a night in the cottage of William Hawker; an American who had helps Miles when he got into difficulties while out sailing. Miles is impressed by this humble, educated man, and his gentle wife. So when Hawker finds himself taken by the press gangs, Miles is determined to help. However, while in Dawlish in Devon, the more disreputable Pronto seems to get the better of Miles. It is Miles who falls for the wrong woman as a young man, a spiteful jealous, controlling woman, from who he has a lucky escape. Later it is Miles who realises the woman he loves has been right under his nose, for years.

“When not obliged to think of other things, last summer, I thought of Caroline Audley. She haunted my imagination. I fancied conversations with her, in which she should revise a little her opinion of Lufton, – should allow him to be more manly than she supposed. In these interviews he played the man in a very determined fashion, and she most obligingly played the woman, – refrained from those cool, friendly jibes which might have brought him down to earth. This fancied Caroline was softer, more pliant, than the actual Caroline; her superiority though warmly acknowledged, was not allowed to obtrude.”

Having found and fallen in love with his house Troy Chimneys – Miles installs a tenant there for ten years, planning to eventually leave public life behind him and settle down there quietly. Miles longs to get rid of his alter ego permanently, but the peace and retirement he craves, and the woman he loves seem beyond his grasp.

Troy Chimneys is a poignant exploration of one man’s inner turmoil, and the lost opportunities that dominate his life.

This was a much more engrossing and compelling read than I had possibly expected. The structure is a little unusual as is the subject matter – but I found I quickly got drawn into the narrative of Miles’s story. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Jul 3, 2016 |
Troy Chimneys is an odd and appealing Regency historical novel with a quiet, studious hero who creates a dashing alter-ego as his public persona. Miles Lufton comes from a idyllic home. His father is an Anglican priest and a noted classics scholar; his mother is adored by her children who are devastated when she dies, even though they are adults; the siblings support and genuinely like each other. The only flaw in this perfect picture is the fact that Miles is a second son and cannot depend on help from his family to make his way in the world. He is bright and clever, but because he is by nature a person who prefers solitude to society, he creates "Pronto" Lufton, a man who revels in parties, delights crowds with his fine singing, is not afraid to flatter an older woman for political advancement, and can hold his own in a debauche. Miles dislikes the people with whom Pronto curries favor; he considers most intellectually inferior and "gentlemen" only because they were born in the right house to parents with money.

Miles' brains get him scholarships to Wincester and Oxford, but Pronto's personality gets him invited to the best houses where he can set his foot on the political ladder. Miles' plan is to make enough money from Pronto's career to retire to Troy Chimneys, the country house in Wiltshire he purchased and is temporarily leasing to a schoolmaster who has tastefully turned it into a school for a select small number of boys.

Miles' life is revealed in a series of ways. It opens years after Miles' death.when a convalescent is doing some family research into a relative who was Miles' one true friend. He requests some documents and is surprised to discover the Lufton papers, basically an outline of Miles' life. The cache consists of letters between Miles and Ludovic Amersham (the original research subject), a brief biography Miles wrote of his early life and career, Miles' diary written in real time, and an unfinished memoir Miles is writing about his true love. Finally, the reader is brought back to the researcher who discovers the truth behind the rest of Miles' life.

The reader follows the life of the hero and can draw his own conclusions about Miles and Pronto. Which one is the better? Miles certainly is more scholarly but he is also an intellectual snob who is disgusted that brains mean less than social position in life. Pronto appears to be a rake, but he is the one who rushes to save a farmer from the naval press gangs and who takes his position in Parliament seriously. They are, in the end, one complicated person.

I really enjoyed this short novel. I have not read anything quite like it. ( )
1 vote Liz1564 | Oct 11, 2014 |
I was anticipating this Virago book to be mildly entertaining, at best. The synopsis of the subject matter didn't inspire much enthusiasm: the book follows the career of Miles Lufton, a minor member of the British upper class, who knows how to rise in the ranks of society through the connections of his friends. As I read the novel, I was surprised to discover how engrossed I was in Miles's world, and how quick and enjoyable the read was.

The author chose an unusual structure for her book. It begins with letters between two brothers-in-law, who are trying to unearth some information about a quirky ancestor. In the search, they discover documents relating to a different and lesser known relative, Miles Lufton. The book then switches over to Miles's journal, which he is writing as he recuperates from a riding injury. Then, while writing his journal, he decides he needs to record a memoir for his life, and the novel switches to Miles's memoir within his journal, all of which are the papers discovered years later by the writers of the letters at the beginning of the novel.

