Weldon, F (2012) Habits of the house. Head of Zeus, London. ISBN 9781908800046
The first novel in Fay Weldon's 'Love and Inheritance' trilogy, following the lives and loves of an aristocratic family at the turn of the nineteenth century. As the summer of 1899 gives way to autumn Lord Dilberne's decision to remain in Belgrave Square rather than move the household to the ancestral acres of Dilberne Court sends out ripples of concern over his debts. The ripples spread to his wife Isobel who orders the life of the household, and to Grace the lady's maid who orders the life of her mistress. They touch the insouciant lives of his still unmarried children, Arthur, who is passionate about motor cars and keeps a courtesan in Half Moon Street, and Rosina, who airs fashionably progressive views and keeps a parrot in her bedroom. The novel explores how the ripples of change affect the lives above stairs and below. But as the story unfolds it becomes also a novel about affairs of the heart, a love story precipitated by the arrival on the London scene of Minnie, an American heiress, and her resourceful mother intent on finding her daughter a husband.
I felt I had taken meta-fiction as far as it would go in Kehua! and tried a novel without relying at all on the interfering overview of the writer. What if I went back to the method I had used early on as a TV writer – relying on actors and using juxtapositions of plot without comment to make my points? I used as my model the TV series Upstairs Downstairs, I’d written the pilot episode in 1972. I knew the Edwardian period well enough, but only now, with Google Images and Wikipedia to hand, was I prepared to take on a historical novel. (In TV casting-directors and set-designers take responsibility for much of what in a novel is the writer’s heavy work.) I have ‘novelised’ my own screenplays in the past – but in this case created an original story as well. Since I was able to write without the input a script editor or a cast who demanded to be ‘loveable’, I found I was able to examine the realities of a period of which TV loves to skim the surface. To move the reader briskly from scene to scene as a TV viewer expects, I headed each section (rather than chapter) with a place and time, the equivalent of the TV ‘cut’; tried to keep the concept of BBC costume drama alive in detailed descriptions of Edwardian fashions, hats, jewels and elaborate menus – while seeing them more from the viewpoint of the seamstress, milliner, miner and cook, than TV allows. It took considerable ingenuity, but from the reader’s point of view the story proceeds apace and with energy. The experiment worked, in as much as no-one complained that novel read as a screen play! I had produced a hybrid.
|Keywords:||London (England) — History — 19th century — Fiction.|
|Subjects:||P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)|
|Divisions:||College of Liberal Arts|
|Date Deposited:||20 Feb 2013 12:45|
|Last Modified:||16 Jan 2017 16:02|
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