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.