My description sounds a bit confusing, but it's really not hard to follow. The novel feels like it's being told from Miles's point of view, with the letters at the beginning and end providing an interesting outside perspective on the man, rather like a prologue and epilogue. Also, since Miles is such a likable narrator, it was easy to fall into his world. He is keeping a journal out of boredom as he convalesces. His tone is cynical about his supposed friends who don't even check up on him, and full of self mockery as he points out his own social ambitions and poses. He explains that he has two personas: Miles, his true self, more child-like and noble, and Pronto, his public persona, more corrupted and ambitious, manipulating others for his own advancement. He decides to write his journal to explain Miles, his true existence, before he is lost to time forever, subsumed beneath his Pronto identity.

Miles's biography tracks his life back to his childhood, tracing a few formative adventures before moving on to his schooling and his career. He gives a cursory summary of long periods of his life, instead focusing on several stories that greatly impacted his personality and feelings, and only focusing on periods where his Miles persona was predominant. Memories like his first love, with a woman who was not what she seemed and horribly betrayed him, leading to his empty relationships later in life. Or his friendship with William Hawker, an American born Englishman, returned to England but not entirely happy there, and the idyllic friendship Miles maintained with the man and his wife. This relationship, too, ended with injustice, this time of a corrupt local government kind. Lufton's earlier disappointments explain his growing Pronto identity. The latter part of his journal offers a reviving hope of a true life for Miles, only to be cut off by one final tragedy, foreshadowed in the journal and revealed in the letters at the end.

Ultimately, the novel is a tragic story with such an upbeat tone that it is easy for the reader to forget the darker nature of the narrative. Essentially, Miles Lufton begins life as an imperfect but good man, who is struck with ambition early in life, when he sees the unfair disparity in school. Despite a wonderful family and a great friend, he slowly degrades in character, choosing social advancement over personal fulfillment or moral development. Even though he is aware of the process, he doesn't stop it. Instead, he justifies it by dividing his personality in his own mind, and attributing all his worse actions to his Pronto persona. Then, at the end of the story, when he has a revelation, and decides to seek a true life and throw over Pronto for good, he is killed in a senseless duel with his old friend and relative, Ned. Is the novel telling us that Miles was doomed to never escape his empty ambition? Does all goodness come to a bad end? The narrative strands in the book suggest these ideas, despite the humor and charm of the main narrator. The contrast is intriguing, and heightened my interest in the book. In addition, the easy readability, unusual textual structure, and variety of complicated characters drew me into the story, surprising me with a much more engaging read than I expected. ( )
  nmhale | Sep 10, 2014 |
Margaret Kennedy’s 1953 novel tells the history of Miles Lufton, a self-made MP from a large family and the owner of Troy Chimneys, an estate in Wiltshire. Although the house’s name is the title of the novel, the focus is on Miles and his rise to prominence in the early 19th century. The book follows Miles’s political career less than it does his personal life, told in a series of letters and “memoir” entries, paired with letters from Miles’s Victorian descendants, who are rather horrified at his behavior.

Margaret Kennedy’s novel has a very Jane Austen feeling to it, since she focuses mostly on what goes on the drawing room, so to speak; there’s this lovely, idyllic, and pastoral quality to Troy Chimneys that you just don’t find in the world of politics that Miles moves in. Miles buys the house as a means of security against the day when he retires from politics; yet the great irony of the situation is that he does before he has a chance to enjoy it.

Our hero has two different personae in this novel: Miles, the upright, correct politician; and Pronto, a gambling, flirt who lives on the wild side, so to speak. They are constantly at odds with one another, as you might imagine. At first, while I was reading this, I was confused by these two sides to Miles’s character, but the more I read, the more I began to see what Pronto represented in Miles’s life; Pronto is the side of Miles that gets to do all the things that Miles dreams of but can’t bring himself to do or be. ( )
  Kasthu | Jun 22, 2011 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Margaret Kennedyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brierre, AnnieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brookner, AnitaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kauer, Edmund Th.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To James Davies
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In letters and journals of the Regency occasional reference is made to a person called Pronto who is generally mentioned as a fellow guest in a country house. (Prologue)
Tory Chimneys is a disconcerting novel. (Introduction)
My dear lord, I have the honour to inform you that I mean to be your guest at Copley towards the middle of July, - for how long I cannot tell.
Dear Fred, I am afraid we are in hot water over the Lufton Papers. (Epilogue)
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Miles Lufton, M.P. is a self-made politician in Regency England. Apparently he has all the gifts: loving parents, agreeable siblings, a country parsonage home, good health, a fine wit, and boundless energy. But within the same exterior live two men: Miles, reasonable upright, trustworthy -- and Pronto, extra man, diner-out, weekend guest, chancer and flirt. Together they make a plausible public figure. Privately Miles longs to banish his disreputable alter ego, solve the moral conundrums of life and retire to his country house, Troy Chimneys. But this haven of peace, like the woman he loves, appears to be eternally out of bounds. Margaret Kennedy won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for this remarkable historical work, first published in 1953. A poignant study of inner conflict and lost opportunity, it is her finest and most unusual novel.
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