Wednesday 20 May 2015

Addle, Farrell

Lady Addle Remembers is a spoof memoir, supposedly written by a late-Victorian grande dame but actually the work of one Mary Dunn, first published in the Thirties (when this kind of thing had a bit of a vogue) and reissued at least twice since. Blanche, Lady Addle of Eigg (nee Coot of Coot's Balder) - a rampant snob and a woman entirely lacking in self-awareness or indeed awareness of anything much else - is happy to bestow on her grateful readers a few cherished memories, nuggets of wisdom, poetical effusions and  (startlingly grotesque) family photographs. Lady Addle Remembers is a minor comedy classic - not up there with Augustus Carp, Esq, by Himself - but an enjoyable read.  Here, Lady Addle remembers the occasion when, after an absurdly protracted courtship, the imbecilic Lord Addle finally managed to propose to her:

'And so the years sped on, and at last came the day when Addle asked me to be his wife. Even that was typical of the nobility of his character. The occasion was a ball at home, and we had danced twice together, I remember, regardless of scandal. Afterwards he led me to our magnificent conservatory, and seating me gently between two red-hot pokers, sank on his knees and told me he loved me. It was a wonderful moment and I was sorely tempted to say 'Yes' at once. But I dared not allow myself to be swept off my feet by the suddenness of it all, so I paused for ten or twelve moments considering my answer. It was then I noticed that his forehead was damp and his face drawn as though in pain. That decided me. 'If he really loves me like that,' I remember thinking, 'it must come right.' I hesitated no longer, but gave him my hand, and I shall never forget the look of utter relief and thankfulness as he rose to his feet and drew me tenderly to him.
  It was not until long afterwards that I learnt that one of my father's prize cactus plants had been behind him that night, and the minutes when he waited for my answer had been spent in pure agony.'

This rang a bell... Yes, the Major's inadvertent quasi-proposal to Angela in J.G. Farrell's Troubles:

'...the only other thing he recalled quite distinctly was saying goodbye to her at an afternoon the dansant in a Brighton hotel. They had kissed behind a screen of leaves and, reaching out to steady himself, he had put his hand down firmly on a cactus, which had rendered many of his parting words insincere. The strain had been so great that he had been glad to get away from her. Perhaps, however, this suppressed agony had given the wrong impression of his feelings.'

I wonder if Farrell had read Lady Addle and unconsciously absorbed the comic possibilities offered by cacti and tender moments.

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