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The House in Dormer Forest by Mary Webb

The House in Dormer Forest (1920)

by Mary Webb

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This is very interesting to read in the light of [Cold Comfort Farm] by [(Stella Gibbons)]. Gibbons wrote her novel to satirise novels based on rural life. The House in Dormer Forest seems to have an awful lot in common with Cold Comfort Farm. In particular both novels have the looming Grandmother figure, the house which has a life of its own, and many similar characters, from young and free spirited to old and laconic servants.
Another interesting feature is the emphasis on women's roles. How their power is formed or lost is explored with a wide variety of results. Some women bring a terrible life upon themselves. Others bear life's ignominies and cares with good spirits , while the heroine follows her intuitive desires to achieve the best of prospects in life.
Webb has a sense of humour and an occasional touch of acid in her descriptions of motives. Her famous love of nature is evident in the lyrical depiction of the forests around Dormer House.
Full of drama, sometimes melodrama, sometimes near comedy, the novel is not one of Webb's powerful tragic stories of love and loss. Instead, it is a very interesting glimpse of family life and social pressures in late nineteenth century rural England. ( )
  annejacinta | Nov 14, 2013 |
As soon as I started this novel, I was very aware this must have been the book that inspired Stella Gibbons' parody, 'Cold Comfort Farm.'
Featuring the aptly named Darke family of Dormer House: stern father Solomon; mother Rachel, who spends her evenings tearing rags to shreds; their four adult children, all named after precious stones as their mother 'had been so bored by the advent of each child...that she had refused to think of any names for them', leaving the Rector, an authority on gems, to do so. With them live distant relative Catherine - outwardly lovely but malicious - and Rachel's mother, Mrs Velindre, undoubtedly the inspiration for Gibbons' Aunt Ada Doom.
' "Let us pray", said Solomon, and they all went down, with more or less grace, on to their knees.
When the others knelt, grandmother remained seated, like a stone idol which is immune, through its very stoniness, from human movement. It was understood that grandmother could not kneel. Only grandmother and her Creator knew that not her knees but her pride of years deterred her from this religious exercise...This remaining upright amidst a grovelling family gave her a satiric glee.'

Amid the at times quite comic family, and the more serious romantic plots involving the young people, Webb immerses us in lengthy paeans to the countryside and religion, some of which left me quite baffled:
'Enoch was never quite at his ease at Dormer. He liked to be out on the huge purple hills under the towering sky, where the curlews cried out strange news to him in passing, and the little brown doves murmured of a hidden country, a secret law, more limited than those of man, yet more miraculous. For there, to dream a nest is to build it. To desire the sea, or an orange tree in Africa is to obtain it. Genius and love are the nearest approach we have made to this wholly mysterious life...'
There's a LOT of this.
Over-the-top gothic melodrama; not recommended. ( )
1 vote starbox | Dec 16, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Webbprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barale, MichèleIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hepple, NormanIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Micheli, OdetteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rops, DanielIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dormer Old House stood amid the remnants of primaeval woodland that curtained the hills.
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Book description
In the depths of Dormer Forest, nestling in a valley, lies Dormer Old House, inhabited by the Drake family, Solomon and Rachael with their four grown children: intense, idealistic Jasper, Ruby, pretty but silly, black-eyed Peter and the odd one out, Amber, a girl with a genius for loving - and laughing. There too lives cousin Catherine of the slanting eyes, whose pleasure it is to ensnare men's hearts. Brooding over all is the great matriarch, Grandmother Velindre, with her religious texts and reprimands, her beady eye ever upon the five young people in search of love and happiness. As the fate of each unfolds it is Amber who emerges triumphant: one still June morning, she is found under a blossom tree by a strange and noble man...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0224607561, Hardcover)

Jasper turned and went out. He would buy the candles himself. But he had no money. He went to look for his father and found him feeding the 'gun-dogs.' They received their supper with imperturbable pessimism, as if they had been soured by their life-work of putting others in the way of getting what they themselves wanted, and as if they knew that Solomon liked them not for what they were, but for what they did. And as they trailed after Solomon on their leads, day by day, they had an air of being two very old people playing with a small boy. It was evident that when his back was turned glances of amused tolerance were exchanged.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:58 -0400)

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