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Scenes from Provincial Life by William…

Scenes from Provincial Life (1950)

by William Cooper

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Now largely forgotten, William Cooper's novel Scenes from Provincial Life, published in 1950, is set in 1939. The title calls E.M. Delafield's five volumes The Diary of a Provincial Lady (1930) The Provincial Lady Goes Further (1932), The Provincial Lady in America (1934) and The Provincial Lady in Russia: I Visit the Soviets (1937) The Provincial Lady in Wartime (1940). William Cooper continued to publish several sequel volumes to the first Scenes from Metropolitan Life, which was written but unpublished in the mid-1950, Scenes from Married Life (1961), Scenes from Later Life (1983) and Scenes from Death and Life (1999). With Delafield's last volume leaving off in 1939 / 1940 and Cooper's first starting around that same time, Cooper's series seems a continuation of the genre. At least both authors describe an apparently autobiographical series of episodes, centred around an aspiring author and their daily affairs, Delafield writing from the female point of view, abd Cooper from the male point of view. Both books share a suble, wry and ironic humour. But wheras Delafield's writing is still firmly rooted in the late-Edwardian writing tradition, Cooper's writing feels quite modern. He also writes much more frankly and openly about sexuality, and people's psychology.

Scenes from Provincial Life is centred around the lives of Joe Lunn, his girl friend Myrtle, Tom and his lover Steve. Joe and Tom are aspiring writers, who have both already published and are working on subsequent novels. Joe, whose main job is his work as a teacher, has a rather free pre-marital sexual relationship with Myrtle. She believes he will one day marry her, but Joe's feelings are much more that he does not want to be bound. He at various times expresses this sentiment that he does not want to be tied down, a sentiment which, while is Britain seems connected with his inflated idea of his bohemian life-style, while in connection with his planned emigration to the US is inspired by his idea that he could not support her. Despite the fact that Joe seems quite sure that he does not want to marry Myrtle, he is quite envious of the attention she receives and her possible courtship by Haxby.

Quite surprising for a novel published in 1950 is the gay relationship in the novel between Tom and Steve. This relationship is not problematised, and appears as a quite natural part of the bohemian life-style of Joe and Tom, who share the rent of a weekend house where they meet their lovers on an alternating basis.

Tom appears, through the eyes of Joe that is, a rather nasty character. He shock of red hair has warned the reader at an early stage of course that Tom will act the part of the evil character, and thus he is portrayed as domineering, manipulative and dishonest, often seen as outright lying or distorting the truth. There are several humourous moments is the novel where his cunning is outdone by Steve or Steve and Joe.

Both Joe and Tom have elaborate plans to emigrate to the US, but as the net closes, and the war descends over Europe, these plans are thwarted.

Like Delafield's books Cooper's Scenes from Provincial Life has very little to offer in the sense of a plot. Nonetheless, the human relations are poised with irony, which makes the book a thoroughly enjoyable read. ( )
  edwinbcn | May 17, 2012 |
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The school at which I was science-master was desirably situated, right in the centre of the town.
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