Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Nebuly Coat by J Meade Falkner - Part 2

published 1903







Bright sunshine had succeeded the rain. The puddles flashed on the pavements; the long rows of raindrops glistened on the ledges which overhung the shop-windows, and a warm steam rose from the sandy roadway as it dried in the sun. The front-door of Bellevue Lodge closed below them, and Anastasia, in a broad straw hat and a pink print dress, went lightly down the steps. On that bright morning she looked the brightest thing of all, as she walked briskly to the market with a basket on her arm, unconscious that two men were watching her from an upper window. It was at that minute that thrift was finally elbowed by sentiment out of Westray’s mind.

“Yes,” he said, “by all means let us buy the picture. You negotiate the matter with Miss Joliffe, and I will give you two five-pound notes this evening.”





observations: Following on from an earlier entry.

The Nebuly Coat has never been a well-known book, but those who have read it love it. Exhibit 1: Dorothy L Sayers said in a letter ‘My own Nine Tailors was directly inspired by that remarkable book’. The description of a bell-ringing peal in The Nebuly Coat would bear that out, and there are many similarities between the books (though not, of course, in a plagiaristic way).

The excellent Moonfleet is JMF’s best-known work, but this one is even better: more nuanced, more of an adult novel than a young person’s adventure book.

The book features a well-worn tale - the minor and unimportant story of how the inn came to be built: a market woman accused of cheating says

‘God strike me dead if I have ever touched your money!’ She was taken at her word, and fell dead on the cobbles. They found clenched in her hand the two coppers for which she had lost her soul.
The true Falkner note comes with this line – spoken by the wonderful Sharnall:
-- and it was recognised at once that nothing less than an inn could properly commemorate such an exhibition of Divine justice. So the [inn called] The Hand of God was built.

The drunken organist Sharnall is a wonderful character – hoping for a drink from his fellow lodger he hears this:

‘Will you not join me in a cup of cocoa? The kettle boils.’

Mr Sharnall’s face fell.

The non-drinking friend, Westray, has stories to tell:

“Ah!” said the organist, with that indifference with which a person who wishes to recount his own experiences listens to those of someone else, however thrilling they may be.

Westray is not taken too seriously:

If he had been the hero of a novel his brow would have been black as night; as it was he only looked rather sulky.
When disappointed in love, he
attempted to lie awake of nights with indifferent success, and... for several meals refused to eat heartily of such dishes as he did not like.

All the characters are so well-drawn (I compared Falkner with Chekhov in the earlier entry) - the Creole lady singer in the bar, the lost wife Sophia, glimpsed in her yellow mackintosh, no doubt a bad wife and mother but still with the generosity to help out.

Falkner apparently claimed that it was up to the reader to decide the truth about some of the events in the book, and it has the kind of ending that I thought was perfect, but might not please some people. It is a most striking book, and one I think I will remember, and press on other people, for a long time to come.

The picture, by Thomas Benjamin Kennington, is from the Athenaeum site.

10 comments:

  1. Moira, the passages you quoted above are exactly the reason why I'd read such a book. I like that kind of writing. It's funny and charming, I think.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes indeed, that's exactly why I liked it. I hope you get the chance to read it sometime.

      Delete
  2. Must read it again. (Didn't Hitchcock nick a scene for Secret Agent?)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're the first person who's already come across it. I am sure it's a book I will read every few years from now on. Don't know about the Hitchcock...

      Delete
  3. Moira - Oh, such interesting-sounding characters! And I like that premise - the story of the inn. I often think buildings are like that - they've got their own histories and stories to tell. And if it was good enough to inspire The Nine Tailors, that's enough for me :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes indeed - even if it wasn't a great book in its own right, it would be important for inspiring the Sayers.

      Delete
  4. Nine Tailors is not my favorite Sayers, but still would be interesting to read the book that inspired it. (Which I have purchased as I noted on the earlier entry.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think historical completism says you have to read this book....

      Delete
  5. Never heard of it, but I've read (and loved) Moonfleet, so ordered The Nebuly Coat now is. Looking forward to it. Thank you for the heads up! And I also am very fond of The Nine Tailors (well, all of DL Sayers, really), so that will be a bonus, becoming acquainted with one of its inspirations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh good, in that case you should really enjoy it. I loved Moonfleet as a child, and just re-read it after The Nebuly Coat and it stands up well. It's a real shame he didn't write more. Hope you enjoy Nebuly....

      Delete