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.