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Nightingale Wood (1938)

by Stella Gibbons

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3921251,011 (3.84)111
Life is not quite a fairytale for poor Viola. Left penniless, the young widow is forced to live with her late husband's family in a joyless old house. There's Mr Wither, a tyrannical old miser ; Mrs Wither, who thinks Viola is just a common shop girl ; and two unlovely sisters-in-law, one of whom is in love with the chauffeur. Only the prospect of the charity ball can raise Viola's spirits - especially as Victor Spring, the local prince charming, will be there. But Victor's intentions towards our Cinderella are, in short, not quite honourable.… (more)
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» See also 111 mentions

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1930s chick-lit, I suppose. Do not expect to find anything of Robert Poste's child in the heroine, Viola, and, apart from the beastly Hermit, who would have fitted in quite well around the Starkadders, the characters are middle-class stereotypes. I liked the way Mr Wither, paterfamilias to the fearfully dull household into which Viola is thrust after the untimely death of her young husband, regards his money, seeing it as an individual with uncertain health, sometimes robust and then taking a turn for the worse. We are shown the various ways in which young women made their way in life in middle-class inter-war years Britain. Maybe finding a comfortably off husband, maybe espousing sex, left-wing ideology and 'Art' and having a somewhat uncomfortable time, or else extending their childhood by going on living with Mummy and Daddy.


It is intriguing that the good-looking chauffeur (a Seth character??) who inherits a huge fortune simply by being agreeable towards his employer carries what is, for him, a huge social burden by being regarded by all and sundry to have been the old bachelor's catamite. The book is generous to its characters in that almost everyone gets, if not exactly what they desire, at least their just deserts.
( )
  abbottthomas | Aug 21, 2015 |
Very slow beginning, until the Infernal Ball happens, then the story starts to pick up. A rather dark take on Cinderella, with some very wry reflections on life and love. ( )
  mlfhlibrarian | Jun 10, 2015 |
Not as awesome as Cold Comfort Farm (then again, what is?), but this semi-Cinderella story is still a very enjoyable read. I did, however, find myself getting a little annoyed with the protagonists of this tale, Viola and Victor. His character is completely deplorable at first; hers is reminiscent of a wet dishrag. But, they grow and change for the better, thank goodness, and the ending is a satisfying one :) ( )
  TRWhittier | Feb 12, 2015 |
Can I be alone in finding this book tedious?
Perhaps.
I'm more of one for non-fiction, but I gave it a try.
It was initially a bit amusing, then quickly became dreary - like a very bad episode of some pretentious British drama filled with self-absorbed characters who interested me not at all. ( )
  Eliz12 | Feb 9, 2014 |
Nightingale Wood is a really delightful Cinderella type tale from the author who of course is better known for having brought us Cold Comfort Farm. However I think that the novel is a little deceptive, it is not as light as it may appear, and there is a complexity and poignancy to it that is especially well done. Gibbons has captured a rural community of the 1930’s with its class divisions and restrictions, highlighting the differing social positions of her characters and the way those positions are perceived by others.
Viola Withers is just twenty one, newly widowed of a much older husband, she finds herself obliged to go and live with her in laws at The Eagles in Essex. This household of women; Mrs Withers, middle aged daughters Madge and Tina and their three female servants are all very much in thrall to Mr Withers, a strict patriarch preoccupied by the management of other people’s money. The Wither’s invite Viola to live with them, out of nothing more than a sense of duty, and Viola’s gentle soul quails rather at the coldness she finds. Mrs Withers regards her daughter-in-law with some suspicion, a former shop girl who married her son rather suddenly; her main occupation seems to be keeping her husband calm. Tina, thirty five, and secretly in love with Saxon the chauffer – twelve years her junior, hopes that Viola will bring some much needed life to The Eagles. Madge on the other hand nearing forty having never really grown up, is only concerned with hunting, fishing and dogs. Madge – famously known for “not howling”, sobbing hysterically as she begs her father to allow her a puppy, is pitifully memorable. Stella Gibbons portrays the family at The Eagles with her familiar humour, but there is a definite sharpness to it – which is very telling.
"The family at The Eagles was assembled in the drawing-room at that dreary hour when tea is long over and dinner not yet in sight. It was a tranquil scene; it would have annoyed a Communist. Five non-productive members of the bourgeoisie sat in a room as large as a small hall, each breathing more air, warmed by more fire and getting more delight and comfort from the pictures and furniture than was strictly necessary. In the kitchen underneath them three members of the working class swinked ignobly at getting their dinner, bought with money from invested capital. But perhaps this is not a very interesting way of regarding poor Mr Wither and the rest….
Not far away from The Eagles, and another rung or two up the social ladder are the Springs, Mrs Spring, her bookish niece Hetty and her son Victor, handsome and full of confidence, he is the undisputed Prince Charming of the neighbourhood. Victor is unofficially engaged to Phyllis a rather hilariously awful character that Gibbons is so good at creating. Victor Spring may be the Prince Charming of the piece, but he certainly appears to not be in any way a hero. At a ball which serves to bring some much needed distraction to the inhabitants of The Eagles, Victor first really notices Viola, despite having already given a lift to her and Tina when caught in a rain storm – his intentions however are anything but honourable.
“Yes..of course, she was a widow. He had forgotten that. She looked the very image of innocence, she talked like a schoolgirl, but widows were not innocent. However young and simple a widow might seem, you could not get away from the fact that widows, presumably, were not…Well this girl was actually more experienced than old Phyl.”
What I really enjoyed about Nightingale Wood – aside from the humour and the wonderful characterisation – are the several different plot strands which weave together so nicely. Tina’s relationship with her unlikely seeming lover Saxon, Viola’s romantic infatuation of Victor Spring, Victor’s unsatisfactory relationship with the eminently eligible Phyllis, manage to be wonderfully satirical and touching. Without giving too much away – in the resolutions of these fairy-tale stories Gibbons is ever so slightly subversive. It all makes for a hugely readable and engaging novel – maybe less of a classic than Cold Comfort Farm –it is still well worth reading. ( )
2 vote Heaven-Ali | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stella Gibbonsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Boyd, CaroleNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dahl, SophieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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A Romantic Comedy for Renee and Ruth
'... all those endearing young charms.'
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It is difficult to make a dull garden, but old Mr Wither had succeeded.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Life is not quite a fairytale for poor Viola. Left penniless, the young widow is forced to live with her late husband's family in a joyless old house. There's Mr Wither, a tyrannical old miser ; Mrs Wither, who thinks Viola is just a common shop girl ; and two unlovely sisters-in-law, one of whom is in love with the chauffeur. Only the prospect of the charity ball can raise Viola's spirits - especially as Victor Spring, the local prince charming, will be there. But Victor's intentions towards our Cinderella are, in short, not quite honourable.

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Life is not quite a fairytale for poor Viola. Left penniless, the young widow is forced to live with her late husband's family in a joyless old house. There's Mr Wither, a tyrannical old miser, Mrs Withers, who thinks Viola is just a common shop girl, and two unlovely sisters-in-law, one of whom is in love with the chauffeur.

Only the prospect of the charity ball can raise Viola's spirits- especially as Victor Spring, the local Prince Charming, will be there. But Victor's intentions towards our Cinderella are, in short, not quite honourable...
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