“I saw her clearly and wrote the first sentence about her—‘Louisa Mary Datchett was very fond of men’ — with complete confidence. Then the trouble started.” — Margery Sharp
Something Light delivers deliciously on the promise of its title.
Margery Sharp’s writing is always laced with subtle wit and quietly drawn perceptions of human nature. But at times, her writing hits that wonderfully comedic high note of ‘let’s just have fun, shall we?’. This delightful story is one of those times.
There is nothing subtle about the main character, either. Louisa Datchett is a flaming redhead, dynamic, warm-hearted, impulsive; a bit nutty but decidedly likable. The story unfolds as a hilarious romp through the romantic misadventures of this matrimonially determined young woman.
Louisa Datchett is indeed fond of men—but as she mournfully put it; she was more Salvation Army than suffragette.
For Louisa has a soft spot for a male in distress.
‘…No one, least of all Louisa, ever counted the times she got suits back from the cleaners, washed socks, or carried prescriptions to the chemist…Bachelors in lodgings going down with influenza employed their last spark of consciousness to telephone Louisa. Sometimes their landladies telephoned her. Publishers of books commissioned but overdue telephoned Louisa. She was constantly being either sent for, like a fire engine, or dispatched, like a lifeboat, to the scene of some masculine disaster; and fond of men as she was, by the time she was thirty she felt extremely jaded.’
Although Louisa considers herself an independent, self-supporting woman—through her dog photography business—she is beginning to feel like, for once in her life, she would like to be taken care of.
What does the enterprising Miss Datchett decide is the solution?
‘It’s time I looked out for myself. In fact, it’s time I looked out for a rich husband, just as though I’d been born in a Victorian novel….’
This new ‘career move’ she pursues with the same confident exuberance with which she pursues everything in life. Or, as her new maxim is:
‘Che va piano va sicuro…’softly, softly catchee monkey…’
First, the rich man idea goes sour. (blame Enid Anstruther for that one). Then, after meeting the Meares—a warm and loving couple, decidedly impoverished but caring not for anything but each other and their dogs––she decides what she actually needs is a love like that.
Failing in this maneuver, (and after such careful planning, too!) a chance baby-sitting job gives her a new notion: what she really needs is a warm cosy, ready-made family with children to mother! She pictures herself up to the elbows in soap suds, happily washing the long underwear, then—heavens!—ironing sounds like a dream! And she would use starch, even…For Mr. Clark’s stiff, very very stiff collared shirts…
‘Why, years could pass before she tired of such delightful employment!’
She soldiers on with her happy plans and entrapments, confident of success, promising ‘suet all around’ to the robins; ‘bring your friends!’, and keeping a carefree attitude almost to the last.
Until Lady Mary Tablet and her ‘beastly corgis’.
“It may interest you to know,” retaliated Louisa nastily, “that your Lady Mary Tablet has just gypped me out of three guineas.”
The man she is talking to so ungraciously––really quite out of character––is the one man who doesn’t need her. The one man she can’t stand…
‘She looked at him and hated him. Everything about the man—his calm and solidity, even his good car, his good clothes…’
I love how Margery Sharp sneaks Mr. Right in under our well-trained noses, normally so adept at sniffing these things out.
The wise milkman, who delivers a bit of wisdom and advice along with the milk, as well as some yodeling and comments on Ibsen.
Freddy Pennon—fabulously wealthy and good natured, engaged to a dream with a lovely profile, actually in love with Louisa, and able to hire forty seconds of television time just to invite Louisa to a party.
Team Freddy up with old retired Admiral Colley, and before you know it, you have a lacquered red pagoda strapped atop a Rolls Royce, a champagne party in which Miss Wilbraham imbibed too freely, and a menage a trois made in heaven.
The bohemian artist in Number Ten that she can’t stop buying ‘yoghurt’ for, even though she can’t afford it. He has a bad constitution, is a vegetarian, and crafts ugly costume jewelry out of beechnuts; (which he expects Louisa to sell for him, to ‘artsy craftsy boutiques’).
‘A rhythmic tapping on the party wall called her back inside her room. Number Ten had formed the pleasant custom of thus conveying his morning greetings—usually with the opening phrase of a Beethoven sonata. Louisa, who wasn’t musical, knew this only because she’d been told, and herself customarily banged back no more than “Rule, Britannia.”…’
Enid Anstruther, the aging beauty queen, and a widow angling for Freddy Pennon’s betrothal. The chummy advice she gives to Louisa on how to navigate the marriage market, with settlements, is quite amusing.
‘Undoubtedly Louisa learned a lot, from….Mrs. Anstruther. Sometimes she felt like a tenderfoot sitting over a campfire with an experienced trapper.’
Truly a breathtaking array of offbeat and lovable characters, from dignified old Majors to indigent twirps. The ‘Sharp magic’ is clearly in evidence here.
In creating the good-hearted Louisa Datchett, Sharp no doubt had in mind the enduring popularity of Julia Packett of The Nutmeg Tree, and hoped to score another such win with her readers.
In this interview, though, she makes a distinction between the two:
“Cluny Brown and Julia were scattier characters. Adelaide of Britannia Mews was tougher, but Louisa definitely was the hardest to keep in order. ‘Down, Louisa!’ I sometimes felt like crying, as to one of the big dogs she herself photographed. But we finally came to terms.’ (excerpted from an interview in the Saturday Evening Post)
This is a book that was probably as much fun for the writer to create as it is for the reader to read.
First British edition, 1960, London, Collins
First American Edition 1960, Little, Brown and Co.
Published simultaneously in Canada
Serialized in four installments in the Saturday Evening Post, starting in 1960
Some extra reading:
A lovely review from Leaves and Pages book blog
There are some fabulous fashion highlights in this novel–who wouldn’t love to see this little number:
‘Louisa was wearing a rather rowdy housecoat, zebras on a pink ground…’
For more on the fashion angle check out Clothes In Books blog post
For more on the illustrator Lynn Buckham, click here