Friday, July 9, 2010

Forgotten Book Friday: Mrs. Craddock

It has not been Miss Lemon's habit to participate in Forgotten Book Friday (rely on Hannah Stoneham and Mysteries in Paradise for excellent posts on the subject); but it is high time she started.

With that in mind, she respectfully submits Mrs. Craddock (1902), by W. Somerset Maugham.

Yes, yes. Miss Lemon knows that Mr. Maugham is hardly a forgotten writer. Even so, she would be willing to wager a note or two that a few of the most devoted students of early twentieth century British literature have not read this provocative novel.

If, however, those same devotees have read Gustave Flaubert's masterpiece, Madame Bovary (and appreciated its genius), they will most certainly appreciate Mrs. Craddock.

Bertha Ley, heir to the decaying estate of Court Leys, determines to marry beneath her. Though only one person close to Bertha is fool enough to oppose her engagement to the tenant farmer Edward Craddock, she won't be swayed.

What follows is a painful disillusionment -- both for Bertha Craddock and for the mesmerized reader. Edward is not only insensitive and oafish; he is willfully anti-intellectual. Oh, and he detests the French. He is everything that Bertha is not. And yet Bertha cannot stop loving him.

When Edward decides to run for public office, Bertha is appalled. He has no training in public speaking or rhetoric. What's more, he has no understanding of history or public affairs. But when his rambling, patriotic rant is received with thundering applause, and he thumps the radical candidate at the polls, Bertha can do little more than sigh. No one, it seems, sees what she sees. And of course, this union cannot end well.

Although Bertha's fate is somewhat less operatic than Emma Bovary's, it is no less tragic.

What truly empathetic (and bibliophilic) reader, Miss Lemon asks, will finish this novel and not think, "Bertha Craddock, c'est moi!"!

Although written in1900, his editors decided to delay publication of Mr. Maugham's second novel after the successful Liza of Lambeth for fear of it being perceived as risque and immoral.

Miss Lemon suspects that what really had the publishers worrying was Mr. Maugham's withering portrait of conservative provincialism, especially among the county set. But they wouldn't have worried if he had written something convincing, would they have?

Now if Miss Lemon goes on any longer, she shall have to re-name this post Forgotten Book Saturday.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm. I've really enjoyed Maugham in the past and I'm going to have to look for this one.

    I was already thinking "Mrs. Craddock, c'est moi," and I haven't even read the book yet.