I was intrigued to join in the fun of the 1938 Club that Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon of Stuck in a Book are hosting. The interwar years are chock-a-block with books and writers that I love. It would be easy to find a novel published in 1938. Even just choosing from my massive TBR pile was bound to yield a nice choice. Problem is, I kept coming across books I wanted to read from 1937 and not much from 1938. Out of the hundreds of books I have unread at home, The Squire by Enid Bagnold and Cause for Alarm by Eric Ambler were the only two I could find that fit the brief. I’m a huge fan of Ambler and have loved everything of his that I have read. Bagnold on the other hand was a total unknown despite having two Virago reissues of her novels on my shelf for years.
The Squire by Enid Bagnold
I’m a little disappointed that I chose Bagnold over Ambler. Not that I won’t get to the Ambler, I just wanted something more interesting to write about for the 1938 Club. I think perhaps the little bit of reading I did about The Squire is what set me up for disappointment. The Squire is a woman–yes–whose husband is absent while she is in the final throes of her fourth (or was it fifth?) pregnancy. What I had read about it suggested it was a feminist take on motherhood and the first novel to really deal with pregnancy and childbirth from the mother’s perspective. I don’t know if all of that is true, and parts of it did seem very progressive for 1938, but I found the Squire way too privileged and invested in the system to be much of a feminist. Even though the Squire has to endure the physical pain of birth she also has servants, a mid-wife, and a doctor in attendance. And she doesn’t seem to be rebelling against any sort of expectations or mores that might suggest Bagnold had a bigger story to tell. As for the rest of it, I quickly got bored with her existing children and her never ending challenges with servants. I could see that it was well written and had a charm and wit to it, but I just didn’t care. Thankfully it was shortish and had really big margins.
I’ve read other great 1938 books like Rebecca (yes Simon Savidge, I said great) and Kindling and What Happened to the Corbetts by Nevil Shute–each of which I have read twice. All three feel more modern than The Squire felt. Rightly or wrongly, I kept picturing all of Enid’s characters dressed as the cast of Howards End.
I also have Bagnold’s novel The Loved and Envied on my TBR. I’m still going to give it a go at some point, but since it won’t be for any sort of online club or challenge, I may end up giving up on it if I find it as boring a subject matter as The Squire.
Glad you could take part! I must admit I was given a copy of this decades ago but never read it because the privileged background seemed so at odds with the kind of lifestyle of the women I was around who were having children. Not at all realistic. You should have gone for an Ambler! (I’ve read one for this week and loved it!)
Sorry to hear this didn’t turn out so good! Rachel was saying a while ago that only one or two Bagnolds had worked for her. I have stocked my shelves with books by her, including a signed autobiography, but have so far read none of ’em…
I have read this one, but I found it a bit unremittingly drenched in childbirth, children and servants. It wasn’t the privileged background that bothered me as much as the milkiness of it all. But well done for finding something – I have NOTHING in the whole house from 1938!!
I had to request books via ILL for my 1938 club as my only TBR choices were Gardener’s Nightcap which is about gardening, obviously; or Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig which was intriguing but actually turned out to be published in 1937!
I have read the Bagnold and it didn’t make a huge impression on me. Luckily I didn’t invest any money since I was able to get that one via ILL also. I’m currently reading National Provincial by Lettice Cooper which is quite good but not a quick read. I hope to finish it by the end of the week.
I’ve never read anything by Eric Ambler but the comments are intriguing so must look for him.
Oh dear. My review of this is scheduled for the morning. I had sort of expected to be a bit meh about The Squire but i actually rather loved it. Am obviously a lone voice.
I had a battered copy of this lazing about the house for years and finally gave it away last year. Unread. It just never appealed enough for it to jump ahead of all the others still to be read. So this makes me feel really good about that decision. Hate when folks tell you how great a book is right after you sent it packing.
Too bad you didn’t enjoy the book. I would give this one a pass.