Stella Gibbons was born in London 1902 and died in 1989. She authored twenty-five novels, three volumes of short-stories, and four volumes of poetry and today is mostly known only for ‘Cold Comfort Farm’. I absolutely loved ‘Nightingale Woods‘! It was wonderfully written with lots of subtle humor and eccentric characters. The theme of the novel is class warfare and is loosely based on Cinderella. I can’t wait to find and read ALL of Stella’s books. I highly recommend this book and this author.
from the introduction by Sophie Dahl:
‘She did not look quite a lady, which was natural; as she was not one.’ So wrote Stella Gibbons, as she introduced the heroine of her ninth book, the latterly forgotten treasure, Nightingale Wood. The not quite a lady is grey-eyed Viola Wither, a beguiling widow of twenty-one. Viola is a victim of circumstance, like so many of Gibbons’ female protagonists; a shop girl orphan, married briefly to a bumbling, bullying older man, to whom she felt unable to say no at precisely the wrong moment. In his death she is similarly muted, and when, with a sigh of middle-class duty, her in-laws, the aptly named Withers, summon her from London to live with them in their dour house in Essex, she hops on a train in her cheap black coat and pink satin blouse, meek as a sacrificial lamb.
Their house, ‘The Eagles’, runs thick with thwarted longing. Dwelling there are two spinsters daughter: the lumpen, unfortunate, 39 year old Madge; and Tina, who at 35, with an extreme penchant for dieting, is wasting away in every sense. Their mother, Mrs Wither, seemingly has no fight left in her after four decades with the petty, pedantic patriarch of the family, the hateful Mr. Wither. Mr Wither delights in the casual putdown, stamping the most fragile hope in his pitiful daughters with a quick lash of the tongue, forbidding Madge her one desire of a puppy and tormenting Tina at every opportunity. It is in this bleak household, in which the clocks are constantly checked to see whether the day is ending, that poor Viola is deposited. And yet…
On the other side of the valley is an entirely different house, a house that sings with comfort and luxury, a house that has the feeling of ‘moving a little faster than other places, as though it were always on the brink of a party’. This is ‘Grassmere’, a polished nouveau paradise, home to the dashing Victor Spring. Victor lives with his mother, Mrs Spring, who only employs the comely because, quite simply, ‘She hated plain maids; they depressed her’, and bookish cousin Hetty, who despises the inertia of a moneyed life, believing ‘The Eagles’ across the way to contain a life full of ‘muted melancholy beauty’. Oh, the grass is always greener.
Add to the cast, amongst others, a ravishing chauffeur living above the Withers’ garage, his mother, a faded village beauty with slatternly ways, a Machiavellian millionaire, a fast fairy godmother named Shirley, and a voyeuristic chorus of sorts in the form of a tramp know as ‘the Hermit’ and you have a sense of the proceedings, because Nightingale Wood is, in essence, a sprawling, delightful, eccentric fairy tale.
Now, go ahead, admit it you really want to read this book, don’t you! Leave a comment and let me know if you have and what you thought of it!