THE OTTLEY'S - Ada Leverson
(A trilogy published together, separately titled: LOVE'S SHADOW, TENTERHOOKS, LOVE AT SECOND SIGHT)
A friend of Oscar Wilde, Ada Leverson gave him a room in her home during his trial, Leverson shared Wilde's wit and gift for creating comedies of manners, although hers were novels, not plays. This trilogy tells the story of the happy unraveling of an unhappy marriage, that of Bruce and Edith Ottley. However, rather than feeling as angry at Bruce or as sorry for Edith, as I might with another author, Leverson made me admire Edith's skill at manipulating her husband while inwardly laughing at him, and Bruce was just such a booby that I laughed with Edith. Bruce is also a bully, or would have been with a less subtle wife, but Edith simply brushes off his bullying In the first book, Edith is experiencing romance vicariously through her friend Hyacinth's love affairs, but in the second and third books, Edith herself falls in love and is faced with the decision of whether or not to leave Bruce.
The books are primarily dialogue, off set by the inner thoughts of the characters, a varied and entertaining mix of Edwardian England (the books start in 1906 and end in 1916).
Here's a sample of an exchange between husband and wife:
"'I think I shall have a rest," Bruce said presently, "I had a very bad night last night. I scarcely slept at all.'
:'Poor boy!' Edith said kindly. She was accustomed to the convention of Bruce's insomnia, and it would never have occurred to her to appear surprised when he said he hadn't closed his eyes though she happened to know there was no cause for anxiety. If he woke up ten minutes before he was called, he thought he had been awake all night; if he didn't he saw symptoms of the sleeping sickness."
The Ottley's two children are rendered with an authenticity and humor that made me wonder if Leverson wasn't simply recording the conversations of her own children. The boy, Archie, is particularly engaging, (a sad footnote is that Leverson's son died young).