About a month ago, Michael Walmer sent me a couple of books to review. Simon has recently reviewed I Pose by Stella Benson, which he loved (& I’m looking forward to) & I’ve been reading The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson. Leverson was a close friend of Oscar Wilde, he called her The Sphinx, & she was one of the few friends who stood by him after his time in prison. She’s probably best known for the trilogy which was reprinted by Virago as The Little Ottleys but this book, The Twelfth Hour, is her first.
The Twelfth Hour is a sparkling, witty book about love & marriage. Published in 1907, it shines a light on society & the lives of the leisured classes. The Croftons are a well-to-do family with beauty, intelligence & style. Felicity has recently married Lord Chetwode but the marriage has not turned out as she expected. Chetwode’s two passions are racing & antiques & he spends most of his time traveling the country in pursuit of them. Marriage doesn’t seem to have changed his routines at all. Sylvia is in love with her father’s secretary, Frank Woodville, who is well-connected but penniless due to the late marriage of his uncle & subsequent birth of a son. All his expectations have been dashed & without money, Sylvia’s father is unlikely to agree to their marriage. Mr Crofton also has plans for Sylvia to marry Mr Ridiokanaki, a Greek millionaire who is in love with Sylvia.
Younger brother Savile is on holidays from Eton & in love from afar with opera singer, Adelina Patti. He is adored in turn by young Dolly Clive. When Savile isn’t wangling money from his relations to see Patti on stage, he’s trying to sort out his sisters’ problems. Felicity is unhappy & bored &, as she is also very beautiful, she soon has suitors appearing around every corner. Most persistent is Bertie Wilton, handsome, popular & determined to rescue Felicity from her neglectful husband.
Mr Ridiokanaki discovers that Sylvia & Frank are in love & offers them a solution to their financial troubles that will mean a long separation but eventual security. Sylvia is horrified but Frank is tempted. Will love or pragmatism win out?
I enjoyed The Twelfth Hour very much. Leverson has obviously learnt the art of the witty bon mot from Oscar Wilde as the book is very funny & full of funny comments & observations. Sylvia is a very modern young woman. She has no qualms about deceiving her father & ignores all his commands regarding Mr Ridiokanaki’s attentions. When he persists in sending larger & larger arrangements of flowers, she puts them in the housekeeper’s room. Felicity’s social round of lunches, evening parties & shopping becomes increasingly hollow as she desperately tries to talk to her husband but is discouraged by his elusiveness. Bertie’s persistent attentions begin to look more attractive as she feels more & more unloved.
My favourite character was Uncle William (the Croftons decided to call their Aunt by her husband’s name & their Uncle by her name so he was Uncle Mary). Aunt William’s house is furnished as it was in the 1880s with wax flowers under glass & circular tables in the middle of the room. “Often she held forth to wondering young people, for whom the 1880 fashions were but an echo of ancient history, on the sad sinfulness of sunflowers and the fearful folly of Japanese fans.” The sunflowers are a reference to Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience, which mocked the aesthetics movement of the 1890s & its followers. Aunt William spoils Savile & gives him money & enormous lunches while also keeping a watchful eye on her nieces’ social engagements. She may be a shrewd old lady but Savile can wind her around his little finger.
The Twelfth Hour is an Edwardian confection, a lovely way to spend an afternoon. It’s good to see a publisher reprinting books from this period as it’s been relatively neglected by the other publishers reprinting 20th century fiction. I’ll look forward to any future titles from Michael Walmer.