Margery On Romance

‘It may be said at once’ (to borrow an expression from our author) that Margery Sharp disappoints the romantically inclined reader quite cheerfully.

It’s not as though people never fall in love in her stories–she just doesn’t make it romantic. Sharp’s neat, no-nonsense technique–even when relaying the madcap–never unbends for romantic considerations.

Her romantic style could be summed up in the quirky catch phrase used in Something Lightche va piano va sicuro–‘softly-softly catchee monkey’. In the Sharp world there was a bit of disdain for the usual hearts and flowers approach.

As a humorist, she liked to gently skewer preconceived notions of how and why people fall in love. Daydreams of heart-stopping romance had no place in her work. Just as a goose-down pillow has its pricking and uncomfortable moments, romance to Margery was more about the quill than the feather. She had no patience with dewy-eyed beauties as a fit vehicle for story, and her heroines are shaded in ‘real life’ tones as being slightly loose, bossy, zany, or just bad-tempered.

To some readers, her most romantic and fulfilling scene took place in the final pages of Something Light. But even there we find a slightly batty, but charming denouement:

‘It wasn’t the stuffed pike he now regarded, nor the broadsheet about a murder, but Louisa’s chrysanthemum head….Rather drooping, like a chrysanthemum under rain. Louisa didn’t consciously droop, she was just very tired; but at the same time the thought washed over her, in a warm relaxing tide, that before a man so prepared to provide and cherish it didn’t matter whether she drooped or not. In fact, she slightly revived…’

In The Sun in Scorpio, Cathy Pennon, as governess, (aka ‘attendant sprite‘) is left alone for weeks with the man of the house. And in Margery’s brisk manner–just in case hope was flaring in the breast of the romantic–she informs us:

“It may be said at once that Mr. Lutterel did not fall in love with Cathy nor she with him. The one was no more a Rochester than the other a Jane Eyre.”

Ah, well. There’s still Humphrey and Miss Brown, in The Foolish Gentlewoman: “When Simon later saw them sun-bathing side by side, half-naked in the dell, he certainly never thought of Jane Austen; but it was–comparatively speaking–at Miss Austen’s tempo that their courtship proceeded.”

In probably the most well-known scene–from Cluny Brown–Cluny, after a moment of potent staring between she and Professor Belinski, merely responds to his curt directive “oh, get in”. She climbs into the cab, and they go off to America together.

Neat, simple, direct.

“Were they in love with each other,” Cluny asks herself afterwards. “[She] could only have answered, she supposed so. All she knew consciously of love were its preliminaries as taught by the movies, and these she and Belinski had skipped: they had met at the centre of the maze, not on its outer rim: they accepted each other simply and finally as the basic fact of their joint lives.”

Was that how it was for Margery and her Major? Perhaps–as gleaned from these comments:

‘In the evening, with her husband, they will sit over a table of chess, backgammon or piquet. “We don’t say much,” Margery says. “But it puts the pie-crust on the pie, lays up the day…”

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