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Rhapsody (1927)

de Dorothy Edwards

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Extremely controlled studies of constrained desire, loneliness, and incomplete relationships, these tales fostered Edwards' development of a nonrealist world of imagery and symbolism in her own language. The ten stories of Rhapsody, together with the three previously uncollected pieces added to this edition, are utterly distinctive in voice and sensibility. At least three of the Rhapsody storiesA Country House, Days, and the brilliant, enigmatic A Garland of Earthare small masterpieces sure to by enjoyed by a whole new generation.… (mais)
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Dorothy Edwards was a welsh writer – associated with some of the Bloomsbury group – who I suspect is little read now. Her writing is carefully restrained. In Rhapsody we have ten beautiful tales of loneliness and desire, stories with little plot – but so much pared back emotion. Aside from this collection of stories – she published only one novel Winter Sonata a year later (which I may have read many moons ago, but no longer own, sadly). Her life appears to have been quite unhappy, and in 1934 at the age of thirty-one, she threw herself under a train. The note she left behind read:

“I am killing myself because I have never sincerely loved any human being all my life. I have accepted kindness and friendship, and even love, without gratitude and given nothing in return.”

How truly sad. This sadness certainly seeps into her writing, in a number of ways, particularly in the relationships which so often never find fulfilment.

It is perhaps odd that these stories don’t reflect the world that Dorothy Edwards herself lived in. Here we have the polite, ordered world of the English country house – worlds that are often disrupted by an outsider, a visitor usually. These are characters who unlike Edwards’ family, had no money worries, their money was unearned, and they live deep in the English countryside of Dorothy Edwards imagination. Her narrators are male, which I admit threw me in the first story Rhapsody. I’m so used to women writers of about this period writing from a female perspective that I simply assumed the first-person narrator of the title story was woman, a couple of pages in I became a tad confused and had to do a rapid reassessment.

Music was important to Edwards and in this collection, music, either the playing of it or the appreciation of it is, a recurring theme. In the title story, a young man (as I finally realised) named Elliott, recently returned from abroad, meets a Mr Everett, a music enthusiast who lives in the country outside of London with his invalid wife. Everett invites his new friend to spend part of his holiday with him and his wife. Elliott is a fellow musical enthusiast and occasional singer, as Everett learns soon after meeting him. Everett’s love of music, verges on the obsessional and he engages a governess for his young son whose accomplishments are more musical than academic – Everett is enchanted by her voice. The days become devoted more and more to music, and Everett watches in some discomfort as the two grow closer – while poor Mrs Everett fades daily.

There are great similarities between the story of Rhapsody and many of the other stories, where an outsider, either disrupts or bears witness to the disruption of a marriage. In A Country House, an electrician employed to bring electric light to a large house, is the outsider who disrupts. In A Garland of Earth an old man remembers the son of one of his school friends, who in turn introduces him to his daughter Rahel – a scientist who her father believes will be as great as Curie. Though the point of view of these stories is largely male – the power is held lightly by the women.

In The Conquered another young man; Frederick, goes to stay with an aunt on the Welsh Borders. Here he is thrown into company with his cousins Jessica and Ruth, and through them meets Gwyneth who has been teaching Ruth how to sing. Frederick is enthralled by Gwyneth, though in time he starts to see her differently.

“I remember how one night I went out by myself down in the direction of her house, where my steps always seemed to take me. When I reached the traveller’s-nightshade it was growing dark. For a moment I looked towards her house and a flood of joy came into my soul, and I began to think how strange it was that, although I have met so many interesting people, I should come there simply by chance and meet her. I walked towards the entrance of a little wood, and, full of a profound joy and happiness, I walked in between the trees. I stayed there for a long time imagining her coming gaily into the wood where the moonlight shone through the branches.”
(The Conquered)

Treachery in the Forest was one of my favourite stories. Mr Wendover spends his holidays in a cottage in a forest. Here he meets Mr and Mrs Harding, a couple who spend their time painting. The Hardings invite Mr Wendover to their house to play Bach for them, and so he is drawn into their lives, enjoying their company, looking forward to when he will see them again, delighting in the gift of hens’ eggs for them.

“Very carefully, two in one hand and one in the other. People who passed him, especially people in charabancs, laughed at him, though there was really nothing to laugh about.”
(Treachery in the Forest)

Another very memorable story is Summertime, in which Joseph Laurel goes to stay at a country house. Here he becomes smitten by a red-haired school girl, more than twenty years his junior. Joseph’s old friend Beatrice is of the party too, and Joseph can’t understand her sly little smiles, the amusement which, he suspects must be directed his way. Only when forced to recognise the girl’s youth, as he watches her walk away with a boy her own age, does he come to suspect the reason for Beatrice’s amused contempt.

These stories are quiet, beautifully controlled pieces. They will perhaps not suit everyone – especially those who like an obvious plot – but they are beautiful little masterpieces well worth seeking out. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Apr 2, 2018 |
It's raining buckets here in the Sunshine State. Perfect reading weather!

But it's Christmas too - people need to be fed, tables laid, floors swept, presents wrapped - you get the picture....so...short stories are perfect fare for the domestically distracted.

Rhapsody is a book of ten short stories written by Dorothy Edwards with an introduction by Elaine Morgan. This book is one of the Virago Modern Classics series published by Penguin in 1986. You can find out more about Elaine Morgan here http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A5316860 or watch her speak here http://www.elainemorgan.me.uk/. Elaine, like Dorothy Edwards, is Welsh and probably best known for writing The Descent of Woman and for many popular BBC TV series e.g. How Green Was My Valley, Dr Finlay's Casebook and Testament of Youth. Most recently she wrote Pinker's List.

Elaine's introduction gives us great context for reading Dorothy's work - she was the daughter of an idealistic Welshman..."a pioneering Shavian, socialist and vegetarian" and behaved "as if the world of letters was a genuine republic - as if here at least the age of equality had already arrived. She was presuming a little too much." For despite being "adopted" by David Garnett in the flush of her early literary success, he grew "irritated by her clumsy homemade dresses and her lack of any form of corset."

These stories were published in 1926 when Dorothy was in her early 20s. As Morgan says, Edwards ignored the cardinal rule to write about what you know best. She wrote about privileged life and, as such, much of what she writes comes across as stilted or awkward. Not much happens in these stories. People seem somewhat constipated or ill at ease in their environment. Things aren't explained. Thoughts are left hanging. The characters try their hand at creative endeavours - music, poetry, writing - with varying degrees of success.

But don't let that dissuade you from reading them - they are haunting in their quality and for people who are interested in writing, I think they are well worth reading. ( )
  alexdaw | Dec 26, 2010 |
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Extremely controlled studies of constrained desire, loneliness, and incomplete relationships, these tales fostered Edwards' development of a nonrealist world of imagery and symbolism in her own language. The ten stories of Rhapsody, together with the three previously uncollected pieces added to this edition, are utterly distinctive in voice and sensibility. At least three of the Rhapsody storiesA Country House, Days, and the brilliant, enigmatic A Garland of Earthare small masterpieces sure to by enjoyed by a whole new generation.

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